Arteta’s new tactics
It was perhaps strange earlier this week to see Arsenal set up in a 4-4-2 formation for their defeat to Hibernian.
Mikel Arteta confirmed that the main purpose of that match was to get some minutes into the legs of his returning players who had had just four training sessions in the build up to the match, but in Saturday’s game at Rangers the objective was different.
Speaking ahead of the fixture at Ibrox the Spaniard revealed his aims for pre-season.
“Mentally, we need to prepare the team with the ideas that we have, with the values that we have, with the ambition that we want to take into the league,” he said.
This attempt to slowly move the Gunners towards a different set of tactics was on full display at Ibrox.
Most fundamentally Arsenal set up in a 4-2-3-1 rather than a 4-4-2.
When the teams came out the assumption from everyone, including perhaps the Gunners’ media department, was that it would be Flo Balogun leading the line with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the left-wing.
Instead, it turned out to be the exact opposite.
This attacking set-up did, however, transition back into a 4-4-2 when Arsenal found themselves out of possession.
Despite their relative low levels of fitness in comparison to their hosts, who had already played two warm-up matches in the build-up to this game in comparison to the Gunners one, Arteta set his side up to press aggressively.
It was from this approach that Aubameyang’s early miss – more on that later – came, as well as Eddie Nketiah’s sublime second-half finish.
It could even be argued that Nuno Tavares’ first-half stunner also came from a high starting position on the pitch that enabled Arsenal to take advantage of any defensive errors that Rangers made.
When Arteta first took over he set his side up to be one that would win the ball high up the pitch. Think back to Aubameyang and Nketiah’s respective post-project restart goals against Norwich and Southampton as evidence of this.
However, they tailed off last season with the condensed fixture list.
If this is to return in the coming season it’s exciting to look forward to as the Gunners make the necessary tactical evolutions to challenge for Europe again.
Tavares impresses on debut
Nuno Tavares warned us of what might happen on Saturday in his first interview after signing for Arsenal.
“I am fast, I am good at shooting with my right foot,” he said. Turns out the Portuguese wasn’t kidding.
His goal was a sublime piece of offensive play following a nice switch from Rob Holding. Admittedly helped by Jay Tavernier’s loose touch, Tavares swarmed in, knicked the ball with his left before cutting it onto his right and firing a great finish past Alan McGregor.
It’s was the highlight of a very solid debut from the 21-year-old who was admittedly hardly tested at all defensively.
From before his goal, you could see what he was about as he picked the ball up early on and with an aggressive attacking run, similar to Kieran Tierney, carried the Gunners up the pitch with speed and directness.
In that same passage of play, though, the Portugal under-21 international showed how raw he currently is playing a ball wide behind Emile Smith Rowe and out of play.
From early signs it looks as though Tavares is going to be an incredibly fun player to watch. When describing his role in the team after the match it seems as though he has been told to keep it incredibly simple.
“To play free, not be scared, do my job and that’s it,” said the Portuguese when asked what Arteta had told him to do in the game.
He is capable of the sublime going forward, but lapses in defensive concentration mean there will probably be a few moments of the ridiculous at the back too.
As back up for Tierney, he looks to be a smart acquisition, and time will tell if he can push the Scottish international for the starting role in the Arsenal side.
For a side who had one of the best defensive records in the Premier League last season, Arsenal’s start to the pre-season campaign has been slightly concerning.
All criticism of the back four should be caveated by the fact that Ben White will soon be arriving from Brighton, while Gabriel is missing through injury meaning the Gunners probably first-choice centre-back pairing for the coming season is absent.
But to have conceded three goals in two games from set-pieces suggests a trend that needs to be addressed ahead of the beginning of the Premier League season on August 13.
On Saturday it was far too easy for Rangers as Mohamed Elneny let Leon Balogun go for the first goal and Hector Bellerin was guilty of focusing too much on the man and not the ball for Cedric Itten’s second-half effort.
It was a game Arsenal should have won with some ease but the soft nature of the goals his side gave away was a source of frustration for Arteta after the game.
“I think we dominated the game, we created so many chances – I counted about eight or 10 clear chances to score,” he said.
“But this game is decided in both boxes. We weren’t clinical in the opponent’s box and we conceded two goals from two corners, which were the only chances they had apart from the counter-attack from our own corner.”
Set-piece coach Andreas Georgson left the club this summer to return to his home country of Sweden and has been replaced by Arteta’s former Manchester City colleague Nicolas Jover.
The former Brentford and Montpelier coach specialises in the positioning of players in both offensive and defensive situations.
From the early evidence of Arsenal’s pre-season matches, it seems that he will have a lot of work to do at London Colney.
Aubameyang misfires again
One of the most concerning aspects of last season was the dramatic drop-off in productivity from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
We could, of course, put his struggles in the first half of the campaign due to the team’s underperformance as a collective, but even in the second half there were times when he struggled to get involved.
At Ibrox, you couldn’t really argue that that was the case, as most of Arsenal’s first-half chances came through him, but the 31-year-old’s inability to convert any will be a worry.
It’s not overstating it to say he could and probably should have had a first-half hat-trick but missed all three of his big opportunities.
They were all different attempts in fairness which probably shows the Gabon forward’s anticipation to get in the right areas.
The first was the aforementioned high press of Alan McGregor, the second was a header inside the six-yard box that he should have done better with and the third was a tap-in on the goal line that a more match-sharp Aubameyang would have put away.
The form of the former Premier League golden boot winner seems as much of a shock to his teammates as it is to anybody else. As Aubameyang was in on goal for the first of his chances, Nicolas Pepe could be seen with his hands in the air celebrating, only for them to drop to his head in horror as his teammate fired the ball over the bar.
The hope will be that this is just a blip in pre-season and that the Arsenal captain is dusting off some of the cobwebs before the really important stuff starts.
But having been restored to his preferred centre-forward role in a side that is creating chances once again there are no longer any excuses for the 31-year-old not to be scoring more often.
Decision made on Hale Enders
Perhaps one of the more interesting aspects of the Arsenal starting line-up was the omission of four Hale Enders whose futures are up in the air.
Eddie Nketiah, Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles had all started against Hibs so it was perhaps no surprise to see them on the bench this time as Arteta seeks to manage the fitness of his players.
The decision to use Joe Willock sparingly, though, was perhaps more noteworthy.
The 21-year-old is being linked with a move to Newcastle this summer either on loan again or in a permanent transfer although football.london understands that the Magpies would prefer the former due to their financial situation.
He was absent last time out due to a groin problem although the fact that injury coincided with the rumours of a return to St. James’ Park could be seen in a number of ways.
Speaking after the game at Easter Road Arteta promised to “make the most of” Willock while he was still with the club and it seems as though that is the decision that has been taken with each of the four academy prospects who could leave this summer.
Arsenal do not want to lose any of them for less than they feel they are worth, and it seems that they will be involved in the club’s pre-season plans at the very least.
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Source by Football London