Arsenal v Manchester United and the evolution of Arsenal’s new secret weapon

By Bulldog Drummond

One of the intriguing factors this season is looking to see how various clubs near the top of the league have performed against each other.  And indeed as we have seen before, Arsenal have had a particularly rotten season in relation to taking on other teams near the top of the league.

In fact the poverty of results got us thinking about the poverty of our defence in the first third of last season.  That was a prelude to a revolution in the way Arsenal played.  Could it be that we are now seeing a second revolution?

If so this could be the moment we get the better of Manchester United, who have the distinct disadvantage of flipping from one manager to another, although they have managed to beat Tottenham twice, and Arsenal at Old Trafford, so with three wins thus far they have outplayed Arsenal who leaving aside West Ham have only beaten Chelsea and Tottenham.

However, it is worth noting that Manchester United have also lost by some fairly spectacular margins – 5-0 at home to Liverpool, along with a couple of 4-0s.  Leaving aside their thumping of Tottenham away 0-3 their other wins have been by the odd goal, while when Arsenal have won it has always been by a two-goal margin.

Which is what has made some of us think that just as when Arsenal transformed their approach to defence in order to cut the number of yellow cards, so they might now be in the process of making the most out of the young players they have, by changing the tactics in attack?

Of course we know that some of the punditry is getting a bit extreme as the media launch desperate attempts to show that the gods are against us.  Take his one from the BBC.  “Arsenal have won just three of their 15 Premier League games against United on Saturdays (D5 L7), and are winless in seven since a 2-1 home victory in November 2008.”

But last season we realised that above all else Arteta is a radical tactician who will take on projects that no one else could contemplate – as with the oft-quoted moving Arsenal from top of the yellow card table to close to bottom, by cutting out tackling.

And I do think we are now seeing another one – although this time Untold can’t claim to be the only group of people who have noticed it as the Telegraph has got in there as well.

What started us thinking about this was noticing just how often Mikel Arteta and Martin Ødegaard have a chat.  The manager doesn’t do this with lots of other players – it is primarily with Ødegaard.

Indeed the Telegraph proclaims that there is “one guarantee in almost every match: when there is a break in play, Martin Odegaard (sic) will trot over to the sideline and talk to Mikel Arteta.”

Now this is obviously aided by the fact that Martin Ødegaard spent a lot of time at Real Madrid and Real Sociedad and has excellent Spanish, so the manager can speak in his native tongue, Martin can gather up the ideas, and then using his perfect English, French, Spanish and Portuguese let everyone else know what is going on in the manager’s mind.  He’s the club’s official linguist.

But there is far more than this.  For as we saw in the slaughter of Chelsea, Ødegaard was the captain, and he handled the task very well.  Presumably he will be the permanent captain from next season – discovered early, just as Tony Adams was, but for different reasons.

For Ødegaard is not just the linguist, he is the genius of making passes through the middle third of the pitch. Indeed the stats show that no other club is attempting this with such regularity in the Premier League.   It might sound like an obvious approach (just like cutting tackles to avoid yellow cards) but in fact it is revolutionary.

As a result Arsenal are now creating a higher percentage of their attacking moves from the middle third of the pitch than any other club.  The latest figures we have suggest that this has now reached 46.3%.

Of course all clubs like to launch attacks through the middle third when they can, but it is not possible all the time because of the big centre half or two facing the players.  Liverpool approach this by dividing their attacks almost equally between left, centre and right in the attacking half of the pitch, but that is the usual approach.  What is unusual is what Arsenal are now doing.  Just compare these figures for attacks launched in the final third of the pitch

Club Left attacks Middle attacks Right attacks
Arsenal 28.5% 46.3% 25.2%
Tottenham Ho 22.7% 39.1% 38.2%
Manchester City 30.2% 37.0% 32.7%
Manchester United 33.1% 36.6% 30.3%
Chelsea 32.0% 36.4% 31.6%
Liverpool 31.6% 31.6% 36.8%

Just as we have continued to explore the extraordinary development of Arsenal’s defence under Arteta, we’ll carry on with looking at this second revolution which again could have quite amazing results.

4 Replies to “Arsenal v Manchester United and the evolution of Arsenal’s new secret weapon”

  1. like i said previously, we need Martin to be our main assist maker/provider but some here want our striker to be Arsenal assist maker more than a goal scorer. it’s like some people forget what’s the strikers main priority/task on the football pitch

  2. bushido

    I don’t think anyone here has ever said that they “want our striker to be Arsenal assist maker MORE than a goal scorer”. I may be wrong, but I’d like you to show me who, and when, because I haven’t seen anyone say that.

    But I have seen it said that they do HAVE to provide assists AS WELL, by myself for one.

    The point is in modern football there is very little room for a striker that does little more than score goals, and that is even if they are a 25 plus scorer.

    Most modern World class strikers, score, assist and defend. That is what is expected of them. And not only do they do it, but they do it very well.

    In fact I think it’s been that way for a long time. I always believed the reason Wenger showed Wright the door so quickly was because basically if he didn’t score he didn’t contribute, at least not enough. Wenger, as do all managers at the elite level, want more than that from their striker.

    It’s the same with fullbacks. Simply being a brilliant full back is not enough anymore. A full back has to be a dangerous offensive player as well, IF he wants to be World class that is.

    Centre halves cant just be a giant oak that can stop a bus, he also has to be able play out from the back.

    A keeper needs to be more than a good shot stopper. Yes, that is essential, but the real top class keepers have something more, brilliant distribution.

    If a player wants to play at the top level, and especially if he wants to be World Class, he HAS to be multi faceted. Just scoring is not enough. Just defending is not enough. Just saving shots is not enough.

    So yes, whoever we have as our main striker, he will have to do more than just score goals. He will have to provide assists, and a lot of them. He will have to defend, cover and chase back.

    That is what is expected of a modern striker.

  3. @nitram 1st and foremost striker job is to score goals, isn’t it and i never said strikers don’t have to make any assists. when a strikers no longer has a goals on his mind they will cease to be a strikers no more. you don’t have to write an essay to make your point. and lastly please stop with all this Wenger hardon, that guy is working for FIFA now

  4. bushido

    Seems like you forget what you write you said:

    “i never said strikers don’t have to make any assists” No you didn’t, what you did say was:

    “some here want our striker to be Arsenal assist maker MORE than a goal scorer”.

    Assist maker MORE than a goal scorer.

    Maybe you cant read or you cant remember what you said, it’s one or the other.

    Is that short enough for you ?

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