3 shots to 24. 30% possession. 2 shots on target. Final score: Arsenal 2-1.
No, those aren’t the numbers from my Arsenal career mode on FIFA, but instead from the Gunners’ 2-1 win over Liverpool. The victory over the Premier League champions last Wednesday, in my eyes at least, was the start of a new Arsenal.
While Mikel Arteta does seem keen to implement a playing style similar to the one that Pep Guardiola has used with Manchester City. This high-pressing, possession-orientated system allowed City to sweep the league with great effect. Clearly, Arteta learned this from City, where he was Guardiola’s assistant at the Citizens until December 2019.
However, recently, several Arsenal games haven't aligned with this philosophy. In particular; the games against Liverpool, City and Chelsea.
All three games involved Arsenal sitting back, absorbing pressure and then hitting teams on the counter; a far cry from the take the ball, pass the ball mantra Arteta seems keen to implement.
It seems fitting to start with January's 2-2 draw with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge; given that this game started the trend. While Arsenal's first goal came directly from a Chelsea corner, Arteta's hand was forced by David Luiz's early sending off, leaving us with ten men for effectively an hour of the game.
The tactics in the other two games, against Liverpool and Manchester City, definitely weren't forced, however. Arteta deliberately went in with the idea of sitting back and hitting them onto the counter due to the lesser personal at our disposal.
The Liverpool game, while a very good result, was somewhat of a fluke. Liverpool had eight times as many shots as the Gunners. They were unlucky and a mix of poor finishing, good defending and brilliant goalkeeping from Emi Martinez lost them the game.
On the other hand, the FA Cup semi final against City was not a fluke. It was a very good performance. Arsenal thoroughly deserved their win and expertly coupled defensive solidity with possession based football - exemplified in Arsenal's first goal - to great effect over the Citizens. The student did indeed school the master.
These three games showed me two things; Arteta's tactical versatility and the defensive solidity he has installed in the side. Both are positives for the future and certainly bode well.
One of my biggest gripes with Pep Guardiola is that he isn't really tactically flexible. Arteta looks like he is, and that could make him the next big thing in management.
As for Arsenal, their expertise to dig in and muddy the game, trying to nick a goal in the process, shows the dawn of a new Arsenal; one with a bit of backbone.