One Result Does Not Define a Season

[images via youtube and getty]

Football is a game of fine margins. Sometimes the odds swing in your favour, and sometimes they don’t. That is the sport. Unfortunately, Arsenal were on the receiving end of some rather unfortunate circumstances in the defeat to Manchester United. If Martinelli gets the goal he deserved, it’s a completely different football match and social media would currently be hyping an Arsenal title charge. As it happened, we lost – and now the anti-Arsenal brigade have come out of hiding to discredit us.

News flash, people! One result does not define a season. Unless my eyes deceive me, Arsenal are still top of the Premier League. If someone had offered me 15 points from our opening 6 games, I’d have absolutely taken it. That doesn’t change now.

Football is more nuanced than just winning or losing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m as frustrated as any other fan that we made the travel back to London without any points, but there is more to consider than just the result. 3-1, on paper, does not look like a good score line, but it was clearly not a reflection of the game. When you lose, you are always disappointed. It is, however, when you both lose and play terribly that fans have every right to go into meltdown.

The fact of the matter is that simply that Arsenal were not bad against Manchester United. Did we deserve to win? No. But for 70 odd minutes of that game we were the better side – even opposing fans have conceded that. It was, ultimately, a combination of weak defending, a lack of killer instinct, and clinical United moves that proved costly today.

As with our previous five fixtures this season, Arsenal won on expected goals against United. Whilst these figures provide no tangible reward, one must consider these metrics when trying to understand the dynamic of a game. We went to Old Trafford, dominated the ball (though that may have favoured the home side), and created a greater number of expected goals. If someone had told us this in isolation, we’d have assumed we’d won.

At the end of the day, we didn’t – and there’s no avoiding that. I think our high line got exposed by an excellent counter attacking side, and there’s no denying we were poor defensively. Going forwards, we lacked the ruthlessness that is needed in big games – that killer pass or shot to make something happen.

Whilst we lost, I am still feeling good about this Arsenal side. Six games in, we’ve gained good underlying metrics in each game – and today just wasn’t our day. Credit to Manchester United, who seem to be embarking on an exciting project under Ten Hag.

It’s time to compartmentalise this defeat, move on to our Europa League fixture on Thursday, and then another Premier League fixture against Everton next weekend. We cannot allow ourselves to slip back into that trend of losing in batches of games, as we saw at times last season.

Top of the league. We’ve got a great chance to start winning again. Come on you Gunners.

Arsenal’s Transfer Window – Reviewed

[all images via getty]

The transfer window is over. For some, it’s the best part of the football calendar. For others, the worst. Unless you’re an Arsenal fan this summer, then it’s somewhere unpleasantly inbetween.

Going into this season Arsenal fans in particular had their expectations laid out in front of them. It was clear what the club needed, and the club seemed to be on the same hymn sheet as the supporters at the beginning. However, recent injury crises in the midfield area changed what seemed to be a secure and safe plan from the board’s perspective.

In short, the board failed to bring in midfield reinforcement. There was a late chase for Aston Villa’s Douglas Luiz, however that never materialised, with the Birmingham club staying firm on their stance of not wanting to let him go despite having a year left of his contract. That meant that despite sacrificing the crucial winger signing so many Arsenal fans thought they would sign, to the point where people like me were writing articles on certain rumours, the Gunners still failed to get their man with their strategy of putting all financial eggs in one basket.

It seems like negligence. We know Thomas Partey isn’t the most reliable in terms of fitness, with his peak appearances for Arsenal in a league season being a measly 24, as well as already being injured for our last two matches for Fulham and Villa, and our upcoming match vs Manchester United. We also now know that Mohamed Elneny will be facing months on the sideline, something the club seemed to be aware of on deadline day, as reports emerged that we would only advance for a midfielder depending on the arrival of the Egyptian.

Missing out on a winger may prove costly. Bukayo was one of seven players to play every match in the Premier League last season. Of those seven, four of them were goalkeepers. Of the remaining three, he was the only forward. His minutes need to be managed at such a young age, and our failure to provide adequate competition, in a season where he may play matches in the World Cup, could prove to be a travesty.

Lots of questions are floating around the Arsenal internet space currently, with anger, frustration, fear and acceptance being the main four emotions felt in the fanbase currently. As an Arsenal fan who teeters on the boundary of positive and negative quite often, I’ve sat down and thought about some of these questions, and will provide my answers and views on them here.

Is there success to be found in this window?

Yes. Obviously.

Gabriel Jesus is arguably the signing of the summer. He has 6 goal contributions already in 5 matches, and has impressed outside of numbers as well, His pressing, dribbling, link up and craftiness has proven to be a handful for Premier League opposition so far, and has elevated the level of the players around him, such as Martinelli, Saka and Odegaard. I couldn’t speak more highly of him, and he’s easily one of the most impactful signings I’ve seen the club make in a very long time. 

Zinchenko has improved the technical level of the team tenfold through his presence alone, and has created a good partnership with Martinelli on the left hand side. His ability to tuck into the midfield, as well as to take up wide positions, is a useful tool that Arteta has at his disposal. His IQ off the ball is just as incredible as it is on it, and has played a big part in keeping our defensive shape in order. His chant is good, too.

