It’s been just one match, but things are looking significantly different under Mikel Arteta than they did for the vast majority of Unai Emery’s time as the head coach of Arsenal.
Under Emery, the result was the ultimate goal, with a constantly changing process of how was best to get there. With Arteta, the process looks like it will be flipped, with the focus moving from being pragmatic in chasing results to working to perfect a process that should, as the team adapts, lead to the desired results.
The first noticeable change was the focus on using possession to control the match and then using the available attacking talent in a way to try to put them in the best positions for their skills.
One of the ways to highlight this is to look at the average touch positioning for all of Arsenal’s players in this match.
When Arsenal would buildup play from deep, Granit Xhaka would often drop into the back line on the left hand side. This gave Arsenal a lot of passing from deep with Xhaka and David Luiz, but also allowed Bukayo Saka the ability to push forward because of the support of Xhaka behind him. On the other side Ainsley Maitland-Niles would often tuck into midfield forming the other part of a double pivot.
The shape would often look something like this:
These changes put players in positions that maximized their skills and minimized their weaknesses. Arsenal don’t have the greatest defenders, so Arteta made sure to keep three players back to help with exposing the back line.
Xhaka isn’t the most press-resistant player, but when he has time and space he is a very good passer, so Arteta pushed him further back and gave him more support.
Saka isn’t a left back, so Arteta put a player behind him and freed him to push forward as more of a winger.
Maitland-Niles isn’t a right back, so Arteta often had him push into midfield, where he would often have other players close by as passing options, and to maximize his athletic ability to help shield the back line.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang isn’t a winger, but also isn’t a player to get involved as the center forward in build up, so Arteta had him play as the furthest forward player to attack the back line, so Auba could use his ability to make runs from the channel. He also got the most out of his speed, as Arsenal used passes to the Bournemouth fullbacks as their pressing trigger.
Mesut Özil was given a free central role where he could find pockets of space, but he also had passing behind him, so that he didn’t have to drop deep to collect the ball and try to facilitate Arsenal moving the ball into the final third.
It was far from a perfect match, but that the game plan and improved structure of things is evident this quick is a huge improvement, in my opinion. I can’t wait to see how things continue to develop as the rest of the season continues.