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The Revolution will be Televised

By Sumaiya Vawda

How did Mikel Arteta’s team transition from a 5-0 humbling to outperforming the same feared opponent in a matter of months? Use of the correct personnel and an effective press are two enabling factors, but the most enjoyable evolution has been the variety in attack.

Arsenal’s reliance on the left flank last season cannot be overstated. Prior to Saka’s introduction on the right, much of the side’s build-up centered on isolating Kieran Tierney with his full-back to put in a cross. This play certainly bore some fruit, but many crosses went begging without an aerial presence. When Tierney was pinned back, Arsenal were blunted in attack. Fast forward a season, and Arsenal have chances created from all areas of the pitch.

Arteta’s early days were marked by persistence in playing out from the back. When the team carved out a goal in this manner, it looked spectacular. However, when thoughtful build-up doesn’t work (possession lost) or end in a goal, it seems like the attack hasn’t gotten very far, and the plan is crumbling. To many, the signing of Martin Ødegaard signaled hopes for a vintage creator transforming the attack. While he has come into his own in recent weeks, this has been catalysed by a brave, technically-adept side blossoming around him.

Aaron Ramsdale has made long-balls to wingers and lofted passes into midfield his signature. The two-footedness of Tomiyasu makes for easy switches to the left flank or a calculated one into midfield. Mind you, he can also outpace his marker and go outside of Saka when desirable. Ben White’s forays up the pitch seem like the fun side missions of a video game.

One of the players who most epitomises Arsenal’s variation in attack is Nuno Tavares. His runs in the half-spaces or along the touchline can be so unpredictable that it may appear he sometimes surprises himself when arriving in the final third. Saka and Smith Rowe can progress the ball from deep areas, run onto long-balls, dribble, cross and dance around the opposition. And I like it (ooooooh).

Martinelli brings a particular aggression in pressing that leads to possession regains in more advantageous areas. His movement on and off the ball dizzies defenders, and shooting must be his first thought in the morning. Remember the accusation that Martin Ødegaard could only operate in the right half-space? Well, now he is moving around the pitch more freely and finding himself in goal-scoring positions. One of his most frequent passes is out to the left flank as he looks to knit attacks together.

We’ve seen Arsenal forwards pin and spin their defenders from long-balls in the last run of games. We’ve also been audience to intricate inter-play and positional rotation. It’s no longer the case that you can stop this side by neutralising a few star players because the team seems more capable of solving problems together in-game. And when it came time to perform against the champions, the team led by their script. How many teams sustain possession and pressure against Pep’s City for over 10 minutes? This side did it - and with a youthful swagger.

Mikel Arteta did not take long to improve Arsenal defensively. But for over a year, it remained uncertain whether he could coach a coherent attack. Modern football rewards a game model that works against most structures and strategies. If Arteta’s model were watertight (for vast periods) against one of the best teams in the world, then under his guidance, you’d bet on this attack progressing to even greater heights. Perhaps one question on that path is: which striker wants to join the revolution?

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