Arsenal open the season with a remarkable new and successful tactic

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:

Arsenal’s signing of the season: set-piece coach Nicolas Jover

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.

Post team p w d l f a gd pts
1 Liverpool 14 9 4 1 36 19 17 31
2 Everton 14 8 2 4 25 19 6 26
13 Crystal Palace 14 5 3 6 19 25 -6 18
14 Leeds United 13 5 2 6 22 24 -2 17
15 Arsenal 14 4 2 8 12 18 -6 14

In the remaining two-thirds of the season however, Arsenal were second best only to Manchester City

P Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester City 24 20 0 4 62 20 42 60
2 Arsenal 24 14 5 5 43 21 22 47
3 Manchester United 24 13 8 3 43 21 22 47

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 Opposition
Position Team Total Per Game Yesterday
1 West Ham 292 7.68
2 Liverpool 311 8.18
3 Man United 333 8.76
9 Arsenal 376 9.89 16
18 Norwich 443 11.66
19 Crystal Palace 500 13.16 11
20 Aston Villa 512 13.47


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.

10 Replies to “Arsenal open the season with a remarkable new and successful tactic”

  1. Sky Sports News came out with a classic this morning. After their number 1 pundit, ‘Jones Knows’ backed Palace to win 2-,1 this morning they highlighted the fact that he had predicted White to be booked at 6-1. It only goes to show that if you throw enough mud some of it will stick, and I guess if you make enough predictions one of them is bound, by the law of averages, to be right. Perhaps they should apply to have Jones Knows affiliated to the Football Association; that way they will be able to legitimately claim that ‘Jones Knows F. A.


  2. I enjoyed the game and obviously the result. However it was disappointing to see that the way we and particularly Xhaka are treated by the refs hasn’t changed.
    I had no problem with Xhaka being booked for what Taylor judged was a dive. I have long advocated being far stricter in punishing dives.
    However last night Palace players on three occasions took to blatant diving but Taylor let all three go unpunished despite having already booked Xhaka for the exact same thing. Is it too much to ask for a bit of consistency?
    This proves that as far as the refs are concerned there are not only yellow and red cards, but also Xhaka cards.

  3. @Mick,

    fully agree with you on the dives.

    On a positive side, I was impressed to see that on one occasion Odegard, on another Saka ended up making important if not goal saving blocks in their own 16 meters. I mean, last time I checked they were offensive players….. such dedicaion to the team, is remarkable.

    Just pathetic to see the idiot ex-players on BEIN (Sadia Arabia channel in english) comment for 3 minutes after the game the one occasion in the second half that was saved by Ramsdale, explaining very seriously that if that had not, then this might not, and would not….all the stuff that gets thrwon at Untold when there are pieces looking back and doing the same thing. And frankly : Arsenal win in one of the most difficult stadia on opening day and all they can come up with is one scene from 95 minutes ?

    Then again, Arsenal are not sponsored by this country, so maybe it is fitting ?

  4. Tony,

    I think you must not forget what you pointed to last year : that the number of goals we take from corners has diminished as well.

    And I don’t know if there is a statistic of goals scored from corners, but I believe that this is a statistic going up, or am I wrong ?

  5. I couldn’t quite believe what I was hearing this morning when listening to the news on Talk Sport. The newsreader in a suitably serious voice said that Arsenal sit top of the league after their victory last night. In the words of McEnroe “are you being serious”. Presumably Palace are bottom because they have a worse goal difference than the other eighteen teams with zero points!
    After a solitary match, I mean how bloody ridiculous can you get.
    In the good old days league tables were not even published in the papers until three matches were completed because it was basically a waste of ink.
    Showing my age now.

  6. Tony
    We must have been watching different matches. I haven’t seen Arsenal tackle this much in years. Per the team made 29 tackles! They also won 14 aerials compared to Palace’s 10. Ben White led the way with 8 tackles, Thomas Party 6 and Zinchenko 5. That’s a lot of tackling for a team that doesn’t tackle. Granit Xhaka led the team with 4 aerials won. That’s good team defending.

  7. Can anyone help me out on why Bournemouth is ahead of Arsenal on the table. Since we have same goals, points, GD etc, I thought alphabetical order of club names would apply?

  8. Arsenal actually made more tackles than any other team in the EPL this weekend……

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