Arteta’s latest tactical surprise – and is there one more to come?

By Tony Attwood

The problem with tactical rethinks is that they can take a while to get right.  And we have perfect evidence of that with the first third of last season when the whole approach to defending was changed and we slipped to 15th in the league.

I must admit I had hoped that having got it so right in the last two thirds of last season we would now be pushing forward for a top four place, but it seems we are in the midst of another tactical revolution.

Many journalists have noted that we don’t have a centre forward who can knock in the goals constantly – Aubameyang has got seven.   So the simplistic journalist response is to demand that we go out and buy one.

But that, as we now know from watching him through last season, is most certainly not Arteta’s way.  Besides, saying we need to buy x or y ignores the most important part of the story.  X or Y might not want to come to Arsenal (and given the sort of media treatment, referee and fan treatment some of our players get, that can be understood), and besides their current clubs might not be willing to let them go.

But it looks as if maybe the manager is looking at a second approach: two goal scoring number 10s.

One of those two of course is Smith Rowe, who has scored only one fewer than Aubameyang – but who was injured for last night’s match.  The second could be Saka, but given the need for him in defensive midfield, seemingly instead we are thinking about Odegaard, who has three (the same as Saka who can also take up that position).

This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t play with a centre forward, but under this approach he is not there to knock in 20 goals a season, although Aubameyang could still do it if he could refind his confidence and touch.  But rather the centre forward is there to distract the defence, and knock the ball back to the two number tens as much as to score goals.

This situation might be a work in progress therefore, or it might have arisen because the situation has been forced upon Arsenal because his lack of form was not anticipated and not covered.  But still Auba has scored seven in 13 games (54% scoring rate), whereas last season it was 15 in 33 (45% scoring rate).  The season before that it was 29 in 41 (71%), which is what one looks for when the big centre forward is the club’s main scoring option.

This season however our top three goal scorers are

  • Aubameyang: 7 in 13 (54%)
  • Smith Rowe: 6 in 14 (42%)
  • Lacazette, 3 in 6 (50%)
  • Odegaard, 3 in 14 (21%)

So the two big strikers have still got the edge in percentage terms and thus we can see how far and how fast his figures have fallen, although so far, this season is slightly better than last.

Of course, I am not quite sure where Mr Arteta is taking this (I must have missed his call).  But it could be that he wants to play Aubameyang alongside two number 10s (Smith Rowe and Odegaard) – which would be very unusual.   Or maybe not play a big number nine type player at all.

But certainly, something needs to change because at present we are 12th in the goalscoring league, having scored only just over half the number of goals Chelsea have scored and just one more than Newcastle United and only two more than Tottenham Hots.

Unfortunately, this slippage in attack is not compensated by a greater effectiveness in defence where we have slipped behind such luminaries as Burnley, Southampton, Crystal Palace and Brentford in terms of goals conceded.

We know from last season that Mr Arteta is a man who works to a plan, and that his plan can be obscure and can take a while to come to fruition.  So it seems unlikely that he didn’t foresee this situation, and that he is not working on resolving it.  (The journalistic notion that they can see exactly where the problem is but the manager can’t, need not be taken seriously.  If the journalists were as clever as they suggest each day on TV, they’d all be managers).  But so far the only thing we are seeing is Smith Rowe getting the goals. 

Maybe that is the plan, or maybe he is about to buy a player we’ve never heard of, in the style of Mr Wenger; a player who will astound us.  Although remember Mr Wenger’s purchases didn’t always work out perfectly from the off (think of Henry and Pires).  So we might need to wait until next season – unless AST, Black Scarf (now in hibernation) and AFTV reboot the demands of “Arteta Out”.

7 Replies to “Arteta’s latest tactical surprise – and is there one more to come?”

  1. Rather that go into the details of any recent game (victory or defeat – both as important to properly understand) it surely is time to take a higher level view and not get caught in the weeds.

