WHAT IS ARTETA DOING? (LONG READ)

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Why do we keep hearing that Arsenal are 100% behind Mikel Arteta regardless of form and results?

Arsenal under Mikel Arteta are going through massive change. Quite something for a new coach to be trusted with. There are 3 main tasks that he’s been given or decided that are crucial in turning around the fortunes of the club.

  1. Culture
  2. Recruitment
  3. Sustainable modern footballing structure

I believe the reason that he has the trust of the club is that he is strong in all 3 areas. Many other coaches would want ready-made players and wouldn’t want to fool with culture issues.

I also believe that the club fully supports the concept that change in all 3 areas is going to take longer than the fans want it to but is necessary for any sustained future success.

If the fans get impatient the club has to stand firm in the knowledge that society’s impatience isn’t just ‘the way it is.’ It is a fault in society, not a football club. If ignored, you don’t change your circumstance. The club has to wade through the unrest knowing a brighter day is coming but correctly timed communication is vital.

As fans we have to admit that we ARE impatient and that’s on us. There are times that the cord should be cut, as it was with Emery, and there are times that we can’t let our impatience be the driver.

The focus of this piece is on #3, the tactics, but firstly to briefly explain #1 and 2.

Culturally Arsenal were a mess in the later Wenger years and half of Emery’s tenure too. Player power didn’t rule but in adversity, the rot came to the fore.

Arteta is seen as unwavering in his pursuit of not only getting rid of the rot but replacing it with not just non-rotten players but those that have the optimal attitude for success.

This moves us fluidly on to #2 as the change is evident in Arteta’s recruitment.

Out have gone negative influences in players like Ozil and Guendouzi and in have not just come good players but those with this optimal attitude. Tierney, Odegaard, Lokonga and Tomiyasu have or do lead their national or previous club teams and are seen as top professionals by recruiters. Gabriel, White, Ramsdale and Partey bring a vibe of great positivity and in Ramsdale the club now have a fist-pumper that will ignite the crowds energy. The younger players character is unquestioned. The proof is on the field and Saka, ESR and Martinelli were those that led the way last season when senior players didn’t. The former two in particular.

Look at some of the senior players that have been retained and you see positive energy in ElNeny, Auba and those helping the younger players like Lacazette. Xhaka has his days but he has been retained as he is clearly ‘a needed leader’ at this time.

The energy in the room is changing.

We all started shouting our own versions of angst towards Edu and Arteta recently but the club probably saw that Norwich game as Day 1 in the rebirth of our club. The first day when ‘the new team’ stepped out. You can see why they’d be reticent to consider change when Day 1 has only just shown up.

They have to ride the storm of impatience whilst being alert to what results are telling them beyond the shouting. They may find that Arteta was the coach to get them to ‘Day 1’ but not ideal for beyond. All options are possible.

Moving on to #3, the tactics.

You may have a fresh dislike for the word ‘patience’ by the end of this but what is happening tactically is from a new text book and some of our players have just opened it. Chuck the text book away and you’ll have short term confusion and a limited pool of coaches worldwide that can teach the same ethos.

I speak of positional play or what is called ‘Juego De Posicion’ in coaching circles.

What is Juego De Posicion?

The exact translation is ‘positional play.’

In short, it is the concept of defending whilst attacking in order to control both sides.

The defensive goal is sustained pressure.

The attacking goal is to make pre-planned patterns instinctual for players to an end where telepathic football is possible.

The field is divided into 5 vertical lanes and horizontally boxes that players have to occupy both for attacking and defensive efficiency.

The 5 attacking lanes at Arsenal are taken up by a left-back, left-winger, striker, attacking midfielder and right-winger. Against Norwich it was (from left to right) Tierney, Saka, Auba, Odegaard and Pepe. You will notice that the wide and central lanes are broader and the interior lanes (half spaces) are narrower and harder to penetrate into vertically but are often used as zones to combine in.

To take a quote from the article below…. “The players will have specific tasks and responsibilities within these zones depending on the phase of the game. The unique thing about this concept is that the options are predetermined by the position of the ball. “

I strongly suggest reading this to fully understand ‘JDP’

JDP is a whole new way of playing football. Almost like being told that the textbook you learnt football from was the wrong one after you’ve finished the text book.

Many players struggle especially ‘big players’ as their egos tell them that freedoms are theirs and they’ve earned them.

This system is everybody or nothing. One cog out of place and the whole machine fails.

