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June 2021
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The four dangers that could stop Arsenal’s rise: Part 3; returning to the tackle

By Tony Attwood

Point three, don’t disrupt the style

There have been some complaints about the way the team has been managed – and yes I’ve had a bit of a moan as well particularly in relation to the establishment of discipline and the lack of game time for Martinelli.

But what I’ve not minded at all is the way the club has adapted itself to reality across several boundaries.

First, the introduction of the young players has mostly been handled very well.  Saka and Smith Rowe have emerged as two superstars in the making.  Yes, they have been played in various positions – particularly Saka, and apart from the fact that we’ve won more than we have lost since Christmas, there is also the fact that we’ve been giving the youngsters exactly the sort of experience they benefit from.

Players who can turn up in different positions are worth their weight, as shown with the fact that Xhaka could play at full back.  Obviously not his key position, but when we were short of left backs, he moved across and solved the problem.

Second, moving players around makes life a lot harder for the opposition.  They will prepare, as all clubs do, ready to face certain opposition players in certain positions, and even when the team sheets are exchanged one hour before the match begins there will be just a list of players – not a team positional map.

So defenders are set up to play against a certain player, only to find as the game kicks off the player is not where expected.   Such a change by itself doesn’t win Arsenal a game, but it is another step in the right direction.

Of course sometimes players look awkward playing out of position, but this flexibility can also be used in games, and to cover for injuries during a match.

The complaint however is made that nothing is settled, but that is the point: this process has been introduced as a way of discomforting the opposition, and it works.

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Third, there is the other tactical move that we have seen and this one has been truly outrageous. If you are a regular reader you’ll have come across this before, but now I want to present it as part of this overall programme of change.

Mr Arteta realised, I am sure, that Arsenal were penalised far more than other teams in terms of the way tackles were turned into fouls against, and fouls were turned into yellow cards.  Indeed our ratio of tackles to fouls to yellows was far above other clubs.

Arteta would have seen this of course as a player, now he was seeing it as a manager.  He would also have seen the Leicester experiment, where realising that Leicester players got a lower percentage of fouls given for each tackle, and a low percentage of yellow cards per foul, greatly increasing tackling was the way for the club to progress.  In short Leicester realised that compared to many other clubs they could tackle with impunity.

And so in February 2020 we ran the story:“How a club can commit the most fouls, but get the fewest yellow cards”

No sooner had that happened than the pattern started to change as the referees started to penalise Leicester more in keeping with the League in general, than allowing them to exist in their own bubble.   Of course we were told that the change from Leicester had to do with injuries, but tracking the records showed this to be completely untrue.

Leicester have continued to play games with the referees, and we might pick up on this again, but for now it looks as if Arsenal deliberately sought to turn the Leicester approach upside down, and tackle less and so get fewer yellows. As a result Arsenal are now celebrated as the club that commits the smallest number of tackles not just in the PL but in all the major Leagues in Europe.

That means fewer yellow cards, and that has benefitted the club.  But more than that Arsenal have evolved a different style of defending, and as the league table shows, it is working.   We have the second best defence since Christmas and the third best defence through the whole season.  As a tactic it works.

Pos Club / era P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Man C post Xmas 24 20 0 4 59 20 39 60
2 Man U post Xmas 24 12 9 3 43 22 21 45
3 Arsenal post Xmas 23 13 5 5 41 21 20 44
4 Chelsea post Xmas 23 12 6 5 28 20 8 42
5 Leicester post Xmas 23 11 6 6 40 29 11 39
6 Liverpool post Xmas 23 10 5 8 30 23 7 35
7 Tottenham post Xmas 23 10 4 3 39 29 10 34

The series continues.

1 comment to The four dangers that could stop Arsenal’s rise: Part 3; returning to the tackle

  • Samuel Akinsola Adebosin

    I want to say that I am impressed and have agreed with the UA on all the revelations they’ve revealed, the points they’ve raised and the suggestions that were suggested all in the article posting as they concerned AFC this season.

    And I am delighted when I read in the media today that Arsenal will keep their Joe Willock to themselves for next season’s campaign. But will not sell him this summer. This is a right step taken in the right direction by the club in my own opinion and wish as Arsenal for live fan.

    One very good signing this summer that I will in my opinion buttress the revelation being made in the media suggesting that Arsenal will sign Emiliano Guendai from Norwich City this summer to want him signed by the club.

    And I must say that despite that I am not the Arsenal incoming transfer guru advisor. But still I strongly advice the club’s hierarchy bosses concerned with doing the incoming for Arsenal this summer to not miss out on signing this player for the club but make sure they sign him.

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