Fabio Vieira seems a shrewd pickup, even though he’s yet to play, and can provide depth in midfield and wide positions for Arsenal in certain instances, whether that may be now or in the near future. A player like him is a good profile to have on standby and many fans like me believe he can develop into a useful weapon for the Gunners, through his willingness to take opportunities by the scruff of the neck, something his midfield compatriot Martin Odegaard has been criticised of in previous seasons.

Did the club mess up with their decisions late in the window?

Yes. The club messed up on a more complex front than this. It was imperative for Arsenal to get a midfielder. It was imperative for Arsenal to get a winger. I don’t believe the decision to choose between one or the other seemed a very good choice, considering the fact that we signed Fabio Vieira, who, as talented as he may look, definitely wasn’t very high on the list of priorities during the window, and the funds for that transfer could’ve been applied elsewhere.

The decision to not originally target a midfielder is ludicrous. Arsenal suffered from reasonably lengthy absences from both Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey last summer, who are key cogs in the squad. Those absences cost us in important moments of the season, especially at the business end where Elneny stepped in, and whilst being a good servant for the club in recent times, didn’t have the progressive capabilities to play there on a long term basis. To then decide that no midfield reinforcement was necessary, especially considering the increased fixture list, is inherently neglectful.

That decision looked worse when it was reported that a wide player was sacrificed for our late window dash at Douglas Luiz, which failed, and our pursuit of Pedro Neto seemed dead in the water. To get only one seemed underwhelming. To get neither is, once again, neglectful, and an attempt to ride luck we never seem to have. Just a combination of poor planning and arrogance all round.

So we missed out on two important targets. We’re probably going to crash and burn and finish mid table, right?

Probably not. By virtue of our city rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur having seemingly average transfer windows in comparison to their expectation, we still have pretty good chances to finish in the top 4. Our fixture list until the World Cup is mostly favourable, with arguably the three hardest teams in the league, Tottenham, Liverpool, and Man City, at home, and very few streaks of tough away trips until then. By the conclusion of the World Cup, it won’t be long before the January window opens, where we could try again for Danilo or pursue a wide option that may not have been previously possible.

The operative word is “probably”. There is no guarantee, and a top 4 or even top 3 spot may have looked guaranteed had we signed these players. We are still very much in the mix thanks to the arriving Man City duo, but have not only made it more difficult for ourselves, we passed an opportunity to create a gap between ourselves and our London adversaries, which is far too Arsenal for me.

Have we learned anything useful about the club’s transfer approach through this summer?

Yes, positive and negative. Positively, the club seem to do their research extensively on what the club needs, and there is a consistent logic behind why they sign who they sign. Zinchenko and Lisandro Martinez are similar profiles when deployed in a progressive fullback role, and Raphinha shares Pedro Neto’s versatility to play both sides effectively, and fall under the category of left-footed Premier League wide players. You can predict and understand the transfers Arsenal will attempt to make, which shows signs of very accurate scouting and use of data analytics, something that lacked heavily during the latter year of Wenger’s reign.

Negatively, we also know that the club is very cautious about its spending, so much so that they’re willing to sacrifice an immediate pressing need in order to preserve a clear plan we seem to have. Whilst that may seem reasonable on paper, the neglect of the short term does in fact affect the long term. Failure to fill two key positions could cost us our targets this season, and put our “project” to a halt. With three and a half seasons completed by next summer for Mikel Arteta, being unable to qualify for the Champions League would prove to be near indefensible and could cost him his job, as well as derailing any sort of long term vision the club had with him in mind.

With all this in mind, how does the window fare overall?

Meh. That’s the easiest way to explain it. The window isn’t terrible, and we’ve probably made some of the best transfers in recent Arsenal history this summer. It’s underwhelming above all, with the excitement of signing players like Raphinha and Tielemans, to not end up with alternatives in their position, is shameful.

I think we can still have a good season, but we could’ve had more than a good season going that extra mile. It’s annoying and frustrating, and seems like a waste of an opportunity. The window for me is a 6/10, pretty average at best. It leaves us with more questions than answers on what we spent the last month doing in the market, and leaves question marks over what could happen to the team within the coming months. 

We’ll only have to wait and see, which can turn out to be the best, and worst, situations in football.

Bournemouth 0-3 Arsenal – A Tactical Breakdown

[image via getty]

After winning both of their opening matches, Mikel Arteta’s gunners travelled to the South coast for a Saturday evening Kick-Off to face Scott Parker’s Bournemouth. Prior to this match, the Cherries had, for their standards, a respectable start to the Premier League season. This included an opening day 2-0 win over Aston Villa followed by an inevitable thumping from Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on the cityzens home turf. With Bournemouth having arguably the weakest squad in the division, Arsenal knew their opposition would have to impose themselves physically by sitting deep and relying on Kieffer Moore to win knockdowns in order to bring his fellow teammates into the game to create chances.

Despite this potential threat, Arsenal were strong favourites and came out 3-0 victors with two strikes from Martin Odegaard in the first half, followed by a peach from young centre-back William Saliba in the 2nd half to take the sting out of any chance the Cherries had of getting a result from this fixture.

