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August 2021

The Arsenal Way: the unique style of playing developed under Mr Wenger.

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By Arvind


Very often, on the Arsenal blogosphere we read about ‘The Arsenal Way’. Now this can mean a number of things; the way we do business, the way we recruit youth, the way we do transfers, the way we treat ex-players or simply the way we play.

There are plenty of people who cover the non playing stuff really well, and much better than I ever can so I’ll stick to what I can write about.   Which is…The Arsenal Way.. on the pitch. How do we attack? How do we defend? What weaknesses and strengths? And so on…I’ll let the article speak for itself…

How do Arsenal attack?

Every team in football has 2 or 3 major ways of attacking, and really very few teams have an awesome Plan B and an awesome Plan C.   Normally B and C are  variations of Plan A. Yes there can be tactical switches, but by and large most teams stick to Plan A around 90% of the time, because they’ve practiced that 90% of the time. Simple really. So what is Arsenal’s Plan A?

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Well, there’s one big tell tale sign to know if Arsenal are playing well. Its when they retain possession. They might eventually score only in the 81st minute after being 1-0 down; but if they’re keeping the ball all over the park..always remember, whether you’re at the game, your TV or your computer..Arsenal always stand a chance, if they are moving the ball around.

Usually though, if Arsenal play well, they retain possession and score. Remember the good old days, when we used to score goals for fun down the left side with Henry drifting off to inside left, Pires going central and Cole down the wing? It used to be telepathic.

There’s a similar thing developing down the right wing these days, except that its more direct. If Arsenal’s playing well, you’ll see Sagna in the opposition third, Walcott in the inside right channel and RVP drifting around the box. And at least 6 or 7 times out of 10, Arteta and Song will look to find Walcott’s runs or if that’s not on, definitely Sagna’s runs.

Sagna is more a last option though, the key is to get Walcott into crossing and shooting positions around the box. Not only for RVP, but also for Rosicky and the left sided forward to get on the end of a deeper cross. Much like the Newcastle last minute winner..where a deepish cross saw TV5 get on the end of it. So Plan A is .. hit Walcott as early as you can.. get runners around the box to score.

If this isn’t working and the opposition is sitting really deep and Theo’s getting doubled up on, you’ll see that the next thing that happens is Alex Song further forward than he is, and trying to hit a through ball or a chipped ball over the top.

And invariably, you won’t see Arteta anywhere near for a while as he’d have automatically dropped into Song’s role at the back. There will at this point of time, be a lot of play in central midfield where Rosicky will drift all over, RVP will drop deeper and  try to drag a CB with him so that Walcott and Gervinho get more space to run inward.

This is where having someone like RVP who can also create is so handy. And this is how Arsenal have played primarily until this year. The reason Walcott is the main weapon this year is, not only coz he has got better, but also because Cesc and Nasri have both left leaving a hole in midfield to play keep ball.

So..while we’re still good at it, we’re no longer as awesome at it as before and have had to look at other ways. And think of it.. Walcott, AOC, Gervinho, Miyachi(maybe) are all very very quick and very different players from Cesc, Hleb, Rosicky, Arshavin. They’re all runners.. not keep ball players. So if they can add a bit more control to their game then it’ll be awesome.

The third way of attacking is through the LB. This is primarily a one two kind of simple attack which results in Gibbs crossing the ball into the box. If Santos plays it’ll be more on the ground and try to release him as he runs in from deep. But largely if you see Gibbs getting forward too much, it just means that, while he is having a good game..that Arsenal are not having that great a game.

The last option is a Route 1 long ball attack with Chamakh winning knockdowns and 4 strikers on the pitch. That usually happens when we’re losing games after 80 minutes, and we’re trying to win through sheer numbers on the pitch.

Obviously there are variations to this, but our attack (order) to sum up is – RW to set Theo free, Patient posession game with Song as the offensive creator and Rosicky linking things, a pure crossing game and lastly a long ball. Have you seen any other patterns?

And how do Arsenal defend?

Well, simply put..Arsenal do not like to defend. Apart from Per Mertesacker, I don’t think anyone likes to defend. But none the less there are a few patterns that you can observe if Arsenal aren’t defending well or comfortable.

First of all don’t look at the score. It could be 0-0 with no saves but you can still tell if Arsenal are comfortable or not. Look at where Sagna and Gibbs are. Have you seen them forward in the last 10 minutes? If not, that’s a straight sign that Arsenal are under pressure and can concede.

