Analysis – Arteta needs the right players to suit his system

System Managers Need System Players

Arsene Wenger was well known for letting his Arsenal players figure it out rather than giving them strictly defined roles and responsibilities on the pitch. His approach was based on passing patterns, technical quality, creating overloads and off-the-ball movements. This approach produced some fantastic attacking football. But as the years went by, it started to work less and less. First against the top teams and then gradually against smaller teams with some talent.

The Champions League exit to Monaco in 2014 was an exhibit of all the frailty in Wenger’s approach, all the frustration and redundancy. It was incredibly frustrating for the fans that Arsenal were not able to do better than Top 4 in the league and the Round of 16 in the Champions League. Wenger seemed at his wits end in Europe, his last famous victory coming against a Bayern Munich that had repeatedly beaten him 5-1.

Domestically, as the coaching game advanced, Arsenal suffered. José Mourinho, the seeming antithesis of Wenger class and approach, always got the better of him with his rigid, systematic approach to football. The arrival of more super managers in Conte, Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp spelt the end of Wenger at Arsenal. These coaches were extremely detailed in their planning and execution and their teams regularly found Arsenal easy to play against. Arsenal soon dropped out of Champions League contention.

We needed some fresh ideas. Wenger’s approach had become staid and predictable. We needed one of those systematic managers to freshen things up. Enter Unai Emery.

The less that is spoken of Emery’s time at Arsenal, the better. We ended that relationship soon enough and appointed Arteta, a former player who had served in several roles with some of the best system managers in football, including Guardiola.

Arteta’s appointment made some sense. Former player and familiar with the club’s culture. Highly intelligent and prized by Guardiola. Destined to coach and praised by top players at one of the best football clubs. At the very least, he would have picked up some good things from his time assisting one of the best systematic managers in the history of the game.

Arteta has so far made good on his promise, with an FA Cup trophy and the Community Shield to show for it. That was an extremely promising return in his first six months of management. What has that established? That Arteta has trophy-winning potential and ideas. This is not even including how he’s settled down a ravaged and hurting club.

Into his first full season in the league, Arteta’s Arsenal sit 7 points off the leaders. Not great but not entirely terrible either, considering the quality of the league these days. What brings consternation to the fans and neutrals alike is the absence of the Arsenal heritage way of playing. In fact, there has been little of the modern football heritage either: possession in the opposition third, high and intense pressing, etc. Basically, in terms of style and quality, Arsenal are not playing the way they are expected to be.

This is confusing to some. Arteta clearly has the coaching capacity to install a high-press, high-possession system. In fact, we have seen some of that this season in the first half of the game at Old Trafford, where United simply found it difficult to get out. We are not even passing well enough. And our attack looks extremely disjointed. Against Leeds, we abandoned the 3-4-3 system that has served us so well in favour of the 4-3-3 which did not work against the man-for-man system that Bielsa’s sides use. We could not string together a couple of passes. The whole boat looks leaky at this point.

Here are some facts, though:
—We have one of the least shooting numbers in the league this season.
—But our few shooting opportunities are some of the best located in the league this season. Majority of them have been inside the box and close to goal.
—We are not getting the ball frequently enough into the opposition third
—We have implemented a high pressing scheme but are not good enough at doing it, especially when we are playing away. In fact, away from home, we have the least effective press. At home, we are moderately successful.
—Before the Leeds game, our main scoring outlet in Aubameyang had only 9 shots in 8 games.
—We complete a lot of our passes even under pressure but we also allow the opponents to have the exact same luxury, too.
—We get worse as the game goes on, indicating a lack of fitness.
—We keep the ball on the ground and are extremely slow in moving the ball up the pitch.

Basically, we are both Burnley and Manchester City in how we play. And we lack match fitness. The hope is that we start looking more like City and less than Burnley in the coming weeks, but Arteta needs City-type players to do that.

Some of our most progressive players like David Luiz are not playing. Elneny and Partey are among our fittest players but can’t play. We have no final third midfielder and Ozil cannot even be the answer as he’s not even registered to play. Our slowness in possession is crying out to be improved and the likes of Leno, Xhaka and Elneny are responsible. There is no one who can take the ball on the half-turn in midfield, beat a man and slide a pass forward except for Thomas Partey – and Thomas Partey is not an advanced midfielder.

We can’t even try to be more direct by going long because our forwards can’t win an aerial duel to save their lives. This is something that I have noticed Arteta has been trying to improve and it showed somewhat against Leeds. But all of Pepe, Lacazette and Aubameyang are very bad at aerials. And we can’t even press the second ball because we’d most likely lose the contest. Leno, meanwhile, can’t hit a flat, long pass to a man with accuracy.

