In their return installment of The Breakdown, Arsenal.com and Adrian Clarke looked at what Arteta has brought to the Gunners since his hiring by comparing his first 15 games versus 15 games under Unai Emery this season.
A lot of what was discussed are things that were clearly visible to the fans from the first match but it’s great to hear the club acknowledging this as well. Things that Arteta called his “non-negotiables” have become the expectations of coaches and supporters watching them play. Things like work rate, passing, and pressing have become necessary to carry out Arteta’s tactics and create this Arsenal team’s identity. Check out the video and read my breakdown of it below.
No doubt, one of the first things that was obvious was the energy that Arsenal showed for 90 minutes – or as close as their fitness would allow them early on. We often saw a slower, more passive side under Emery and one that opted to sit deeper when it came to their defensive shape.
Under Arteta we have moved from passive to pressing. We are higher up the pitch, more active making it difficult for teams to work the ball through their lines and create opportunities.
This is seen by the average distance covered per 90 minutes. Areta’s side with nearly 2 extra kilometers covered in a game over an Emery side. That may seem small when looking at the 109.27 covered by the team, but it’s the extra distance that is yielding better defensive results.
The Off-ball Effectiveness
I think few Arsenal fans would argue against the fact that we have bled shots and goals this year given we have conceded 36 goals in 28 appearances in the Premier League. This made Arteta’s first job as manager a tough one – how to stop the bleeding.
Well – he’s done it. 15 games is a small sample but no one can argue how much better we have been in those 15 games. It has come at the cost of creating offense at times – which needs to be sorted out – but we aren’t conceding nearly as many goals.
These stats show a remarkable improvement for the Gunners in 15 games and have reduced the pressure on the attacking side of things.
Some have argued that these stats may be unsustainable and there is merit to that. I think it is no surprise that with the current Arsenal squad, everything feels a little unsustainable. There are holes in the squad that need to be filled in order to take the next step forward. However, there are two stats Arsenal chose to highlight:
Under Unai Emery, Arsenal were known for taking on a barrage of shots. They weren’t always clean shots nor on frame but conceding 15-20 shots a game is a clear indicator of poor results to come. The fact that under Arteta, Arsenal have only faced five or more shots on target in 30% of the games versus 61% of Emery’s games shows us why Arsenal are in a better position to sustain these results.
The increase in interceptions from 8.5 under Emery to 10.6 may feel like a soft stat, and it is, but interceptions are a product of good defensive structure, ability to trap opponents, and high work rate – 3 things that lead and suggest better defensive output.
Pattern of play and clear identity
Often times, fans would be left scratching their head trying to figure out what on earth Arsenal’s identity and structure were under Unai Emery. Whether it was because players did not understand their role or because Unai often liked to tinker and tailor his side for the opponent, it was infuriating.
Arteta has been able to come in, establish a clear and consistent 4-2-3-1 formation, and a structure that he is determined to keep in place instead of being pulled out of it by opposition. This structure is not only noticeable when watching matches, it is yielding the defensive results mentioned above.
The results don’t stop at defensive structure though. Arteta has created a pretty clear attacking style involving 5 lanes of attack as they look to overload the right side through Ozil and Pepe while freeing up the left side for overlaps from the left back allowing Aubameyang to tuck in more central. They possess the ball more, move it quicker, and look more dangerous. It certainly needs work and fine tuning, but the progress and intent is there. It feels like an identity that fans can get behind building.
Trust in the kids
On the ‘softer side’ of things, Arteta has created opportunities for youth players to shine – much aligned with Arsenal’s historical philosophy. We have seen the rise of Bakayo Saka who has played in 12 of Arteta’s 15 matches and stake his claim as a potential superstar and Martinelli has had a good run of cup games and good Premier League appearances including his match versus Chelsea that saw him score the equalizer for 10-men Arsenal after a full-field run.
Reiss Nelson battled a brief time of injury and took a backseat to Pepe who has seemed more comfortable but still managed to have a few nice appearances including his game against Portsmouth where he showed a keen ability to drive toward the endling and deliver in a ball netting him 2 assists. Finally, Arteta made the choice to put Eddit Nketiah in the starting lineup over a struggling Lacazette. It had been coming, but Eddie took advantage finding the net and confirming Arteta’s decision to keep him at the club when he returned from his failed loan at Leeds.
From the structure and identity, to better defense and clear attacking patterns – Arsenal having seen an immense boost in confidence throughout the squad, including the veterans. Mesut Ozil has shown hints at a second wind as his off-ball work rate has seen an uptick, Pepe continue to become more comfortable with life in the Premier League making a statement against Manchester United, and Torreria is back to playing a defensive midfield role where his confidence and comfort have increased immensely. Even Mustafi, who looked likely to be on his way out, bounced back from an early mistake against Chelsea and has played a run of clean games.
It is still early days in Arteta’s career, and the job is far from over, but it is clear that his appointment is was the squad needed, the club needed, and the fans needed to get back on track. Arteta had his fair share of doubters when he was appointed, but his ability to get results from relatively the same squad built by Emery shows he may have a promising future. When we finally do get back to playing football, Arsenal fans will have plenty to be excited about.