Three ways Mikel Arteta has transformed Arsenal with versatile new signings Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko


Arteta have so far enjoyed a perfect pre-season, with five wins from five including a 4-0 thrashing of rivals Chelsea.

While it is dangerous to judge a team on what they have done in friendly games, this preseason feels like a very positive one from an Arsenal point of view.

Many fans expect the club to achieve Champions League qualification as the minimum.

And you cannot argue that the board have not backed their coach Mikel Arteta and their technical director Edu.

Arsenal feel very much like a project that is turning a corner and starting to pick up momentum.

This summer has seen significant investment in the squad with Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Zinchenko both signed from Manchester City and Fabio Vieria signed from FC Porto.

Add to that the return from loan of William Saliba and Arsenal look like a more complete side.

Here’s three reasons as to why the Arsenal fans should be slightly more positive than normal.

Tactical versatility

Last season saw Arteta generally look to set his side up in a 4-2-3-1 system although the ‘10’ role was generally reserved for Martin Odegaard.

The Norwegian international was extremely versatile in the way that he would drop off and into the channels to receive the ball.

So far this preseason we have seen a tendency for Arteta to look for more of a 4-3-3 shape, with Odegaard still playing an important role as one of the ‘8’s in the midfield.

But there has also been evidence of a Plan B of sorts with Arteta switching to a back three for periods of two of the matches so far.

Having the option to switch into a back three makes sense from a tactical point of view as it allows Arteta to change the structure of a game when things are not working.

It also solves a problem in that a back three system will allow Arsenal to use Gabriel, Ben White and William Saliba all in the team at the same time.

White, in particular, is very versatile in that he has also spent time at right-back and as the deepest sitting midfielder throughout his career. 

Versatility feels like a key term when we are considering the chances of Arsenal going forward.

White is capable of playing various positions but as are Takehiro Tomiyasu and Kieran Tierney in the defensive unit.

The signings of Zinchenko, who can play at left-back or in the midfield, Jesus, who can play as a ‘9’ or wide attacker, and Vieria who can play in almost any midfield role, also adds versatility throughout the squad.

The important thing for a coach like Arteta is that his side are capable of switching their formations or systems during a match but they will keep the concepts behind the way that they play.

Expect to see Arsenal continue to build through the back, whether they are playing with a back four or a back three, and they will continue to play aggressive football in terms of moving the ball into the final third and pushing forward. 

Narrow fullbacks

When Arteta was first appointed as coach of Arsenal there was an assumption that his tactical style and model of play would closely mirror that of Pep Guardiola.

Arteta, after all, was the assistant to his fellow Spaniard at Manchester City before making the move to become the head coach in his own right.

In the end, there were some similarities in terms of style to play but we certainly did not see Arsenal play in a way that was an exact replica of the style that Guardiola uses at City. 

When the Japanese international Tomiyasu was signed from the Serie A side Bologna, however, we did see the implementation of one of Guardiola’s key concepts in the use of narrow or inverted fullbacks as Tomiyasu played more narrowly as a RB than Tierney did on the opposite side as a LB.

In pre-season, we have seen White used at RB and when he plays in that slot he is far more inclined to stay narrow and tight as opposed to getting around the outside and offering width on the outside of the structure.

Arsenal are in something of a difficult position in this position with Tomiyasu still out with an injury.

While Cedric Soares is an important voice within the squad he is now in his 30s, Hector Bellerin is also still around the squad but he seems intent on getting a permanent move back to Spain.

This has meant that White may start the season in that position.

We may also see the same, of course, on the other side when Zinchenko plays as a fullback.

At Manchester City, he played very much as an extra midfielder when played in that position.

Gabriel Jesus

Arsenal’s performance in the transfer market this summer feels really smart.

Having lost the goal threat of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who left for Barcelona last season, and Alexandre Lacazette, who returned to boyhood club Lyon at the end of the season, the club have moved to sign a player in Gabriel Jesus who has not only proven that he can play at this level but is well positioned to play in the manner required by Arteta.

While he was at Manchester City Jesus was, of course, often played as a wide attacker despite profiling very much as a central attacking player.

We expect to see Jesus very much used as a traditional ‘9’, at least in terms of positioning, but his movement and ability to drop off or move wide to receive the ball will bring an extra dimension to the Arsenal attack.

This is especially the case when Arsenal line up in their 4-3-3 where we can expect to see Jesus drop off from the front line and create space for the likes of Odegaard, Saka and others to attack into.

Jesus has a modern skillset in that he can play in the penalty area and receive with his back to goal but he also has the game intelligence and movement to drag defenders around and find pockets of space to receive the ball.

Going on the basis of what we have seen so far in preseason we expect the addition of the Brazilian to the Arsenal squad to be hugely impactful going forward.

What does all this mean?

Going into the summer, Arsenal needed to make some good early signings and clear out some more of the perceived dead wood.

They’ve managed that and what we’ve seen on the pitch so far does suggest a team with a clear plan.

Will that be enough for them to get into the top four this season?

You’d expect them to be better this season with the work they’ve done but then you look at their North London neighbours and they’ve also had a decent window. 

Could both Arsenal and Spurs finish above Chelsea and Manchester United – this has to be their best chance in a long time…

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