Forget Aston Villa – Let’s look at how far Arsenal have come as Arteta searches for the perfect tactic

Ah, what a disappointment against Aston Villa at the weekend. Understandably, everyone is borderline suicidal, as is the melodramatic way fans approach the game. But we do have a right to be a bit miffed. Having settled on a lineup that works at both ends our perma-stubbled manager just had to fiddle with it.

Not just with the personnel, which most fans would not only support, but avidly call for, but with the positions for those players. This has given Arteta a whack across the knuckles he will no doubt completely ignore, and will go on making such hare-brained decisions in the future, because if he hasn’t learned after 5 years, he probably isn’t going to.

But enough doom and gloom…

Let us instead look at what has gone well this season. We are still mathematically in the fight for the league title and have improved defensively from last season, which was already much improved from previous years. We aren’t, perhaps, as industrious and entertaining in attack, but we are effective, and when it clicks it is something to behold. There is much to like about this team, in all positions, right across the pitch.

We have the best central defensive partnership in the league in Saliba and Gabriel, and the latter only ever appears to display weakness when trying to cover the vastness of the pitch vacated by the intolerably ineffective Zinchenko. Indeed, William Saliba might very well be the best central defender in the Premier League right now. A brutal combination of size, strength, skill, tactical awareness, deftness of touch, he is a Rolls Royce of a defender and beautiful to watch.

Similarly, whilst perhaps lacking some of the finesse and joie de vivre of the Frenchman, Martin Odegaard’s mesmerizing mix of skill and effort, elevate him above more gifted players (Özil) to have graced the Emirates.

Ben White, our tattooed, football-hating right back, is an astonishing player. His ability to seamlessly inhabit a number of different roles ‘should’ make him a shoo-in for any national coach, but if there’s one thing more annoying than Arteta’s team selection, it’s Gareth Southgate’s.

It is this flexibility, and that of Jurien Timber, that, if we are truly fortunate, will see the inverted LB die out at the end of this season and we can revert to a more traditional approach, or just use White/Timber from RB as they are both perfectly capable of fulfilling the requirements to play there and much, much better than Zinchenko. It would allow Tierney to come back in as LB and give Martinelli the support he so desperately needs on the left wing, with Tomiyasu/Kiwior providing cover or alternatives for different opponents.

Of course, these views are entirely my own and unlikely to even be shared by most Arsenal fans, let alone our illustrious coach, but I believe that a back 4 combination of White, Timber, Saliba, Gabriel, Kiwior, Tierney & Tomiyasu is perfectly sufficient to mount a title challenge if fit and, used correctly. Zinchenko could maybe then be used in a midfield role, and with some of those defensive requirements removed, actually shine for us. He is a talented player but lacks the positional awareness to play at LB. It is a specialist role best left to those with the tactical and physical attributes suited to the role, of which we have options.

Havertz has demonstrated enough this season that a new striker isn’t quite the urgent need everyone thought it was. He may not be playing in the position originally intended, but has shone as a false 9, something I called for right at the start of the season.

Unlike at Chelsea, he isn’t just put up front to die alone, he is supported and has become integral to this team. Sadly, or perhaps not, it has come at the expense of Gabriel Jesus. Of his many fine attributes as a player, being a striker isn’t one. Similarly to Zinchenko he lacks the awareness and instinct needed for such a specialist position. If he had Nketiah’s poacher mindset, what a player he would be then. Alas, he is just an industrious winger. If used in this manner he is an asset to the club. If used as a striker he is a liability.

If you have read this far, well done. I’m not sure it has come across as optimistic as I had intended but I think it is at least fair. I like this team. It doesn’t have the maverick brilliance that Man City and Liverpool have, but rather works as a functional group who play within the guidelines set out by the manager.

Last season the players appeared to have more freedom, so we saw more exciting football. This season, some of that has been replaced by a more pragmatic mindset, but the brilliance is still there to see when it clicks. I think Arteta probably should have learned from his mistakes by now, or at least stopped making the same ones, but at least we are competing year after year now and the change from last season demonstrates that he is trying to find that perfect tactic.

And if he does… oh, what a sight that will be!

Ben Dungate


So here are some simple rules which I must insist commenters follow….