In this article, I will point out key moments in the match for Arsenal: what went well and what they potentially could look to improve on going forward. I outlined the Gunners’ blueprint in my first article on Arsenal’s game week one fixture away to Crystal Palace

First Half

In the first half Arsenal and Norway captain, Martin Odegaard, scored two goals and put Arsenal in cruise control. While the first goal involved some world-class footwork from Arsenal’s number nine, I have chosen to discuss the 2nd goal of this half as I feel it highlights areas the Gunners have needed to improve on and finally seemed to have done so. For the first two game weeks, while still impressing, Saka has yet to register a goal or an assist. While this should not be a worry for Arsenal fans, if you paid close attention, you would know why. Saka has played his best football with Tomiyasu or Cedric at right back because of the overlaps they offer. It is no secret Ben White is unnatural in this role, featuring for Brighton a handful of times in this role two seasons prior. Off the ball, he has struggled to make the right runs at the right times thus far, which often saw Saka be a little quieter than his usual self and often having the responsibility of two players whilst in possession. Not only did White’s overlaps help Saka play with more freedom, but it also was crucial to the first goal. Saka created elite separation with the fullback, allowing White the time to offer an overlap and play a ball into the feet of Jesus, before Odegaard took responsibility by making a predatory run on the end of Jesus’ first touch to smash it into the net of Mark Travers: something typically uncharacteristic of Martin Odegaard.

In this instance, Arsenal had six men forward, showing how ruthless they can be in the final third: using Saka as an outlet to create separation with the Bournemouth fullback and allowing players to make runs beyond him and into the box. He was key to this goal. 
A group of men playing football

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Second Half 

In the second half it was more of the same from Arsenal. Although Bournemouth managed to get six shots off, they failed to register a single touch in Arsenal’s box throughout the entire match which is a testament to the discipline of Mikel Arteta’s defence, something pundits have often ridiculed the likes of Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery’s sides for in days gone past. These openings came partially as a result of Jaidon Anthony being introduced in the second half for Bournemouth. The winger is very direct off the ball and offered an outlet that Moore hadn’t had the benefit of playing alongside for the first 45 minutes. While this allowed Bournemouth to stretch the pitch and register a few low xG shots, it was nothing Arsenal couldn’t deal with. Arsenal’s number one walked away from the stadium he used to call home with just one save made throughout the whole match. 

A standout performer in the backline was William Saliba. On top of his goal, which he took with his weak foot like an experienced striker, his distribution was nothing short of faultless. He managed to complete all 73 of his attempted passes.

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As shown by the diagram, he was very positive in his distribution, completing two long balls in the process and allowing Arsenal to move the ball quickly from side to side to create openings. 

In this fixture, we saw the best of Arsenal, a dominant controlling game which was almost a formality from the midway point of the 2nd half. While there is not much to take away from this game tactically due to their almost flawless start, we saw how their new additions added individual quality to really take their game to the next level. It is clear the likes of White are warming to their new roles which will only help the team cohesion. It is certainly an exciting time to be an Arsenal fan.

Fabio Vieira – Arsenal’s Hidden Trump Card

[image via: getty]

“The versatility will help us attack different spaces and help us become a bigger threat”

This particular point has been mentioned by Arteta a fair amount of times. It emphasises his vision of the team to have many players filling in and rotating in different zones to help the team keep rhythm and open up different areas of the pitch. We’ve seen evidence of this in the player recruitment with Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu able to play across the back 4, Alex Zinchenko bring able to play as a hybrid LB and CM and Gabriel Jesus whilst being the focal point also adept at playing wide.

In Fabio Vieira however this concept is taken to another level which won’t just be useful in the case of injuries and depth, it’s an in game weapon with his varied skillset.

Fabio Vieira most predominantly has featured since coming through the academy at Porto as a number 10. He’s always been a player who links the deep midfield and the attack, this was shown most clearly at the U21 Euro Championship where he was Player of the Tournament. Vieira had the fourth most amount of touches for a player in that position during the tournament (averaged 78 per 90), the second highest touches in the attacking third (32 per 90). It further emphasises his ability to get on the ball to connect patterns together and in our set up at Arsenal shows how perfect he will be to help form those small triangles in those inside areas to help ball progression. His extra burst in short distances and his half turn capability make him perfect in receiving quickly in the spaces between the lines from where Arsenal have lots of variety in their combination play, he’s a fantastic carrier of the ball. The spaces he’s shown to operate best in are in those pockets on the inside right where he has a lethal left foot whether it’s to play a killer pass or shoot whenever there is an opportunity.

[via: UEFA]

This is a player with extensively high efficiency and that’s shown from his statistics in second half of last season after the departure of Luis Diaz to Liverpool which allowed him more game time. 6 goals from 3.69 xG and 14 assists from 5.69 xG show this player is a killer in the final third which was an area of improvement for Arsenal going into the new season. Many games in and around the box Arsenal lacked the cutting edge with the final pass before the shot or the finish itself, Vieira comes in as a player who can contribute to help erasing the problem. Now you’re asking is this sustainable? In most cases probably not but Vieira has shown himself to be a “less volume and more output” player and the best attackers in the league have a tendency to over perform these metrics due to their great efficiency.

[image via getty / stats via squawka]

The right half space is where the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Trent Alexander Arnold provide the difference for their teams with their amazing creativity, in particular in the form of the half space cross. It is arguably one of the deadliest moves in the sport if the quality can be executed and this has proven to be one of Vieira’s best qualities too. The difference with him to many however is Vieira can do that from the left side too and even more comfortably which means both Martinelli and Saka will definitely have lots of opportunities to attack the back post. Even more impressive is the fact Vieira can perform high quality actions like this with his weaker foot which is extremely rare in a left footed player. It’s a unique quality to find and that’s what makes this talent very special.

