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Mikel Arteta: Managerial Royalty

Macho

DJ Machodemiks
Dusted 🔻

Country: England
1713078072733.png


By Jordan Campbell
Apr 12, 2024

“The first half was brutal. When we’re struggling, the staff can usually see a couple of solutions, even against the top teams, but they were so aggressive with their pressure that I remember being on the sideline finding it really difficult to think of one,” a Premier League coach (Coach A) tells The Athletic.


He is speaking about his experience of facing Arsenal this season and, like others in this article, doing so anonymously to protect his position.

“The way they came out of the traps I thought, ‘Oh s***, this could get ugly’,” he says.

“When we sat in a low block you could feel it was going to be a long 90 minutes. It became an attack-vs-defence training session where Arsenal were just coming with flow after flow of attack. We probably had to defend 100 overlap situations by the break as Ben White just kept coming around Bukayo Saka.

“When we went man-for-man it helped us create some more chaos, because when the game was really structured it felt like they were always in control.

“It is the toughest test we’ve had this year. We never really felt like we were truly in the game.”

Mikel Arteta’s team have the lead in the title race and have the best record when it comes to goals scored and goals conceded.

They have failed to score in only three games and have kept 14 clean sheets in their 31 matches, in which time they have left a lasting impression on their opponents.

Arsenal can extend their longest unbeaten streak under Arteta to 11 games against Aston Villa on Sunday. Before the match, several coaches, analysts and players at other Premier League clubs agreed to speak anonymously to The Athletic to provide a transparent account of what makes Arsenal so difficult to play against.

“Their reaction when they lose the ball is so quick, it was very hard to build momentum. They have so many bodies around the box that it fences you in,” says Coach A.

“They don’t have any luxury players. Even an attacking player such as Martin Ødegaard, his defensive responsibilities are frighteningly good. He is so efficient without the ball.

“Ødegaard will relentlessly press the left-sided centre-back in the same way. He will do it over and over again. If it goes past him he recovers down onto the midfielder and then jumps up again.

“It felt like if they pressed and it went wrong, they just reset and went again. There was no disappointment. They never got tired of doing it. It was relentless.”



Arsenal’s off-the-ball ability is something that other teams have sought to learn from, including PSV Eindhoven manager Peter Bosz.

Afterwards, I thought, ‘We played pretty well… but we lost 4-0?’. In the build-up, we did well and we had our position game, but as soon as we got to their box it was over. How is that possible?” Bosz told The Athletic in December.



“Me and my coaches studied them. What is it that they do differently to us? The answer is they are outstanding in the opposition box but also their own. They get a lot of players behind the ball as soon as possible. They do it with 10 or 11 but we only did it with six or seven and then the distances are bigger. It’s the transition.

“We showed the players and, in the games after, we started doing it with 10 or 11 like Arsenal, staying compact in attack and defence.”

Another Premier League first-team coach (Coach B) had a similar epiphany.

“We reviewed our game back with the lads and we showed them clips of how quickly they got back after they had a corner cleared. From the sideline, I could see the commitment to their manager’s idea was phenomenal. You could see the mindset,” he says.

“You’re always drawn to how good Arsenal are on the ball but what sets them apart from the rest is what they do without it. You get it back and you haven’t got it back for long.

“We showed the players their pressing, the intelligence of Declan Rice. The amount they ask Rice to do without the ball — jumping up to press, being in between two players, constantly filling the right gaps — he’s been great. There was loads for us to take from it and we have continued to use it.”

Opposition analysts have the task of combing over videos of Arsenal to find ways to stop their attacking patterns but also look for any chinks in their armour.

“They know all the triggers,” says an analyst from a top-half Premier League club (Analyst A). “The 4-4-2 is so well-choreographed and tightly packed that it is hard to find an out ball. They block off the centre, force you wide, shuffle across and keep you there.

“When teams go man-to-man you can usually go longer to stretch the game but that suits Arsenal because the lads at the back are monsters. They are quick enough to defend the space behind.



“It leaves you caught between two problems. When you’re playing long it is also harder to disguise the pass so they are ready to drop off or step in. They have one of the most tightly-packed 4-4-2 setups I’ve seen — a bit like France at the World Cup in Russia.

“But they squeeze up so high that they are vulnerable to that first pass out. If you can play the first forward pass when Oleksandr Zinchenko is ‘inverted’ that is a place to exploit if you have pace.

“Players recover in straight lines so if he is inside and moves diagonally he is not covering the gap. That is why Rice has been so important, though, as he just slots in.”

Paul Heckingbottom led Sheffield United to a 5-0 defeat at the Emirates in October in what was his team’s 10th league game after promotion. In December, he was replaced by Chris Wilder, who lost 6-0 to Arsenal at home last month.