There is only so much you can do in training without the correct player profiles. Almost every single player in Liverpool, including the short Salah, are good at winning an aerial ball. If Liverpool can’t get out, any one of Trent, Van Dijk, Alisson or Thiago can simply hit it long to Salah or Mane. We do not have players that can do that.

Arteta in the summer talked about the need for three new midfielders: a 6, an 8, and a 10. We got a world-class 6 in Partey but no 8 or 10. Hence the rumours that we are after Szoboszlai (a 10) in January and have not given up on Aouar (both 8 and 10). There is also talk of Boubakary Soumare (an 8) at Lille. The summer transfer business was good in terms of acquisitions, but it was not sufficient for our needs in midfield. We basically need a new midfield and a new striker that is aerially dominant. We didn’t get that and now we have to try to get them in January.

Jurgen Klopp needed Alisson, Van Dijk, Robertson and Salah to transform his team. Pep Guardiola needed Ederson, Walker, Sane and Laporte to make his team good. They have both sold many players. These are system managers. They want to play a particular way. They need particular players to be able to play the way they want. At Arsenal, Arteta has just received Gabriel and Partey. He has been unable to sell Kolasinac, Sokratis, Mustafi, Chambers and Lacazette. The attacking profiles he has are not what he wants. But he has to make do with it.

This is why we play in the manner that we do. This is why we do not play through the middle (because who will?). This is why we do not play lots of aerial balls (even the good crosses from Tierney has been largely wasted). This is why we have a carefully structured attack. This is why we are not successful when we press high (press high with Xhaka?).

Football is a simple game. A systems manager needs system players. Wait for Arteta to get them. Even City, with all their vast Qatari cash, had to wait a season.

Agboola Israel


  1. As much as I do like and still support Arteta, it seems like the best players for him would be robots.

    Our press is also half-hearted which is the worst thing you can do, you either press fully as a team or you don’t. At the moment we have half the team press kind of and then everyone is out of position.

    Very clear he allows almost no creativity and freedom, hence our attack is now trash.

  2. I agree that every coach or manager who sets their team up a certain way, need players that can execute his idea’s and can play the way he wants.

    Liverpool was probably the biggest rebuild and it took time and strategy to implement Klopps ideas.
    They also had an extremely valuable asset to sell in Coutinho, who they did then sell to Barca.
    If they hadn’t sold PC, I highly doubt they would have had the success that followed as they wouldnt have had the funds to buy both Allison and VVD.

    City are different as they can just go get who they want to an extent and we are different from both as we dont really have anyone of reasonable value to sell to fund the buys we need, yes at the end of this season we will make or rather relieve stress on our wage bill by dropping quite a few players.

    With the way our club is run at the top, we have to play the long game as we would need atleast 3 good transfer windows to get back on track but while we play that, other teams play the short game, invest well and leave us standing in quick sand.

    I suppose only time will tell and we all need some patients

  3. Emery with a much weaker squad none of the players he wanted and no English missed Champions League by just one point and made the Europa league final against a talent laden Chelsea. Arsene Wenger won 3 Titles not by coaching but by being the first Manager to invest in European talent and especially black players. But Jose Mourinho came in 2004 and he too sourced European and especially black players which cancelled out Wengers previous advantage. Chelsea’s 5 titles and City’s four titles since 2004 have been based on hugely expensive imports not coaching. Even Liverpool have spent mega to get to where they are today. Apart from Leicester in 2016 all the Premier league winners have had the best squad. Arsenal clearly does not have the best squad so won’t be winning the league this term. Liverpool and Chelsea will probably finish 1-2. After that 3-13 could be any one. So for me Arsenal will finish between 3-13. I would say 6/7 is the most likely placing for Arteta’s men.

  4. I wish we can manage to win Europa league which will give us room for some cash injection and attraction against next season cos as it is we are lacking cohesion

  5. I call “B.S.” And I do not mean “Bachelor of Science.”

    The idea that Arsenal can’t succeed with the players they have and the only way for Arteta to succeed is by replacing, well, everyone; is ludicrous. As is the notion that Arteta has proven his chops by winning the Community Shield and FA Cup, the same feats dismissed as “Not good enough” and proof of Arsene Wenger’s decline.

    You can’t have it both ways. If trophies are proof of success and progress, then Arsenal won the FA cup three times while Arsene Wenger was in “decline” and once, since. If the FA Cup is proof of failure, then Mikel Arteta is on the same downward spiral as Arsene Wenger.