Arteta tends to like his deepest receivers be competent at receiving the ball on the half turn. This is partially a big reason why Thomas Partey has been used in the lone 6 role ahead of Granit Xhaka and even we saw Dani Ceballos pre and post lockdown receive the ball from the CBs. This is due to their ability to play at different angles more easily to help progress the ball in more varied ways without Arsenal being so under pressure to losing the ball in the press. With Vieira’s rare ability as a left footer to have not much angle bias at all, he’s a player who could easily drop in against pressure to help the build up. Everyone likes to compare Arteta and his experience as an assistant manager at Man City to see how the profiles match up, Vieira’s ability to form a spare man and turn in the first and second phase is something that can be compared. Pep uses Bernardo Silva at Manchester City in particular against the bigger teams away from home by forming that numerical superiority and relying on the quality of the player’s half turn and in carrying.

Having the same quality as this world class operator is a tough ask this early in to his career but it is a quality that Vieira has in his arsenal which is bound to develop as time passes. It will enable him to play in any emergency situation as a false 9 and more importantly can give a different option to Granit Xhaka as a left 8. Vieira’s retention and his angle bias allows him to also control tempo in that deeper role which is more of a position to be more risk averse. It again emphasises his unique versatility. He’s a player who evades pressure easily by sensing when a player will commit and then adjusts his body to take the ball on instead of waiting for the contact against another player. It could allow him to be the deepest receiver in situations and play at the tip of the wide triangles at Arsenal have whilst rotating. Its one of the reasons making him bulk up too much might not be a good idea as that agility is so crucial to the fluidity of his movements.

Vieira operating in left half space (credit to GunnerTV)

So the main question is where does he fit in for Arteta’s end game 433? The answer to that is almost anywhere from the midfield and attack. He has the retention to play as a left 8 despite some limitations off the ball when Arsenal defend in 442, he can be the deepest receiver on occasion due to his agility and technical quality. His best position as a right interior is very clear but due to his burst and ball striking he can easily play potentially across the front 3 as depth options on the inside (not necessarily on the touchline due to his inexperience in isolation situations). Most importantly due to his great work rate off the ball (shown by him having some of the highest counter pressing and final third recoveries in Portugal last season) makes his profile more than just a luxury option. As mentioned, he has the potential to be a trump card in almost every phase for this team against an opponent, whether its to kill a press or to break the game open with a great pass or lethal shot.

To finish off we must also call for patience for this player. Adaptation for a young player from a league outside the Europe’s top five (despite a high success rate from the league) to the fastest and most intense league in the world is extremely difficult in a quick space of time. However, if we give this player the time and allow him to develop at a steady rate, we could have the makings of an extremely special talent if things go according to plan.

Welcome to Arsenal, Lina Hurtig

[via: getty]

Sweden international Lina Hurtig has joined Arsenal Women from Juventus. She becomes the third Swede to become part of the club since just last summer when manager Jonas Eidevall was appointed, with Joe Montemurro taking over at Hurtig’s old Italian club. Eidevall signed Stina Blackstenius from BK Häcken to add attacking depth to a squad full of quality.

That is exactly what Hurtig will do, too. Arsenal’s attacking options are already pretty impressive, boasting Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead, Caitlin Foord, and the aforementioned Blackstenius among positionally rotational others. With Nikita Parris leaving the club to join rivals Manchester United after a largely disappointing stint in north London, it would appear that Hurtig is more or less a replacement in the squad.

She contributed to 8 goals in the Serie A last season, scoring and assisting 4 alongside a further 4 goals in the UEFA Women’s Champions League. With a return of 0.33 goals and 0.33 assists per 90 last season, her stats aren’t at the level of the Arsenal stars she’ll be fighting for a starting spot with.

It will take a big improvement from her to match their numbers last season, which are: Vivianne Miedema with 0.72 goals and 0.41 assists per 90, Beth Mead with 0.57 goals and 0.42 assists, and Stina Blackstenius with 0.85 goals and 0.14 assists. Her stats from last season are better than Parris’ though, who scored just once in the WSL for Arsenal.

Hurtig can play anywhere across the front three, making her a versatile option in Jonas Eidevall’s Arsenal (no pun intended). For Juventus, she has featured mainly on the left and upfront, with the occasional appearance at right wing. At the Women’s Euros this summer, manager Peter Gerhardsonn displayed her both as a left winger and a striker as she featured as a rotational piece in a side that reached the semi-finals before being defeated by eventual champions England.

With Arsenal’s starting eleven packed with such high levels of quality, it’s important they add sufficient squad depth if they want to win the WSL title this season. Adding international standard players like Lina Hurtig help take Arsenal one step closer to what is sure to be their target this season.

Arsenal vs Leicester: A Tactical Breakdown

(Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

Arsenal 4 (3.10) – (0.57) 2 Leicester 

After Arteta’s side travelled to Selhurst Park to face an erratic Eagle’s atmosphere, next on the itinerary was a journey back to the more familiar side of London, and back to Emirates Stadium.  

Despite the apparent threats of both sides, Arsenal are able to escape both matchweeks with maximum points, and 6 exceptionally carved out goals scored.  

