It wasn’t long ago when you’d have been hard pressed to pick out a genuine leader and undroppable defender at Arsenal.
But now, the very same players who have received so much criticism are thriving in Mikel Arteta’s new 3-4-3 formation – a system that provides greater protection, shielding and solidity.
The formation has worked well in well recent times, with the north Londoners producing some of their finest performances – and indeed results – of the season so far. But another hugely tough challenge awaited on Tuesday as they welcomed Leicester to the Emirates Stadium.
And while the game ended in partial disappointment for the Gunners, there were a number of positives that can be taken from the performance.
Arteta saw enough from Alexandre Lacazette against Wolves to bring him back into the starting lineup, while Hector Bellerin also came into the team. Once again, the Gunners looked sharp in all areas of the pitch in the first period, playing with great fluidity.
There will undoubtedly have been some concerns from Arsenal fans coming into Tuesday’s game – especially due to Leicester’s attacking threat. With Jamie Vardy’s pace and movement as well as Kelechi Iheanacho’s recent form in front of goal, there will have been some fear that the Gunners’ backline would have been exposed.
Yes, the Gunners weren’t able to keep a clean sheet, but the improvements were there for all to see. The second half saw Arsenal drop off, with the players not playing with the same intensity and desire to get forward – allowing their opponents to gain a stranglehold on the game.
It was a backs to the wall performance in the second period for the Gunners, and in the past, this will have resulted in one, two, three or even four goals being put past them, while the players’ morale would clearly drop.
But not now.
Fatigue will understandably have kicked in in the second half, but even as the pressure began to mount, Arsenal’s defence looked structured and well organised. Following Eddie Nketiah’s sending off, the hosts weren’t able to find a way out, but once again there was a hunger and desire to shut down their opponents and sniff out danger.
Of course, there is still work to do, highlighted by the goal conceded late on. The three central defenders left too much space between them, allowing Vardy to sneak in and tap home with five minutes remaining.
But the foundations are there for Arsenal and Arteta.
The wing-backs have the license to get forward and support attacks, allowing the Gunners to pose a greater threat. Additionally, it also ensures the likes of Aubameyang don’t become isolated and frustrated when out of possession.
However, the wing-backs are also tasked with the responsibility of getting back and closing off the spaces to support the three central defenders. The first half saw the system work to perfection and the Gunners should have gone into the break three or four nil up.
They were that good.
It is a work in progress, of course it is. But the signs are very promising and the direction is clear. It was a gutsy performance from Arsenal – the key for Arteta now is to ensure his side can maintain their concentration for the full 90 minutes in order to build on each game.
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