Gunner Thoughts

A ‘Big’ Game Defensive Setup?

Arsenal went big with their lineup and it’s worth talking about.

On a day where many football fans, mostly third-party ones, will have been most surprised at the result of Arsenal’s home win against Liverpool, I don’t think you will find many Arsenal fans believing it to be the most surprising aspect of the day. I wrote about it last week, I mentioned in it yesterday’s blog as well, but this Arsenal team is bringing ‘big match’ confidence back to The Emirates after a decade of it deteriorating. No, the most surprising aspect of yesterday was Mikel Arteta’s curveball with his left back selection.

It’s one of those moves that makes so much sense theoretically: take one of your most outstanding one-on-one defenders and put him up against the opposition’s most dangerous threat. On paper that makes sense, but if you suggested it in an open forum before this weekend, chances are you’d have caught a bit of slack.

Tomiyasu, a right footed player that had never played further left than left center back in his career just waltzing into a new position to go up against one the Premier League’s most prolific attacking dangers? That’s not trial by fire, that’s throwing them to the wolves and setting them up for failure!

Andddddd this is why fans aren’t the ones making the decisions.

In our defense, we don’t work with them every day or see what is and isn’t possible, but this was a major surprise that came off brilliantly. Tomiyasu tallied 6 clearances, 1 interception, 6 recoveries, and won 7/10 duels. On the flip side, Salah had only 27 touches, 1 created chance and 1 shot.

It was probably the quietest day Salah has had against Arsenal in his career, and Tomiyasu — and Arteta for that matter — deserve as much praise as possible.

The second best part of this game plan coming off flawlessly — first being a statement win over Liverpool to retain first place in the table — is that it presents a real option for Arteta and Arsenal to consider in the future. It’s a back four built upon four of Arsenal’s best defenders that also offer size, versatility, and high levels of technical ability.

At 6 feet, Ben White is the shortest defender. Saliba stands 6 foot 4, Gabriel 6 foot 3, and Tomiyasu 6 foot 1. That is an imposing backline to square up against. To face a side capable of being that physically imposing, as well as beat you with their feet and technical ability is a daunting task.

It’s probably too much to expect that Tomiyasu has the technical abilities to replace what Zinchenko does entirely, and of the three left back options Arsenal now have, Tomiyasu is probably the least dangerous attacking threat. But his technical abilities in terms of capability and how he plays lands him somewhere between Tierney and Zinchenko given how two-footed he can be. And that makes it impossible to not be strongly considering what his defensive presence can offer Arsenal’s midfield in terms of pinning teams into their own half. Additionally, Tomiyasu’s defensive capabilities are undeniably able to allow the left wing to focus on their attacking qualities without worrying about what’s behind them — as we saw with Martinelli who was just dazzling.

The whole setup is one that must be strongly considered when Arsenal face an attacking team in which Arsenal would like to have a little defensive reinforcement, without abandoning their system and structure in lieu of a five-back lineup. I mean, couldn’t you see Arsenal turning to that once again when Manchester City come to town feel under pressure to defend and deal with Haaland? Or when they feel like they are in need of a little extra size to contend with some of the Premier League bruisers?

It’s an enforcing presence and now an option born out of success at the highest stage, and it was an option that proved successful on little to know warning. It wasn’t as if the writing has been on the wall, nor has Tomiyasu even played minutes for Arsenal that would suggest he was ready for a start — much less at left back. Which brings another extremely helpful element to this: Tomiyasu has shown he can perform at the flip of a switch, whenever called upon by Mikel.

There’s so much to love about what we have seen from Arsenal’s backline this year. It’s been noted that since Arteta’s arrival a lot of money and signings have come in to rebuild that foundation, and while people suggested last year was a step back given the increase in goals allowed, this year has proven the investment is paying off. The defensive side of the game is solid, the fit each player has for how Arsenal want to play, and their keen ability to slot just about anywhere else in that back line and perform is starting to feel special.

Who knows the next time we will see this selection, but given Zinchenko and Tierney’s injury history, you can’t turn your nose up to just how big this defensive setup could be for The Gunners.

All eyes on Thursday and the upcoming run of away fixtures.

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