Why are Arsenal a Better Defensive Unit?
Arteta coming from the school of Pep Guardiola excellency was expected to inject brain over brawn upon his arrival. Undergoing a series of transitions stylistically since arriving, he’s fiddled around with formations, brought in the 3-4-3, shifted to his favoured 4-3-3, gone back to a 3-4-3 and all sorts in between. Establishing a defensive identity was nonetheless paramount, even at the expense of offensive output.
A manager still mastering his craft, he’s absorbed the same information the fans have in discovering what this group of players are capable of. What suits them best? What are their strengths? Where are they at their weakest?
Seemingly minor details in context to defensive shape such as implementing a No. 10 into the side in a 4-2-3-1 has had as much a role in instilling central assurance as any other. Experience comes with time and performing a u-turn on Rob Holding‘s future must also be heralded as a pivotal intervention.
His stock rises with each aerially dominating display, while the acquisition of Gabriel has proved a masterstroke. Fringe options such as Mohamed Elneny had his moment to shine as the deepest central midfielder, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been bestowed with more defensive responsibility than he’d ever have anticipated in north London.
Balance is so key, and up until recently it was a trait that had abandoned Arteta. Shimmying between systems and personnel, he’d been unable to strike that elusive symmetry of the two main aspects of football. A gradual process that left him petering on the edge of despair, Arsenal are now a compact unit without the ball, with wingers covering full-backs in their own third, and fluid operators with it.
Importantly, the black hole in between those motions, transitions, have been drilled into the squad enough for the coaching nuances to shine through on the pitch. Where, when, how and who are words forever fluttering through the players’ minds. Their roles meticulously studied and acknowledged.
Players such as David Luiz will not play well every week. Heck, even Thomas Partey was some way below the high standards he sets himself against Manchester United. But in a system of serenity where one missing building block won’t demolish the whole structure, Arsenal can finally not be hamstrung by individual incompetency.
A stronger overall contingent, the players stepping up and buying into the methodology has helped see such mistakes eradicated. No errors directly leading to goals in the Premier League this season attests to that.
Above all, it’s refreshing. Arteta has revivified the outlook of this Arsenal team from the defensive laughing stock of the country into the silently solid outfit they are today. He isn’t alone in earning praise, as those he’s fielded are equally warranting, but it, if only one step in the right direction, puts the mind at greater ease on the path to recovery.