Arsenal may have lost – but the Back Four is the way forward for Arteta

Finally: Leicester City Result is a Welcome Fluke. by AI

One of the problems of Arsenal’s 2020/2021 season under Arteta has been the dearth of chances for the team. Arsenal have not been creating much. They have been creating shots like a relegation-bound team. The other side of that is that their shots taken have been of premium quality — the highest — in the league, with the expected goal average (Gx) of their shots tied with Manchester City’s. Basically, Arsenal have been a relegation team creatively and a title-winning one when they do shoot.

They cannot afford to continue like that. A top side needs to generally be very good at creating chances (and preventing them: but we are already good at that). It is in the multitude of these chances created that the top sides end up scoring enough to top the table. That is what every Guardiola side does. Guardiola sets up his sides as a chance creating factory. The idea is that if you create more than the other team (and allow them to create little in return), you are very likely to win the match. There may be fluke matches in which you outplay the other team and still lose, but over thirty-something games, that investment will pay off.

There’s an argument to be made that the reason why Arteta’s Arsenal do not create so much is because they play a constricted 3-4-3 with no quality attacking midfielder. Once Arteta reverts to a back-four, the argument goes, Arteta will remove his Simeone mask and show his inner Guardiola. Arsenal will transform into a chance-making machine overnight.

Well, here’s the expected goals from Arsenal vs Leicester, the first game in which Arteta employed a conventional back-four:

HT: Arsenal (1.01) 0-0 (0.02) Leicester
FT: Arsenal (1.27) 0-1 (0.79) Leicester

Arsenal have averaged less than 8 shots per match before this game. In the first half alone, they had 11. Leicester set up like a lower league team in the first half. They didn’t press much and simply waited for Arsenal to play through them so they could hit them on the counter. Arsenal called their dare and should have been ahead by two goals by half-time. Sadly, it was not to be.

In the second half, Arsenal lost both David Luiz and Bukayo Saka, their best creators in the first half. Luiz’s loss was particularly impactful. Luiz was very responsible for pushing the attack sometimes down the right towards Bellerin in the first half, as well as switching play to either Saka or Tierney on the left. Although Arsenal still switched play to the left after he came off, they lost all zip and bite down the right. Bellerin’s problem-delivering runs faded out of existence. Ceballos, tasked with supporting/instigating right-sided attacks, was simply not in the game from the first half. Leicester also brought on quality and pace in Cengiz Under and Jamie Vardy, while stepping up their pressing a bit. The result of all that was Arsenal, who had previously created 11 chances, could only muster one more.

Of course, individual quality matters. And chance creating teams are not coached equal. The likes of City, Liverpool and Bayern create more chances than the likes of Madrid, Barcelona and PSG. Yet each of them constantly dominates smaller teams. Arsenal do not have much of an X-factor in the passing and movement phase. Neither is the attack structure and movement coached to the highest quality. The likes of Ceballos could have done more yesterday. In fact, everybody could have done more. But what matters, at this moment in time for Arteta, is this question: Did we create enough chances to win this game if it was re-run.

The answer is obviously yes. At least in the first half. Hear it from the gaffer’s mouth: “I think the team started really well,” Arteta told “We had a really good first half against a really low block but they’re a team that has the ability to play and open you up as well. We didn’t allow that to happen, we were really aggressive, we won every duel, we were a threat.”

There were enough quality moments in which Arsenal could have gone ahead and out of sight. That is what they need to do well throughout the season. Leicester’s goal came from a single moment in which we allowed the ball to be played behind us. Apart from that one moment, they had little in this match, and we had enough to have won. In that sense, we need more of this game throughout the season (with a better second half, of course), where we create more and limit the opponents to as little as possible. I would be curious to see what we play like in a 4-3-3 against other teams like Southampton or Leeds who press high.

We still have to improve many aspects of this 4-3-3. We need to be able to create more through different means. Liverpool, for instance, can create chances from deep counterattacks, pressing, wing-overloads, crosses from deep, combination play in between the lines, set pieces, and from third man runs from deep. Structurally, we can seemingly only create well from pressing, set pieces and wing-overloads — that is not good enough to build a chance factory on.

Can Arteta coach more ways of scoring for his team in a 4-3-3? I think so. This is as dependent on coaching quality as well as individual quality (plus time!). You need individual quality to be at a sufficient level to combine in between the lines as a safe and effective means of creating chances. That was how Arsenal made the second goal against Sheffield United. Evidently, that moment was something from the training ground. How fast can we see more of such at Arsenal? That depends.