“I watched a lot of them before our game and I said, ‘Whoever finishes above Arsenal will win the league’. That’s how much I thought of them,” Heckingbottom tells The Athletic.

1713078414263.png
GettyImages-1750574828-scaled.jpg

Sheffield United were thrashed by Arsenal in October – and again a few months later (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

“There have been massive improvements with and without the ball compared to last season, it has just taken time for results to show that. They are in control of games more.”

Being on the touchline alongside Arteta, who is one of the most instructive and animated managers in the league, also brings its own experience.

“He’s prepared to manage every aspect of the game,” says Heckingbottom.

“He’s not scared to complain if he thinks a team is trying to upset the game or slow it down. He will also be prepared to employ those tactics himself and he has brought that streetwise nature to the team. At every throw-in, he had them set up so quickly. They are a reflection of him.

“When they kick off, sometimes they go long and throw bodies at the first and second balls to set a tempo. People don’t associate that with Arsenal but this team do the little things well.

“They are the most compact of the top teams. They kill the space within a second or two. They have got no ego about them.”

Despite going close to winning the league last season, Arsenal have evolved.

It is why many coaches now focus on their solidity first but they have reached new levels in the final third since the turn of the year.

“They don’t play so much in their own half of the pitch but they are amazing in the other half,” said Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi after his side lost 3-0 to Arsenal last weekend.

GettyImages-2139222934-scaled.jpg
1713078399552.png

Arsenal made light work of their recent trip to Brighton (David Horton – CameraSport via Getty Images)

“They move the ball with incredible speed. They have one of the best players in the league in Ødegaard and they are special when they reach the last 20 metres.”

Last season, Granit Xhaka performed a specific role on the left of midfield and Gabriel Jesus was the main striker (apart from his three-month injury spell), but opposition coaches believe they are now more unpredictable.

“We spent an awfully long time preparing for their set pieces — about three times as much than we did on any other team,” says Analyst B.



“In general play we spoke about compactness off the ball all week, but to have a chance against them the players need to understand the situational variables of things like ball speed and which spaces to control at which points.

“We knew Zinchenko would invert so we looked at how our winger would balance that and how the midfield three would adjust to stop passes being played through the lines, since that is what pulls the shape apart.

“If they were in a slow progression build, we felt okay to have our winger come inside with him and keep our No 10 on their No 6. At other times we dropped our winger back, pushed our full back inside and allowed our centre back to step in so the midfield could support the pressure into the centre.”

When concocting a game plan, Analyst B recalls how he and the coaching staff assessed each of their strengths, decided which one they were best equipped to defend against and chose to leave that open while shutting off the other four.

“Last season, you could press onto the back two and (Thomas) Partey believing you could get a turnover out of them,” he says. “Their ball retention now is ridiculous but, in saying that, we still tried to funnel their play down the left as Gabriel is less likely to see the situation as quickly. That was also because, while Martinelli is a great player, he doesn’t quite have as much to his game as Saka and is a bit more one dimensional, so it felt easier to control.

“Before this year, absolutely everything went through Ødegaard but now they have Rice to play through too. He has more freedom as we used to know they were looking for him at all times.”

Coach B believes they are more fluid in their build-up style compared to last season.
“It is the timing of how they do things,” says Coach B. “A lot of teams try to build in a similar structure and will place themselves in the positions but then you play Arsenal the next week and you see how quickly they find that structure and the timing of how they rotate.

“There is the clear one with White when Saka rolls in off the line. You can watch it over and over again but it is so hard to stop. They end up finding the opposite side of the pitch.


“Last year, their biggest weakness was the emotional side of things. They were on the cusp of boiling over. You can quickly climb when you are inspired like that but the crash is quite hard and it is hard to pick up again. It feels like you can split the football now, it’s more business.”

It is one thing to plot how to compete against Arsenal but it is another to go toe-to-toe with them.

“When you press up high on Arsenal it is so hard to get at them as they shift it so quickly,” says one Premier League player.

“With City, it is all about slow build-up and trying to play through you and with Liverpool it is really quick and direct, but with Arsenal, it is a bit of everything. They are just coming and coming at you from all angles.

“They don’t play with a striker so it is unorthodox and can be difficult to know who to pick up as they rotate so much in the final third.”

Luton Town manager Rob Edwards praised Arsenal’s all-round strength compared to Liverpool and Manchester City after his team lost 2-0 at the Emirates this month.

“They’re the one team out of all the three fighting that can play any game — if it’s physical, footballing, running, whatever it is they’ve got the answer, the personnel to play anything. They’ve got no weaknesses,” he said when asked by The Athletic.

“They are like a hybrid team. They are multi-functional,” says Analyst A.

“I always wonder what it will be like if they move Saka inside because he seems robust enough to take the challenges so that might be the next evolution.