If they are getting forward, are they getting forward too much? Specially on the left side. Have you seen diagonal balls from the opposition Lbs, a long ball from the opposition CB’s or a simple 1-2 pass into the LB position..leading to Vermaelen being dragged out of position once too often? It means the LB is not getting back in time and a goal from a cross is imminent. The same logic is true on the right but Sagna gets caught out far lesser.

How many interceptions in Koscielny making on the last pass for the opposition? While that means he is having a great game, it almost certainly means that our possession game has gone and we’re under pressure. So if you see TV and LK both happily bombing forward or standing near the half line, we’re mostly mostly okay. Yes there’s a chance that a long ball will catch us out though if these 2 play.

If Mertesacker plays though, watch out for a much more composed game and a relatively more defensive game out from the back, and fewer long balls lost. So if we’re playing Stoke and Blackburn and the Hoof boys Per is hugely crucial as he’s not going to go ball playing up field like TV and LK. And if you see even Mertesacker upfield trying to create, that just means Arsenal are struggling, else he won’t be there..100%.

Lastly..and its a more obvious point that when both fullbacks are upfield trying to keep the ball, Alex Song will sit and make it a back 3. If we’re playing high up the pitch, and you see Song also join in, just pray that we don’t lose the ball. It could be trouble.

Other minor interesting points are the team selection, if you see Benayoun and Rosicky both start, it means that Arsenal think the opposition is going to be an attacking threat and feel that both these players are needed for their keep ball and their work rate. Don’t moan about how AOC should come on for either of these two. It won’t happen. We’ll sacrifice a striker maybe but not Rosicky or Yossi. The longer those two are on the pitch, you know its one of two things..Arsenal don’t need a goal urgently and want to play keep ball OR the opposition is ripping us up for a change.


So that guys and gals is the Arsenal way from my view in front of a TV set. What do you think? Have you noticed any interesting patterns in our play?


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35 comments to The Arsenal Way: the unique style of playing developed under Mr Wenger.

  • Odhis KenyanGunner

    Just one TINY detail you left out; when you see Mike Dean jump, know that we have just conceded a goal lol… Oh, and when you see Le Boss viciously kick a water bottle, well… it was blocking his view and coz he doesnt want to make another ”i didnt see it” comment to the Madia (sic), he is getting it out of the way….

  • kinggunner

    my o my. simply fantastic. u see most people ought t read this to understand the science of d game. its a technical thing that depends on a lot of issues and most times d coaches know this and know what they want. absolutely fabulous read. but one thing i will like is to see Park rather than Ramsey play. i have a very sure feeling that that guy will be sumptuous for us. i cant wait to see him play regularly, mark my words he will bring a lot of joy to d emirates and d club. pls Monsuier play Him. au revoir!

  • Gerry Lennon

    I am not sure if you have identified a style of play, or just the way this group of players would be played whoever they played for?
    Overlapping backs are normal to most sides. Walcott has done better recently with the quicker passing and interchange from Rosicky and Sagna. Alas, Gibbs is lacking that support on the left, so when he does take the ball forward someone in midfield should be aware of the gap behind him?
    I thought Gibbs was harshly blamed for a recent goal down his wing. Yes, he lost the ball having taken it right into their penalty area, but then raced back to his own box to try block the shot, but his momentum took him forward enough to allow the stronger left foot shot to come in. If he had put the brakes on any earlier, the path to the byline would have been clear, resulting in a cut back for someone else to score from the middle of the goal. To suggest he gets forward too often is more of who is covering for him. Sagna has both the speed of Walcott or the nous of Arteta to assist him, but without Gibbs offering himself on the left the team would be even more lop-sided than they are already?

  • Ong Bing

    Like it, Arvind.

    I am bit confuse about Gibbs, he arrived as left winger, and Arsene convert him to LB, its ok, no problem. But I am expected him to attack our opponent dfend more than Santos.

    I still miss the time that we have very deadly counter attack. The 3 Touch Counter Attack. (and goal!)

  • gooner

    No offense intended at all and that was a pretty decent write up, however this sentence to me was key

    “So that guys and gals is the Arsenal way from my view in front of a TV set”

    Simply, you can never, ever, ever see a game unfold fully and tactically on the TV, there isn’t enough of the pitch in view at any point in time. The only way to truely see the little tactical changes is by being in the stadium.

  • safwan

    Nice work writer. i’ve been thinking the same think but not as detail as you…..thank you…

  • Tommo

    Exactly what I thought. It just hadn’t formed as coherently in my head. One addition though…
    Playing against high lines will see RVP fall back to try and unleash the wingers, who are making diagonal runs into the box.

