The transitional phase after seeing the back of long-term manager Arsene Wenger was always going to be tough for Arsenal and, unfortunately, Unai Emery wasn’t the right fit. Now it’s the unproven Mikel Arteta’s turn to try to mould the team in his vision, and the Spaniard will be hoping that he can reward the board for its huge gamble. In terms of the current campaign, Pep Guardiola’s former mentee’s best chance of getting the fans on side is by winning the Europa League. But the question is, has Arteta’s appointment brought about the major changes the side needed?
A More Settled Squad
Emery’s tumultuous tenure at the Emirates was characterised by the constant chopping and changing of his matchday squad. Not only did the former PSG manager switch the personnel on a regular basis, but he also played around with different formations while he strived to find the perfect formula.
Since Arteta took over at the helm, it appears that the former Gunner is hoping to have a more settled squad with a clear idea of his tactical philosophy. This should help the side gain some momentum and start pushing up towards the right end of the table.
Arsenal fans have been happy to see that Arteta is willing to play all of the club’s most expensive signings together at the same time. Emery often neglected to field Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, and Nicolas Pepe all together, and chose Mesut Ozil with even less frequency. But the new boss has settled on this group of potent attackers with the German back in his preferred playmaker role behind the Frenchman at the spearhead.
The consistency shown in Arteta’s team selection has led to some defensive improvements. The former Manchester City assistant coach has shown faith in a back four of Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Sead Kolasinac in the full-back positions, and David Luiz and Sokratis Papastathopoulos as the wall in front of the goalkeeper. After this group managed to shut out Manchester United in the side’s 2-0 victory at home on New Year’s Day, they showed that there was potential for rigidity.
Emulating Manchester City
As reported by the Guardian, Guardiola's influence on Arteta is clear to see, and the new Arsenal boss is looking to replicate some of the tactics that make the reigning champions so successful. One of the most notable changes has been the high pressing game, in which Arteta’s Arsenal will battle high up the pitch and doggedly work to win back possession.
When the Gunners do get the ball back, Arteta wants them instantly on the front foot, which leads to a shift in formation. Arsenal transition from their 4-2-3-1 setup out of possession to something more akin to a 2-3-5 when they have the ball. In this scenario, the left-back charges forward to join the four attackers, while the right-back stays back and covers the midfield. With Kolasinac entering the attack in this way, Aubameyang is given licence to cut inside and from this position, he has fired off more shots than any of his teammates.
The Etihad Stadium outfit may be a bit off the pace this term, indeed, as of the 15th of January, they can be backed at 16/1 with Betway to win the league. Despite putting in a meek title defence this season, though, there is no denying that the philosophy Guardiola has put in place is progressive and exciting. If Arsenal can replicate this as well as make clever signings in the summer, they could be devastating in the next campaign.
With Ozil receiving such a high salary and attracting no interest from other clubs, Arteta realised he needed to get the talented playmaker back on track. Ever since moving to London, the midfielder has never quite lived up to his price tag. The former Real Madrid man spent way too much time on the bench under Emery, and only showed brief flashes of his past brilliance. If Arteta is able to unlock Ozil and help him rekindle his best form, it could be exactly what the team needs to push forward and lift the Europa League trophy at the end of the campaign.
In the first few games after Arteta’s appointment, Ozil registered more passes in the final third than any other player by a considerable margin. In the same period of time, he only fired one shot off on goal. This highlights how Arteta wants the 31-year-old to take on the role of conductor in his orchestra, pulling the strings while the more potent strikers run into space around him.
Arteta’s project is going to take time, and there will be no instant fixes. The Spaniard is likely to put a heavy focus on the Europa League, as this will be the best chance of getting Champions League action next term. With the talent at his disposal, if he can get the team clicking like City, there is a strong chance that they will lift the European trophy in May.