Arsenal’s pre-season is finally over. We now just have six days until our Premier League campaign kicks off against Manchester City at The Emirates. But in our final pre-season game Unai Emery wasn’t done experimenting with the side.
For most of pre-season Arsenal have set up in different variants of a 4-3-3. This has reaped rewards as our play on the ball has looked purposeful and suited to those in that system. However, against Lazio we saw Emery use a 4-4-2 which many of suspected could be used over the summer.
Here are a couple of the main takeaways from Arsenal playing 4-4-2:
For years, Arsenal have been criticised for their defensive fragility. Now, I’m not saying everything is solved because of this pre-season but there were some encouraging signs. It’s also nice to see visual proof that Arsenal’s defensive shape is being worked on ahead of two enormous games against City and Chelsea to open the season.
Despite this looking like a very rigid shape, what’s encouraging is its fluidity. Apart from the central midfielders the players aren’t bound to their positions but can take on whichever role is required of them.
For instance, in this sequence, Alex Iwobi is part of the front two meaning Alexandre Lacazette fills in at left midfield. Then as Reiss Nelson applies the final squeeze, Stephan Lichsteiner steps up as does Chambers and every Lazio player is covered.
Of course its normal for most players to cover each other during the course of a game but the seamlessness in which Arsenal kept this shape throughout the game was nice to see, especially as Lazio found it hard to break us down as a result.
Still Impressing Out The Back
Following Arsenal’s trip to Singapore, I highlighted the way in which they improved when facing high presses. This is a challenge they faced again against Lazio, and for the most part continued to impress.
When playing out of the back, however, there are ways that Arsenal do this. The one I’ve focused on already is where the progress up the pitch is very much in the wide areas. But here is how Arsenal progress through the middle of the pitch at great pace.
It may have only been in a friendly but the side getting more familiar with these patterns are imperative. Knowing which positions to pick up when being pressed, how to evade pressure and play through it will be a key theme as the season draws on. Of course this wont be perfect in the first few months of the season but there’s something to build from.
Coming up against two very strong sides right off the bat, I won’t surprised to see that 4-4-2 shape when out of possession. Manchester City and Chelsea pose great threats and this shape may be the most effective way to nullify those threats. However, one drawback of the 4-4-2 was Arsenal’s counter attacks. Unlike when playing a 4-3-3 we weren’t able to break at pace and weren’t as cohesive.
As for Arsenal playing out of the back, it’s clear we’ll need the right players to execute this once the season starts. Over the course of pre-season Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers have looked most comfortable when asked to play this way so I won’t be surprised if that’s our centre back pairing on Sunday.