The wait is almost over. It has been over 3 months since a ball was kicked in England. With the Premier league set to resume in the next 10 days, it is time to start discussing ON the pitch matters - Finally!
I'm sure you all are aware, but in case you aren't - the FA has come out with a new rule allowing teams to name 9 substitutes on the bench and the use of 5 substitutions (maximum of 3 rounds) to help cope up with the packed fixture schedule. Additionally, the preparation time has been far from ideal so there's a risk of players picking up injuries during these high intensity matches.
As a result of this rule change, teams are going to tweak the way they plan for matches. Let's have a look at how this new rule could affect us.
1. Higher levels of intensity for 90 minutes:
Under Mikel Arteta, Arsenal have shown signs of really controlling and dominating a game - the issue is that it has come in periods. Have a look at the Manchester United 2-0 win for example - we absolutely played them off the park in the first half, but sat back in the second half. Some will say it is good game management, but as Arteta admitted post the game, we were too deep for his liking. We did not create much in that half, we were simply soaking up pressure.
Maintaining a high line entails a level of energy from every player. While Arteta wants to improve our team's fitness levels to play that expansive brand of football, let's face reality - we just don't have a starting 11 that can couple energy for 90 minutes with technical quality, as evidenced throughout the season.
When we have tried maintaining a high position when energy levels are low, it leads to end to end games which is far from ideal, let alone sustainable. The Everton (H) game is an example - we invited way too much pressure in the second half and if not for the brilliance of Bernd Leno, it could have been punished like against Chelsea's in Arteta's first home game in charge.
As a result of this rule - I personally think we are going to see more substitutions being made at half time, one in midfield and one in the front 3 just to keep things fresh. Personally, I cannot see many tweaks to our back line - maybe we will exercise caution with Kieran Tierney initially and give him say 50-60 minutes. Of course, in that case, the midfield should adjust its positioning accordingly which is one more thing for Arteta to prepare for.
2. More chances to U-21 players:
If there's one thing I really like about this batch of youngsters, it is the fact that they have an energy about them and are great impact players off the bench. Take a player like Joe Willock for example, when he comes on, he always makes something happen. Yes, his decision making in the final third can improve - but he gives us more legs in the middle and can help close a game out. Reiss Nelson, Gabriel Martinelli and Eddie Nketiah are potentially great options to bring on as well among others.
There was a podcast I was listening to a year back, Romain Molina, the author of Unai Emery's biography stated that the former Arsenal head coach wasn't a fan of bringing Mesut Ozil off the bench as he was not the right kind of player to have to try and stretch tired legs. A player with pace, power and drive is ideal and our youngsters have that in abundance.
We could even see a debut for someone like Matt Smith who has trained with the group in recent weeks - it gives us options to provide more opportunities depending on the state of the game.
3. Systems and positional experimentation:
Mikel Arteta has a clear idea of how he wants us to play football - the long term goal is to dominate the game and keep the play as much in the opposition' half as possible. However, there are many different ways of achieving this goal.
For now, Arsenal have set-up on a 4-2-3-1 on paper, but tend to shift to a back 3 during build up. Offensively, with Saka playing like a winger (despite being a full back on paper) and Aubameyang moving inwards - we play with 4 offensive players (Saka, Aubameyang, Lacazette/Eddie, Pepe/Nelson) with Ozil behind them and the right central midfielder dropping more centrally, with Xhaka covering as an auxiliary left back. The right back tends to stay deep as opposed to overlapping. On paper, the offensive shape is almost like a 4-1-1-4 - but it is unwise to generalize this to every single attack as there are situational factors involved - for example - there's times Xhaka joins in the attacks and there's also occasions where Saka has remained deeper with Aubameyang hugging the touchline.
In his article today, Football London journalist James Benge makes a really interesting observation on Arteta's tactical work calling it "The overwhelming focus of sessions since the Gunners were reunited late last month with the head coach looking to build the situational understanding of his squad so that they can execute his plans in any context."
What this means is as a team, we need to maintain a certain shape depending on the situation of the game. For the team as a whole to maintain the right kind of shape, it entails every individual player to understand the situation and position themselves accordingly. For example, we have a tactical setup to maintain when the opposition takes a throw in from a particular situation, or when they play out from the back and so on.
More substitutions is going to allow Arteta to play around a little more. For example, something we saw which I found quite interesting was Arteta bringing Matteo Guendouzi on against Everton and making him play as the second striker to give us energy high up the pitch. We have seen glimpses of 4-4-2 off the ball in the last couple of games and the ability to bring on 5 players allows for more such experimentation.
To sum it up:
The 5 substitutions rule is not only going to give us a better chance of playing a high energy game over 90 minutes, it also gives Arteta more options to understand our players better and take decisions that will give him information on areas to work on and address ahead of next season.