It is therefore a risk as the trust a coach puts in ‘freedom football’ is arguably less than the trust he puts in players being out of position and failing their team. Players don’t want to be the one cog that breaks the system.

So, what is ArtetaBall?

Arteta is forming not just a team with the right attitude, athletic and age profile but a hybrid team that can play this organized yet flex system and adapt to the needs of the game and take advantage of them.

He has in White a modern defender who has excelled in a 3 and 4 man defence complimented by Tomiyasu and Gabriel who are more aggressive and better aerially. Midfielders that can slide into a back 3 and midfielders that can flex between a single pivot, 2 man pivot or 3 man midfield.

The attackers are the game winners and where the most hybrid options are available.

Saka can play everywhere, ESR plays anywhere across the attacking third, Pepe can play both sides and is most effective when in central spaces. Odegaard plays central or right and deep too. And on….

‘ArtetaBall’ has the JDP as its core principle.

It then adapts to the opponent.

It then adapts to game state.

So, it’s hard to define as one thing because it isn’t. Modern football is a coaches game and no longer player dictated. It’s about sustaining pressure and taking advantage of weakness.

Over time a keen eye will spot repetition and see the ‘style’ they desire to see. Arsenal fans are having the biggest struggle because ‘ArtetaBall’ is the opposite of ‘WengerBall’ as one is hyper-focused on structure and the other radiated freedom. One at its peak was heavenly and the other at its low ebb has been monotonous and dull. The reality is that with time ArtetaBall can be fluid and beautiful but have the defensive structure that WengerBall didn’t have post-Invincibles.

Why doesn’t Arteta play the same team and system?

I think he knows he has time. I think he’s playing the long game. Getting Auba used to playing left wing and striker. ESR used to all areas. All-knowing that in the long run he can move his chess pieces around and the players will understand the JDP roles and the team will be able to adjust to any and all game states and win.

Who else is doing JDP?

Guardiola is often credited as being the author at Barcelona but as with much he designed he often points to Cruyff as his inspiration.

Utd under Van Gaal did JDP but got as far as the defensive organizational side until the fans turned on him. To be fair, it was a very dull version.

City and Liverpool utilize JDP. City are much further down the road with elite starters and bench options and their automatisms are in place.

Liverpool have focused their JDP more on the ‘sustained pressure’ piece and use more vertical and direct passes compared to City.

As both are further along in the process we see their ability to play with a far quicker tempo than Arsenal. We will get there too.

How will players fit?

Firstly, Xhaka has been retained due to leadership but also down to system. He is the ultimate positional player. He fully understands it and is rarely out of position. Arteta likes Xhaka because he can control him.

Saka is the most interesting one though.  Are we going to give him a permanent position or continue to lean into his versatility? Personally, I think Saka will become a top-class attacker but could become a world-class left wing-back. His most effective games for me have been as the overlapping player in Channel 1 rather than in the half-spaces. I think he could become an assist monster but may never fully justify being a winger if he doesn’t get 10 + goals a season as all the very best wingers do.

Odegaard is a pivotal Arteta piece. If we stay 4–2-3-1 then he is the #10. We are now seeing him being trained in deeper spaces likely with him having a role in a 4-3-3 with freedom to wander between the lines and become the 10.

As mentioned before, there is pressure on Pepe. When the club sold Willock without trying a 4-3-3 with a late-arriving goalscoring CM, they decided to lean into Odegaard and ESR. The hope is that ESR can become a goalscorer and that Odegaard can reach his assist potential to justify his inclusion. This leaves the main goalscoring threats as the front 3. Saka isn’t convincing there yet and Auba/Laca/Balogun need to fire.

The central midfield is evolving quickly. We see Arteta experimenting recently with 1 DM pivot and two 8’s. We see 2 DM’s and ESR and MO in front in a box shape. Will we see Arsenal sign a DM and free Partey to play as an 8? Will Lokonga be trusted as the DM? What is the pathway for Patino and Azeez. Both are ideally DM’s but Patino has the ability to play anywhere in midfield and in the long run could end up being the best midfielder at the club.

Do we focus on 4-3-3 and try to bring Bellingham back to England? We nearly got him before and as I watch him scoring vs Besiktas I’m reminded of his goalscoring potential as a 3rd man runner beyond his general excellence as a midfielder. Would need CL football to do that, I’d say.

In the back I was very surprised that we didn’t replace one of Chambers, Holding or Mari with Mavropanos who is a more athletic alternative to White and Gabriel and has played both sides. Perhaps the club see a full season of first choice as more beneficial at his stage of development.

