How Arteta’s tactical system works (and how it must evolve)



While preparing to pen the words of this article, this writer gleaned from more knowledgeable sources on Arteta’s Arsenal formation. Also, since JA fans have seen some insightful posts on the subject, this will just be a contribution from another Gooner like you on the depth of our Spanish manager’s tactical nous.


Infact, Dan’s recent fine article on this subject mirrored my thoughts on the 3-4-3 set-up to the extent that this write-up was almost titled, “The Arteta tactical revolution continues in Fulham masterclass (part 2)”, if not for an inability to obtain privilege-of-use and a likely backlash from the JA blogosphere for plagiarism.

In the meantime, let it be known that this writer has neither worked a day in football, nor did he play professionally. Accordingly, he’s hoping this commentary will not insult your football intelligence if you have a stockpile of knowledge about tactics in the round leather game. Now, is Arteta’s 3-4-3 a confusing 3-4-3? Yes, to some extent, but his players seem to understand how its dynamics work cos each player has looked decent, and that includes the much maligned Mustafi and Elneny.


This is because players have clearly defined roles; strategies have been devised for different defensive and attacking situations; the manager himself blows the trumpet in different languages (that gooners have made too much of, maybe cos of the dire need for such clear communication during Brother Unai’s time) on the touchline to remind the players to press, switch play or maintain their shape; and as long as each part of the puzzle is in place, players like Mustafi will make fewer mistakes, Xhaka won’t lose the ball much like before, and even Elneny will be more adventurous with the ball instead of his trademark sideways passes. Yet, in the words of Sky pundit-Jamie Carragher on twitter, this has been about “great management” on MA’s part to make his side competitive, rather than play a more aesthetic free flowing football style, cos necessity is the mother of invention. How then, did we get to this point?


There appears to be a general acceptance that the Spaniard prefers a 4-3-3 formation—how did these journos get that inkling? No one knows, but there could be some elements of truth in their claim by virtue of how the team set up in the early Arteta-days and what is seen on the pitch (which we’ll get to in a bit) now that he’s tweaked the system.


The Arsenal have consistently played a back three (since David Luiz’s ill-fated substitute appearance for Pablo Mari at the Etihad Stadium in June), and having won a trophy (or 2 including the Community Shield) playing in that formation, the coaching crew may have decided to improve and not switch from it yet. Nevertheless, MA’s 3-4-3 is mysterious in nature, and it changes as quickly as an amoeba on an electron microscope slide tricking you into thinking it’s one shape now only to change to another about 10 seconds later after you’ve had a sip of cold beverage.


Take the Fulham game for instance, when defending, Arsenal maintained a 3-4-3 shape with AMN occupying the LWB position and Tierney tucking in as LCB, while during transitions, Tierney moved to the left channel to join attacks with AMN tucking into MF (or joining attack as well) and Xhaka sometimes occupied the space Tierney leaves behind to cover for him. This gives Arsenal defensive solidity and numbers that cause confusing overloads for opponents during attacks.

Apart from the quick exchange of passes during counter attacks, our players’ runs were often difficult to track cos they constantly interchanged their positions and drew opponents to unfamiliar territories—a prime example is how Lacazette draws defenders in-field and frees up space for Aubameyang to run into. A-ha! A-ha! Spare a thought for managers (like David Moyes and co) who have to plan to deal with this amoebic set up!


Making Auba’s goal last weekend a case study, after passing their way past Fulham’s half-hearted press, Willian’s early ball afforded Aubameyang time and space on the ball to pick a spot and score. It’s up to you, but you can re-watch that 3rd goal’s clip again and keep your eyes: first on Xhaka as he was directing the passage of play among his teammates (see him pointing) when the ball was deep; secondly on Willian as he quickly latched onto the loose ball (and switched play) from the defender’s press on Lacazette, and finally on Tierney and AMN (dude was even pointing to where he wanted the ball lol) joining the attack to create an overload for the Fulham defenders as Aubameyang was poised to pull the trigger. This is a genius pain-in-the-bum strategy cos Auba could have passed in that kind of situation. Therefore, it puts opposing defenders in two minds on whether to close Aubameyang down or follow the runs of Tierney and AMN, or even to block passing lanes towards the edge of the box to players like Willian, Elneny and Xhaka who would have been nicely placed to shoot from that sort of range.


