Arsenal’s press was excellent at Old Trafford on Sunday.
The steady implementation of a cohesive pressing-system was a key theme of Mikel Arteta’s first few months at Arsenal. Winning the ball high up the pitch enabled the Gunners to look like a threat offensively, in spite of a lack of creativity in the team.
A few weeks after the beginning of Project Restart, the effectiveness of the Arsenal press diminished. The focus seemingly shifted towards beating the press of our opponents in order to free up the space required to make chances. Beautiful goals against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final and Liverpool in the Community Shield final portrayed the benefits of this style. An overwhelmingly sour attack conveyed the limitations.
Our last few performances suggest Arteta has recognised the need for a bit more variety offensively. Against Leicester, a focus was placed on finding our full-backs in attacking areas in behind the Foxes’ defence. Then, Dundalk were faced with the problem of Joe Willock’s runs from deep areas. On Sunday, Manchester United failed to overcome a relentless Arsenal press.
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Heading into future games, this variety will be very important. Playing around effective pressing systems is always a helpful skill to possess. When facing teams with high defensive lines, the ability to find players in behind is crucial. Against low blocks, runs from deep can cause all sorts of havoc. And finally, the capacity to press the life out of opponents can lead to numerous goalscoring opportunities.
In the Premier League in particular, breaking up presses is especially helpful. In the modern age of football, the vast majority of top-flight clubs place an emphasis on building attacks up from the back instead of ‘hoofing’ the ball forward. That’s right, even Burnley(!) choose to play it out from the back at times.
As aforementioned, pressing makes chances. Liverpool have championed this method of goal creation over the course of the last five years. Their second goal against Chelsea just over a month ago is the perfect example. Sadio Mané made the most of a lapse in Kepa Arrizabalaga’s concentration as a result of Liverpool’s impressive harassing.
However, goal chasing isn’t the only reason pressing has grown in prominence in England since Jurgen Klopp implemented his methods in Merseyside. A potent press can demoralise the opposition defence or force opponents to kick the ball long, thus leading to possession regain. Especially against teams who sit deep, these results of pressing can be really useful.
When you consider the fact Arsenal don’t create too many chances on a consistent basis, the importance of the Arteta-implemented press increases. Winning the ball high up the pitch and shifting into attacking-mode quickly allows teams to attack disorganised defences, thus making them easier to open up. Additionally, the tiring of opponents via pressing makes chance creation a little more straightforward. Arteta must persist with his press.
Against United, Arsenal reaped the benefits of their press. The best chance of the game was created through Willian winning the ball on the right-flank and going on to hit the bar after interchanging with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Furthermore, Arsenal won the ball back countless times due to the Red Devils being forced to play a long ball. Very, very effective.
Arsenal take on Aston Villa this weekend and the press must be implemented once more. Dean Smith’s side enjoy building from deep through the likes of Emi Martinez, Ezri Konsa and Tyrone Mings, so catching them out could be a useful route to goal for Arsenal on Sunday. Regardless, Arsenal’s press is definitely something to keep an eye out for in the next few weeks.