During this article, I aim to identify and thoroughly discuss the tactical aspects in what turned out to be an exceptional game of football, with YouTuber ChrisMD even stating on Twitter, “Wenger ball is back!” 

THE ARSENAL SHAPE 

With rich influence from greats such as Johan Cruyff and Pep Guardiola, Arteta sets out his sides with the only goal being to win football matches, becoming detached to his famous FA cup, pragmatic tactics.  

via whoscored

Despite resembling the common 2-3-5 system there are many tactical tweaks that Mikel made that ensured Leicester were limited, and their key players were not able to effect the game in a larger percentile.  

LEICESTER CITY 

A brief breakdown on the opponents is needed first before deep tactical analysis; what their strengths are, and are they able to be stifled by Arteta and his men? 

Brendan Rodgers currently faces an injury crisis out wide, with Harvey Barnes and Ricardo Pereira facing extended time on the side-line, so a change was needed. To combat this, Rodgers takes upon a narrow approach to attempt to overload central areas  and create numerical advantages to distribute quickly to forward Jamie Vardy. 

FLUID AGAINST THE FOXES 

Leicester City adopt a diamond in midfield to create 4v3 overloads, however Mikel was able to counter this with the use of a certain Ukrainian. With 68 touches and 96% pass accuracy, Oleksander allows the Gunners both technical foundations and tactical fluidity.  

Arsenal were able to maintain rotational triangles in wide areas to create numerical overloads to progress the ball inside. Take the example below, where the movement off and on the ball creates an opening for both Granit Xhaka and Oleksander Zinchenko. 

Here, against a deep block Arsenal are able to maintain possession due to the triangle formed as shown. What is significant is that the trio’s technical security means that all 3 can rotate into each other’s respective positions, as shown throughout the game. 

With movement and energy being a focal point of Arteta’s coaching, dynamism of Zinchenko and Martinelli here allows the complete breakdown of the Leicester City last line. The sequence is finished through the ball being swept to Bukayo Saka, and his cross-finding surprise recipient Granit Xhaka, who’s close range header deflects off the near post.  

With 44% of attacks coming from that left-sided triad, Leicester City were handed problems all afternoon, and the goals that followed surprised nobody.  

DEFENSIVE STRUCTURE 

Arsenal intend to adopt and apply an effective high press, the goal even without the ball is to score for Mikel Arteta. To achieve this, either Odegaard or Martinelli joins the dynamic Gabriel Jesus with the aim of going man for man with often ball complacent centre backs.   

And the boss would be pleased with the way his team went about his requests. With only 19% of the game played in Arsenal’s third (via WhoScored) Arsenal carried out a disciplined press, whilst maintaining the central shape. Unlike Crystal Palace-who aim to progress to wide men,-Arsenal had to stay central, due to Rodgers use of 4 central midfielders.  

Although an effective defensive structure was maintained, two weak goals were scored however Saliba’s own goal was a one-off occurrence, and no analysis is necessary for the breakdown of the goal. On the other hand, Leicester’s second was a simple reverse pass to Maddison down the right flank where Zinchenko is initially caught out of position.  

Iheanacho (oval) is able to operate in the right half space unopposed, with Zinchenko too wide initially. Zinchenko must touch into Gabriel’s side to ensure the forward does not have a free run at Arsenal’s centre back.  

Although there were a couple things Arteta would like to tweak, it is important to note the conditions in which the game was played in, clocking in at 35 degrees Celsius at the Emirates.  

via getty

2 games, 6 goals scored and the ‘Arteta way’ is becoming more apparent by the day with consistent, silky football and structured and tactically excellent displays both on and off the ball. Up next, Bournemouth at Vitality Stadium. 

Arsenal 4-2 Leicester – Player Ratings

[image via getty]

Wow. That was quite something. What a game to watch! Six goals, four for the Arsenal… and the all important three points secured! Here’s my player ratings from today’s match…

GK – Aaron Ramsdale – 7 – Should have done better for Leicester’s second goal but made a few good saves and had a decent performance.

LB – Oleksandr Zinchenko – 8 – He is absolutely excellent. Won 100% of his duels, had a 97% pass accuracy and was key to the build up. Very, very good.

CB – Gabriel Maghalaes – 7 – Did little wrong and had a solid performance, as always.

CB – William Saliba – 6 – A naïve own goal, but he’ll learn from that. Was actually pretty good aside from that.

RB – Ben White – 7 – Didn’t see a whole lot of Ben today, which can only mean one thing – he was solid. Did little wrong. Another good performance.

DM – Thomas Partey – 6 – Probably the worst in the starting XI today, but he wasn’t awful. Only a 70% pass completion rate today, vs Xhaka’s 88%.

CM – Granit Xhaka – 8 – Started slowly but grew into the game and got a goal to his name. Saw him in a very advanced position today and he fulfilled his role very well.

CM – Martin Odegaard – 6 – Didn’t do a whole lot. I don’t know what more I can say, really.

LW – Gabriel Martinelli – 9.5 – So, so good. Would have been Man of the Match were it not for his Brazilian strike partner. Four key passes, one big chance created, and a superb goal on top.

ST – Gabriel Jesus – 10 – How can I give him a below perfect score? After all, he did score twice and assist a further two. Simply unbelievable. Probably should have had another few goals.

RW – Bukayo Saka – 6 – Didn’t get into the game, much like Odegaard. A quiet afternoon for Bukayo.

