The evolution of Unai’s “press” tactic and what that means for Arsenal against Chelsea

‘The Press’ tactic for AFC against Chelski by Tom

As Arsenal get ready to face Chelski today, I thought it would be a good time to ask some questions on the future outcome of the new work being implemented by Unai and his staff.

The adaptation of tactics over the premier league seasons has seen Wenger’s 4-4-2 being moulded with our wingers as wide strikers, our forward as a CAM (Bergkamp) and our wing backs as wide midfielders. The tactics progressed ahead of most. Our ideas were new. Crosses into the box were cut back to the penalty box rather then crossed into the 6 yard box (taking teams by surprise), Viera was allowed to win the ball further up the pitch and join up with forward attacks – while Parlour tucked in with Gilberto. Small details that make the difference!

Over the years the tactics offered measures and counter measures by clubs. 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 was soon being implemented. The 3 up top was dealt with by CB splitting wide (requiring more agile quick centre backs, preferred to then solid strong slow defenders) while CDM dropped into defence. There wasn’t really an innovation in tactics but a progression of new measures.

The need for higher pressing to obtain control and opportunity became more prominent in recent years. In the current game there is 3 main types of pressing. There is the Speed Press best shown by Klopp’s teams (allow the opponent to pass from the back but with speed they were ready to close them down – rushing the opponents to make errors – same approach for when balls lost – ‘Gegenpressing’), Sarri press is based on Positioning (Press) then tackling (allowing a lack of passing options) and Peps press which centres around Aggression.

We are yet to see what type of pressing Unai is going to adopt but I sense from his Sevilla and Valencia days he will look to speed.

But the current squad and their skill levels is all that Unai has to work with. By placing Ozil deeper against City meant he would be a better option to receive the ball and keep it (with his greater ball control skill levels) and release – although we are yet to see the fruits of that experiment. Ramsay offered energy further up top and his goal threat was a nice bonus.

It’s against being pressed I am more curious as to how we perform. Cech looked shaky at times, while comfortable at other times – his outcome of passing from the back will be best assessed by understanding who makes themselves available. Guendouzi made a few errors but was making himself available to receive from the defence. However our CB’s were not being allowed to find outballs. And the main concern, although we won’t really know the truth until the season is over – is How confident are the players to want the ball under pressure?

Xhaka and Ozil went missing against City. I recall our defence getting the ball but Xhaka and Ozil not receiving it enough. Like Cech not being judged but the availability being observed – we have to see how often our midfield make themselves available. Again this will be something Unai will need to get them working on then rather then just how we press opponents (which I am sure he will).

For me, seeing how well we develop whilst being pressed high is key to our success. Against Chelski in pre season for the first 20 mins we were shaky. Being pressed high generally we have been shaky. Last year was the best example, and not enough solutions were found to help the players deal with that tactically and emotionally.

A culture of allowing the players to make errors attempting to do the right things needs to be adopted by the fans.
Encouraging the ideas as much as the outcome.

In today’s game, it’s much more then just tactics. While Wenger scrutinised evidences post match and used pro-zone back in 2003/04 (3 years before others), most of his peers drew a line under the match and moved on. Today it’s all caught up.

Man City have FIVE departments of strategic performance analysis. They analyse, for instance, the number of forward passes that goes through the opposition’s midfielders or, more crucially, its line of defenders. They look at what happens in the 20 seconds after the team wins or loses the ball. They pay attention to City’s ball possession in the last third of the pitch, a measure that they found to be strongly correlated with winning matches – and focuses future recruitment on players with high pass completion rate in these key areas.

Its important when we are being pressed we feel confident. Everybody needs to want the ball, at all costs. But over time will it give Unai the evidences he needs to make true changes.

If Unai is going to succeed this season, his ideas first need to see some signs of progress against Chelski today (such is the pressure at the top) But the level of intense detail and stats to work from to make true progress is season long.

I wouldn’t be too surprised to see Iwobi/Nelson played and maybe even Torriera coming in also. It could be Xhaka and Ramsay to miss out but it also could be a good couple of cards to play as subs if the game Unai wants to play on Saturday pays off.

What team would you pick to best suit our new ideas?



  1. LENOhappy says:

    I just saw a post on sky where unai says ozil has to defend like every other player,for those who keep saying his job to defend,that’s your answer

  2. Martin Astuder says:

    You write a thoughtful, analytical piece but undermine it by referring to them as Chelski. This suggests immaturity and Unfortunately then removes confidence your readers will have in your arguments. It’s a shame as it might be a good argument but I stopped reading on the second Chelski.

    1. Ddog says:

      cheer up Martski!