    The fact is, Mikel Arteta finished last season with the club in its worst position in decades. He only managed half the season, but while he did not decline, neither did he lift the team from where he got it back into the top four or even the top six. Both he and Emery have, at their best, to date, performed worse than Arsene Wenger at his worst.

    That is a fact.

    Every time a team changes managers, the idea that the entire team needs to be thrown out and that none of the players remaining from the previous manager’s reign are any good, is floated. It always turns out to be b.s.

    The players who played best for Emery? Arsene Wenger’s players. The players performing best for Arteta have been, on the whole, Arsene Wenger’s players.

    Pepe – not good. Partey, too soon to tell. Gabriel, mixed to date. Luiz, mixed; great at times, awful at others. He reminds me of Mustafi.

    Arsenal could sell any of the players listed, they just will not do it for fees other teams will pay. That’s the club’s fault. They trash their own players, bench them, call their effort and ability into question, and then demand 20 million. Good luck with that.

    Not long ago William Saliba was hailed at the man who would rescue the Arsenal defense. Mikel Arteta thinks so little of him, he won’t put him on the pitch.

    Since the Wenger days, Arsenal have signed nearly 16 first-team players. Nearly all of them were signed with the intent of putting them into the starting XI.

    Pepe, Willian, Partey, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Suarez (less said the better), Ceballos, Leno, Runnarson, Mari, Soares, Martinelli, Saliba, Sokratis, Lichsteiner, Guendouzi, and Torreira

    Arteta’s preferred starting XI features more players left from Arsene Wenger than these shiny new toys.

    Bellerin, Aubameyang, Lacazette, Elneny, Xhaka, Holding Saka, Nketiah, Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson, Willock, All play regularly and all have as much or more impact than the players that supposedly replaced them.

    Even players who do not play regularly; Can anyone really claim Arsenal are getting more from Tierney than Kolasinac? I’m not seeing it. Is Luiz better than Mustafi or Holding? Again, not seeing it. Saliba can’t get on the field. Gabriel had some good games, but got beat like a drum by Aston Villa. As did Holding, to be fair. Cedric Soares is so far below Bellerin it’s almost a criminal waste of cash for him to be in the side. Has Gabriel really shown he is better than Chambers? In ten games? He might, in fact be better, but the sample size is far too small for real judgement, one reason why Chambers is still on the team.

    The team’s best #10 is not even on the roster, so Arteta and the front office need to take a long look in the mirror on that one. They can call Ceballos, Willian, and Willock #10s until they convince the world; it still won’t be true. The best passer in the team? Xhaka. The record signing – sitting on the bench behind a 31 year old free transfer.

    The point is, Arteta and the club have players they paid a lot of money for; more than Arsene Wenger ever got to spend, and they have done little with it. The idea that they can spend their way out by acquiring players until they find the right ones is delusional.

    Some teams can do it. Chelsea can. They buy, if the players fails, thebuy again and again and again. Man City does the same. Man U is showing some restraint, but they’ve spent a fair amount as well. Pine-riding Paul Pogba is hardly a worldie. Juventus does the same thing. Arsenal do not have, either by owner’s choice or in fact, a bottomless well of cash.

    Arsenal have not improved since forcing Wenger out. That’s the truth. The club has not shown it has the ability to properly evaluate or integrate players into the team. The club has shown a shocking inability to manage top players., botching the Sanchez transfer, the Ramsey contract, the Ozil situation, and now, they are grossly mishandling Lacazette, staking him out; another scapegoat for failures that have little to do with him.

    I liked Arteta as a player and I think he can succeed as Arsenal’s managers, but the pathway to that success cannot rest on blaming the team’s struggles on a manager who has not managed the team in three years while still leaning on his players.

    That is nothing short of b.s.. And I still do not mean, Bachelor of Science.

    1. Struggle to extract a point from that to be fair Paul35.

      Club is in a transition that will take some time of course, so to judge an unknown end point is odd. I guess that if you cant see how much better Gabriel is than our other defenders – or indeed how Partey bosses the midfield then I suggest you will never be happy- no matter what we do. As for your Tierney and Kolasinac comment – it doesn’t even warrant a response it is that daft.

      Judging on what you have to say here- you would definitely have said the same about Klopp after his first year.

      The influx of our youth teams into first team performance is not an accident – we cant spend like clubs run by sugar daddy’s do so whats your point?

      I don’t see anyone blaming Wenger for anything so am lost as to why you think thats true.

      You say ”The idea that Arsenal can’t succeed with the players they have and the only way for Arteta to succeed is by replacing, well, everyone; is ludicrous.” I find that bizarre. It is obvious that Arsenal are disjointed and uneven side currently and the Gazidis / Sanlehi axis did a piss poor job of recruitment in the last 3 years.