Substitutes:

Can’t really rate them today, they didn’t play enough. But it was great to see the likes of Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney playing again!

Great win. COYG!

Arsenal vs Leicester – The Preview

[image via getty]

Arsenal welcome Leicester to the Emirates Stadium. The last time these 2 sides met, Arsenal came out as 2-0 victors, and this time they go into this game as strong favourites.

Off the back of a tough away victory at one of their London kryptonite, Crystal Palace, Arsenal will look to build on their good start & put last season’s end misfortunes behind them, with the help of some very exciting new faces who are likely to feature to the home crowd; Gabriel Jesus, Zinchenko & Fabio Vieira – alongside long-awaited Frenchman, William Saliba. 

Visitors Leicester don’t quite have the same optimism. The Foxes had instant Deja vu from last season, as they dropped points from a winning position – against a Brentford side who often struggle to come from behind – going from narrowly missing out on Champions League a few years ago to scraping 8th but spending a lot of the season in the lower part of the table.

The East Midlands outfit are also the only side in the Premier League, who are yet to make a signing. However, that is expected to change with Goalkeeper Smithies reportedly signing, adding depth to that option after long term servant, Schmeichel’s departure. 

Team News:

Hosts Arsenal have a full squad to pick from, aside from an unfortunate few months on the side-lines for Reiss Nelson.

The highly anticipated Fabio Vieira has been back in full training and has a very good chance of featuring, while Jesus will undoubtedly retain his spot after an impressive start at Selhurst Park and a superb pre-season, with Zinchenko more likely to start the afternoon – with Tierney fully recovering from a lengthy injury.

Leicester isn’t quite as fortunate, with Barnes missing the start of the season, and a recently confirmed long term injury for key player Ricardo Pereira, with Bertrand ruled out too. Arsenal’s expected to remain unchanged along with Leicester from the opening game week of the Premier League, presuming they stick with their same system. 

Arsenal recent XI: Ramsdale, Tierney, Saliba, Gabriel, White, Partey, Xhaka, Ødegaard, Martinelli, Jesus, Saka. 

Leicester recent XI: Ward, Fofana, Evans, Amartey, Castagne, Justin, Ndidi, Tielemans, Dewsbury Hall, Maddison, Vardy. 

Systems:

Arsenal have continued with the 433 implemented last season. However, it’s far more directed towards zones and positioning when thinking about Arsenal’s system.

The Gunners are all about fluid interchanging, with White overlapping & underlapping Saka to provide options in possession, but also occupying a midfield role, where defensively he tucks into the back 3. Zinchenko remains higher up, but once again his role hybridises as a midfielder where he’s comfortable for country, and a more traditional left back out of possession. Xhaka pushes as an additional 8 with Ødegaard, Partey in the 6, Jesus & Martinelli interchanging with full freedom, with Saka very right oriented. 

One key part to the constant fluidity is new number 9, Gabriel Jesus. Arteta requires his 9 to drop into pockets of space to receive, linkup play & for back to goal hold up, and there is no better man than Arsenal’s marquee Brazilian signing. An area Jesus thrives aside from his outstanding movement and work rate is his burst of speed on the turn – to draw opponents in and create gaps, as showcased last week vs Palace & throughout his footballing career. The highflying with confidence Brazilian is a key man who Leicester will have to try deal with. Arsenal aim to squeeze teams in very Liverpool esc, with a high forward press, and winning duels in the middle.

Onto visitors Leicester, who started the season off against Brentford with a 3 back; this system used typically has Maddison as a 10, who’s closest to Vardy, operating like a shadow striker.  Leicester aims to have central compactness, with Wilfred Ndidi in the 6 position, Youri & KDH as the 8s who have the license to go forward & control the game.

Leicester have been a very transition-based team, especially when they’ve played the 4231/433 in the past, and this side has one key outlet in Vardy, and 2 wingbacks in Justin & Castagne for support for cutbacks and breaking wide, so nothing too dissimilar. 

Key Factors & Quotes:

Leicester’s ability to withstand Arsenal’s early pressure. Arsenal have gained a reputation for starting games very quickly, and if Leicester aren’t prepared, the game could be over very quickly.

Martin Ødegaard. The Norwegian had a tough start last week, but at home, in front of the Arsenal fans, is a different story. An incredibly intelligent 8, with an absurd skillset & superb technically, Martin will be key to the Gunners dictating the game, retaining the ball & breaching through Leicester. 

Gabriel Martinelli. A complete nightmare to face with his nonstop energy with high pressing and tracking back, his ball retention has improved a lot, and that was showcased at Selhurst. A great outlet, very good taking on his man and a very intriguing finisher.

KDH & Tielemans – one academy player who’s just come off the back of a debut season, with a fantastic skillset, and a Belgium who’s one of the most spoken about players in the country…

Despite the nonstop speculation with Saturday’s hosts for the impressive 23-year-old, the Anderlecht academy midfielder remains a Leicester player. The Belgium has immense technical ability, tends to shoot from range, a great passing range & will have to be a key factor defensively.

Kiernan Dewsbury Hall has taken the league by storm, being a really composed, forward-thinking passer – with the most key passes per 90 with Leicester last season, (1.45, stat from Premier League), a great all-round versatile midfielder who’s very comfortable in all phases. One of Leicester’s star assets, who recently extended with his boyhood club till 2027.