You agree not to give any personal abuse to other Arsenal fans. Everyone is allowed to hold their own opinions even if you disagree with them. It COSTS NOTHING TO BE POLITE TO OTHER ARSENAL FANS.

Tags Arsenal tactics


  1. He has had the money, to make this team better. He has bought the players to improve us. He has had plenty of time. But can he now win something with all that?

    1. Hey Reggie k
      I agree a huge amount of money has been spent but it does depend on your starting point. Whether you or I agree about the lack of support for Emery, it doesn’t alter where we were back then – somewhere near 14th.
      Forking out mega millions doesn’t always equate to success as Chelsea and Utd know so well.
      I’m happy- even if you are unsure- that we are in a good place to keep being competitive and soon enough we will have an overall better squad depth to make the last 4 plus seasons worth the wait

      1. Sue,

        Could you kindly explain why you are always comparing us to Utd and Chelsea when we could be looking at Man City and Liverpool’s success instead?

        All 5 have spent heavily why should Arteta success being measured against Utd and Chelsea instead of Liverpool and Man city?

        1. HH
          Both Utd and Chelsea have spent incredibly heavily since the departure of SAF and Abramovitch with the aim of getting back to the top. So far with limited success with managers employed
          Liverpool and City have 2 extremely successful managers, but even Klopp has struggled to keep up with Pep.

          1. So what is the difference between us, Chelsea and United since Arteta has taken reigns?

            In the 5 years he has been in charge, up to now the only accomplishments have been 2 top 4s and a Champions League quarter final.

            How does he fare compared to Utd/Chelsea in the same period?

            Let’s go with facts and figures to reach the truth. I am on the road currently but once settled I will look at all 5 clubs for 5 years. Let’s see the investments made by each and what returns each has had.

          2. And I didn’t forget the FA Cup. To put that as Arteta’s achievement we should not call the players that won it dross or deadwood.

            Can’t have both ways.

            1. Yes HH but dont forget the FA cup was won by a bunch of no good duds that could only finish 8th that year.🤣
              Not a decent player among them. How low did he have to start, really?

                  1. Reggie
                    I honestly didn’t think they were losers but I did think that under Emery – for whatever the reasons- we were in a spot of bother when Arteta joined. Couple that with the board hiring a completely untried man, we were on a roller coaster for a couple of years and that was my reason for calling it a standing start

          3. League positions from Arteta took over to date (5 seasons)

            Arsenal 8th, 8th, 5th, 2nd, 2nd

            Man utd 3rd, 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 7th

            Chelsea 4th, 4th, 3rd, 12th, 9th

            Based on these figures is it true to say Man utd and Chelsea haven’t been successful in their spending compared to us?

            It looks false evidence to hail Arteta to me.

            Next the FA Cup..

            1. Looking at your figures which you are trying to hang me and Arteta with is a clear improvement since Arteta started. I really don’t understand the point of providing those standings as both clubs have spent massively over a much longer time trying to buy instant success either with players or managers and haven’t got to the promised land either

              I have never suggested that Arteta is the greatest manager but from a standing start has significantly improved our fortunes and still has time to reach that status

              1. You could argue Sue, Arteta has took us back to where he was, in his final years. CL qualification and never looking convincing to win anything? But wenger had better cup success. Artetas, with his players has been dismal to embarrassing.

              2. Champions League positions from Arteta took over to date (5 seasons)

                Arsenal NA,NA, NA, NA, Quarter finals

                Man utd NA, Gruop stage, Round of 16, NA, NA

                Chelsea Quarter finals, Winners, Quarter finals, Quarter finals, NA

                Based on these figures is it true to say Man utd and Chelsea haven’t been successful in their spending compared to us?

                In three competitions over a span of five seasons, they have much better results than us.

                To say repeatedly that they have spent like us without success is an opinion not based on any facts or figures whatsoever.

            2. The FA Cup positions from Arteta took over to date (5 seasons)

              Arsenal: Winners, 4th round, 3rd round, 4th round, 3rd round

              Man utd: semis, quarter final, 4th round, final, semis

              Chelsea: final, final, final, 3rd round, semis

              Based on these figures is it true to say Man utd and Chelsea haven’t been successful in their spending compared to us?

              It looks false evidence to hail Arteta to me.

              Next and last the Champions League..