  • Mahdain

    sorry to go off topic a bit but pgmol are really being pathetic..guess who they are sending us vs villa? Phil fat thats webb,mason and dowd back to back..

  • John L

    @ gooner,

    while i agree that nothing compares to live football. i believe you can still see tactics unfold and gain insight from watching television. in some cases TV might actually be better as far as seeing tactics is concerned as you have the advantage of instant replays, changing angles, and the ability to watch the game a second time in a calmer and more insightful manner having already known the result. not having seen the gave live doesn’t discount tactical insights someone may have had from the game. ive actually read blogs by gooners who were at games and got things wrong in their match reports, things that i was able to see and gain insight from, watching on TV.

  • eric

    omg u really got everything spot on

  • LRV

    Good write-up Arvind. Good tactical awareness. And being able to read all this from just sitting in front of your TV?

  • nicky

    Point made. To be present at the ground is the pre-requisite to being able to analyse play. There is no other way.

  • Arvind

    @Odhis: HaHa.. and I think Le Boss does see more these days ; )

    Thank You kinggunner, safwan, ong bing, eric. Glad you liked it.

    @gooner: Maybe ..may not be..either way I don’t have an option to go to games. So I try to do what I can from in front of the TV. Plus usually I watch any game just once; sometimes on a replay..due to awful TV coverage, so I’m kind of hamstrung a little bit. If you can find a flaw in what I said, do point it out.

    @John L: True…it has its advantages too..TV…specially on mute ; )

    @LRV: Thanks..I try my best.

  • John L

    it will be interesting to observe song and arteta’s roles in the midfield with the return of wilshere. i think most people expected arteta to be the creator in chief, but he is more of a deep lying playmaker that links play rather than someone who often plays the final ball. so this season it seems like song has been given that role when the team is all out attacking.
    i think that when wilshere is back we will see him given more of that responsibility. as i believe wenger will slowly groom him into what was intended to be the ‘cesc’ role. song, arteta and ramsey will play deeper and link play. rosicky and AOC will be rotated in a number of roles based on oposition.

    i think wilshere’s return could change the way the team plays quite dramatically.

  • Arvind

    @Gerry Lennon: I’m trying to explain how we “currently” play and how our attack and defense “currently” play. So its not a critique on Gibbs directly, in this article…it is more an observation on where you see him while attacking and defending. Going forward I may find more out if I keep this analysis up.

    @OngBing: Who doesn’t? That was awesome; it had its limitations at times though.

  • John L

    @ arvind,

    the only thing i would add is defensive pressing. wenger was speaking about this recently and its something i have talked about throughout the season. when arsenal are playing well they are generally pressing as a team and quickly, during the transitional phase when possession changes hands.

    this hasnt always been the case of wenger’s ‘arsenal way’. his earlier teams were much happier to sit back and counter with breath taking speed and quick direct passing. as teams started to play deeper and deeper against us and our play turned more towards recycling possession and breaking down ‘park the bus’ tactics we have started to see more emphasis on pressing in recent years. this season when we have played well it has been based around defensive pressing as a team.

    sometimes the team doesn’t do this effectively and thats when arsenal look shaky and flat. the most dangerous time in football is during the transitional phase. when we press quickly and together it gives us a good advantage in creating space against teams playing deep. i think the first half against milan in the second leg is a good example of this.

    the problem with doing this is its harder to do consistently and effectively. its much easier when you lose the ball to drop back, get into position and sort yourselves out. if your to play a high line and possession based football with players making forward runs you have to be on the same wavelength with your teammates and trust that they will also press as soon as possession changes hands in order to make it work. otherwise you get caught out and look rather silly. its been interesting to watch the team improve at this throughout the season. i believe that our recent results have to do with the team stepping up in this regard.

    also, cant argue about the commentary! silence never sounded so good…

  • Damien Luu

    @John L: I don’t think we will ever play with a player holding the ‘Cesc’ role again, simply because we will not be able to find another ‘Cesc’ (in any time soon, at least). I think Aaron and Jack are supposed to take the creative part of work in our midfield, but I believe we will see them developing into more all-round midfielders, and share every responsibilities.

    Anyway I like that way of playing more than the way we have played around Cesc. Don’t get me wrong, I love Cesc, but when we played with him on the pitch, we relied on his final ‘killer’ passes too much, and too many times we played the ball backward to him, which slowed our attacks down. And with Arteta, Rosicky, Song, Le Boss really has options in the middle of the park to choose, depends on who we play against. That I think is a really good thing.