“It is either a 2-3-4-1 or a 3-2-4-1 but the four are in behind your central midfielders and stretched out.

“It is the speed with which they move the ball. It is the main ‘Wengerism’ of the team. The build-up can be slow but they speed up around the box like the old Brazilian sides.

“They might not have a penalty-box striker but Kai Havertz is another hybrid player, he’s like a ghost. A Thomas Muller type.”



If the opposition could remove one player from Arsenal’s team, then, who would it be? There were two votes for Saka, another for Rice, Ødegaard and William Saliba, but Heckingbottom believes he knows the answer that best captures the problem with facing this team.

“You could say one of the centre-backs but then the other still has the pace. You could say Rice as he can stop everything you are doing or Saka is your constant one-vs-one,” says Heckinghottom.

“It would be one of those three but, let’s be honest, you probably need all three to have a chance.”

"Anonymous" Prem coaches, team analysts and players (or it could be just James McNicholas) all share their PTSD from having to face the unstoppable Arsenal this season.

Slight Martinelli and Zinchenko shade if you can spot it (there is basically no answer for White/Saka/Ødegaard trifector)
 

MikeVinna

Established Member
Our right side is very dominant because we overload it and leave the space on the left. The problem is when the ball does find its way to LW you need a winger that can beat his man and Martinelli just hasn’t been that guy this season.
 

OnlyOne

🎙️ Future Journalist
Trusted ⭐

Country: England
View attachment 23443


By Jordan Campbell
Apr 12, 2024

“The first half was brutal. When we’re struggling, the staff can usually see a couple of solutions, even against the top teams, but they were so aggressive with their pressure that I remember being on the sideline finding it really difficult to think of one,” a Premier League coach (Coach A) tells The Athletic.


He is speaking about his experience of facing Arsenal this season and, like others in this article, doing so anonymously to protect his position.

“The way they came out of the traps I thought, ‘Oh s***, this could get ugly’,” he says.

“When we sat in a low block you could feel it was going to be a long 90 minutes. It became an attack-vs-defence training session where Arsenal were just coming with flow after flow of attack. We probably had to defend 100 overlap situations by the break as Ben White just kept coming around Bukayo Saka.

“When we went man-for-man it helped us create some more chaos, because when the game was really structured it felt like they were always in control.

“It is the toughest test we’ve had this year. We never really felt like we were truly in the game.”

Mikel Arteta’s team have the lead in the title race and have the best record when it comes to goals scored and goals conceded.

They have failed to score in only three games and have kept 14 clean sheets in their 31 matches, in which time they have left a lasting impression on their opponents.

Arsenal can extend their longest unbeaten streak under Arteta to 11 games against Aston Villa on Sunday. Before the match, several coaches, analysts and players at other Premier League clubs agreed to speak anonymously to The Athletic to provide a transparent account of what makes Arsenal so difficult to play against.

“Their reaction when they lose the ball is so quick, it was very hard to build momentum. They have so many bodies around the box that it fences you in,” says Coach A.

“They don’t have any luxury players. Even an attacking player such as Martin Ødegaard, his defensive responsibilities are frighteningly good. He is so efficient without the ball.

“Ødegaard will relentlessly press the left-sided centre-back in the same way. He will do it over and over again. If it goes past him he recovers down onto the midfielder and then jumps up again.

“It felt like if they pressed and it went wrong, they just reset and went again. There was no disappointment. They never got tired of doing it. It was relentless.”



Arsenal’s off-the-ball ability is something that other teams have sought to learn from, including PSV Eindhoven manager Peter Bosz.

Afterwards, I thought, ‘We played pretty well… but we lost 4-0?’. In the build-up, we did well and we had our position game, but as soon as we got to their box it was over. How is that possible?” Bosz told The Athletic in December.



“Me and my coaches studied them. What is it that they do differently to us? The answer is they are outstanding in the opposition box but also their own. They get a lot of players behind the ball as soon as possible. They do it with 10 or 11 but we only did it with six or seven and then the distances are bigger. It’s the transition.

“We showed the players and, in the games after, we started doing it with 10 or 11 like Arsenal, staying compact in attack and defence.”

Another Premier League first-team coach (Coach B) had a similar epiphany.

“We reviewed our game back with the lads and we showed them clips of how quickly they got back after they had a corner cleared. From the sideline, I could see the commitment to their manager’s idea was phenomenal. You could see the mindset,” he says.

“You’re always drawn to how good Arsenal are on the ball but what sets them apart from the rest is what they do without it. You get it back and you haven’t got it back for long.

“We showed the players their pressing, the intelligence of Declan Rice. The amount they ask Rice to do without the ball — jumping up to press, being in between two players, constantly filling the right gaps — he’s been great. There was loads for us to take from it and we have continued to use it.”

Opposition analysts have the task of combing over videos of Arsenal to find ways to stop their attacking patterns but also look for any chinks in their armour.

