THE DYNAMIC NATURE OF ARTETA’S 3-4-3 SYSTEM by Funsho
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.
THE DYNAMIC 3-4-3
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.
WHY ARTETA’S TACTICAL SYSTEM WORKS
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.
HOW ARTETA’S TACTICAL SYSTEM CHANGES
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!
PLAN IN ATTACK
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.
THE SYSTEM MUST EVOLVE
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.
THE HOPE THAT KILLS
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,