  • John L

    @ damien luu,

    i can see that. i guess it depends on if you see our midfeild three:

    ramsey/arteta wilshere


    ramsey/arteta song

  • Arvind

    @JohnL: The defensive pressing is a very good point. I do believe that if done well; it translates into posession and hence goals (hopefully). But yes, observing good defensive pressing and forcing the opposition into errors – if that pattern can be observed, that IS definitely an indication of good Arsenal play. And yeah….because its so difficult…that’s why only Barcelona play it … with any degree of consistency.

    I’m not so sure about Wilshere though. In the sense, he played just behind the strikers in Arsenal youth and reserves as far as I can remember. So I’m not too sure he will be the creative influence around which the team is built. I think he will definitely be a goal scorer with around 10 assists a season. Much like Frank Lampard, only better.

  • Arvind

    In a vague way and that sounds ludicrous, Cesc’s game is tailor made for Barcelona. He needs ball players around him and he has that in abundance at Barca and La Liga is less physical…so his slightness of physique doesn’t count there at all. He’s a genius no doubt, but he is best deployed in a 4-4-2 with a guy who sits. Just sits. But I digress. This is post Cesc we’re talking about.

    @JohnL: Indeed Arteta has sat deeper than anyone this year. It isn’t Song who is the DM like ESPN would have you believe. Its a very very fluid midfield with no DM at all.

  • Finsbury

    Nice post arvind

    Some thoughts about ‘defending’: I get the impression that koscielny loves defending, even more he loves those last ditch slides, which is a weapon when you’re so quick, quicker then most, and not an act of desperation.

  • Arvind

    Thanks Finsbury.

    You may be right! And he does do them well. What I was trying to point out though, was that a last ditch slide means something has gone wrong ahead of the defense. So too many last ditchers..even when perfectly done, means someone up front is not doing that well.

  • finsbury

    Yeah, am happy to agree with that!

  • finsbury

    Koscielny & Vermaelan both love a ‘pre-emptive strike’ ahead of the attacker as well as a last ditch lunge. But of the two Koscielny is slightly more orthodox (in my befuddled memory a new age Des Walker, with a much better technique/all round game).
    Per has made some slick passes to help set up nice attacks & goals without having to go ‘up front’. It’ll be interesting to see how they all play and develop off each other.

  • Passenal

    Mostly interesting, but this

    “Well, simply put..Arsenal do not like to defend.”

    is nonsense and sounds like someone who has swallowed too much media BS. How often have we played and restricted the opposition to 1 shot on target only for that to be the winning goal? Too many is the answer. The attack need to be more efficient by scoring and keeping the pressure off the defence because failure to win those games is not usually down to the defence although they tend to take all the blame.

    I also have to agree that whilst you can draw some conclusions from watching the game on TV, you are really only getting the director’s view of what is important and often miss key off the ball movements and positioning.

  • ak47

    nice work. thanx

  • bjtgooner

    Good article Arvind and an interesting description of our play. There seems to be a growing understanding between Walcott and RVP. Before the African Nations Cup Gervinho seemed to have a partial understanding with RVP – it would be excellent if this relationship can grow. As you rightly point out Rosicky is looking like his pre-injury self once again. At the minute he looks better in the advanced role than Ramsey and with some more games in this role for Rosicky our attack should become more organised and penetrative.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Nice article Arvind ,would have to agree general with your points.Arsenal are best when they attack with pace ,which was mostly absent in the earlier part of the season when the passes were too square or backwards .
    I always sit up when the ball is whipped up out of defence to our player in or around the centre circle ,As he turns his man or if he hits the ball to the wings , I stand up at the same time shouting ,”Yes , yes ….”.
    I would be by this time shouting at Theo or Gervinho to ” go on ,go on , hit it, hit it in ,pass it,pass it….” ,and of late ,” YEESSSSS!”.
    I then have to have a cold shower !

  • Brickfields Gunners

    As for the defence while I ‘d like them to keep close with their man ,I wish that they would not be dragged out of position
    when the opposition players run around in rings even before the ball is kicked .I never understand the need for clinching/holding of players ,its just a penalty or diaster waiting to happen.Case in point -Kenwyln Jones goal from a corner – his path was so clear that he let it hit his chest and it flew in .
    I would like to see them always concentrate on the ball and attempt to get ahead at it first while keeping an eye on the opposition so as not to foul them.
    Their position should be on the goalline /6 yard box at the set pieces and to move outwards away from goal.Many a time the defender would be running towards goal and end up in a tangle or worse ,score an own goal.An example would be AOC ‘s own goal(although no fault of his),which could have been handled better if he had been facing the opposition.