“They know all the triggers,” says an analyst from a top-half Premier League club (Analyst A). “The 4-4-2 is so well-choreographed and tightly packed that it is hard to find an out ball. They block off the centre, force you wide, shuffle across and keep you there.

“When teams go man-to-man you can usually go longer to stretch the game but that suits Arsenal because the lads at the back are monsters. They are quick enough to defend the space behind.



“It leaves you caught between two problems. When you’re playing long it is also harder to disguise the pass so they are ready to drop off or step in. They have one of the most tightly-packed 4-4-2 setups I’ve seen — a bit like France at the World Cup in Russia.

“But they squeeze up so high that they are vulnerable to that first pass out. If you can play the first forward pass when Oleksandr Zinchenko is ‘inverted’ that is a place to exploit if you have pace.

“Players recover in straight lines so if he is inside and moves diagonally he is not covering the gap. That is why Rice has been so important, though, as he just slots in.”

Paul Heckingbottom led Sheffield United to a 5-0 defeat at the Emirates in October in what was his team’s 10th league game after promotion. In December, he was replaced by Chris Wilder, who lost 6-0 to Arsenal at home last month.

“I watched a lot of them before our game and I said, ‘Whoever finishes above Arsenal will win the league’. That’s how much I thought of them,” Heckingbottom tells The Athletic.

View attachment 23445
GettyImages-1750574828-scaled.jpg

Sheffield United were thrashed by Arsenal in October – and again a few months later (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

“There have been massive improvements with and without the ball compared to last season, it has just taken time for results to show that. They are in control of games more.”

Being on the touchline alongside Arteta, who is one of the most instructive and animated managers in the league, also brings its own experience.

“He’s prepared to manage every aspect of the game,” says Heckingbottom.

“He’s not scared to complain if he thinks a team is trying to upset the game or slow it down. He will also be prepared to employ those tactics himself and he has brought that streetwise nature to the team. At every throw-in, he had them set up so quickly. They are a reflection of him.

“When they kick off, sometimes they go long and throw bodies at the first and second balls to set a tempo. People don’t associate that with Arsenal but this team do the little things well.

“They are the most compact of the top teams. They kill the space within a second or two. They have got no ego about them.”

Despite going close to winning the league last season, Arsenal have evolved.

It is why many coaches now focus on their solidity first but they have reached new levels in the final third since the turn of the year.

“They don’t play so much in their own half of the pitch but they are amazing in the other half,” said Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi after his side lost 3-0 to Arsenal last weekend.

GettyImages-2139222934-scaled.jpg
View attachment 23444

Arsenal made light work of their recent trip to Brighton (David Horton – CameraSport via Getty Images)

“They move the ball with incredible speed. They have one of the best players in the league in Ødegaard and they are special when they reach the last 20 metres.”

Last season, Granit Xhaka performed a specific role on the left of midfield and Gabriel Jesus was the main striker (apart from his three-month injury spell), but opposition coaches believe they are now more unpredictable.

“We spent an awfully long time preparing for their set pieces — about three times as much than we did on any other team,” says Analyst B.



“In general play we spoke about compactness off the ball all week, but to have a chance against them the players need to understand the situational variables of things like ball speed and which spaces to control at which points.

“We knew Zinchenko would invert so we looked at how our winger would balance that and how the midfield three would adjust to stop passes being played through the lines, since that is what pulls the shape apart.

“If they were in a slow progression build, we felt okay to have our winger come inside with him and keep our No 10 on their No 6. At other times we dropped our winger back, pushed our full back inside and allowed our centre back to step in so the midfield could support the pressure into the centre.”

When concocting a game plan, Analyst B recalls how he and the coaching staff assessed each of their strengths, decided which one they were best equipped to defend against and chose to leave that open while shutting off the other four.

“Last season, you could press onto the back two and (Thomas) Partey believing you could get a turnover out of them,” he says. “Their ball retention now is ridiculous but, in saying that, we still tried to funnel their play down the left as Gabriel is less likely to see the situation as quickly. That was also because, while Martinelli is a great player, he doesn’t quite have as much to his game as Saka and is a bit more one dimensional, so it felt easier to control.

“Before this year, absolutely everything went through Ødegaard but now they have Rice to play through too. He has more freedom as we used to know they were looking for him at all times.”

Coach B believes they are more fluid in their build-up style compared to last season.
“It is the timing of how they do things,” says Coach B. “A lot of teams try to build in a similar structure and will place themselves in the positions but then you play Arsenal the next week and you see how quickly they find that structure and the timing of how they rotate.

“There is the clear one with White when Saka rolls in off the line. You can watch it over and over again but it is so hard to stop. They end up finding the opposite side of the pitch.