I’d love to think that AMN can establish himself in midfield as his toolbox is perfect for modern football. I just wonder if his inconsistent passing will keep him sidelined. I think all would agree that AMN as a Right Back option is far better than Cedric or Chambers. If we go back three then AMN is our best option at RWB beyond Tomiyasu.

What of this ‘patience’ we need?

We think back to last season and watching Arteta literally micro-managing every kick and movement from the sideline as if with a joystick.

It makes sense now as a coach trying to teach his JDP principles. It was as if the players were in class. They couldn’t tell the fans this as we wouldn’t have had the patience to buy into a ‘teaching season.’

Part of me wishes they’d explain JDP to us but they also don’t want to reveal strategy and don’t want to have to explain why it will take time. Time is needed as some of our players aren’t the ideal pieces and if the club communicated that they would feel insulted. A new striker, centre midfielder and if Pepe doesn’t produce more consistently, a new winger will show up. I think the club are looking at Gnabry into his last contract year as the best opportunity to get a consistent goalscoring hybrid winger.

The problem the club have though is that the fans are wise enough to see that this ‘ArtetaBall’ may be starting to reap benefits, but what we have a large kink. Over the last season the glaring issue was over when you get ‘set up’ and when you transition at speed.

This has led to fair criticism that the football is robotic and boring, which is fair.

I think this will make or break Mikel Arteta as the structures around him are now solid enough to where another JDP coach could take over fairly seamlessly. The only issue the club might have is that there are only a handful out there that are trying it successfully.

Many coaches won’t touch JDP because there are absolutes/questions that they don’t feel comfortable to answer. Players needing to know their roles as they change based on ball position and game state. Many coaches might understand the general JDP structure but aren’t familiar enough to know the details.

The future?

The truth for me is that the club under Arteta can get there and look less robotic in the process.

It requires Mikel Arteta to stay humble and be open to a clear mind on his teams faults and not get too stubborn.

It requires fans to understand that Day One of this project was probably September 11th 2021 even though this is his third season. All else prior to this date was largely cleansing and teaching.

Personally, I’ve accepted that I’m ok with this season ending in a similar league position to the last two as long as we see obvious progress as the ‘new team’ learns the text book.

I think that the 2022/23 season could easily see a big change in league position and see Arsenal challenge in the Top 4 and even contest the league as I see so many positive pieces being changed.

All of this will depend on if we can control our noise and fight our instinct of impatience.

Mike McDonald writes the transfer blogs here @LeGrove as well as the post game ‘Positives, Needs and Hopes’ @Gunnerstown. He also writes ‘Coach Mike’s Clipboard’ for The Gooner Fanzine.

Follow him @Mike_Mmcdonald

P.S. You know the drill. 👇👇👇

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662 Responses to “WHAT IS ARTETA DOING? (LONG READ)”

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  1. WengerEagle

    Greatest entertainers:

    1) Ronaldinho
    2) Ronaldinho
    3) Ronaldinho
    4) Ronaldinho
    5) Ronaldinho

    Only half joking but:

    Ronaldinho >>>>>

    Neymar
    Henry
    Messi
    R9
    Zlatan
    Zidane
    Totti
    Bergkamp

  2. Guns of SF

    In all honesty, that Galactico team was probably the greatest ever assembled IMO….

    or at least top 2.

    I remember as a young man, living in LA, attending a match between LA Galaxy v Real Madrid – Galaxy was in the middle of their season…it was a pre-season game for Madrid.

    Madrid just humiliated them, with their first pre season game.
    No one could take the ball from ZZ. It was straight up embarrassing for the Galaxy players.

    Living in America, that was one of my favorite games, to see Zidane… albeit against shit but still…

  3. PhD2020

    WengerEagleSeptember 17, 2021 16:19:46
    Near misses: Casillas, Alaba, Vidic, Terry, Thuram, Zambrotta, Seedorf, Ballack, De Bruyne, David Silva, Scholes, Salah, Bale, Ibrahimovic, Shevchenko

    ——
    Nah dude…

    You’ve got to make way for Casillas,Scholes, Thuram and Alaba at the very least…Seedorf sneaks in somehow.

    You’ve missed out Maldini for CB…What are you thinking…

    I’m sure George Weah sneaks into the striker’s least circa 2000 at the very least…

    Sacre Bleu…

  4. WengerEagle

    R9 pre-injury at Barca/early Inter Milan was as close to the perfect forward player ever assembled.