  3. Theophilus from Ghana says:

    Its worth trying the flat 442.
    We could play non pacey wingers with instructions to stay close to the wing if the full backs attack. Lacazette can dribble so he could play as false 10,or second striker whiles Aubameyang does the job of looking for spaces to run into. Jx like Griezzy and Costa for Athletico.
    We could set up as
    Hector/Stephan. Mustaphi sokatris. Monre/kola
    Ozil/ramsey. Guendozi/elneny torreira. Xkaka
    Laca. Auba/welbeck*

    Mind you ozil plays on the wings for Germany and he’s much effective there until his dip in form at the WC. And xhaka played more as a right winger at BMG and that’s where most of his goals came from cos he cut in and shot jx like robben you could watch his displays with Gekas on youtube.
    Lava plays just like RVP, he likes to be involved in the buildup but Auba is just a faster Harry Kane, he’s a poacher. Moreover if hector could learn from Stephan it would be great.
    *although I would have kept Perez and sold him.

    1. Oduli says:

      Ithink some one needs to make the big calls at arsenal, One call is ozil should be on the bench, as a number 10, he creates but he doesn’t score enough and he tackles like a woman “mourihno quote” , we need a scoring winger, some one who can score the goals from the wing, you cant depend on one goal scorer in this league, Lacazette played on the wing for Lyon, Aubumeyang also played on the wing, i would try lacazette in 10, because he can dribble but unfortunately he is a bit selfish unlike Aubumeyang , we have lost a no of matches due to lacazzete is selfishness and not passing the ball to a teammate in a better position. Even in the last match if he had passed the ball to a teammate instead of going for glory,this is some thing you cant teach and that is why Giroud was better for France
      Line up
      Iwobi mikhiteryan ozil
      Torreria eleneny
      Monreal, sokratis mustafi bellerin
      Bellerin can overlap and go ahead of ozil allowing ozil to pass the ball by coming in,
      Iwobi can offer protection to monreal but also iwobi always keeps and passes the ball and can implement a high press tactic,
      Mikhi has played no 10 before, he can score and create at the same time.
      Eleneny is a high energy presser as well as torreria , with the upfont creative Torreria sits and we unleash eleneny to run around

  4. Widow says:

    I totally agree! We can’t underestimate wat sari is bringing to Chelsea his job is much easy then ours there players are use2 the fact that they need to adapt to different tactics bcos of the manager rotations, also if u watched the preseason game they had the better of us the whole game til sari went and changed his whole starting 11 to give everybody a run out. We must really adapt to our tactics ASAP because we will be left behind, not ending in top four will mean we haven’t improved or the rest have just improved more then wat we did.

  5. Khadii says:

    Xhaka on the wings?….Dude is effing slow..
    And can’t help out d defense, meaning his full back would suffer…
    It might have worked at BMG but definitely not in EPL

  6. Innit says:

    It seems like such a waste to play Aubameyang out wide. He is a goal scorer, a mega goal scorer. It’s also a waste to put Lacazette on the bench. What a conundrum!

    Up front is the natural habitat for players like Aubameyang and Lacazette. They are predators waiting for the kill. They will go hungry out wide or on the bench.

  7. MUSKY MUSTY says:

    Great analysis! but how the defence cope with pedro and Hazard’s pace and threat.

  8. Atid says:

    Lichsteiner mustafi sokratis Monreal
    ozil Torreiera ramsey
    Mkhitaryan lacazette Aubameyang

    Leno, bellerin Mavropanos xhaka guendozi Nelson welbeck

    1. gotanidea says:

      Your line-up might work, because Ozil will play deeper and centrally, but I’d prefer to try something that is completely new:

      Bellerin . Sokratis . Mustafi . Lichtsteiner
      ………Ramsey ……….. Guendouzi
      …..Nelson ……………….. Aubameyang

      1. Sarmmie says:

        You think too highly of nelson

        1. Leon says:

          I would take Nketiah or Nelson over Ozil every day.
          At least they will try and developing top class youngster should be a big priority for Arsenal.

  9. Leon says:

    It is probably unfair to pass any judgement on Emery’s tactics at the moment – the players have had little time to bed into Emery’s tactics, its early days and the only time we have seen it in action is against the champions.
    One thing it is fair to comment on is that premiership football is a results game and if he does not deliver then he will be walking – there is no bedding in time. Arsenal have simply gone the same way as everyone else…
    I will be honest, I was disappointed with his appointment and disappointed with the signings he has made.
    Already this is a pivotal game in our season….

  10. Usmanov says:

    Superb article! Really insightful.
    @Admin, more of this please.

  11. herb says:

    Simple 3-5-2 formation:


    Key traits:
    – Crisp passing, pressing, goals, no passengers, wingbacks offset our weak midfield, mkitaryan playing centrally not the copied no.7 role initiated by Jose Borinho
    – Ramsey, Xhaka and Bellerin kept OUT of the starting 11.

    1. Durand says:

      I was with you until Iwobi. Maybe coming off bench if Ozil has a poor game, but starting? Nope, can’t go there with you. Iwobi as a backup 10, or starting against a weaker opponent would be worth a shot.

      And no, I’m not Nigerian, just not ready to bin Iwobi yet. Let’s see after a year under Emery training as a 10, working on pressing, finishing, and decision making.

      He wears our badge, I want him to succeed, but not waste 10 years like Ramsey, who’s time is up and needs to move on.

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