“Last year, their biggest weakness was the emotional side of things. They were on the cusp of boiling over. You can quickly climb when you are inspired like that but the crash is quite hard and it is hard to pick up again. It feels like you can split the football now, it’s more business.”

It is one thing to plot how to compete against Arsenal but it is another to go toe-to-toe with them.

“When you press up high on Arsenal it is so hard to get at them as they shift it so quickly,” says one Premier League player.

“With City, it is all about slow build-up and trying to play through you and with Liverpool it is really quick and direct, but with Arsenal, it is a bit of everything. They are just coming and coming at you from all angles.

“They don’t play with a striker so it is unorthodox and can be difficult to know who to pick up as they rotate so much in the final third.”

Luton Town manager Rob Edwards praised Arsenal’s all-round strength compared to Liverpool and Manchester City after his team lost 2-0 at the Emirates this month.

“They’re the one team out of all the three fighting that can play any game — if it’s physical, footballing, running, whatever it is they’ve got the answer, the personnel to play anything. They’ve got no weaknesses,” he said when asked by The Athletic.

“They are like a hybrid team. They are multi-functional,” says Analyst A.

“I always wonder what it will be like if they move Saka inside because he seems robust enough to take the challenges so that might be the next evolution.

“It is either a 2-3-4-1 or a 3-2-4-1 but the four are in behind your central midfielders and stretched out.

“It is the speed with which they move the ball. It is the main ‘Wengerism’ of the team. The build-up can be slow but they speed up around the box like the old Brazilian sides.

“They might not have a penalty-box striker but Kai Havertz is another hybrid player, he’s like a ghost. A Thomas Muller type.”



If the opposition could remove one player from Arsenal’s team, then, who would it be? There were two votes for Saka, another for Rice, Ødegaard and William Saliba, but Heckingbottom believes he knows the answer that best captures the problem with facing this team.

“You could say one of the centre-backs but then the other still has the pace. You could say Rice as he can stop everything you are doing or Saka is your constant one-vs-one,” says Heckinghottom.

“It would be one of those three but, let’s be honest, you probably need all three to have a chance.”

"Anonymous" Prem coaches, team analysts and players (or it could be just James McNicholas) all share their PTSD from having to face the unstoppable Arsenal this season.

Slight Martinelli and Zinchenko shade if you can spot it (there is basically no answer for White/Saka/Ødegaard trifector)

Kinda cool. Nice to see some analysts thinking like @Trilly and we could move Saka inside.

Thanks for sharing.
 

Riou

In The Winchester, Waiting For This To Blow Over

Country: Northern Ireland

Player:Gabriel
View attachment 23443


By Jordan Campbell
Apr 12, 2024

“The first half was brutal. When we’re struggling, the staff can usually see a couple of solutions, even against the top teams, but they were so aggressive with their pressure that I remember being on the sideline finding it really difficult to think of one,” a Premier League coach (Coach A) tells The Athletic.


He is speaking about his experience of facing Arsenal this season and, like others in this article, doing so anonymously to protect his position.

“The way they came out of the traps I thought, ‘Oh s***, this could get ugly’,” he says.

“When we sat in a low block you could feel it was going to be a long 90 minutes. It became an attack-vs-defence training session where Arsenal were just coming with flow after flow of attack. We probably had to defend 100 overlap situations by the break as Ben White just kept coming around Bukayo Saka.

“When we went man-for-man it helped us create some more chaos, because when the game was really structured it felt like they were always in control.

“It is the toughest test we’ve had this year. We never really felt like we were truly in the game.”

Mikel Arteta’s team have the lead in the title race and have the best record when it comes to goals scored and goals conceded.

They have failed to score in only three games and have kept 14 clean sheets in their 31 matches, in which time they have left a lasting impression on their opponents.

Arsenal can extend their longest unbeaten streak under Arteta to 11 games against Aston Villa on Sunday. Before the match, several coaches, analysts and players at other Premier League clubs agreed to speak anonymously to The Athletic to provide a transparent account of what makes Arsenal so difficult to play against.

“Their reaction when they lose the ball is so quick, it was very hard to build momentum. They have so many bodies around the box that it fences you in,” says Coach A.

“They don’t have any luxury players. Even an attacking player such as Martin Ødegaard, his defensive responsibilities are frighteningly good. He is so efficient without the ball.

“Ødegaard will relentlessly press the left-sided centre-back in the same way. He will do it over and over again. If it goes past him he recovers down onto the midfielder and then jumps up again.

“It felt like if they pressed and it went wrong, they just reset and went again. There was no disappointment. They never got tired of doing it. It was relentless.”



Arsenal’s off-the-ball ability is something that other teams have sought to learn from, including PSV Eindhoven manager Peter Bosz.

Afterwards, I thought, ‘We played pretty well… but we lost 4-0?’. In the build-up, we did well and we had our position game, but as soon as we got to their box it was over. How is that possible?” Bosz told The Athletic in December.



