Media completely misses Arsenal’s astounding tactical change

By Tony Attwood

100,000 words?  A million words?  No one knows how many words the media has used analysing the Premier League’s opening weekend.  And nowhere, at least as far as I can find, did anyone write or say anything about Arsenal’s total change of tactics on the pitch.

Maybe it is because they have ignored Arsenal’s tactical changes (alternating between evolution and revolution) in the time Arteta has been at the club, but here was another enormous one.  And once again it is at the heart of the art of the defender: tackling.

If all things were equal in the world of tackling in the Premier League then each of the 20 clubs would have one or two men listed in the top 20 of players for undertaking tackles each weekend.  But life on the pitch isn’t quite like that because Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton each had three players in from the weekend’s top 20 tacklers in their teams for the first match of the season,

Seeing that there is a page on the Premier League’s own web site listing tacklers, this stat is a very easy statistic to pick up.  But no one noticed!

Ben White was the most active tackler of the first weekend with eight tackles, followed by Declan Rice of West Ham on seven, and a total of three players from different clubs on six.  And that’s where it is particularly interesting for one of those three players with six tackles was Partey.

Meaning that two of the top five tackling players in the league for the matches this past weekend are Arsenal players.   And it gets even more interesting because Zinchenco is one of six players who put in five tackles.  White with eight,  Partey with six and Zichenko with five.

If you are a regular reader you will know how we have traced the story of the way Arsenal undertook a total reform of the way the defence behaved, by cutting the level of tackling in 2020/21 by 22% from its level in the previous season – a drop from 584 down to 456 tackles for the whole season.  (The figures are here).

As a result of this, the number of yellow cards the club received dropped from 86 in 2019/20 (when Arsenal were the most yellow-carded team in the league) to just 47 in 2020/1 making them one of the least-carded teams.

However then in the summer of 2021, having achieved this success the manager replaced the whole defence.   As a result in 2021/22 the number of tackles put in went back up to 540.

This looked like a total policy reversal, but now those players have had a season to bed themselves in, and to learn more about how referees in the Premier League handle the issue of what is a foul and what is not.  These players are now tackling more than ever, but without getting penalised.

The figures show Arsenal put in an amazing 29 tackles in the game against Palace – by far the highest of any club in the opening set of fixtures this season.

This table shows how the process has gone.  We (Untold scribblers) thought that it was all about reducing the number of fouls that were called against Arsenal, but actually it turns out to be a process of bringing in defenders from around Europe who can tackle without giving away fouls.

This table shows the number of tackles, fouls and yellow cards relating to each other for Arsenal.

Season Tackles per game Fouls per game Tackles per foul Yellow per game Tackles per yellow
2019/20 15.4 11.1 1.39 2.26 6.81
2020/21 12.0 9.1 1.32 1.24 9.68
2021/22 14.2 9.6 1.48 1.58 9.59
2022/23 29 11 2.63 2 14.5

 

What has happened is that new players brought into the team over the last two years who can tackle and get far lower levels of reprisals by the referees.

In the game against Palace, Arsenal were the team delivering the most tackles – a complete reversal of the approach when Arteta first came to the club.  A reversal made possible by changing the whole defence one year ago.

So which players were putting in the tackles?  These figures come from the official Premier League site for the opening game of the season

Rank Player Club tackles
1. Ben White Arsenal 8
2. Declan Rice West Ham United 7
3. Joachim Andersen Crystal Palace 6
3. João Palhinha Fulham 6
3. Thomas Partey Arsenal 6
6. Rodrigo Bentancur Tottenham Hotspur 5
6. Philip Billing AFC Bournemouth 5
6. Jack Colback Nottingham Forest 5
6. Abdoulaye Doucouré Everton 5
6. Pascal Struijk Leeds United 5
6. Kenny Tete Fulham 5
6. Oleksandr Zinchenko Arsenal 5
13. Tyler Adams Leeds United 4
13. César Azpilicueta Chelsea 4
13. Moisés Caicedo Brighton and Hove Albion 4
13. Rúben Neves Wolverhampton Wanderers 4
13. N’Golo Kanté Chelsea 4
13. Dejan Kulusevski Tottenham Hotspur 4
13. Dwight McNeil Everton 4
13. Nathan Patterson Everton 4

 

This is a total transformation – the journey that started by cutting tackling dramatically to being the team that delivers the most tackles – and yet keeps the number of fouls and yellow cards down.

9 Replies to “Media completely misses Arsenal’s astounding tactical change”

  1. Given Xhaka’s yellow was for a dive, it was actually 29 fouls per yellow…..for tackling!

  2. Please say something about the tackle Scott McTominay did week In and week out without properly punished . His tackles are horrible and might break someones leg. Even with VAR they let him go without punishing except for showing him only a yellow card

  3. Of course, the alternative view is that there is no change at all and the fluctuations in number of tackles are just that, fluctuations. Not everything is planned.

  4. Indeed Andrew, and that is the difference between the primitive view of the world and the view that has grown with civilisation. The analyst looks for patterns, accepting that some patterns appear by chance. But where they can be related to logic and organisation, the likelihood of them being by chance is diminished. For these variations to be chance would be very unlikely and so one takes the most likely explanation.
    They could also of course have been caused by aliens experimenting on Arsenal players to make them move faster. But again, unlikely.

  5. Maybe the Arsenal player read your piece about how Crystl Palace were the team that PGMOL was allowing to get tackled against the most and just applied your research to the opening game ?

    Isn’t that a perspective worth looking at ?

  6. I think one game is too small to get a change of direction. When you consider the style of football played by palace it needs tackling. I would be interested to see if the number of tackles goes down in the next few games. I suspect it will.
    Keep up the good research, it’s a refreshing take on the game.

  7. Tony
    I pointed this out 2 posts ago, with statistics. Mikey also wrote that Arsenal had the most tackles in the Premier League on opening day. You chose to ignore these fact based comments. You went on to write another article “The new Arsenal tactic revealed against Palace in all it’s glory” that Arsenal’s new tactic is to NOT tackle. Today you’re writing that the Media are missing the change becoming the side with the most tackles in the league. While I agree with Andy (11:40 above) that one game is too small a sample to make definitive statements I think, going forward, we’ll see more tackling from Arsenal. You’re spot on citing the defense bedding in and getting a better understanding of the EPL refs. And the European influence. Saliba slotted in with a MOM performance. Assured, composed and tough with very good technical and tactical skills. He and Gabriel seem very comfortable together at this early stage. White handled a difficult assignment on Saha with aplomb and Zinchenko was all over the pitch!
    Why not tackle more?

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