                1. Reggie
                  I always thought we were a top club even during our trophy-less years from mid 2004 or 5 until the mid teens. I think we had that cache and still do

                  1. Ok, I will put it another way. Top clubs don’t accept going a couple of years, without winning a major Trophy.

              1. HH
                You have failed to mention that Boely took over in 2022. Not very good reading since then is it? Top players and Tuchel too and we had a rookie manager

                As for ManU, they look a shadow of their former selves – whether they won something or not. Was it the Carabao Cup?

                Stats etc can really give a false indication at times so I prefer to look out how our league positions have improved as that doesn’t rely on home ties or favourable draws in the FACup

  2. In his 4 and a half years in charge, he has signed a total of 29 players. 12 of which (including Timber) have improved the squad or made an impact and 17 have been failures.

    It does not paint the rosy picture we are made to believe when we look at it that way, does it?

    As Reggie pointed out above he has done well under the conditions he is working on. Namely:
    1. Massive investment in transfers,

    2. allowed to lose players he does not want for free,

    3. total authority over players as well as

    4. a lot of time to get it right.

    He didn’t assemble this club from nothing, from the academy, from clever purchases and bargain buys, or from transforming average players into world beaters. He buys ready-made players at a high cost and most are under ridiculous wages.

    Of course, he still has to put on an effort to make it work, but he already is on conditions that failure is unlikely for him or anyone else who would have been in his position.

  3. Think we need to stop acting like he’s reinvented the wheel
    If he left tomorrow , he’s done a good job not a great one 8
    He joined a club who before two years prior always finished top 4 for two decades …he now finishes top 4

    1. Exactly Dan
      His tactics have been copied from pep himself (not a bad thing )
      I mean he even copied pep’s cashmere jumper look .
      That’s why he has the nickname minipep .
      No tactical genius to see here just someone who has followed his mentor .
      He needs to win something to change my mind .

    2. he’s reinvented this club

      we now have a team that plays the Arsenal way, young team hallmark of Arsenal, the ‘all in this together’ club ethos returned (except some notables on JA), back at Europe’s top table, Arsenal is a destination club for top talent again, fun to watch again and Emirates crowd louder than they have ever been…the list of positives goes on

      Arsenal was destined to be the new Man U in the post-Wenger years until Arteta pulled us out of that spiral

      1. I like your style Ben and I echo your sentiments with regard to the scrapping of the inverted LB tactic which has indeed had a detrimental impact on the performance of Martinelli who has been isolated on the left flank and does not enjoy the close support Saka gets from Odegaard and White.The loss of Xhaka has also hurt the young Brazilian who I have to say is looking a shadow of the player he was last season.

      2. If “the ‘all in this together’ club ethos returned (except some notables on JA)”, why did so many leave the Emirates once Villa scored their first? By the time Watkins scored their second, the stadium looked almost half empty.

        It’s safe to say that the vast majority of those who didn’t care enough to stay on and hope for an equaliser certainly did not exhibit the “all in this together club ethos” and are way more prevalent than just “some notables on JA” you implied

    3. Fair comment Dan to a point
      If Wenger had fulfilled his contract you are assuming he’d have returned us to a top4 position

      1. Yes
        I always said we would regress when we left
        We have regressed so much that 7 years later we celebrate what we used to complain about

        But wasn’t he mocked for only finishing top 4?
        And he wouldn’t have taken us to 8th twice
        I know your get angry if I say their names but I think certain choices Wenger wouldn’t have made lol

        1. Dan
          First and foremost I never mocked Wenger
          Second, you have absolutely no way of knowing that he could have turned our fortunes around. If Emery couldn’t revitalise the club’s position then it just showed that we were not going in the right direction with or without Ozil

  4. A technically well written piece, so congrats Ben.

    Lots of sensible balanced analysis too( a lesson that arch moaner Konstantin would do well to learn from).
    I much agree with Bens take about Jesus and on Zinny.

    Personally, I will be quite content to see BOTH leave us this summer and hope both DO leave.

    Neither one has lived up to what was expected when they first arrived. REALITY!

    Ben himself admits to being an outlier in his opinion that Tierney should come back.

    Perhaps he ought, BUT REALITY KNOWS HE WONT.

