Arteta Ball: Tactical Breakdown of playing the Arsenal Way

At the time, Arsenal were slumping in the Premier League table seating in 10th, a staggering 22-point deficit to Chelsea, sitting 4th in the potential Champions League qualifying spot. The 2-time FA Cup Winner had to hit the ground running as Arsenal had to get back to competing for the league and also enter the Champions League having last made an appearance in 2017, having being knocked out of the RO16 by Bayern Munich.

“We need to be competing for the top trophies in the game. That’s been made very clear to me in my discussions with [owners] Stan and Josh Kroenke and the senior people from the club. I’m realistic enough to know it won’t happen overnight, but the current squad has plenty of talent and there is a great pipeline of young players coming through from the academy.”Arteta said.

To sum up Arsenal under Mikel Arteta, the word “inconsistent” would be more than feasible. The potential has always been there for the team from North London, but it’s about taking that next step, competing for the league title every year and making a statement in European Competitions but as of this moment, Arsenal are seen as a mid-table team, neither challenging the upper half nor in any danger of relegation and missed out on Europe for the first time in 25 years.

But that’s not entirely down to the man from Basque at the helm, injuries have taken its toll on the squad and controversies both on and off the field have kept the team occupied both physically and emotionally.

ArtetaBall- Style of play under Arteta

At his time at Arsenal so far, Arteta’s most favored formation has been the 4-2-3-1, which has been Arsenal’s go-to formation for many seasons now. But he has switched it up in the past to a 3-4-3. Let’s breakdown these formations and get inside the mind of Arteta:


In this day and age of football, the 4-2-3-1 is one of the most if not the most popular tactical setups around, as it can easily turn into a standard 433. It perfectly fits Arteta’s philosophy which is playing out from the back, play fluid football with keeping healthy possession and exploit spaces down the wings and spray balls into the box.

Arteta likes his team to press high, with Aubameyang upfront who initiates the high press forcing opposition defenders to go long and commit errors and handover possession. Although there’s a unique twist which makes Arteta different from other 4231 managers:

At times, the 4231 shifts to a 3-2-5 structure in possession. Gabriel and White are two excellent ball playing centre-backs, who specialize in breaking the lines but if the option is off, they take matters into their own hands and venture forward in an attempt to push the team up the pitch.

Tomiyasu is key to the transition to a back 3, as he has the skillset and versatility to tuck in along-side the centre-backs, allowing Tierney to bomb forward in attacks, creating an overload on the wings with Partey and his midfield partner creating a double pivot to avoid counter attacks.

Smith Rowe and Lacazette or Odegaard come deep to provide passing options and receive the ball and take on players and create chances. When Lacazette is in the team, his excellent ball holding ability and link up ability, comes of great use while if Odegaard is in, his vision, ball distribution, and his ability to drop into the midfield pivot; makes it easier for the team and Smith Rowe’s ability to go on the inside as well as the outside to the wing has been crucial. Saka usually holds his width incase a switch of play is on but makes decisive runs into the box as well.

This can be found out easily if overused so, Arteta has a trick up his sleeve to avoid having a one-dimensional attack. Xhaka is at the heart of it, when Arteta needs Tomiyasu to help on the wings, Xhaka occupies the left-centre back role with a double pivot, in front of the defense.

But sometimes he even occupies the left-back spot, giving Tierney the license to join the attack and create width to create overloads on the wings with Tomiyasu and Tierney assisting Saka and Smith Rowe in attack, which draws out defences.

When out of possession, the Spaniard wants his team to drop-back and wants his attacking players to track back and help out in defense. So, the 4-2-3-1 switches to a 4-4-2 mid-block, with the natural wingers going more central to make it compact, with the central midfielders equipped to block the vertical passing lanes. The key phrase to take is ‘defensive stability without being a defensive team’. It’s easy to nullify attacking threats by defending deep and strictly play on the counter.

But maintaining attacking principles and having a solid base is a difficult balance to achieve, which fortunately Arteta has managed to find with this system. With only Chelsea and Manchester City conceding lesser goals than the team from North London.


Arteta holds the 3-4-3 in high regard and close to his heart. As during his tenure so far, he’s won both the FA Cup and Community Shield deploying this formation. In the recent uprising of youngsters, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka, Arteta has been sticking to his more comfortable 4-2-3-1 and doesn’t deploy the back 3 from the beginning in games. Although in possession, they take up a back 3 setup to help transition attacks. It helps in playing the ball out from the back and the midfield links the defense and attack brilliantly.

And out of possession, they sometimes switch to a 5-2-3/5-3-2 system to nullify attacks down the wings. Arsenal usually aren’t big on pressing inside their own half, and deploy a 1-man press with Aubameyang the culprit.

The recent resurgence of the Gunners has been down to going back to the regular 4231/433 and is unlikely to change in the near future, as in the recent games, Arteta has managed to create the perfect balance between attack and defense. In the transfer window gone by, the Spaniard managed to get the reinforcements he wanted to implement his style of play.

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