      All the parties who oversaw that shit show are now gone and I think the new team had a really good window this time out. Of course you still have the potential for some of our cheapo signings being underwhelming – Willian (eyes roll) – but on the whole every move made sense. It will take time to ship out deadwood from the previous ***** supermarket dash.

    2. I have to agree, we are not talking about championship, L1 L2 players, we have some quality in our team may be not to the level of Pool, City, Chelsea.. But come on, I agree MA doesn’t have the players he wants needs to play the way he would like to, there lies his problem, instead of playing a system that would bring the best out of the players at his disposition and make the most of their different qualities he is trying to impose a system a way to play that doesn’t suit them I would go as far as saying that for some of them it looks almost unnatural how they are asked to play!

  6. Fantastic article!

    Our issues have been long standing but the appointment of Emery set us back years. The players we brought in were ill considered and far from what was needed. You would think with the likes of Pepe and Willian on the either side of a great striking force that we should never be short of creative opportunities? However, for years we have relied on a midfield that receives the ball with their back to the opposition. Ultimately, our play reverts to backwards passing and our attack is dead (again).

    When we have managed to get the ball forward, we have often lost possession and been caught on the counter. Whack!

    This sums up the style Arsenal have adapted over the years. I believe it’s killed the Arsenal way. The attacking flair has gone and even the coaching has adopted poor tactics.

    The club ousted Arsene Wenger, and rightly so. But they made big mistakes going forward will badly thought out strategies. In a way, I’m not surprised The Kronkes’ won’t release more money than they can because the club have blown so much on, A: players we didn’t need and B: players who were obviously worth more than they are! Add to that the stupid contract situations (allowing players contracts to run down) and overpaying players?

    MA has a massive problem to solve but he won’t do it if we all rely on him alone. We don’t want to accept it as fans, but the damage already done will take years. More than we wanted it too. We have a rocky road ahead. Even this season may well be over by January if things don’t pick up but, I will still back MA until the end of the season. If things are not looking better by then, then I don’t see MA retaining his job unfortunately. And it’s just not his fault, entirely.

    I believe there is a rot that has set in at the club. It’s plagued the club since the decision was made to build The Emirates. The fundamental core values and focus changed from having the best manager in the world with the best football being played, to having the best manager/business man with more profit being made. The football became less important. The new owners came. Share holders sold out. Usmanov buckled (although it was the Russian who put up more of a fight). Our dominance faded. The club weakened but the fans still loved. We still love. Support MA at all costs!!!

  7. “Systems managers” like Klopp, Guardiola and Bielsa not only buy “system players”, they are great at getting the players they have to buy into their system and football philosophies.

    When you buy a player, you can never be absolutely sure that he will turn out exactly as you expect.

    The effectiveness of a manager lies in how well he can get his players to play the way he wants to. That depends on how well he communicates with them, how well he inspires them to give it their all and how well he trains them till his system becomes second nature to them.

    We are not successful when we press high not mainly due to players who lack pace like Xhaka. It’s because we are uncoordinated in the press and lack real intent to win the ball from the press.

    Players like Jordan Henderson are not quick, but Liverpool are so effective at the high press because they press like a pack of wolves. Every player in attack and midfield knows when to start running, where to run to and truly believes they can nick the ball off their opponents to start an attack from a dangerous position.

    Unlike us, they are so well drilled at it, they do it virtually like a reflex action. They don’t have to wait and think if they should start running to press. They don’t have players who should be part of the press, watching idly while other teammates are pressing. They don’t wait for the ball to reach a player before making the run to press him. When one of their players run towards the opponent with the ball, everyone plays their part to seal off a route to pass out from their press. It closes the available escape routes.

    Pressing is only effective when everyone in the front 5 does it together. Otherwise, we would be leaving gaps for the opponents to pass around the press and that’s just wasting the energy of those running to press

    1. Top comment! But don’t you think you need a great degree of physicality, agility, and athleticism to do all you have explained? And if yes, do you think the Arsenal players have such qualities? Also, it was obvious that our fear of Leeds, was the fact that they will outwork us. It is so glaring that our players cannot last 90 mins pouncing up down the pitch. That is a set-back to our ability to press.

      1. Thank you Indeed. Well of course pace and power are always bonuses in football, but teamwork is probably the most important factor for high pressing to work effectively.

        The top priority ought to be drilling the team till they can instinctively work together as a unit when they press. That has to be top on the list because the drills and culture needs to be instilled first for new signings to fit in more seamlessly. Otherwise, even with players who are quick and strong, they would still be pressing disjointedly as individuals, with gaps to exploit.

