• Stephen Broekhuizen

Arteta's Teams On the Ball; Explained

Today I thought I would have a little look at the way Arteta seems to want his players to play - and with that talk about some of the current players and their importance - as well as what we might need to bring in to fit into this system to take us to the next level.


Though perhaps it is more prudent to focus on role rather than formation, knowing a formation allows a picture to form of what the team looks like in various phases of play. The basic blueprint of the formation is generally a 4-2-3-1, which becomes a 4-4-1-1 when we are out of possession and while defending the box in some moments when we are really pegged back it becomes a 4-5-1.


For this article, though, we will focus on us with the ball.



Playing out from the back - different opposition


The emergence of Ramsdale is in no small part down to his ability with his feet. Arteta wants to play out from the back and in bringing in Ben White and already having Gabriel who has improved so much with the ball at his feet this season, he has what he desires... for those three players anyway.


In general, though of course there are variations, if a team is not pressing us the ball will first go to one of the centre backs. Partey will drop to create a triangle with them while Xhaka drops into the left half space to allow Tierney to go forward. The ideal situation here is that Partey can turns with the ball and break the lines. If not, his pass is often to Xhaka who in turn will look for the number ten or go down the line to Tierney. The other option for Partey is to go right with a ball towards Saka and our number ten moves to the right to support.


If Partey gets the ball in tight space, he will often go back to Ben White or Gabriel and they in turn will look left for the ball to Tierney or Tomiyasu who will go down the line to Saka or go inside to find Partey, now hopefully in space - or find the number ten dropping for him.


If a team presses slightly (but not fully), what we do is very similar - the only difference being really that at times the ball may go through Ramsdale a bit more; but the options in how we play tend to be the same. We try to create triangles where possible to bypass teams, and one way we do that under a press like this one (or even in a man to man press) is by dropping our number ten into the right half space. Saka will drop as well, and this allows Tomiyasu to play to the number ten who then has the ball to a (usually) free Saka out on the wing. It does require fast one-touch passing to enable this to work well and to keep Saka free enough to receive the ball.


We do this on the left at times as well, with Xhaka, Tierney and the number ten but it is more usually down the right that we do this. In both instances either Gabriel or Ben White will also try to make themselves available in case the press gets more intense.


For those teams that put on a full man to man press, what Arteta likes to do is one of two things - first, by trusting the ability of his players to receive the ball while marked, and with quick passing and moving around the back line eventually get someone free to break the press - usually this is either the number ten or Saka.


The other way we do this is, again, by Partey dropping a little deeper to create the triangle, but this time Tierney holding back a little more. Xhaka comes at a slight left angle to Partey, and Tomiyasu holds his position at right back. Saka and Martinelli will occupy their full backs and with the opposition wide players pushing onto our full backs as Xhaka and Partey draw their midfield with them, our front player (currently Lacazette) will drop into midfield and the space is then there for Ramsdale to find him, once the ball is at his feet. He can also look for Saka or Martinelli to make a run from the wing inside and try and find them.


This one pass to break the press can be very effective but it does require everyone to ensure they do enough to bring the opposition players with them. The danger for the opposition here is if a centre back goes with Lacazette, that leaves the space behind for Martinelli or Saka to exploit - but if they leave Lacazette unmarked, he can turn with the ball and drive forward looking for the pass in behind for Saka or Martinelli.


It is for this particular situation that I do feel our next centre forward not only needs to be able to put the ball away when we attack and get into the box, but also have the ability to drop short, take a touch, and play a ball around the corner under pressure - or have the ability to beat a man in their back line and drive towards the opposition goal.


I do think in the future Martinelli might have all the attributes to do this job but still needs to perhaps work a little on his passing and in getting himself that bit stronger - I would like to see him used there for a game or two towards the end of the season to see if he is a viable option.

For this build up play to work from the back we need two midfielders who are not only technically solid, but also have the ability to hold off a man and play a pass when under pressure.


I do think Xhaka works well for now in this system but he can do silly things when someone puts real pressure on him. I feel the new midfielder will need to be more calm under that pressure, with the ability to turn his man and drive the ball forward once they do that. For now Xhaka will do, but it does explain that tendency for us going right rather than left when they put a full press on, because maybe we just don’t trust him under that type of pressure.


I have no doubt he will be replaced in the summer and the midfielder we get should be that technical player who can hold a man off and play a pass. I look back to the Dutch team that made the World Cup final in 2010, De Jonk and Van Bommell in the middle were never more than five or six yards apart and their job was get the ball and play a pass to the four gifted front players they had, often looking for Sneijder. In a way we are a sort of hybrid of this system, but I do believe our midfielders' role is very similar to what Holland had for that World Cup.