“Me and my coaches studied them. What is it that they do differently to us? The answer is they are outstanding in the opposition box but also their own. They get a lot of players behind the ball as soon as possible. They do it with 10 or 11 but we only did it with six or seven and then the distances are bigger. It’s the transition.

“We showed the players and, in the games after, we started doing it with 10 or 11 like Arsenal, staying compact in attack and defence.”

Another Premier League first-team coach (Coach B) had a similar epiphany.

“We reviewed our game back with the lads and we showed them clips of how quickly they got back after they had a corner cleared. From the sideline, I could see the commitment to their manager’s idea was phenomenal. You could see the mindset,” he says.

“You’re always drawn to how good Arsenal are on the ball but what sets them apart from the rest is what they do without it. You get it back and you haven’t got it back for long.

“We showed the players their pressing, the intelligence of Declan Rice. The amount they ask Rice to do without the ball — jumping up to press, being in between two players, constantly filling the right gaps — he’s been great. There was loads for us to take from it and we have continued to use it.”

Opposition analysts have the task of combing over videos of Arsenal to find ways to stop their attacking patterns but also look for any chinks in their armour.

“They know all the triggers,” says an analyst from a top-half Premier League club (Analyst A). “The 4-4-2 is so well-choreographed and tightly packed that it is hard to find an out ball. They block off the centre, force you wide, shuffle across and keep you there.

“When teams go man-to-man you can usually go longer to stretch the game but that suits Arsenal because the lads at the back are monsters. They are quick enough to defend the space behind.



“It leaves you caught between two problems. When you’re playing long it is also harder to disguise the pass so they are ready to drop off or step in. They have one of the most tightly-packed 4-4-2 setups I’ve seen — a bit like France at the World Cup in Russia.

“But they squeeze up so high that they are vulnerable to that first pass out. If you can play the first forward pass when Oleksandr Zinchenko is ‘inverted’ that is a place to exploit if you have pace.

“Players recover in straight lines so if he is inside and moves diagonally he is not covering the gap. That is why Rice has been so important, though, as he just slots in.”

Paul Heckingbottom led Sheffield United to a 5-0 defeat at the Emirates in October in what was his team’s 10th league game after promotion. In December, he was replaced by Chris Wilder, who lost 6-0 to Arsenal at home last month.

“I watched a lot of them before our game and I said, ‘Whoever finishes above Arsenal will win the league’. That’s how much I thought of them,” Heckingbottom tells The Athletic.

View attachment 23445
GettyImages-1750574828-scaled.jpg

Sheffield United were thrashed by Arsenal in October – and again a few months later (Marc Atkins/Getty Images)

“There have been massive improvements with and without the ball compared to last season, it has just taken time for results to show that. They are in control of games more.”

Being on the touchline alongside Arteta, who is one of the most instructive and animated managers in the league, also brings its own experience.

“He’s prepared to manage every aspect of the game,” says Heckingbottom.

“He’s not scared to complain if he thinks a team is trying to upset the game or slow it down. He will also be prepared to employ those tactics himself and he has brought that streetwise nature to the team. At every throw-in, he had them set up so quickly. They are a reflection of him.

“When they kick off, sometimes they go long and throw bodies at the first and second balls to set a tempo. People don’t associate that with Arsenal but this team do the little things well.

“They are the most compact of the top teams. They kill the space within a second or two. They have got no ego about them.”

Despite going close to winning the league last season, Arsenal have evolved.

It is why many coaches now focus on their solidity first but they have reached new levels in the final third since the turn of the year.

“They don’t play so much in their own half of the pitch but they are amazing in the other half,” said Brighton & Hove Albion manager Roberto De Zerbi after his side lost 3-0 to Arsenal last weekend.

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Arsenal made light work of their recent trip to Brighton (David Horton – CameraSport via Getty Images)

“They move the ball with incredible speed. They have one of the best players in the league in Ødegaard and they are special when they reach the last 20 metres.”

Last season, Granit Xhaka performed a specific role on the left of midfield and Gabriel Jesus was the main striker (apart from his three-month injury spell), but opposition coaches believe they are now more unpredictable.

“We spent an awfully long time preparing for their set pieces — about three times as much than we did on any other team,” says Analyst B.



“In general play we spoke about compactness off the ball all week, but to have a chance against them the players need to understand the situational variables of things like ball speed and which spaces to control at which points.

“We knew Zinchenko would invert so we looked at how our winger would balance that and how the midfield three would adjust to stop passes being played through the lines, since that is what pulls the shape apart.

“If they were in a slow progression build, we felt okay to have our winger come inside with him and keep our No 10 on their No 6. At other times we dropped our winger back, pushed our full back inside and allowed our centre back to step in so the midfield could support the pressure into the centre.”

