We Have Achieved Identity by AI
One of the markers of a good team is the identity of it. Their style, their pattern, what they are known for. When Arteta came in, he implemented a strong defensive structure to stabilize the team (which is similar to what Tuchel is doing with Chelsea) and received plenty of criticism for how negatively the team was set up, especially in big games. But that was never Arteta’s full intention. For a man who has played under Wenger and studied under Guardiola, it was undeserved and hasty. Modern managers often employ a back 4 and Arteta had clearly stated that was his preference, too.
But systems can’t be played without the right profiles in the club. Ozil was mentally and physically done playing at a Premier League standard. The board had not been able to bring in a proper attacking midfielder and the clearest option at the club, Smith-Rowe, was struggling with an injury he picked up from preseason. Arteta could not change the system just yet. Patience was required and it almost cost him his job. Desperate and needing to do something, the coach tried out Lacazette and Willian in the 10 role in the Europa League to poor results. His back was really against the wall. Then Smith-Rowe got fit, we left the 3 at the back system behind, and things have not been the same.
To judge Arteta’s Arsenal by how we played earlier in the season is misguided. This current system is a clearer indication of our future under the talented young coach. We are undeniably doing so many things better and are not even close to achieving Arteta’s full vision, yet. We still make plenty of technical errors, bad passes, poor finishes and lack the calmness to see out games. But one thing is clear: we have a way of playing now and that is our identity.
Our identity is a brave, possession-hugging structure with plenty of nuance: our fullbacks go high and one of them often tucks into the midfield. The inverted fullback frees a midfielder to leave the midfield and join the last line of attack in the halfspace which means that one of our wingers stay wide and high. This leaves us with a deep 2-3 structure (both CBs and the midfield pivot + fullback) for compactness and counterattacks. Since Tierney goes wide, the left winger is required to come inside and play as a ball magnet (which is why Pepe, Auba and Martinelli are not preferred there when Willian and Smith-Rowe are available). The central forward has to be complete and dynamic enough to interchange with the No 10 and the inside winger as well as running the channels and stretching the opponent backline. Basically, in the forward line, there is height and depth, ensuring ball retention and runners into the box provided Tierney or another outlet has space for a delivery.
Our identity, clearly, is one that sustains pressure on the opposition third while being remarkably invulnerable to counterattacks. All five attacking channels are occupied, play is dynamic and retentive, there’s counterpressing once the ball is lost, we start building play from the back and retreat into a 442 block if the ball can’t be regained back in seconds.
Our ascension has begun and the clearest mark of it is how we play our football. The next step is in recruitment. The synergy between our coach and the hierarchy will be made obvious. We will see how much they believe in the sporting project and how much they want it. This is the next step and it can make or break the future to come.