    If Wenger can be sacked for finishing 5th and 6th, and Emery can be sacked for finishing 5th (1 win from away from top 4 place) and reached the Europa League final (2nd rate competition, admittedl), then why are we sticking with Arteta who has finished 8th, is now no closer to top 4 after 2 years, has just spent £150m odd in the summer, and most of the squad is his own? I don’t get why anyone would think we are moving forwards?

    I’m not an advocate of changing manager every time we lose, but to be sat here with a negative goal difference (when was the lat time that happened?!) and playing dreadful “football” after 2 years of someone getting his ideas across then a change of direction is what we should do. Chelsea did it and look at the difference it made.

    the only problem is, who? The landscape is pretty bleak. Rodgers maybe? He’s got to be better than Arteta. Ten Haag? Not sure – Dutch league isn’t exactly competative.

    I don’t have the answer, but I know Arteta isn’t it. Or if he is the answer then I’m not sure what the question is?

    Remember, Ramsdale, Tomiyasu, White, Gabriel, Tavares, Partey, Lokonga, Odegaard, Mari, Cedric and Willian were all his signings. His squad. His decisions. The fact Willian came and left shows what clue we don’t have. And let’s not even get started on William Saliba. Arsene might have run out of steam in the end, but it was miles and miles better than this dross.

  2. Football should be an art! So I once believed!

    Now, unfortunately, following the severance of a once magnificent coach from this club, it appears to me that such an art form has been quickly eroded and replaced by a form of entertainment that does little to enhance one’s enjoyment of the game. What has happened to the passion within the club? What has happened to the speed, the movement, the technical prowess of the individuals on the playing field? Whatever is the large club coaching staff managing on a day-to-day basis with the club players?
    How much longer do Arsenal supporters have to be subjected to the endless criticisms and excuses that it is the players that are continuously at fault! Who and what is the coaching staff doing to enhance player ability and tactical nous on the playing field, especially away from the Emirates stadium?
    I no longer enjoy watching the games. I am no longer entertained by observing this dreadful football on tv or through live visits to the Emirates. I have had to endure the apparent corruption of the Premier League; the FA; the PGMOL, let alone UEFA and FIFA, yet I still I endured all of this when watching the Wenger teams. Why? Because the football was exciting; the teams contained adept players who had acquired the technical skills to enthral spectators. The teams even scored the odd few goals. After all, isn’t the nature of the game about scoring more goals than the opposition? Wenger teams did not always do this but what a delight it was to tune in or observe via a live visit, Wenger teams trying to entertain.
    Luckily I have experienced a wealth of entertainment over 65 years of following this club but sadly I regret having to watch these last 4 latter years.

    How ironic that the owners are called KSE, whereby the ‘E’ is supposed to be ‘Entertainment!’