    Flawless technique and invention, breathtaking power and speed, perfect decision making and football IQ, lethal finisher and one of the greatest solo dribblers ever, a one-man wrecking ball and arguably the first CF to reinvent himself as an all-round forward that goes deep and wide as well as provides a focal point rather than just a ST that stays up high and central.

    His knee popping vs Lazio (?) was one of football’a biggest tragedies and what ifs. Still went on to cement himself as a GOAT but perhaps could have been the outright GOAT.

  5. TR7

    Great work WE in compiling the list. Obvious to miss a few names when preparing such a list. Yaya Toure was absolutely phenomenal as far as I am concerned. I would have him my dream team (2000-2020). Pirlo was a boss too.

  6. Almuniasaynomore

    Wenger Eagle
    Great list there, well done. I used to have your level of knowledge when I was younger. You were saying the other day that we probably look with rose tinted glasses at the players of our youth so for pure nostalgia my list of greatest players in English football late 70’s, 80’s is
    1.Liam Brady
    2.Kenny Dalglish
    3.Alan Hansen
    4.Neville Southall
    5.Kevin Sheedy
    Bit of bias there,I know.
    International players at that time
    1.Maradona
    2.Platini
    3.Van Basten
    4.Zico
    5.Gullit.

  7. WengerEagle

    PHD

    Thuram was in orginally but made way for Ramos who imo edges it.

    I also was borderline with Seedorf over Vieira but Paddy got the nod.

    Alaba isn’t better than any of those 5 LBs imo.

    CM was stacked and lots of greats had to miss out that I wanted in.

    Casillas was amazing but a tiny bit overrated imo, a tier below Buffon for me.

  8. TR7

    —-Buffoon —–
    Alves —-Nesta —-Maldini —Lahm
    ———Yaya—- Pirlo—-
    ——Zidane ———
    Messi —– R9 —–Iniesta

    My dream team ^^^

  9. WengerEagle

    No way Pirlo gets in ahead of Xavi. Also think Marcelo at LB is a must given Iniesta will drift in and Marcelo is the best attacking LB of the past 20 years.

    Otherwise great team TR7.

  10. Guns of SF

    Considering the time periods, I will give it to Maradona over Messi.

    yes Messi is more talented and won more club cups, but the era of Maradona was absolutely brutal. 2 world cups to boot.
    watch his Barca highlights…. amazing player…

  11. Samesong

    Best players list? Sure. But who is the Manager to lead this stalwart team?Gotta be the Saucy one

    No other than Allardyce. Or CG Favourite Dyche

  12. WengerEagle

    Nice work Almunia. Nice to see Chippy top your list, by far Ireland’s best footballer ever.

    Van Basten had an insane rap sheet, 3 Ballon Dors and he had to retire in his late 20s.

  13. PhD2020

    WengerEagleSeptember 17, 2021 16:58:45
    No way Pirlo gets in ahead of Xavi. Also think Marcelo at LB is a must given Iniesta will drift in and Marcelo is the best attacking LB of the past 20 years.

    —–

    Better than R.Carlos you think?

  14. TR7

    WE

    I get your point regarding Marcelo but I was thinking of the two full backs one should be attacking in nature and the other a bit defensive. Alves is likely to spend all his time rampaging down the right side, so put Lahm ahead of Marcelo to ensure defense is tight too.

    One can make a case for Viera, Gerrard, Scholes and Xavi ahead of Pirlo and I can understand that totally but I love the swagger of Pirlo and hence a bit biased.

  15. Guns of SF

    Heavier boots, balls, terrible pitches, and the butcher of Bilbao…
    Loved how Maradona never went down- you would have to really foul the man to take him down unlike the softies we have nowdays…

  16. PhD2020

    SamesongSeptember 17, 2021 17:00:54
    Best players list? Sure. But who is the Manager to lead this stalwart team?Gotta be the Saucy oneNo other than Allardyce. Or CG Favourite Dyche
    —–

    Phil Brown
    Steve McClaren
    Nigel Pearson
    Tony Pulis
    Alan Pardew
    Ian Dowie
    Alan Curbishley
    Joe Kinnock
    Harry Redknapp
    Alex McCleish

    Fill your boots…

  17. Samesong

    Scholes was better than xavi. Kross is overrated imo

    Xavi even said Scholes was the best midfielder

    Xavi argued that accolade should have gone to the Man United man. He said: “In the last 15 to 20 years the best central midfielder that I have seen — the most complete — is Scholes. … “Scholes is a spectacular player who has everything.4 Jul 2021

  18. TR7

    WE

    I am not disrespecting Xavi. He is a legend of the game. I am wondering whether he could be equally effective in say Germany or Italy ? Spanish national team of 2008-2012 played very similar to Barca team (tiki-taka).