        Agree that we currently don’t have the fitness to press for much of the game. When Klopp started at Liverpool and Guardiola at CIty, their high pressing systems were evident after a few months, but they failed to get results consistently because their players didn’t have the fitness to sustain the high press, on top of leaky defences. They would often tire after starting the game impressively and allowed the opponent to come back.

        It was around the time when Leicester won the league. I remember thinking that Guardiola was unrealistic to expect creative players like De Bruyne and David Silva to press like that. Those players were already at City when he arrived and were neither fit nor physical enough to chase after the ball once they lose it. He needed to buy players who are fitter and stronger.

        Less than 2 seasons down the road, he proved me wrong. Somehow he managed to get players like De Bruyne and David Silva to keep up with his high pressing system. The were not only able to press high up the pitch but also maintained the beautiful game. Together with massive signings in defence, they won the league back to back.

        Though high pressing became famous in the last few years, it isn’t something new in football. It’s been around since the 70s, but it has been widely agreed that it’s not a sustainable system of play. It was inconceivable that players can have the fitness levels to make it work, so it mostly remained as an ideology that was unpractical, until Klopp, Guardiola and Bielsa came along.

        Hope Arteta can follow in the footsteps of those great managers and help players who don’t yet have the qualities to make the high press work succeed eventually. We can’t expect to chop and change a entire team every time we have a new manager

        1. Top notch Winston! Top notch! I love reading from people like you! Thanks for the time to explain in greater details! I also agree to the use of training and drilling to achieve the required effects, but most times, I see the Arsenal players unable to meet up. Sometimes, they look jaded when the game begins that I feel the training and drills may have taken a toll.. Also, I feel Unai also started out trying to drill them in the high pressing game… Their fitness levels improved in the early part of unai’s reign, but it slowly ebbed out and shattered in ruins… I hope it won’t happen with the same set of players under Arteta…. They are truly unable to sustain their fitness levels, light weight, and (let me not be too negative)…. I hope it will play out good in the end as you noted for Guordiola and Klopp…thanks again!

          1. Yeah I hope there’s a happy ending too. Glad we can have a nice exchange of ideas. You are too kind. Thank you again Indeed

  8. Arsenal are a cup team atm. We won the FA Cup, well Auba kind of did aswell as the one off community shield game for that plaque but league and European wise we are no where near the top 6 in England or Top40 in Europe.

    36teams in UCL and we are maybe Top4 in Europa league but make that look so hard at times when it shouldnt be and look no where near capable of winning it as it stands.

    We made progress and had abit of confidence going into the season but now looks like same ol same ol if not worse than last year by the way we are playing. No goals in quite a few games from open play, over 600mins of football played and Auba has 9shots in 8games?

    Pepe has been a flop il call it now, Willian should never of been signed and Saliba/Ozil situations is an embarrassment to the whole club.

    I dont know what going on but we havnt made any progression regarding the league at all, we are actually worse and that’s so hard to believe but is what it is. Arsenal have pissed all of us off so much is becoming the norm to now not get angry or hurt by the team as it’s what we are getting used to.

    Hope I’m proved wrong but the signs are there that we are not improving.

  9. Problem is that these sorts of systems are more applicable to either teams with unlimited resources who can buy the very best players to build bespoke teams , or teams in the lower half of the table who can acquire players with limited skills and coach them to play in a very limited way. To do this would need time without the restrictions of having to compete at the highest regions of the table.
    There are calls to give Arteta time. The sad fact is that he does not have that luxury. Teams identifying with the top third of a league as competitive at the Premier League cannot afford to to spend time down the table or even worst get into relegation battles…too much is at stake.
    In North America, a top, top team can just dump the season if things go awry, there is no relegation and you are awarded better draft picks for incoming players.
    time is of the essence and no manager can be afforded very much of it in the ultra competitive Premier League.

  10. Few clubs have the cash to just go out and buy a new squad. Over time a manager can rebuild and gradually put together the squad he wants. But in the meantime he has to make the best of what he’s got. You’ve seen Mourinho doing that at Spurs coaching the players to play his way and dropping Ali when he didn’t. That’s been topped up with a good transfer window but still most of the players were already there even if some of them are unrecognisable from last season. Arteta has to travel the same road, there’s no way Arsenal can afford anything else.

    1. You are correct. A good manager has to make a system based on the players he has at his disposal not a system based on phantom players.

  11. Arsenal should close the stadium and their offices, withdraw from all competitions, scout the world for newborns then groom them to understand and execute Arteta’s system. They should open again after 20 years.

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