The Gunners boss is finally getting his wish at the Emirates with summer additions on their way ahead of the 2021/22 Premier League season
Since Mikel Areta took over as Arsenal manager it has, at times, been difficult to work out exactly how he wants his teams to play.
There have been various tactical fluctuations during his first 18 months in charge, but in his first interview with television, the Spaniard clearly stated what characteristics his dream Gunners side would exhibit.
“We have to be dominant, we have to show passion and we have to show aggression,” he told BT Sport. “I want to attack, I want to dominate the opponent, I want the opponent to play in their own half.”
This was on clear display during early games against Chelsea and Manchester United that were absolutely crucial to the groundswell of optimism that swept across the Emirates during his first few months in charge.
Arsenal, who for so long had been inept and passive in games against the ‘big six’, went and took the game to their opponents under Arteta, pressing high and sticking to their manager’s promise of playing in the opponent’s part of the pitch.
Over the course of 90 minutes, though, this approach proved unsustainable due to the relative lack of fitness in the squad and congested fixture list over the festive period.
In both games, the Gunners were forced to retreat into a defensive shape that ultimately buckled against Chelsea, but just about stood firm against United.
Undeterred by the in-game drop-off in aggressive pressing, though, Arteta insisted after the victory over Man United that it was a matter of time before his side would be able to play like that for whole games.
How to get Arsenal tickets for the 2021/22 season
Premier League supporters were welcomed back to grounds across the country towards the end of last season and hope reigns eternal that the 2021/22 season will go by without disruptions.
Arsenal tickets will once again be available at www.arsenal.com/tickets, with Memberships available to buy here.
Memberships are available, which reduces the prices for tickets bought thereafter. A full breakdown of how much tickets cost for Category A, B and C games can be found here.
“We knew that was gonna happen,” he told the BBC. “I think physically at the moment, as we saw before, to maintain that intensity at the moment for them is still a little bit too long.
“We don’t have much time to train, but with the games and convincing them that’s the right way to do it I think we will be able to do that soon for longer periods of the game.”
Unfortunately, though, that did not turn out to be the case.
In Arteta’s first six Premier League and Europa League games Arsenal averaged 209.2 pressures per match (as per fbRef ), but in the following six that dropped to 144.3. After project restart that fell again to 138.2 before dropping to an average of 120.7 pressures per game across their two main competitions last season.
Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta cuts a frustrated figure.
There were of course exceptions last campaign such as the 3-1 win away to Southampton last season, where the victory was built on pressing Saints into mistakes that were key for Nicolas Pepe and Bukayo Saka’s first-half goals, but on the whole the Gunners progressed into a far more passive team as Arteta’s tenure continued.
There are several factors that can explain this.
Firstly the number of injuries and suspensions picked up in his first few games in charge, combined with the compressed fixture list after COVID-19, meant the Spaniard had to manage his squad more economically. In fact, if you look across the Premier League, the drop-off in pressing intensity was a common trend last campaign.
During the latter days of Unai Emery’s reign, Arsenal’s pressing numbers were actually quite high, but the lack of coordination meant that the team was spread out across the pitch, leading many games to become more reminiscent of a basketball match than a football one.
By keeping his side more compact, Arteta reduced the risk of this happening again.
However, the Spaniard’s early interviews and brief forees into a high-pressing system similar to that employed by his mentor Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, suggest he does not want his team to be this passive and by his own admission they are still “very, very far” from where he wants them to be.
This transfer market, though, he looks as though he is trying to address that.
That’s particularly the case when you consider the expected signing of Ben White.
The England international thrived in his season under Marcelo Bielsa on loan at Leeds thanks mostly to his ball progression abilities.
He continued to showcase this during his time with Brighton last campaign, where he ranked in the 77th percentile among Premier League centre-backs for carries into the opposition final third per 90 (1.04 as per fbRef ) and the 93rd for dribbles completed per game (0.68).
White also did most of his pressing in the middle and attacking thirds of the pitch, ranking in the 91st percentile for pressures in the former area of the field per 90 (5.3) and in the 84th for the latter (1.04).
While the 23-year-old is not a particularly aggressive player himself, his £50million signing will get Arsenal up the pitch quicker and allow them to be more front-footed in the opposition half as per Arteta’s initial wish.
The £7m signing of Nuno Tavares from Benfica will also help with this. The 21-year-old is unlikely to start many games if Kieran Tierney is fit but again he is an offensive-minded player who will hopefully be able to replicate the Scotland international’s forceful runs in the final third.
Again the same is true with Albert Sambi Lokonga, who is expected to complete his £18m signing from Anderlecht very soon after not being included in the Belgian side’s pre-season training camp.