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.
- 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. “
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 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. 👇👇👇