But the truth is, we’ll still be found out, and hopefully Arteta can keep improving the system and find other strategies to score goals cos Mourinho’s team talk to Davinson Sanchez and Sissoko for the next NLD could just be: “I zink you have to be on Auba all game, and never let him be 1-on-1 with a Spurs player around our goal area. I zink so. I zink so. I zink this is what you have to do to discover I’m still the Special One (Disclaimer: this isn’t meant to make fun of Jose’s accent).” And hey, Klopp did something similar in the second half of the Community Shield to scupper the fruition of that passage of play that gets Auba involved and scoring at the goalkeeper’s left corner.


So, hopefully, bugs capable of affecting Arteta’s tactical system will not be devised before the software upgrades. This is why you hope! That’s why you hope Laca can score a few more (screamers and tap-ins) this season. You hope Pepe’s goal return will improve like Sterling’s did at City. You still hope there will be more direct set piece goals with the new specialist in Arteta’s backroom staff. You also hope cut backs from the wings will be more accurate (hope Kolasinac & Bellerin are practising those) and lead to goals (hope Lacazette too is practising to shoot better under pressure, unlike when he shot at the keeper with that pass from Auba in the second half vs Fulham).

Look, the season has just begun, so you really hope the team evolves and the manager’s philosophy will be displayed like chandeliers in a wedding reception. But for an Arsenal fan, it’s the hope that..

Come on Arsenal!

Really appreciate you reading along,



  1. Another tactical article on what Arteta should do…keep it coming.
    And oh regarding your question, Arteta preferring 4-3-3 started or I at least got it from a video made by Amy Lawrence and some of the Athletics writers on the topic of gaining insights into Arteta’s new Arsenal and everything going on at the club.
    I don’t know about the rest of the median where they got theirs from

  2. The only person qualified to talk about Arteta tactics is Arteta himself, players and the staff.So don’t purport to explain tactics you never attended any of his training sections.Let look at the results and performance tactics are overrated.

  3. I said this last week in a comment somewhere here.

    The fact is we dont have a Vieira or Gilberto type of player that can make a 4-3-3 work effectively and we will lose more points going that way without a player of the above’s ilk.

    Why must it evolve? why must it change?

    I’m not sure we need to switch it up right now, everyone is screaming to play 4-3-3 but its not the answer right now.
    The answer is stay as we are, we’re playing some great football, the players have adapted to this style of play and we’re solid at the back which hasnt been a thing since 2004.

    I think we should take a moment and think, is this actually working for us, are these average players actually looking pretty decent and the answer is yes.

    Rome wasnt built in a day, a team cannot be built in one window to the degree us fans want.

    If we do sign Partey this window then its a step towards playing the way you all want but it wont happen straight away.

    Bottom line is that its working, we’re winning games, we’re more competitive against the top 6 teams and we’re beating them playing like this. Why change it up now?
    Chelsea fans screamed to go back to a back 4 during Conte’s reign, they won the league that season

  4. Your right Val .Until we get a top quality dedicated DM , it will be very difficult for us to switch to a 4-3-3 system where the likes of Elneny and Zhaka, who have little in the way of pace or real creativity , will find it difficult to operate as box to box exponents.Like you I have every confidence in MA to play the system to suit the players available.

  5. There is no doubt that Arteta has tactical nous. Impressive for a young man. But he has something else I just can’t put my finger on. Is it confidence, belief, authority? I don’t know…….but there is something in his character and approach , which I admire. He is on point and bringing something home to Arsenal that has been missing for many years.