  3. Hi, @sebastian
    Food for thought indeed, thanks for “taking a higher level view”, we need that right now …
    Now, just a word or two about ten Hag and the Dutch League
    I happen to be able to watch Eredivisie games time and again, and I think you’re very harsh calling it a “non-competitive League”
    The players are a mix of remarkable, experienced professionals (Blind, Tadic at Ajax), fascinating young talents coming out of great academies with a focus on technique, speed, vision, risk-taking (Ajax topping them all of course), and South American talents spotted by scout teams we’d be well inspired to take example on (Feyenoord’s Luis Sinisterra – what an eery name – being the latest on the list).
    The technical level (which should put us to shame for recruiting Partey – soon one of our English rivals will have 19-y-o Ryan Gravenberch bossing their midfield, just watch the difference then) is so high it makes the games very pleasant to watch, all the more so since most teams are very aware tactically – in an attacking way.
    I’m not saying the league is a match for the Premier League or La Liga of course, but what it lacks is a bit of athleticism, and … money too: when important players are missing, the level may drop spectacularly because their backups are far behind them.
    Anyway, back to Erik ten Hag. Just like you I’m not a fan of the “changing manager” strategy, but I would definitely make an exception for ten Hag.
    Ever since the WOBs got what they cried out for I’ve watched Ajax on a regular basis just because they’ve been playing the kind of football I like most. They destroyed Dortmund a few weeks back, playing mesmerizing football, and they did so with a new bunch of players two years – 2 years!! – after losing De Jong, De Ligt, Van de Beek, and Ziyech following their run to the 2019 Champions League semi-finals; if that’s not a lesson in rebuild, I don’t know what is.
    So that if The Arsenal should show out Arteta/Edu/Venkatesham and bring in ten Hag/Overmars and … Bergkamp!! I certainly wouldn’t cry rivers over that. With them, I’m pretty sure Maitland-Niles/Willock/Nelson/Nketiah would have been put to very good use (Eddie’s miss yesterday night is a 100% on MA’s insane management of him – i.e. textbook lesson about how to make a natural-born goalscorer insecure). When I think of the hundreds of millions we’ve spent on pointless transfers of average or below-average players since 2019, it just makes me sick (when I see £50m White play, I particularly feel for £2m Rob – but Arsène was the incompetent one, of course).
    Most of all, we’d be playing entertaining football again at last, that’s for sure; maybe even our new generation of wonderkids (Henry-Francis, Salah-Eddine, Hutchinson, Balogun, Cozier-Duberry, Patino, etc …) might be saved from the ruthlessness (MA likes that word, but as far as bringing the best out of a group of young, talented human beings is concerned, this is just madness imo) I’m afraid is in store for them.
    But if we should let the opportunity to lure the Dutch trio to Colney go by, well I’m all for changing nothing, let’s just see where our current trio’ll take us – they might learn from their mistakes after all (I’m starting to seriously doubt that).
    Have a nice day, @sebastian, COYG

  4. I do not wiah to be involved in a hypothetical discussion about alternative managers, other than to express serious concern that Rodgers would ever be considered as Arsenal manager.

    He has gained an undeserved reputation by moving to clubs which are already successful, in which foundations have been laid by predecessors. Then he has been fortunate to move on before the decline under his management has become fully evident.

    It happened at Liverpool, then at Celtic and now it’s happening at Leicester.

  5. I’d like to see ESR and Saka play the kind of football that got them to the first team,i.e., direct, quick, unafraid in traffic and with an innate sense of the other’s whereabouts. Now ESR and Odegaard drift around the pitch. I don’t agree the tactic. Others have pointed out the slow, indecisive, lateral play. Lacazette plays like a 9 and can hold up, pass back or score. It seems that the other players don’t understand that. I’d like to see more decisiveness across the side. And crosses. Tierney seems the only one up for it. Tavares doesn’t make the run and cross and is a shambles defensively. I’m hoping Arteta plays Tierney when fit.
    Arteta says what he says after every match: “Inconsistent” “We gave too many balls away too easily”.
    When will it change? Isn’t that coaching? I’m not saying sack Arteta. He’s smart, so how long will it take for the project to show results? Another season? Two? It starts with beating the teams you’re supposed to beat. They didn’t seem confidant enough to win at Everton.

  6. Its a professional game so incentives are the solution. Bad pass or poor decision must be a small penalty just as a good pass should be rewarded. Setting up such a system with buy in and design contribution from the players might get good results.
    There is nothing better than teamwork even when it comes to penalty and reward.

    The money collected or spent can be used for end of season charity do.

    My opinion is that Arteta is still working on his squad and his processes. Patience is a virtue and I can see progress in many areas. Goals will come when chances are converted. Chances are being created despite the GD.

  7. Menace
    I agree the sentiment but don’t think it’s practical. I do have patience and I’m enjoying the young squad. The reward/penalty system in football has been, and is, playing time. Rating the persistent giveaways by Tavares he should lose playing time not a few quid. He’s not alone but I’m referencing him because his mistakes have been egregious and costly.
    I can see how Arteta wants to play but haven’t seen the goals. Two no. 10’s? No no. 9 or striker? All well and good but where are the goals? The system gets the ball into the opponents end and then stalls. Hope it changes. Ramsdale can’t be expected to keep a clean sheet every match but it seems if he doesn’t they lose.

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