Change is permeating throughout the entirety of Arsenal Football Club. Never before have we seen such deviations from the norm at any time in the Wenger Era. Pivotal backroom staff acquisitions (Mislintat, Sanllehi, Burgess, Fahmy, etc.), new coaches/academy personnel (Lehman, Bibbo, Mertesacker, Herron), significant player turnover, and high profile transfers make this transitional period equal parts exciting and nerve wracking.
As Josh Kroenke surveys the landscape and Raul Sanllehi begins to exert the power a man in his position holds, the Arsenal Football Club we currently know could be drastically different at the start of next season.
Let’s put the long-term future aside as well as stylistic changes that could emanate from a change in manager. This Arsenal squad has a lot to play for this season from a status point of view (Champions League vs Europa League) as well as on-pitch player cohesion. Given that it’s a World Cup Summer with a shortened transfer window, the seeds for a more successful ‘18-’19 season need to be planted now.
Below are the four areas Arsenal should focus on these last two months in order to be best positioned for a chance at the Premier League title next season.
1. Embrace Quick Attacking Transitions
For large parts of the last few seasons Arsenal have relied upon progressive build up through the thirds. It gives defenses time to re-reorganize and face play rather than retreat towards their own area. The best teams of late are playing in advanced areas without the need to build play.
Manchester City, Liverpool, and Tottenham have embraced the high press and counterpress; Leicester, Chelsea, and Manchester United have emphasized ball winning followed by quick channel balls or direct wall passes to #9’s to skip building through midfield.
In order to get the best of Aubameyang, there needs to be room in the opposition’s third. Embracing the attack transitional phase will cater to his strengths as well as let Ozil and Mkhitaryan operate in creative space.
2. Emphasize Ball Winning and Physicality in Midfield
Lately we have seen a collective effort from our midfielders to keep defensive distances healthy and win the ball back. We have not been so easily overrun and forced to cover large areas of green grass as a result. Against Watford, despite having higher possession numbers and facing a physical Doucoure/Capoue midfield, five of the top six players in ball recoveries belonged to Arsenal.
Winning 50/50 balls is something that can be tactically emphasized and lead to quick attacking play (see #1). Mkhitaryan, while not having a reputation as a ball winner, has been exceptional for us so far at winning second balls.
Auba’s goal against Watford all starts with a Mhki ball recovery as well:
3. Have the Ability to Play With 2 Strikers
Employing a 2 striker system on occasion could reap rewards both offensively and defensively next season. The offensive advantages are obvious as it gets an extra advanced attacker onto the pitch and each’s movement could provide headaches for defenses. Lacazette has shown he is comfortable playing as a back to goal link-man as well as dynamic runner. His versatility should be embraced.
Defensively is where I am most excited. In Germany, a lot of the young, innovative coaches have utilized a 352 and/or 343 setup as a pragmatic way of disrupting the offensive flow of their opponents. The strikers work to close space, channel play to certain areas of the pitch, and act on pre-planned pressing triggers. It makes it difficult for teams to build from the back and play into desired areas. Aubameyang could be the one channeling play and Lacazette could strategically press in unison with midfielders behind him.
4. Nurture the Mkhitaryan/Ozil Partnership
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better overall attacking midfield tandem in the Premier League than Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Mesut Ozil. Maybe only David Silva and Kevin DeBruyne? The selfless nature of their games are obvious. Mkhitaryan has a half dozen assists since joining while Ozil seemingly breaks chances created records on a weekly basis.
Their ability to be the creative fabric in the Arsenal sweater may well define our success next season. Their ability to occupy complimentary spaces will be vital in helping us build play as well as open up the pitch for the rest of the team. If Arsenal want to get back to fluid, progressive triangles moving up the pitch, these two will need to be on the same wavelength.
It’s easy to forget we have an established squad capable of winning major honors in the short term. Ozil didn’t resign and Aubameyang didn’t join to continuously compete in the Europa League. Assurances were made and the blueprint for the future was presented to them. In this post-Alexis world, we are starting to see the beginning of a collective, fluid Arsenal rather than the over-reliance on one talent. Let’s finish this season strong and lay the foundation for a strong ‘18-’19 season.
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