TACTICS COLUMN: Strength in numbers for flexible Gunners
Arsenal spent Saturday and Sunday evening top of the Premier League table after a fine opening day win at Fulham.
Mikel Arteta’s side lined up with the now customary back three/five but an incredible amount of flexibility, especially from Ainsley Maitland-Niles, meant the formation changed from 3-4-3 to 4-3-3 (or 4-2-3-1) seamlessly. It’s becoming increasingly pointless to try and nail the Arsenal XI in one particular, easy to digest formation. The shape of the team chopped and changed throughout as players moved from set positions to either build up against Fulham’s press or attack in the final third.
It more or less looked something like this.
Different ‘formations’, but all one flexible movement. All the same shape. In the final third, as Arsenal attacked the box or pressed, the shape morphed once again, depending heavily on the positioning of Maitland-Niles and whether or not Tierney joined the attack.
That’s all worth some more exploration and explanation, as it’s certain to be a feature as time goes on with Mikel Arteta in charge. Certain patterns will (and already have) emerge all the same and the key is that the players understand not only their individual roles but also how to combine with their team-mates.
So, from front to back, here’s a look at how Arsenal lined up at Craven Cottage, how players took on what looked like multiple ‘traditional’ roles at a time, but also some of the constants that were present throughout.
Left centre-back or left-back or left-wing back? Tierney played them all, at the same time. As Arsenal built from the goalkeeper, Tierney would hug the touchline. Sometimes he would line up barely further upfield than Gabriel, stretching Fulham’s press and providing an out-ball. On other occasions he pushed up and occupied Fulham right-back Denis Odoi as Maitland-Niles tucked infield. The new England man’s role was the most flexible of anyone on the pitch.
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