The key change
Arsenal under Arteta has been an evolution. From the Arsenal sides which leaked goals for fun, allowed teams to press forward and make consistent mistakes, a lot has changed in a short space of time.
However, Arsenal’s win at Manchester United showed how change in personnel is key to how Arteta plans to move forward. At the end of the previous campaign, Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos formed a strong partnership in front of a back 3. Whilst this solved a portion of the defensive vulnerabilities, Arsenal still struggled to break out from the back and could be caught with a high press.
By adding numbers to the midfield, this could allow for more passing options and freer movement. However, losing the additional defender had the possibility to open spaces at the back and provide opportunities for opposition sides to attack into.
The acquisition of Thomas Partey was crucial. The Ghanaian allowed the security for Arteta’s side to become more expansive whilst maintaining defensive astuteness.
The return of Mohamed Elneny from his loan spell at Besiktas has taken the phrase of ‘like a new signing’ to another level. Performances against Liverpool in the Community Shield and Fulham on the opening day gave glimpses but ultimately would fail to convince by themselves.
Old Trafford changed everything.
The synergetic operation
For the first time since his arrival, Arteta paired Partey with Elneny for the trip to Manchester. With Bukayo Saka selected alongside Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Willian, it was difficult to nail down whether the Spaniard had decided to go with a back 3 or 4.
The system under Arteta remained fluid, however Saka’s role became more so. Joining the midfield whilst providing Kieran Tierney with cover. Even the positioning of Elneny and Partey was fluid. The midfield pair acted as a pivot however not restricted to one side of the field.
Both players were given the freedom and responsibility to work in unison to cover as much of the field as necessary. With Partey typically the more expansive, often he would advance and join Saka whilst Elneny would sit in behind and hold position to collect any loose balls and cover.
9 defensive duels and 78% won. 2 successful sliding tackles. 4 interceptions. 13 recoveries with 6 in the opposition half. The Ghanaian showed the ‘transformative’ impression of his game enabling Arsenal to better compete in ‘big 6’ away games.
The system suited the 27-year-old perfectly. He was able to advance, anticipate passes and shut off the spaces. In the example below, Partey identifies the ball across the park, anticipates the timing of the pass and moves to intercept it. The ball is directed towards the Arsenal forwards who recycle possession calmly and regain control.
Partey also combined his ability to read the game with his powerful forward movement with the ball. Time and time again for Atletico Madrid, Thomas Partey would take the ball and drive it into the opposition’s half. Relieving pressure and setting up opportunities.
The Ghanaian is now translating that ability into his time with Arsenal. This trait of the £45 million signing allows the Gunners to better beat opposition high presses and advance with more threat. This in turn has a psychological impact on the opposition. Needing to prepare for this eventuality makes counter attacks less populated.
In addition, the added concern about losing possession makes mistakes more frequent as players become caught in two minds, Between playing the risky advanced pass or the safe backwards and sideways ball. United continuously gave away cheap passes, possibly due to this input.
3 defensive duels, winning 2. 9 interceptions. 6 recoveries. 93% passing accuracy and 100% accuracy of passes into the final third. Consistency is the keyword that describes Elneny in the best way.
It is difficult to rival Thomas Partey’s intensity and engine. Yet the Egyptian international managed to do so stride for stride. Now 28 years-of-age, more mature and with a greater experience pool, the midfielder is enjoying a renaissance that threatens to become a complete revival of his Arsenal career.
Elneny gave every breath for Arteta’s policy of uncompromising commitment to pressurising the opposition. This lasted right up until the final minutes of the game. 1-0 up and with minutes remaining Arsenal were desperate not to concede and the lung-bursting runs of Elneny having been on the field since the kick-off were extraordinary.
Arteta may have found his perfect pairing. The questions will arise as to whether these two can work when up against the low block which Leicester City deployed so effectively at the Emirates. Arteta may then call upon Dani Ceballos and Nicolas Pepe to aid in breaking down oppositions.
However, what is certain is that Arteta has crafted an almightily cohesive defensive structure. A breath of fresh air for many an Arsenal fan.
This article was edited by Josh Barker.
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