Arteta is still missing a lot of individual pieces. I suspect that he already can coach these to a high level. Time is needed for that coaching to show up at a high and consistent level. As his team begins to understand his demands better, we will be seeing more of his coaching. For better or worse. I think it is for the better. Arteta surely has learnt how to train various types of attacking automatisms from Pep. The good news is that he’s also a pragmatist at heart, so even as his team might mature to attack with more inventiveness and variety, they will stay compact and solid — especially in tough fixtures. Arteta’s Arsenal, by that definition, has more potential for trophy winning than Wenger’s in the current football age.

This is the dawn of Arteta’s Arsenal going forward. Attacking-wise, the Pep in him is revealing itself. This game is a welcome fluke. May the moments (and VAR) continue to favour us.

Agboola Israel

Tags Arsenal v Leicester City


  1. Back 4? It’s half a wall … No one in their right mind thinks that bellerin and Luiz are serious defenders … need to sell them and mustafi in the window … we would still have saliba Mari and chambers but need a proper tight back for sure

    1. Obvious bias comment..None of Chambers, Mari or Saliba is better than Luiz who also seem to have turned into AFCs only creative player..Stop the pretense of objectiveness..

    2. Bro do you even watch the play? When Luiz is out we struggled to create chance. He is playing like a sweeper. Hector made the most decent shot on target.

      I think you are a spurs fan.

    1. Lol… So what next? Arteta Out?
      Take a seat bro, you’ll find lots of space at the back sit.
      You’ll be sitting there for a long while

      1. Yes MA out. We are struggling to create even before this match. He bought Partey, not Aurar. Now Ozil is out of squad.

        If this performance continues another for another 5 EPL match, you will call for his head I guarantee it.

  2. “Leicester set up like a lower team league..”I disagree,they played us at our own game,they did to us what we did to Liverpool and Man city when beating them,giving the oppositionthe majority of possession, defending deep and hit us on the counter!

    1. Exactly my point, so why’s everyone singing the chances creation were problem yesterday?
      They did the exact thing we did to City.
      People called it genius, and credited Arteta for it.
      Now we got fed the same dose of our medicine and we can’t credit Rogers and his boys for pulling it successfully?
      Also, the front three worries me a lot more than the back 4.
      If only our attackers were clinical, we’d be saying this is a hard fought win because Leicester did fight till the end and came out strong

  3. A positive and well constructed article. All your points are valid and at the end of the day, Rome was not built in a day. I am 100 % behind the manager and am realist to know there will be results that will not go our way but its all part of the learning and building process for the new manager.

  4. Leicester had one weakness in the first half and I’m very very disappointed we didn’t exploit it more to our advantage.

    There were times I was screaming at my tv for Luiz to play that long diagonal to Tiereny.. we saw his quality in 2 deliveries into the box for Auba and Laca which they squandered. Van djik does it all the time for Liverpool. Luiz can too but for reasons best known to him he kept looking for other options when our most dangerous play was giving KT the ball. I was so mad.

    If we had used that channel more in the first half I’m sure we’d get a goal or two. We see Liverpool full backs play those deep early crosses countless times because of the quality both fullbacks posses, Tiereney is even better at it.


  5. I really liked the way Luiz was spreading his passes. My only doubt is Arteta. The coach has a balanced team, but he cannot properly deploy his troops. I still have big question marks on the capabilities of Arteta

  6. So is the 343 really the problem?
    The answer is NO.

    We crave for 433 with loads of possession but earned no points. Those who were yelling for 433 @gotanidea now says we shd use 4231. Let’s stop pretending we can do better than MA. So my question is?

    Should we revert to 343 or stick with the 433?

    1. 😂😂😂… This comment.
      Sticking to the 4-3-3 would be best bro.
      Leicester did well, I don’t know why nobody’s giving them credit for their defensive setup and acting like we were terrible all game.
      The 4-3-3 squad would only get better

      1. @Eddie, I think we should buy MA time. We should use the 433 and most importantly if not injury, let’s look for our first XI. The more they play together, the more they build their chemistry. Auba needs to move to the middle ASAP.

        We were not bad as Eddie stated but leicester got their tactics right.

  7. Defense is much better. Unfortunately it seems like we’ve improved it at the expense of attacking.. Partey and Gabriel seem like top buys, straight into the starting XI.

    We are not shooting enough but what really is abysmal, is our finishing..

    I hope we are in for Szoboszlai and Daka in January. I think Lacazette is surplus, we just can’t give him wasting away all the chances. Just play Auba as CF with Pepe/Nelson on the right and Saka on the left.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this but we are really missing 19-year old Martinelli..

  8. 343, 433, 4231, blah, blah, blah. Formations are not the root of our problems, it’s the players not doing their jobs properly, defenders not covering runners, midfielders traversing the ball forward too slowly and the forwards not taking advantage of the chances they get. Our next four games are Man U, Villa, Leeds, Wolves and spurs. I’d say we have got some problems to sort out!

    1. I agree @Declan. Is the same players trying out different formations. Our build up is too slow and predictable. Well, not a good cameo for Mustafi cos he’s the same Mustafi we know.