      1. Well detailed article with so many insights.

        Well, like I opines earlier today on the other article on MA’s tactics and all, I believe in the ‘If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it’ school of thought.
        Albeit, to avoid being too predictable, MA must devise alternatives to this working system and I trust he understands this perfectly.

        The hallmark of a good footie manager is the ability to vary his tactics with varying circumstances as situations demand and not being rigid.

  6. There is something that really gets to me. Arteta is looking more a perfect fit for Arsenal every day. Respect. According to Lyon though, there has been no bid for Aoaur. Surely Kroenke would put 25mill up onto the 20mill we allegedly got for Martinez. Look at what Abramovich has just done at Chelsea. Kroenke should hang his head in shame. If he care nothing about Arsenal surely he must care about MILLIONS of supporters all over the world. Put the money up and get it back later Mr Kroenke. Maybe you are not even human with your billions of $$$$$$$$$$$s.

    1. Sean, I share your loathing of Kroenke but I see no point in calling for him to change as, after 13 years, he just is not going to. The fact is that he cares nothing about honour, glory and trophies, only about our asset value.

      The future hope that I cling to is that he will be bought out, probably by Dangote and hope Kroenkes wealth collapses under this convenient(for that hope) pandemic. Expecting a leopard to change its spots though is fantasy.


  7. 4-3-3 dream team:

    Willian – Aubameyang – Pepe
    (Martinelli) (Lacazette) (Saka)

    Ceballos – Aouar
    (Xhaka) (Nelson)


    Tierney – Gabriel – Saliba – Bellerin
    (Lopez) (Mari) (Holding) (Cedric)


    Other squad players:

    So, barring this homegrown limitation (we’ll figure it out), that team should do good for top 4 finish and Europa League victory.

    Loaned out:
    Ozil (un-sellable 😒)

    Sokratis (£4mil)
    Mustafi (£20mil)
    Chambers (£12mil)
    Torreira (£22mil)
    Kolasinac (£14mil)
    TOTAL = £72mil)

  8. I’ve been reading on JustArsenal for years. This is the best article I’ve read so far. Keep up the well thought out and well written commentary.

  9. The 343 makes it hard to control possession in the oppositions half.We do have an attacking strategy mainly from long balls but most of the time we are set for counter attacking.
    And i think thats why we were able to keep the structure perfect without the ball and have great success against top sides.

    Against a team that parks a bus and without luiz(Yes i am saying it) the 343 can be really really frustrating.

    Surely MA knows better,i trust him while voicing my opinions,#ForFun😆

    And i have heard that MAs philosophy is to play a possession based attack and for that i think we need guys who can create and control like gundogan and KDB do for man city.Xhaka and Ceballos need to improve on that sense.I have not seen Hassim play but i believe he is a great playmaker as he is said to be MAs dream signing.And i think that creativity will make us super duper strong and if can with Partey,OMG💯

  10. Same players as least week but different system…
    Bell. Holding gab Tierney
    Amn. Elneney. Xakai

    William. Lacca. Auba

  11. The kind of football Arteta is deploying right now is that type that you will enjoy whilst you are winning.
    But the moment results start to downtrend then that is when people would start to criticise it.

    Mourinho is the example.

    But I am happy with the way Arteta seems to have gotten us to be more solid defensively, you hardly feel like we are going to concede.
    May this optimistic feeling continue. We deserve at as gunners.

    1. Once we get Aouar and Partey we’ll have more freedom to express our creative free flowing football from the days we had Fabregas, Nasri and Song or Cazorla, Coquelin and Ozil (at his prime) or Diaby, Hleb and Rosicky.

      Partey would be our Song, Coquelin or Diaby, a significant upgrade mind you say.

      Ceballos would be our Fabregas, Cazorla or Hleb.

      Aouar would be our Nasri, Ozil (prime) or Rosicky.

      Our days of bossing midfields are coming back.

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