  • Arvind

    @Passenal: The point that I’m trying to make is that they love to get forward more than they defend. That didn’t come out clearly enough in the article. A simple comparison is between Per and TV. Per likes to defend, TV5 while a good defender also likes to attack and is more likely to be caught forward.

    As for the TV viewing, well..I really have little choice sitting 5000+ miles away I? : ) But its calmer than a stadium for sure.. so for an analysis..IMO its better.

    @bjtgooner: Thanks. Yes if Gervinho/left side including the LB can develop a similar understanding to the right side; that can be deadly specially if Wilshere gets fit and plays well.

    @Brickfields Gunners: Yeah..I can imagine. Also the drag out happens..usually when we’re caught on a counter and the full backs are wandering upfield. On set pieces its harder and its more about concentration; the best way is to win the first ball if you can. If the defense stands away from goal, then the goalie’s job is hugely important.. that entire area is totally his. Its tricky though..specially if there are teams which work corner routines or dead ball routines well. Its an interesting point though..thanks.

  • Arvind

    @ak47: Thanks. Glad you enjoyed it.

  • Woolwich Peripatetic

    Our defensive play is a component of our offensive play and it’s quite, erm, unique. Some would call it suicidal. When you see Barca (or Swansea) they are deliberately trying to congest play into a small area of the pitch, both offensively and defensively. Barca’s players generally move towards the man in possession, whether that’s their player or the oppositions. What tends to happen is that with seven or eight players from each side in close proximity, the sudden release of the ball out to the flanks or behind the defence creates an opportunity for Messi, Villa or Pedro to get one-on-one with the spare defender.

    We don’t do this.

    Even when defending, we try to spread play out across the field. Most of the teams who do this in the PL are doing this inadvertently and they usually end up relegated. For us, it’s a means to open up a packed defence, both my bringing opponents out in support of the attack and also because it encourages the opponent to attempt long passes which our defence “hopefully” mops up. Our accurate long passes out of defence (something that an Arsenal defender has to be very comfortable doing) turn defence into attack in only two/three passes, unlike the Catalans who’d want to use fifteen passes to achieve the same end.

  • Adam

    @Arvind, Nice read mate. I would like to draw your attention to the tempo at which Arsenal play, They do try to play at a higher tempo than even Barca and overwhelm their opponents through small movements Usually targetting the channels. Wallcott is adapting to playing with his back to goal and spinning into spaces his own movement has created, his first touch or a layed off pass has improved ten fold. There has been a change in the way Arsenal try to draw their opponents away from the 18 yard line, we have seen some success in this lately but once again comes back to TEMPO & FIRST touch two things Arsenal are reliant upon.

  • Wooby

    Arvind, brilliant stuff. I was just thinking of something similar the other day – how we are now going down the right vs left compared to years past. I can think of one more thing to add. In years past, we also had Bergkamp in a deep role to orchestrate passes or come in behind runs by one of Henry / Pires / Cole.

    It looks like Rosicky is starting to take over the Bergkamp role. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we are on a row now that we have Rosicky working with RVP to help create space for Theo to run into to then create scoring chances for Rosicky, RVP, Ox / Gervinho in the middle or back post.

    The exposure here actually is that if the LB moves up to try to attack as well, we will only have four players back to defend with acres of space down either flank. This is why we need to be patient with Gibbs – as he gains more experience, he will to better identify those true “green light” situations when he can go forward. Otherwise, he should stay back as the attack will flow down the right flank.

    One other thing with our style of play is that we don’t necessarily rely on a player in the middle to “hold up the ball” while others rushed forward. We rely on quick passes to open things up down one flank and then have multiple players running through, which makes it difficult for the opposing team’s CBs to know who to cover.

    This would also explain our poor results in early January when we did not have any of our regular full backs.

  • Arvind

    Thanks Adam, Wooby.

    @Adam: That’s a good point about tempo. If Arsenal do all of the above, and much quicker its even more devastating.

    @Wooby: Interesting point about Rosicky. While DB10 was way ahead from an ‘eye of the needle’ pass perspective, I see what you mean when you talk about Mozart. That’s something Ramsey for example hasn’t done as successfully. Hopefully it’ll come with time.

    I’m so excited about this team’s potential though.