As we move into the new club football season, Outside of the Boot will be publishing regular Tactical Previews of the sides from across Europe’s top seven leagues. This one focuses on Premier League giants, Arsenal, led by Arsene Wenger. Rishad Bharucha takes a look at their basic formation, analyses their tactics, key player and their potential key young players of the 2014/15 season.
Arsenal will be looking to build on their FA Cup win from last season with a charge towards the Premier League title and improving their consistency in the Champions League. With four key signings and the return of Joel Campbell from his loan spell at Olympiakos, the squad looks considerably strengthened, but fans will still point to the need for a center back and a defensive midfielder.
With a couple of weeks to go before the transfer window shuts, there is still time for Arsène Wenger to pull another rabbit out of his ‘Magic Hat’. The tactical set up should be pretty similar to last season with competition for places and improved personnel boosting their overall chances of silverware with their system.
Formation | How will they set-up?
Arsenal will look to start in a 4-2-3-1 which could blend into a 4-1-4-1 during the offensive spells of their play. At least one of the two midfielders in front of the back four will act as a holding or defensive midfielder with captain Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini the two prime candidates for this position.
Alongside one of them, Jack Wilshere, would be the ideal candidate for a box to box partner although Aaron Ramsey will most likely be the first choice to fill this role at the moment. Ramsey will be looking to build on an outstanding first half of last season while many expect Jack Wilshere to raise his performance standards to match the Welshman.
In front of this midfield pair, a midfield attacking trio would provide service to the lone striker. Arsenal’s wealth of midfield options include Mesut Özil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Alexis Sánchez, Lukas Podolski, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Tomáš Rosický.
Up front, it is likely that Olivier Giroud will lead the line with Yaya Sanogo and Joel Campbell providing good options from the bench. Some argue that Alexis could also play this position, but it remains to be seen whether he does as he looks to settle into the squad in his first season.
Analysis | What can we expect from them tactically?
Discipline and pressing in midfield: One of the main weaknesses last season was being overrun in midfield in the big games against Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City which ultimately cost Arsenal the Premier League title by seven points. While Mathieu Flamini tended to be positionally disciplined and his usual combative self in these games for the most part, fans have criticized the lack of recovery pace and positioning from Mikel Arteta to counter the threat of more physical opponents. This is one of the reasons fans are clamouring for the signing of World Cup winner Sami Khedira or Portuguese talent William Carvalho to strengthen that area of midfield.
In the last couple of seasons, Arsenal have started off well as far as pressing the opposition is concerned and that has resulted in a promising League position early on. However, as the seasons progressed, injuries struck and fatigue set in which affected the amount of pressure they put on the opposition players. Arsenal tend to play with a high defensive line and the lack of pressing will render this high line useless as teams will find it easy to get behind the back four.
Defending the aerial threat and set pieces: Arsenal improved in their defence of set pieces last season and Steve Bould’s presence certainly seems to be felt in this department. However, there still seems to be some vulnerability when it comes to defending crosses and headers as going 2-0 down in the FA Cup final will show. More work on the training ground and a consistent back four with only a single addition in French international Mathieu Debuchy should help Arsenal improve in the aerial department.
Offensive width from the full backs: The width provided by the full backs will be important to supply crosses into the box to Olivier Giroud thus allowing Arsenal to utilize the aerial threat provided by the French international. Kieran Gibbs will be looking to continue his fine development as Arsenal’s first choice left back while Mathieu Debuchy will look to show everyone why he is France’s preferred right back over the departed Bacary Sagna.
Exploiting the offensive channels: Mesut Özil has said that he can improve in all departments in his second season at the club. The signing of Alexis Sánchez and the eventual return to fitness of Theo Walcott will help bring the best out of Özil as he threads the ball behind defences in the channels for the pace of Alexis and Walcott to exploit. Özil was instrumental in supplying Cristiano Ronaldo in a similar fashion during his time at Real Madrid, and the injury to Walcott last season certainly affected his output of assists last season.
Dominant midfield trio: Wenger will be looking to bring out the creative and dynamic best of the midfield trio, especially considering the wealth of options at his disposal. With the protection provided by the two midfielders behind them, it is up to this trio to fire or supply Arsenal’s ammunition. With the exception of Alexis, Walcott and Podolski, Wenger’s options in these positions tend to play more narrow and will look to combine constantly with the full backs to create space and goal scoring chances in the final third of the pitch.
The lone striker: Olivier Giroud will likely lead the line for Arsenal again this season. Several fans have been critical of the Frenchman last season but one shouldn’t forget that he brings more than goals to an attack generally devoid of any height. The 6’4” striker can serve as a center forward at times, holding up the ball as well as combining and bringing other midfielders into play. The return of Joel Campbell and the improving Yaya Sanogo provide directness from the bench. Joel Campbell impressed with strong displays for Costa Rica at the World Cup and also has shown last season for Olympiakos that he can score in the big games. Yaya Sanogo broke his goal scoring duck at the Emirates Cup in pre-season and will look to build on that confidence once the campaign starts. Consistent performances in the domestic cup competitions will surely give him a chance to continue his development.
Key Player | Who will be the stand-out player for the system?
While many will hail the signing and potential impact of Alexis this season, the key to unlocking opposition defences lies in the feet of Mesut Özil. Having won the FA Cup with Arsenal and the World Cup with Germany over the summer, Arsenal fans will hope and expect the German to step up to the plate and justify his reputation as one of the world’s elite midfielders. His vision and precise passing will be key to Arsenal’s challenge for silverware in the new campaign.
Talent Radar | Who will be the three key young players this season?
Calum Chambers: While fans are still clamouring for a replacement for departed captain Thomas Vermaelen, Wenger has said that the 19 year old Southampton academy graduate can play at center back, right back and central midfield. During the pre-season Emirates Cup, Chambers started both of Arsenal’s games at center back and gave the fans much cause for optimism with two assured displays. With Premier League experience under his belt already from playing for Southampton, he will likely be one to watch in Arsenal’s defence and midfield this season.
Yaya Sanogo: The 21 year old Frenchman was trusted to start in big games against Bayern Munich and Liverpool last season over Olivier Giroud so Wenger clearly has faith in him. Having broken his goal scoring duck in the Emirates Cup, Yaya Sanogo could push on this season and offer a different attacking threat for Arsenal. He has shown that he has the work ethic and with some composure in front of goal, he could surprise Arsenal fans with his performances this season.
Hector Bellerin: Fresh off of breaking the Arsenal sprint record, 19 year old Hector Bellerin could very well challenge Debuchy for the right back position this season. A graduate of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, he looked very comfortable on the ball against Benfica in the Emirates Cup and looked like a younger version of Theo Walcott as he charged down the right flank. While it was only a pre-season game, Wenger would have been impressed by the youngster and with Carl Jenkinson out on loan at West Ham United, Bellerin could very well feature in domestic cup competitions at the very least this season.
Conclusion | Final comments
Overall, Arsenal will look to build another serious title challenge this season and look to work on the areas of weakness that cost the club the title last season. The four summer signings so far will provide quality and strength in depth, and with the transfer window still open, Wenger could easily come up with another big name signing on deadline day, depending on the activity of the other big clubs around Europe.
Written by Rishad Bharucha. Follow him on Twitter @RishadAFC
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