Vardy in transition – Arsenal play a very high line in possession, so it’s imperative Vardy is dealt with. His goal record of 133 goals in the Premier League, speaks for itself and his incredible longevity. One key player for that, is home debutant William Saliba. 

After another stellar season on loan at Marseille, winning YPOTY in France, William has already put his mark on the Gunners defence, with a MOTM performance on the opening night of the season. 

Incredibly fast, strong aerially, fantastic at anticipating, commanding a high line, and looking like a seasoned top defender, all while being 21 years of age and an imposing 6’4. Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers was full of praise for William & Arsenal’s other new boys.

‘Arsenal have gone to a new level. Saliba gives them a real presence at the back, Gabriel Jesus is a world class striker & Zinchenko can play a couple of positions to the highest level’.

Saliba played with Fofana at Saint Etienne before he joined Arsenal. Fofana & Leicester will have to be at their very strongest, if they were to end Arsenal’s 3 consecutive victories in a row over their opponents, with the Gunners looking as good as ever in recent times, and even better in front of the home crowd.

Scout Report: Yeremy Pino

[image via getty]

For the entire transfer window it has been evident that Arsenal are keen on a winger, predominantly one that can play on the right. Their chase for Raphinha was well documented, and ended in tears as the Brazilian agreed terms with Chelsea in a shock news story, before eventually moving to Barcelona and completing his dream transfer.

Since then, the club has been pretty quiet about their Plan B, with fanmade rumours surrounding Serge Gnabry, Leroy Sane and Pedro Neto surfacing online. A more credible link has risen however, from the Yellow Submarine in Spain, and that is Villarreal’s 19 year-old Yeremy Pino.

Who is Yeremy Pino? The youngster managed 6 goals and 4 assists last season in Spain for Unai Emery’s side, creating 6 big chances and managing 0.8 key passes per game in the first division. Those of you who aren’t avid followers on La Liga may not be aware of him, or maybe you haven’t seen enough of him to formulate a strong opinion or expectations of him in the event he does arrive at N5.

So, to save yourselves from watching highlights or rewatching hours of footage of him last season, allow me to walk you through Pino’s Champions League performance at Old Trafford last September, one of his big standout showings of his Villarreal tenure.

Pino started on the right wing for Villarreal, alongside the experienced Paco Alcacer up front and the crafty Arnaut Danjuma on the left. Dani Parejo and Juan Foyth provided support for the teenager in midfield and defence respectively. It was only his second ever Champions League appearance, but would be his second time facing the Red Devils, after emerging victorious in the Europa League final.

We can see Pino when Man United passed the ball to the goalkeeper for the first time. He occupies a regular right wing position, close to United’s left back, Telles. He caused trouble for Telles frequently throughout the game, and showed bright sparks down United’s left hand side. For (mostly) the wrong reasons, we’ll see a lot of Alex Telles today.

Here, 24 minutes in, Pino starts to get a flavour of the game. Parejo switches the ball crossfield to Pino, who controls it with his chest, before beating Telles and getting his shot off. His starting position is wide, wider than the left back, and he is isolated out of all the Villarreal players on the right hand side. This is similar to Saka’s starting position when the ball is switched to him, and mirrors scenarios where most of Arsenal’s players occupy one flank, and draw their shape towards that area, before switching quickly to the other, and giving the wide player, predominantly the right winger, more space to operate in.

The space Pino appears in forces Telles to commit to him, and his ability to touch the ball into a favourable position means that Telles has now been dragged out of position, giving him time to get his shot off. The shot was high and off target, but created a useful opening for him through quick thinking and near-perfect execution of a common tactic.

Some defensive work here, Pino and Foyth seem to have a good relationship down the right, here Telles carries the ball and passes to Sancho, and continues his run. Pino tracks back and follows him, covering for Foyth, who commits forwards and sticks with Sancho, preventing a possible opening for the left back. As seen in our game against Palace, right wingers tracking and supporting the right back, as opposed to being heavy pressers like the rest of the forward players, is a key part in Arteta’s defensive set-up. Pino ranks in the 99th percentile for blocks, 76th for tackles and 72nd for interceptions per 90 out of attacking midfielders and wingers in Europe’s top 5 leagues (fbref).

As Villarreal attack at the end of what has been a promising half, Trigueros passes to Pino in the box, who is faced with a 1v1 situation with Telles. Telles angles himself so Pino cannot make easy progression towards a shot, forcing Pino to continue his run forwards, which would lead him to the byline. As Telles commits, Pino switches his direction and cuts inside, completely cutting him out of the game and forcing de Gea into making a save after letting a low driven shot off with his left foot. Neat play by the right winger.

Second half, for Alcacer’s goal, Pino made a back post run, so if Alcacer didn’t reach it, he could tap it into the net. Saka is yet to add this to his game in abundance, and can prove a useful tool to have when in transitions. Heavily reduces the chance of a missed goal scoring opportunity and reduces how many defenders can surround certain players in the box to prevent the goal.

Much quieter second half from Pino overall, but here we see his willingness to run off the ball. Foyth doesn’t slip him in, but he finds a good empty pocket in United’s defence and occupies it as Villarreal progress up the field. With superior linebreakers, like those at Arsenal, he may well have been through here and had a clear chance at goal. In short, he can play a role on the inside as well as on the outside.

