If you’re like me and you grew up watching Arsene Wenger, Arsenal are tactically fascinating to watch under Arteta. That’s zero-disrespect meant towards the greatest manager in our history. Yet Mr Wenger had such strong principles about how the game should be played he rarely adjusted his tactics, no matter the opposition.
That could be because the Frenchmen had created such talented players he didn’t need to adapt. When you had the likes of Henry, Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp, etc, it allows you to stick to your ethos.
In 2020 our current coach hasn’t had that luxury, inheriting a squad who would go on to finish in their worst League Position in 25 years.
The Spaniard was smart enough to realise not everything he inherited was perfect. Yet he continues to demonstrate that while you might not have the better players, you can still win if you work harder.
His long-term ambition probably isn’t to play a back 5 or allow the likes of Liverpool and Man City to dominate possession, yet he’s found a system to give his current resources the best chance for success.
So, every passing week I feel like I learn or see something new from Arsenal. There’s an identity that we never had under Emery.
I already knew how Tierney has perfected the role of being a centre back yet knowing when the time is right to bomb down the left wing, and we have seen for a while how Aubameyang will start out wide, but time when it’s right to pop up in the middle.
Yet this weekend we again saw the players continue to learn new things. First what was so noticeable was how high we pushed up. It meant that Xhaka and Elneny, meant to be our two DM’s, joined in attacks when Fulham lost the ball. I then saw how Maitland Niles may have been convinced to stay. There was talk he didn’t want to play full back, yet clearly he has been shown that the system will allow him to, when the time is right, move into his favoured midfield role.
It was genius to watch our movement at Fulham. At one point in an attack, our CB was on the left wing, our left back was in attacking midfield, our left midfielder was up front, our striker had come deep, Willian had a free role. The way we moved off the ball made it impossible for the opposition to follow. To get the players to do that, to believe it’s possible not to stick to one position, to alternate between on/off the ball, it all takes man management.
Unai Emery wouldn’t have managed to get players doing that.
I watched the game with the fake crowd noise, but I have been told if you had the option turned off, you could hear Arteta throughout the 90 minutes instructing his players in different languages.
Any of you who think I’m judgemental on our owners, it’s only because I think we have someone special in Arteta and believe if Stan Kroenke had that desire to take that next step, we could do something special with this manager.
So, manage expectations.
Anyone predicting a title challenge will just be disappointed in March or April and suddenly we put Arteta under unfair pressure.
Take little steps and enjoy the gradual progress. Because if we show patience and the Kroenke Family some ambition, we might have someone special in our dugout.