  9. Another issue were the midfielders not making any runs. It seems they were instructed by Arteta not to get too gar forward or make any late runs through the channels.
    The attackers seemed too static to me, for example when Bellerin got into the box, there was no one to cut it back to, where were Auba and Laca?
    The chemistry between Auba and Laca has dried up, looks like they never played together before. Lately seems like we don’t play to our strengths anymore, always set up to nullify opponent rather than forcing our style on them and making them adapt to us.

  10. It was a great match, I really felt bad though but it’s okay,
    I really don’t know why Arsenal players get tired easily, The front 3 didn’t make enough use of their chances, Ceballos and Xhaka were really absent, Thomas wasn’t given a free hand to play, I really think we should let go of this 3-4-3, it’s not allowing the midfield enough free flow,

    Arteta needs to let in smith Rowe to see if he could unlock some creativity or probably let in saka as he seems to be our best creative guy.

    Really bad to see arsenal loss matches like this,

    I doubt if Lacazette can still find his feet.

  11. I agree with the article. First half was a big improvement in terms of chance creation but it’s either a cross-field ball to a wing back or nothing. Very static and constantly huge gaps in the centre between midfield and attack. The three in midfield never tried to combine to work the ball through the centre and everything was still very slow and conservative (committing very few numbers forward when countering).

    More efficiency in front of goal would’ve seen us win that. There is tangible improvement but still a lot to work on. Arteta sorted out defensive shape; next project: attacking patterns!

  12. Arsenal’s biggest problem is not Arteta or even a lack of CAM, it is Auba + Laca. Why? Because aside from goal scoring which Auba gives, both strikers are not great at anything. Can’t be relied on to give a perfectly weighted linking pass or make the most intelligent decisions during the attacking phase. Watching our game yesterday, made me realize how Arsenal has degenerated in terms of attacking prowess and intelligence in the final third. We need to create chances and that will only start with removing one of them from the squad, it is obvious for almost 2 years now, that both in the team disrupts our attack progression, balance and chance creation. Play with people who can create on both wings and leave Auba in the middle. Till then, Arsenal will continue to be average

  13. Still no energy in the midfield, what a lethargic performance. The midfielders are the ones that are suppose to propel the attack but they were busy playing pass pass sideways and backwards. Leicester defenders did not even break a sweat the whole match. We could’t run at them and we were just passing the ball around with the hope that the Leicester players would die of boredom and we can then stroll to their goal post and tap the ball into the net. This was the same labored performance from Wenger’s team in the last two years of his reign. Arteta wants to play 4-3-3 Liverpool style but he did not compare the type of energetic players full of running in the Liverpool midfield to the likes of Xhaka and he played Ceballos out of position in our midfield,. Is that not a gamble and incompetence? We had better switch back to three at the back because we do not have the players in midfield to play in a 4-3-3 system. And like I said before in another post, the attacking players need to train in their link up play and understanding with each other because our link up play right now is zero. They should also train on fist touch ball control and train on running at opponents consistently which is a major problem with all our forward players at the moment. We can’t win the games easily if we don’t run at the opponents consistently. See the reasons why 5 games without a goal for Aubamayang now..

  14. Bravo Agboola for writing truth and full perspective. I much agree with what you wrote and do not remotely share the unthinking gloom by so many on here who have not your analytical powers and not your intellect either.
    I also point out that it would have been a different game if our unfairly disallowed goal after two minutes had been given , as it should have been. Both pundits on MATCH OF THE DAY thought it a fair goal, as do I.
    The moaning minnies need to be patient andrealise that MA has only been here a few months and has only two of his own CHOSEN players in the team as regulars. That is fact, not opinion. PARTEY AND GABRIEL are his buys and ALL the rest he inherited, even though he clearly will be happy with some of them. But far from all, so be PATIENT AND STOP THE FOOLISH GLOOM!

    1. He has been hear for more than a few months.

      We have lost half our games. More on the way.

      Guy spent the whole summer identifying only one AMF and failed to get him.

      We still play poor football. One of the worst attacks in the league.

      The league is there for the taking just like the season Leicester won it.

      Auba us ineffective in games barring his goals. Lacazette, same and Pepe and Willian also. There is no link up play between these players whatsoever.

      1. I would just point out that a year ago the team was virtually in free fall and Arteta didn’t start until Christmas. How long do you think we should give Arteta to get the team going again? It was only a few weeks ago that we won the Cup.

