by Tony Attwood
The game against Palace yesterday evening was a staggering success for Arsenal tactically. It hasn’t been mentioned by the media, because, well, they don’t like to give plaudits to Arsenal, being far happier knocking Arsenal, although to be fair in May this year the Telegraph did run the headline:
and how right that has turned out to be.
Of course it would be nice if the media recognised this again – indeed one might have expected the Telegraph to crow over their earlier headline after yesterday’s display by Arsenal, but knocking Arsenal is so habitual it seems even to override a desire to say “we told you so”.
Arsenal’s transformation began at the start of 2020/21 when the idea of cutting out tackling was introduced. This followed the disaster of 2019/20 when Arsenal were the most yellow carded team in the league, gaining a horrific 86 yellows, more than twice as many as such clubs as Leicester and Liverpool.
In 2020/21 the policy of avoiding tackles was introduced but it took the first third of the season for the defenders to learn how to adopt the new approach, by which time Arsenal had sunk to a very uncomfortable 15 position in the league.
In the remaining two-thirds of the season however, Arsenal were second best only to Manchester City
As we have shown in numerous articles on this site, the reduction in the level of fouls and yellows given against Arsenal was then achieved by reducing the level of tackling dramatically. However, the policy suffered a major reversal through the decision to change the entire defence one year ago. I’ve obviously no idea whether Arteta and go realised just how long it would take the newly bought defenders to learn defending without tackling in order to cut out the award of fouls against the team and the subsequent yellow cards) but it was certainly something that took this new array of defenders a while to learn. So once again in 2021/22 the start to the season was dodgy. Indeed so dodgy we lost the first three games.
So the decision was taken to try and get the defence playing its new system before a new set of forwards was introduced. But as we have seen that transformation has now been completed, along with the arrival back of Saliba from three years on loan.
As a result of this policy, one year ago Arsenal coceded nine goals in the opening three league games, of which three came from set pieces.
As the campaign progressed though, such problems began to subside not least because Arteta also introduced one other man: the set-piece specialist Nicolas Jover who was brought in from Manchester City one year back to undertake this very task, while at the same time the whole notion of defending without tackling was being installed in the team
Although the arrival of Jover was noted in passing by the media most of their time at the start of last season was taken up with talk of this being the worst Arsenal start since… well they couldn’t quite agree when, just that it was in a long time.
So now fast forward. As we saw in the introductory articles to the game, Crystal Palace last season developed an interesting tactic of managing to get referees to award an insane number of free kicks in their favour after alleged opposition fouls. No less than 500 across the whole of last season – an utterly staggering number.
Fouls committed by the opposition is not a statistic you’ll normally hear mentioned by commentators because explaining why some teams are fouled far more than others is very difficult and also borders on the suggestion that referees are being manipulated (which is in fact what this whole process we are describing has been about).
I’ll continue this exposition of the new Arsenal approach in the next article, which pulls together the new tactic and how it seems very likely a) to have an enormous impact on Arsenal, and b) why the rest of the media really don’t want to write about it.
- Arsenal v Tottenham; the team and some rather jolly recent history
- We are running out of referees, and the reason is the PGMO.
- Arsenal v Tottenham: the key fact the media won’t to tell you – and why they won’t
- Arsenal v Tottenham: different clubs, different managers, different successes
- Arsenal v Tottenham with clubs now getting more cards than they put in tackles!