There is no doubt that Arsenal as a club have made outstanding progress this season but as I am writing this, they have just lost the league via a 1-0 defeat away against Nottingham Forest and are on a run of 2 wins in 8 league games which begs the question; What is Next for the Gunners?
Arsenal will feel massively disappointed with the way the season has ended and will look to push even harder in next season, especially with their long-awaited return to the Champions League.
But before that, Arsenal will have to go through one of their most important summer windows in recent history and this brings along many different questions of how Arsenal will look to shape up for next season, which I hope to answer in this article.
These images above essentially demonstrate Arsenal’s shape this season with the ball, which is the popular 3-2-5 shape and in Arsenal’s case, White tucks in with Saliba and Gabriel whilst Zinchenko inverts into midfield with Partey and Odegaard + Xhaka are giving the responsibilities of the right and left No.8 positions with Saka and Martinelli holding width on the flanks.
This shape has provided Arsenal with great success this season as it allows them to sustain pressure more whilst attaining more numbers in the final third of the pitch to positively affect play.
Despite the success of this system, it has not all been smooth and there has been clear indicators of the weaknesses of this system in matching the personnel that Arteta has available to him.
Sean Dyche’s Everton, who defeated Arsenal in February, provided a blueprint of how to tame this Arsenal side and this image shows Everton set up in a compact 4-5-1 shape which helps to stifle the influence of the inverted Zinchenko and their creative playmaker, Martin Ødegaard, who was unable to affect this game due to the limited space given and physicality of Everton’s midfield.
Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal’s 2 star wingers, were left isolated with Everton’s wide players doubling up on those two and the absence of an overlapping full back on either side hurts Arsenal’s ability to create opportunities when the midfield is overloaded against them.
Another weakness in Arsenal’s current system is the vulnerability they face in transitions. This issue has become highlighted even more without the presence of William Saliba, who had the ability to cover the right channel by himself which allowed Arsenal to play higher, but this fragility still appeared with him in the side and is evident in the clip below.
Arsenal have struggled with stopping transitions down the right side this season which can be seen as down to a lack of powerful runners in their midfield and is a main reason why the club are targeting 2 physically adept midfielders in Declan Rice and Moises Caicedo alongside another RCB to make up for the absence of William Saliba.
This next clip further shows Arsenal’s problems in dealing with transitions down the right-hand side and why it desperately needs to be addressed in the summer.
In this clip, Pervis Estupinan drove into the heart of Arsenal’s right-hand side, being able to bully his way through and waltz into the Gunner’s box and make it 3-0 to Brighton. There is clear evidence on Arsenal’s need for more physicality in the midfield and the only question is; What is Next for Arsenal?
What Is Next For Arsenal?
When asked about the summer plans, Mikel Arteta replied that “When you get closer to the top then the margins are smaller. What makes you win or lose, it’s minimal. What we have ahead of us this summer is important and we have to absolutely nail it.”
These were strong words by the Arsenal boss and gives enough hints over what they want to do in the summer. As I have stated earlier, Arsenal need to add more physicality and running power to the team and this is demonstrated through reported targets such as Declan Rice, Moises Caicedo, Moussa Diaby, Marc Guehi etc.
A look at the potential tactical evolution is shown in the image below where I believe Arsenal will revert to a double pivot and will look different in the 23/24 season. Arteta experimented with a new system today in which Thomas Partey played a similar role to Man City’s John Stones and I believe this is something that we will see more of next year.
This 3-2-4-1 tactical set-up sees Arsenal build up with Kiwior-Gabriel-Saliba and Ben White/Partey/New RB inverting into the middle of the pitch to form a box midfield with Martin Ødegaard, Moises Caicedo, and Declan Rice. Kiwior has already broken records at London Colney in regards to Arsenal sprint races and with Gabriel + Saliba, they are able to form an athletic back 3 which is able to progress the ball whilst also being able to cover large grounds of space against the opposition’s attack.
The ‘box midfield’ provides Arsenal with an opportunity to stifle opponents in the middle of the pitch with their off-ball IQ and physicality features. In Moises Caicedo, Declan Rice, and Martin Ødegaard, Arsenal would possess 3 of the best players off-the-ball statistically in the Premier League and would help to solve the problem of defending transitions.
The problem of the right-hand side would be solved with William Saliba being able to lean on Gabriel for extra support as he would be Central Centre Back and be more mobile in providing cover for the Frenchman in any potential 1v1 or overload scenario.
Wingers Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli would also be able to thrive as their ball retention expertise would allow for Arsenal to control games with a bigger threat as a result of their low turnover ratio whilst their direct threat to the opposition full-back would make them think twice about overcommitting.
However, a potential problem could occur with Arsenal’s No.9 situation as with the added pressure of the Champions League, Gabriel Jesus could create a future selection headache for Mikel Arteta unless he becomes more efficient in front of goal. With the box midfield, Arsenal have plenty of numbers and technical quality in the midfield so this creates a necessity for Jesus to step up in front of goal.
With all of Arsenal’s uncertainty over the summer transfer window plans, one thing remains key; Arsenal need to evolve tactically next season and the only way this becomes realistic is through identifying and acquiring the right profiles needed to take the next step.
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