    As a perennial realist, I am concerned far less with what fellow Gooners think or want, but far more with what IS LIKELY TO happen, or in the case of Tierney, NOT to happen.

    Overall Ben, an enjoyable read and a sensible article. Well done!

    1. Thanks, Jon. I totally agree with you regarding Tierney, we are extremely unlikely to ever see him play for Arsenal again.

  5. Lazy thinking to suggest the line up against Villa cost us the game. The line up has literally changed countless times while we were on a winning run. in fact the “winning formula” got us TRAILING 2-1 against Bayern, before the eventual starters against villa came on and combined to grab us the EQUALIZER! Oops! i think i’m taking arm chair manager’s verdicts way too serious.

  6. No-one has suggested that Arteta gets everything right or that he does not make “mistakes”.
    However, some of what are being described as such are based on individual biases, an undercurrent of negativity and lack of respect for the manager’s ideas.
    A few things:
    Stating that “everyone is borderline suicidal” is silly and suggests the author simply exists in an echo chamber of negativity.
    To suggest that Arteta’s decisions are “hare-brained” is ridiculous and unreasonable. His decisions have been instrumental in getting us into a position where we can expect to challenge for major honours consistently. We are still challenging for the PL and are in the CL for the first time in years. It is also dishonest to imply that nothing has been learnt over the time Arteta has been manager. The team has clearly evolved over time and Arteta has tried various things.
    There is no evidence that employing a more “conventional” approach such as that suggested by this author would make us a better team or be more effective in mounting a title challenge. I could as well point out that most top level managers have studied the traditional systems and are well aware of their inherent strengths and limitations. This is one of the reasons they are rarely consistently deployed in a simplistic fashion by the best teams.
    Given the number of games that we have played recently it was almost inevitable that changes would have to be made for certain games. At the same time there are limited options for certain positions.
    As for the “perfect tactic”. It does not exist.

    1. As one of those who always come in defense whenever Arteta is criticized I doubt you mean what you wrote in your first sentence.

      Care to list some of the mistakes he made if you have seen any?

    2. DAVID wouldnt you agree that on a fansite such as this, with fans everywhere being as we are, we ought to EXPECT some OTT sentences?
      I USUALLY PICK UP ONLYON IT WHEN iperceive the writer to be not esp bright.

      I think with BEN that is NOT the case though, so I feel inclined , from bright writers, to let much of the expected OTT language go by uinchallenged.

      However, when I DONT THINK MUCH OF THE INTELLECT of certain writers, then I do feel more inclined to challenge what I see as unthought through comments.

      I use OTT language myself at times, mainly in posts rather than my articles and I HAVE, NEEDLESS TO SAY, A GREAT RESPECT FOR MY OWN INTELLECT,so its sensible to be as fair as our own human prejudices will allow us to be.
      Of course “everyone is borderline suicidal” is ludicrous language, but its not out of line with SOME writers, sadly. But BEN IS a bright guy, IMO!

      I have never claimed to be modest, TBH, though I do value self honesty, which is partly why I ADMITTED NEVER BEING MODEST. Its not my style!

    3. Perhaps I used too many superlatives, but I think the general intent behind them stands up. I wholeheartedly support rotation of players, and I actually thought Havertz did well in midfield. The problem stems more from him not being up front.

      1. Ben I would not worry if I were you. Most of us can easily tell when a writer is bright and has something worthwhile to say, as YOU are and have done.

        When writers are not that bright and I CAN THINK OF A FEW, IT IS A DIFFERENT FAN REACTION.
        We are all allowed a little poetic licence and as long as we write mostly sense, it matters not at all.

        1. BTW, I do not refer to DAN SMITH,as he IS bright! Controversial at times but definitely bright!

  7. Arteta is doing a good job, for me. Those who hired him were not expecting instant success; they were willing to give him time and support. So should we fans. There is clear evidence of improvement in the Arsenal team in several aspects.
    It is funny how fans and coaches of other teams acknowledge his achievements while we the fans have nothing but criticism and derision to offer.
    Top-four today is way tougher in the PL than it was a few years back. So while nobody would accept achieving top-four as the ultimate goal of our team, we’d also recognize that it has become an increasingly tough to do, and the prize even more desirable

Comments are closed

Top Blog Sponsors