Parejo passes to Pino, who receives the ball and attacks the space indicated by the arrow, curving his dribble to the left, towards his goal, dragging Pogba, Sancho and Telles with him, before slipping in Dia, whose touch let him down. His ability to attack space and then immediately break lines and spot a teammate is impressive, and shows his ability to weave in and out on the right hand side, occupying both halfspaces and wide positions, therefore highlighting the flexibility of his game.

via BT

Pino’s quick release when receiving the ball baits a foul by Alex Telles here, who receives a yellow card in the process. Despite his goal, for most of the game Pino had the better of the Portuguese, and this would be Pino’s last meaningful contribution before being substituted seconds later.

Villarreal lost 2-1, with a classic late Ronaldo goal, but Pino’s performance was certainly entertaining and eye-catching to a viewer, and demonstrated the talent the teenager possessed even on the biggest of stages. He managed 2 shots, with 1 on target, completed 6 out of 7 attempted dribbles, won 7 out of 11 duels and managed a key pass. No goal contribution from him but he presented to those interested what he has to work with. 

He’s not the finished product, his pressing looked erratic at times, and gave away a foul whilst receiving a booking for a clumsy challenge, but he has very good technical fundamentals and possesses the skill to think quickly in tight situations in order to dispose of his competitors. If he is to be the “mystery winger”, he seems like a useful addition to complete Arsenal’s artillery for the season.

Crystal Palace vs Arsenal: A Tactical Breakdown

[images via Stuart MacFarlane and David Price]

Arsenal travelled to Selhurst Park to face Patrick Vieira’s Crystal Palace for the opening game of the 2022/23 Premier League season. Despite a flawless preseason campaign for Arsenal, winning each of their fixtures, the Eagles always pose a threat. They are seen as Arsenal’s “bogey team” so to speak, with the Gunners failing to beat them on seven out of the last eight occasions they have faced each other. Therefore, Arteta and Arsenal saw this match as a big challenge; they had to get their setup perfect. 

In this article, I plan to outline and explain how Arsenal set up tactically; showcasing how they shaped up both in and out of possession, as well as explaining the fine details which helped Arsenal pick up the three points under the lights. 

In Possession

Arsenal looked to build in a 2-3 shape, with Partey as the lone number six just ahead of Saliba and Gabriel to form a triangle. White and Zinchenko stayed high and wide, with Odegaard and Xhaka ahead of Arsenal’s defensive midfielder. 

Crystal Palace attempted to isolate half of the pitch in their press before going man to man in an attempt to win the ball, before using their wide outlets to spring an attack. To combat this, Xhaka would drop into a pivot with Partey in order to create a numerical overload helping the gunners retain possession. 

In possession, Arsenal would alternate between a 2-3-5 and a 3-1-6 shape, mainly dependent on the left side of the pitch, in particular, Martinelli and Zinchenko.

In this instance, Arteta had Arsenal in a 2-3-5 structure, with Martinelli dropping deep to receive the ball with Odegaard, Jesus and Saka available for a potential switch, forming a numerical advantage off the ball on the right side of the pitch. Instead of a direct switch, Zinchenko played the ball into Partey who then passed it to Jesus’ feet. Despite then losing the ball, Arsenal maintained the overload on the right side of the pitch, helping them win the ball back. This was then followed by Jesus’ showcasing some world-class footwork on the edge of the box before laying it off to his Brazilian teammate for what, on another day, would’ve been the opening goal of the game. 
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This was not the only shape Arsenal had in their locker. With Martinelli often tucking in to form a strike partnership with Jesus, Zinchenko would stay wide on the touchline to offer an out ball. Furthermore, White would tuck into a back three shape to form a 3-1-6 shape. A group of people playing football

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Out of Possession

Out of possession Arsenal had baseline pressing principles which were flexible based on the position of the ball. On occasions, we’d see Arsenal’s typical 4-4-1-1/4-4-2 press shape. However we also had another pressing structure up our sleeve. Something Arteta showcased in preseason was having Martinelli tuck in to form a front two with Gabriel Jesus. Arteta, for certain periods in the match, trusted Martinelli with the responsibility of pressing two Palace players, Clyne and Andersen. With Andersen being Crystal Palace’s best long passer in the first phase, Vieira set up his side to find Andersen in order to spray those long balls in behind Arsenal’s midfield, completing 12 out of his 21 long balls on the day. This space in behind cost Arsenal control of large periods of the game. Arteta noticed this and would deploy Saka slightly deeper in order to help White deal with the threat of Wilfried Zaha. 

With that being said, you may be asking why Martinelli was given the responsibility of pressing two players? Well, seeing as Andersen was Palace’s main ball progressor, Arteta preferred having an extra player deeper in order to win second balls through numerical overloads. Arsenal did this very well for the first thirty minutes or so, before dropping slightly in intensity.

If Palace managed to beat the first line of the press, Arsenal would set up in a 4-4-2 midblock with Odegaard and Jesus forming the front two and Xhaka and Partey making up the midfield pairing (White is in line with the back four off screen).A group of people playing football

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Though intensity dropped as the game endured, as can only be expected in the first game of the new season, we saw snippets of Arteta’s masterplan – a well-oiled pressing unit, and the infamous 2-3-5. Expect to see these tactics throughout the season.