  19. Elmo

    Cafu ahead of Alves imo.

    On the subject of Rivaldo, remember his bicycle kick in the 89th minute of the last game of the 00-01 season to cap a hat-trick against Valencia to drag Barca into 4th and CL qualification (at the expense of their opposition, on GD).
    It’s only a couple of decades ago that Barca were celebrating the 4th place trophy as if they’d just won it all at Newcastle. Perhaps they’re heading into another trough, and we’ll see a Deportivo win a title with 69 points.
    It’s interesting seeing the decade-long remarkable era of 90+ points being the absolute minimum to win that title, whereas now as the stars age and that era of excellence winds down it’s back in the mid-80s and trending downwards.

  20. WengerEagle

    TR7

    That was largely because of Xavi himself though which is a testament to his greatness as that was the most dominant NT side for literally decades.

    He made Busquets look like a world class player all those years, when Xavi declined/retired Barca and Spain’a MF went to pieces. No coincidence that.

  21. WengerEagle

    PHD

    To answer your q, yes Marcelo was a superior offensive LB to Carlos. Every day od the week and twice on Sundays.

    Carlos was superb but also suspect defensively like Marcelo. The difference being, Marcelo was literally Real’s greatest creative source in their 4 CL wins providing that outlet all down the left and allowing Ronaldo to basically double up as a CF.

    Technically on a different planet to Carlos who is just more memorable because of his FKs, stunning long range efforts and some nostalgia if we are honest.

    Carlos himself concurs.

  22. WengerEagle

    Samesong

    85 Barca goals ain’t terrible for a deep lying playmaker, is it? Zidane throughout his club career scored 125 and Scholes 155.

    Scholes played much more advanced than Xavi did in the early to mid part of his career, as soon as he dropped deeper his numbers went way down and were less than Xavi’s.

    Imo excluding Messi, Xavi was the most influential player on the greatest club and National teams I have ever seen, he has to get in the top 5 for that alone regardless of goals and versatility.

  23. WengerEagle

    Cole should be above Alaba.

    Defensively incredible, used to pocket Ronaldo every time Utd played Chelsea. He may be a filthy Chav but if we are being honest he is the PLs best ever LB.

    Can’t believe I forgot to include Javier Zanetti in my top 5 RBs.

  24. Tee

    “Cole should be above Alaba.Defensively incredible, used to pocket Ronaldo every time Utd played Chelsea. He may be a filthy Chav but if we are being honest he is the PLs best ever LB.”

    Don’t even go there
    Ronaldo made a mess of Cole like crazy. Whenever Ronaldo did his usual pullback on the ball, then you see Cole sprawling on the grass on his ass

  25. WengerEagle

    Tee

    That happened literally once when Ronny was a teenager and new on the block. It was a true de-pantsing I will give you that but it rarely happened after that that Ronaldo would win the majority of the 1 vs 1 battles with Cole.

    Ronaldo scored 1 goal in 15 apps vs Chelsea and he scored that goal playing LW against Essien at RB in the CL Final as Fergie didn’t want him up against Cole.

  26. Raulishuss

    WE Xavi wasn’t always the deepest playmaker(but he was the primary playmaker tho.) he always had vanbommel\pep\busi. He just wasn’t inclined i guess (sed, scholes could just do everything imo )

  27. Biggles

    It’s an interesting post for sure and I’ll accept that it shows a level of tactical knowledge beyond mine.

    But the bit I can’t get on board with is another year of 8th-ish as part of the process. In 18-19, under Emery, we were a bollock hair away from top 4 and the champions league. We’re at around £359m in transfer fees alone (not to mention Willian’s wages!) since then and I’m supposed to accept that *worse than three years ago* is a good outcome?!

    I look at the difference in Chelsea since Tuchel replaced Lampard. Is the truth simply that Chelsea have much smarter players than us and that our expensively assembled squad is just too dim to wrap their head around tactics? Do you really think Tuchel would flunk at Arsenal and Arteta excel over at Stamford Bridge? Nah, you know that’s not true.

    Bottom line is it’s top 4 or bust for Arteta this year.