When concocting a game plan, Analyst B recalls how he and the coaching staff assessed each of their strengths, decided which one they were best equipped to defend against and chose to leave that open while shutting off the other four.

“Last season, you could press onto the back two and (Thomas) Partey believing you could get a turnover out of them,” he says. “Their ball retention now is ridiculous but, in saying that, we still tried to funnel their play down the left as Gabriel is less likely to see the situation as quickly. That was also because, while Martinelli is a great player, he doesn’t quite have as much to his game as Saka and is a bit more one dimensional, so it felt easier to control.

“Before this year, absolutely everything went through Ødegaard but now they have Rice to play through too. He has more freedom as we used to know they were looking for him at all times.”

Coach B believes they are more fluid in their build-up style compared to last season.
“It is the timing of how they do things,” says Coach B. “A lot of teams try to build in a similar structure and will place themselves in the positions but then you play Arsenal the next week and you see how quickly they find that structure and the timing of how they rotate.

“There is the clear one with White when Saka rolls in off the line. You can watch it over and over again but it is so hard to stop. They end up finding the opposite side of the pitch.


“Last year, their biggest weakness was the emotional side of things. They were on the cusp of boiling over. You can quickly climb when you are inspired like that but the crash is quite hard and it is hard to pick up again. It feels like you can split the football now, it’s more business.”

It is one thing to plot how to compete against Arsenal but it is another to go toe-to-toe with them.

“When you press up high on Arsenal it is so hard to get at them as they shift it so quickly,” says one Premier League player.

“With City, it is all about slow build-up and trying to play through you and with Liverpool it is really quick and direct, but with Arsenal, it is a bit of everything. They are just coming and coming at you from all angles.

“They don’t play with a striker so it is unorthodox and can be difficult to know who to pick up as they rotate so much in the final third.”

Luton Town manager Rob Edwards praised Arsenal’s all-round strength compared to Liverpool and Manchester City after his team lost 2-0 at the Emirates this month.

“They’re the one team out of all the three fighting that can play any game — if it’s physical, footballing, running, whatever it is they’ve got the answer, the personnel to play anything. They’ve got no weaknesses,” he said when asked by The Athletic.

“They are like a hybrid team. They are multi-functional,” says Analyst A.

“I always wonder what it will be like if they move Saka inside because he seems robust enough to take the challenges so that might be the next evolution.

“It is either a 2-3-4-1 or a 3-2-4-1 but the four are in behind your central midfielders and stretched out.

“It is the speed with which they move the ball. It is the main ‘Wengerism’ of the team. The build-up can be slow but they speed up around the box like the old Brazilian sides.

“They might not have a penalty-box striker but Kai Havertz is another hybrid player, he’s like a ghost. A Thomas Muller type.”



If the opposition could remove one player from Arsenal’s team, then, who would it be? There were two votes for Saka, another for Rice, Ødegaard and William Saliba, but Heckingbottom believes he knows the answer that best captures the problem with facing this team.

“You could say one of the centre-backs but then the other still has the pace. You could say Rice as he can stop everything you are doing or Saka is your constant one-vs-one,” says Heckinghottom.

“It would be one of those three but, let’s be honest, you probably need all three to have a chance.”

"Anonymous" Prem coaches, team analysts and players (or it could be just James McNicholas) all share their PTSD from having to face the unstoppable Arsenal this season.

Slight Martinelli and Zinchenko shade if you can spot it (there is basically no answer for White/Saka/Ødegaard trifector)

Footage of Little Chrissy Wilder 5-0 at halftime, after getting completely "out-tacticed" by Johnny Foreigner...

tenor.gif
 

2Smokeyy

5.0 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (49)
Trusted ⭐

Country: England
Our left side definitely needs work. There was a reason why the club were going for Mudryk.

Nelli being one dimensional isn’t even the biggest issue at hand imo. Of course we can do better for sure but it mainly comes down to the fact that we don’t have an all rounded LB who is defensively secure and able to get forward with ease like Ben White and an 8 able to create overloads on the left, pass through the lines and dictate play from that position - Fabio Vieira looked promising at the start of the season but we haven’t seen much of him since.

Tactically it’s quite funny how we went from a left wing bias when we had Auba/Xhaka/Tierney to now our main threat coming from the right.
 

TH14shahriar

A gentle soul
Nelli being one dimensional isn’t even the biggest issue at hand imo. Of course we can do better for sure but it mainly comes down to the fact that we don’t have an all rounded LB who is defensively secure and able to get forward with ease like Ben White and 8 able to create overloads on the left, pass through the lines and dictate play from that position - Fabio Vieira looked promising at the start of the season but we haven’t seen much of him since.

Tactically it’s quite funny how we went from a left wing bias when we had Auba/Xhaka/Tierney to now our main threat coming from the right.

