Buidling Dreams Together


Arsenal: Five things Identified in their Community Shield victory

‘Tranquilo’ called Arteta after a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United on their pre-season tour of America. Fresh off a 22/23 campaign of champagne football and a surprise title tilt that ended in tears, revitalised expectations at the Emirates have the Gunners dreaming of a first crown since the Invincibles of 2004. After securing second place last time out, the Kroenke’s have bankrolled a £200m spending spree, recruiting the likes of Jurrien Timber and a midfield overhaul of Kai Havertz, with club record signing Declan Rice, have garnered optimism Arsenal can step up a level and fight on all fronts next season.

Sunday’s high octane clash at Wembley against City went the Gunners way, with a late deflected equaliser from Leandro Trossard cancelling out Cole Palmer’s curling effort, sending the game to penalties. Fabio Vieira rifled home the winner as Arsenal triumphed 4-1 on spot kicks. Here we look at five things we learned from Arteta’s men as they seek to stop City from becoming the first side to win four Premier League’s in a row.

Battle of the boxes

Arteta and Guardiola often repeat the same notion to their players: Be strong in both boxes. But it was the boxes contested in the middle of the park that signified Arteta’s vision for the campaign. Looking to combat City’s central dominance, Arteta’s side used a 4-4-2 out of possession, with Partey and Rice sitting and Odegaard pressing up top alongside Havertz to create a ‘box’ midfield.

They struggled in the first 20 minutes of the game, as City flexed their own tactical prowess by using a 4-2-4. Kovacic dropped deep alongside Rodri and John Stones stayed at centre half, allowing Alvarez and Haaland to form a front two of their own. Kyle Walker was given license to create width, meaning when City bypassed the press, they gained an extra man in the middle of the pitch as Alvarez and Bernardo Silva drifted into 8 positions.

However, Arsenal grew into the game and managed to combat this by dropping Declan Rice deeper into a back three. Ben White began to go forward and create overloads with Saka and Odegaard on the right hand side. This triangle spawned the two best chances of the first half for Kai Havertz. Arsenal didn’t rest on their laurels in the second period either, as Rice and Timber interchanged between left back and midfield to create more sustained periods of possession. Arsenal fans should be encouraged with the tactical nous their new signings provided, allowing them to problem solve against the best team in the world.

Tenacious Timber
Timber has become a fan favourite with his all action displays. Image: Arsenal.com

Arsenal’s best player on the day alongside Saliba, Jurrien Timber embodied everything good about the gunner’s performance. Despite many believing the Dutchman would play at right-back or provide cover at centre half, he has found the majority of his minutes during pre-season at left-back, partly due to Oleksandr Zinchenko’ s continued absence. After today’s showing, it’s highly likely he’ll continue there against Forest on Saturday.

Timber’s pace and dynamism on the ball gave Arsenal an outlet, with the Ajax academy graduate’s outstanding technical ability and athleticism driving Arsenal further up the pitch. Defensively when called upon he answered, blocking several crosses into the box and at £38m, looks like one of the signings of the summer. He provides better physicality and aerial dominance than Zinchenko, restricting Bernardo Silva to the point where Guardiola moved him to defensive midfield in the second half.

It wasn’t long after Timber was substituted that City broke the deadlock down Arsenal’s left-hand side, with Cole Palmer cutting in and scoring too easily. Palmer tried a similar effort just minutes before which none other than Timber cancelled out. It remains to be seen if he’ll be a permanent fixture on the left side of defence but judging by his auditions so far, Arsenal have a real talent on their hands.

Roaming Rice

At Wembley, Rice featured in every position in his career over an eighty minute outing. The days of the England international sitting in a two alongside Soucek feel somewhat ancient. He began alongside Thomas Partey in a conventional double pivot, but in possession would drop into the back three, allowing either Timber to invert or Ben White to overlap Saka, helping Arsenal gain momentum on the ball. Out of possession, Rice pressed very high in an attacking midfield position to Pin Rodri, as Partey and Timber covered the centre.

Rice is thriving under added responsibility. Image: Arsenal.com

When Arsenal began to have more of the ball, particularly with Timber in possession, Rice made runs into the left half space a la Granit Xhaka style, which we had a glimpse of in Wednesday’s Emirates Cup victory over Monaco. It’s clear that Rice has several levels he can go up in his game, but to show such ease rotating between four positions in his first competitive game must have Arsenal fans excited. In particular, his excellent tracking back to intercept Bernardo Silva in the second half garnered a mighty roar from the gunners faithful, and so far the hefty price tag doesn’t look to be weighing him down.

Winning Mentality

Most fans and pundits view the season’s curtain raiser as a glorified friendly, but it was clear both sides wanted to take the trophy. City named a near full strength eleven, looking to collect the fourth in a potential sextuple with the UEFA Super Cup and Club World Cup still to play. Arsenal’s XI featured regular starters Saliba, Saka and Odegaard alongside their three new signings.

It was clear that Arteta’s men were seeking revenge for the way the campaign ended last season, and Trossard’ s 101st minute equaliser showed their desire to fight until the end. The psychological boost of scoring all four in a shootout win against the champions cannot be underestimated, ending a torrid eight game losing streak against Guardiola’s men.

Now the players have a reference point for beating their rivals. Saliba and Gabriel shut down Haaland with relative ease, Partey and Rice handled the physical battle against one of Europe’s best midfields, and you could argue the gunners should have been 1-0 up with Saka laying on a great chance for Kai Havertz, who Ortega denied from close range. The trophy itself acts as more of an added bonus to the belief that going into the first game on Saturday, anything is possible this season.

How they could evolve

Last season, an issue that cost Arsenal was that teams targeted them down the left hand side of the pitch. Zinchenko would invert into midfield with Xhaka pushing high as an attacking 8. This left Gabriel having to defend higher and wider, leaving the Brazilian vulnerable on the counter attack to 1v1’s. Teams exploited this several times, with the likes of Antony, Nunez and Bowen scoring from that zone.

In pre-season they’ve had similar issues, with Ferran Torres and now Cole Palmer converting from the same area. To combat this, Arsenal could look to invert the right back instead in a 3-2-5 they’ve trialled on their tour of America. This would suit the team more, as Gabriel could move to the centre of a back three and use his physical strength to engage in duels. Saliba and Kiwior could operate either side, with their pace 1v1 better suited to cover wide when needed.

Jurrien Timber would invert from right-back into midfield, and pick up similar positions that he played with Ajax. Declan Rice has a bias toward the left defensive midfield position and provides better protection than Xhaka. This base would allow Arsenal to maintain the structure of their ‘attacking five’ that was so successful last season, with Havertz staying high as a left eight knowing Rice and Kiwior are behind him. Arsenal looked far more fluid on the ball and solid defensively when Rice dropped deep and Ben White pushed up on the right hand side at Wembley. It will be interesting to see how they’ll shape up against Forest come Saturday lunchtime.

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