        I know very well that all in the garden is not rosy at present but do you not think that Arteta and Edu were working hard to bring in improvements? Wasn’t the signature of Auba treated with screams of delight?
        In a pre Covid world, there was more movement of players. No proper transfer fee received for Mikytarian, only loans for Torreira and Guendouzi. Sokratis move fell through and Ozil wanted to fight for his place. If there aren’t enough players on the merry go round who want to get off then the club’s hands are tied until they do.There are a fair few who we’d love to show the door to but the Covid world has changed many things

        Partey and Gabriel were big signings. Can’t say that about Soares or Mari(injured) or Willian yet. I’m disappointed that Auba is having a lean time and Laca isn’t firing either but I’m still holding on to positive stuff for now. If Arteta makes a mess of it after a full season then questions should be asked then but now is premature I think

        This season has started very strangely and there is a long way to go and there is not a crisis just yet

        1. Ideally, MA needs two years before the banners start flying. For an inexperienced coach, he is doing wonders. After all the PL is not a Bundesliga where he only needs to worry about two teams…

            1. I was one of those clamoring for Arteta to be signed by the club. I actually thought he would come in and instill the technical,, ball control and creative style of Man City into the Arsenal style. Which by the way used to be Arsenal’s real identity and style under Wenger barring the last two seasons of his reign due his poor signings in key areas which eventually cost him his job. I thought Arteta was the man but it is clear to me he hates the technical, ball control and creative style of football. He has been here since January and up till now, there is still no flair, ball control, link up play and creativity in the way we play our football. And since we have not seen that style of football up till now, my guess is that we may never see it. My verdict, we will not make top 4 this season unless Arteta changes this current style of pass pass football to a more attacking and running at the opponents style.

              1. Franko
                Are you suggesting then that the board ditch Arteta then? If you think he should be given the heave-ho, do you have any ideas who should replace him, bearing in mind that we all know that money is tight at the Emirates and the in-comer would have to face the same issues that Arteta does now?

          1. 2 years – in theory yes, Sid.. in reality no chance… have already seen Arteta out comments online… and if we lose next week at OT, it’ll only get worse. Which is a shame, but if we’re not getting results, the knives, hell even pitchforks will be out… so let’s hope we get a result next week, as tbh I wasn’t expecting these sort of comments so soon after UE…

    2. Willian, Mari, Soares are his signings too. As is Runnarson. Do you think they would do any better in the starting XI? MA is handling a tough job, but to impose your opinions on other people who are providing valid criticism(not the ones who are already saying Arteta out!), is far from fact, I would say.

  15. Leicester had a special plan for Xhaka.
    And we should have scored in the first half.saka was guilty too .I hope saka’s injury not too serious

  16. We’re one of the least creative teams. If it’s not pass that is bad, it’s the movement. If not the movement, then the first touch. If not the first touch, then the shot, if the shot is on target, its mostly poor.

    Even so called smaller teams have better sequence of play like Southampton, Leeds, villa.

    Teams like Palace, Wolves and Newcastle will try to do exactly what Leicester did.

    We have the worst most expensive front three in the league.

  17. Let them continue to play with this low energy and it would soon be clear to us all where we will be come end of the season.

    1. Initially used as an LW, then an LB, then a CM, and then RW, with occasional runouts as an attacking LWB.

  18. We’ve turned into Leicester if you think about it. Try to contain big teams, and try to control games against small teams which we actually can’t do.

    Like I said last week, if it were not for playing Fulham and Sheffield early on we would be in relegation.

  19. Well no point in time against Leicester it looked like we were being outplayed. We dominated across the whole pitch and credits to them for their game plan but if not for terrible refereeing and VAR we could have seen a different result.

    We have lost 3 games against Liverpool, City and Leicester which is terrible undoubtedly but the silver lining is the fact that we weren’t HAMMERED across any of these games. Infact we held our own for a good amount of those 270 minutes against the teams that finished above us last season.

    I have never been so confident of not getting a hammering for a very long time against against top teams and that to me is a massive improvement.

    Of course this is not a title winning side and by no margin I am saying its perfect. But if we really get out of the disappointment of these loses and look back, we can’t ignore the improvement in our team.

    The front 3 is a huge problem right now. And we are weak in attack. There is no doubt to it. Laca and Pepe aren’t world class. There is real issue of quality within the team and Arteta is struggling to get them moving.

    However, I still trust him to sort things out as season progresses. People asking for his head need to realise that instant transformation is not possible specially with the lack of funds with the club. We can’t transform the team in a single window much like Chelsea and City. Arteta has a huge project in front of him and we should reserve our judgment till the end of the season (atleast). We need to give him space and opportunity to make mistakes. Such widespread criticism is not constructive at an early stage of the season.

    1. Yeah, he needs at least a full season before serious criticism. Ideally, considering his experience, 2 years needed to completely build the team in his image.

  20. You guys don’t get it do you? 6 months is enough to see the style of play a manger brings on the table. It is clear Arteta won’t give us the football of the f=Fabregas days of flair, technique, pace and creativity. Its a shame am going to be watching labored performances for most of the games this season unless we change our style to the one I mentioned.

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