This is spot on, we need to focus on that left hand side in the summer.
 

GDeep™

League is very weak
I want us to win something just so we have something to show for the last two seasons, the players and manager deserve it.

Then again, you might say football is brutal and there is no such thing as “deserve” - look at Klopp, most likely leaving England with 1 league title.
 

2Smokeyy

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Trusted ⭐

Country: England
I want us to win something just so we have something to show for the last two seasons, the players and manager deserve it.

Then again, you might say football is brutal and there is no such thing as “deserve” - look at Klopp, most likely leaving England with 1 league title.




Sounds crazy to me that Arteta could equal the amount of PL’s that Klopp has won especially when he had Salah, Mane, Firmino, VVD, Fabinho and Alisson 🤣 I’m going to be moving shameless if it happens.
 

OnlyOne

🎙️ Future Journalist
Trusted ⭐

Country: England



Sounds crazy to me that Arteta could equal the amount of PL’s that Klopp has won especially when he had Salah, Mane, Firmino, VVD, Fabinho and Alisson 🤣 I’m going to be moving shameless if it happens.

Crazy to think people were begging for a VVD, Alisson & Fabinho transfer window, little did they know we had it with Ben White, Ødegaard and Ramsdale.
 

2Smokeyy

5.0 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (49)
Trusted ⭐

Country: England
Crazy to think people were begging for a VVD, Alisson & Fabinho transfer window, little did they know we had it with Ben White, Ødegaard and Ramsdale.

Just solidifies @GDeep™ point that he usually makes that the league/City has become weaker. Liverpool finished on 97 and 92 points in two different seasons yet they didn’t win the title 😭 the season they won it they had to get 99 points.
 

Trilly

Hates A-M, Saka, Arteta and You
Trusted ⭐

Country: England
Kinda cool. Nice to see some analysts thinking like @Trilly and we could move Saka inside.

Thanks for sharing.
They thought it was just some weird desire to create less competition for Pepe on the RW (even after Pepe left, make that make sense??)

Oh and other PL managers/analysts identifying Nelli as a weakness due to being limited yet A-M told me to Shutup and that he’s a top3 LW in the world.

But anyway, vindicated again after 6-12 months. **** the haters!
 

OnlyOne

🎙️ Future Journalist
Trusted ⭐

Country: England
They thought it was just some weird desire to create less competition for Pepe on the RW (even after Pepe left, make that make sense??)

Oh and other PL managers/analysts identifying Nelli as a weakness due to being limited yet A-M told me to Shutup and that he’s a top3 LW in the world.

But anyway, vindicated again after 6-12 months. **** the haters!

Tell em gurllllll!!! 💅
 

TH14shahriar

A gentle soul
They thought it was just some weird desire to create less competition for Pepe on the RW (even after Pepe left, make that make sense??)

Oh and other PL managers/analysts identifying Nelli as a weakness due to being limited yet A-M told me to Shutup and that he’s a top3 LW in the world.

But anyway, vindicated again after 6-12 months. **** the haters!

You got posters here saying Martinelli is better than both Rodrygo and Vini. Will never forget that, never.
 

Riou

In The Winchester, Waiting For This To Blow Over

Country: Northern Ireland

Player:Gabriel
Just solidifies @GDeep™ point that he usually makes that the league/City has become weaker. Liverpool finished on 97 and 92 points in two different seasons yet they didn’t win the title 😭 the season they won it they had to get 99 points.

The league was terrible when Liverpool won the title, tbf.

Like zero of the other teams were good outside Pool and City (and even then, City had a weird year) in 2020.

Getting higher points tallies doesn't mean the league is stronger, could easily mean the opposite to be honest.
 

LookingForEric

Patronize me again and I'll destroy you 😖

Country: Northern Ireland
They thought it was just some weird desire to create less competition for Pepe on the RW (even after Pepe left, make that make sense??)

Oh and other PL managers/analysts identifying Nelli as a weakness due to being limited yet A-M told me to Shutup and that he’s a top3 LW in the world.

But anyway, vindicated again after 6-12 months. **** the haters!

You sound like Makingtrax more and more every day mate.
 

2Smokeyy

5.0 ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ (49)
Trusted ⭐

Country: England
The league was terrible when Liverpool won the title, tbf.

Like zero of the other teams were good outside Pool and City (and even then, City had a weird year) in 2020.

Getting higher points tallies doesn't mean the league is stronger, could easily mean the opposite to be honest.

I knew someone was going to say that 😂 I’m not necessarily saying the teams around them but the competition in going for the title.

City and Liverpool’s squads were far superior to the two that we’ve had to face. Not sure if I’d be that confident in us winning it against either of those sides in a straight shootout for the title. There was literally not that much room for error back then.
 

Arsenal Quotes

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