Attacking Principles


Having now played out from the back, how does he like to attack?


For Arteta it is all about creating passing triangles and creating overloads on one wing or the other.


As we don't have a target man in the box we don’t put in as many crosses into the box as we did last year, but this is still an important part of the attack. What happens generally will be our wide players will invert and Tierney or Tomiasyu will go on the overlap to receive the ball and put in a cross, or look to pull the ball back. Depending which side we go to, the number ten will often go this way as well to create that overload and be available to take a pass backwards if the cross is not on.


As opposition teams know we want to push the full backs forward, this allows us to do something else in the build up. If Tierney or Tomiyasu hold on or close to the half way line, we move our wide player on that side back into our own half to occupy their wide man. Now, because they are aware the full backs like to push on, the opposition full backs will not get tight to Tierney or Tomiyasu for fear they will simply run past. What tends to happen then is we create a quick move, where (let's say we go left for argument's sake) Xhaka will find Martinelli then move past him, drawing his man with him while the ball goes to a now unoccupied Kieran Tierney who plays a quick one-two with Martinelli, now behind his man and in space to drive at the opposition.


If we go right the same thing happens with Saka or with our number ten, depending which one drops and plays the pass with Tomiyasu for the one-two. Another key aspect of this would be that the spare man not involved in the move in the midfield can then move across to tie up their central midfielders so they won’t go with the move on the side. Should the midfielder decide then to go with them, this will free the spare man instead to help with the overload.


Those are the two basic ways we look to attack in this team in patterns; the other ways relying more on individuals such as White or Partey carrying the ball forward centrally, and our front four moving around to get into space and free, creating overloads where ever they can. This quick passing and moving is designed to drag the opposition around and eventually a few first touch passes create space for someone to get free and have a shot on goal. Saka is a particularly dangerous weapon cutting in from the right as well.


The overall attack is about the players without the ball moving and dragging players out of position, then trying to take advantage of those spaces. No matter which way we attack it is complicated and it takes discipline from the players to get it right, but we do seem to be building a group of players who have the technical and mental ability to do this.


Another option is we sign someone like Pele in Escape to Victory and just give him the ball and let him take their entire team on. C'mon Kroenkes, what you waiting for?


What else do we do?


We also employ two other tactics to try and get goals; the high press is designed, when triggered, to win the ball back quickly in a dangerous situation and put us on the front foot. This requires everyone in the front four to know where they need to go, and more importantly when they need to go.


The number ten is often the one who triggers the press for Arsenal and this is more down to Lacazette not having the ability to do this for 90 minutes. I do believe our new striker will have to be someone who is very comfortable pressing with high intensity for the whole game, and again Martinelli seems like someone who could do this in the future.


The danger of the high press is obviously in it being played through, but we tend to be careful not to commit too many players forward unless we sense the chance to get the ball back. With Saka and Martinelli and the speed they have as well, we know if they do beat the press we have players who have the pace to get back goal side quickly.


The other tactic we have is counter-attacking. I have not looked at the stats, but I imagine we are in the top 5 teams for goals on the counter-attack this season. What we generally do here, when defending, we go into a 4-4-1-1, 4-4-2 or even a 4-5-1 dependent on personnel, opposition etc. and that '1' is generally the person who will lead the counter attack. Even though Lacazette is the centre forward this is almost never him and it is always either Saka, Smith Rowe or Martinelli; they have the pace and ability to run with the ball that you need to launch a quick counter-attack. The opposition, knowing they are in trouble if we break on them at the speed we have, then temper their commitment to the attack, and that fear in the mind can help us defensively as well, as they are afraid to over commit going forward.


What do we need to perfect all this?


All being said we do need still to find that perfect forward to play this system. One that can hold off and turn a player, that can pass a ball and that is able to get into the box to finish crosses.


We will need a midfielder who is dynamic, calm under pressure and has that ability to drive forward, if he was left footed it might be handy as well.


Not much to ask, right?


Other than those two areas, we do need to fill out the squad with a new back up right back, surely another priority, as will be perhaps a second striker and another wide player, as well as someone to replace Elneny in the squad in the kind of 4th CM role.


We will look at how Arsenal defend in different situations in another article.


Thanks for reading.


Stephen Broekuizen (@jsbroekhuizen on Twitter)