ARSENAL fans are happier this week than they were last which is hardly surprising.
Despite the second half blips, the overall dominance of Leeds and the four goals – quite a rarity these days – should have us smiling.
Mikel Arteta reminds me of Pep at Man CityCredit: Reuters
The Spaniard is bringing ‘Wengerball’ backCredit: PA:Press Association
However, many will still be scratching their heads as to how the same group can shine in the first half at Wolves, disappoint at Villa Park and then return to the fluid, attacking, team we witnessed on Sunday.
Too many Gooners focus on the negatives – as is often the case – such as the introduction of Willian and Elneny rather than the strong improvements that were so evident.
These fans questioning the progress under Arteta even suggest they cannot see his plan for the team.
I am firmly not in that camp. I am delighting in the progress and feel I am able to see the road-map.
What made the first 40 minutes at Molineux the most exciting of the season, was the speed and tempo the team displayed.
We now have younger players in the side, all in creative roles, who play the beautiful game this way.
It is what we might have phrased as latter-day ‘Wengerball’ and it needs a certain type of player with a certain type of attitude to play in that style and pull it off consistently.
Needless to say it is how Manchester City and Pep Guardiola build squads – previously assisted by Arteta – often planning well ahead to ensure a continuity to the style.
Ilkay Gündogan had to bide his time at the Etihad as an understudy and is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
Having players like Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe in the team together accelerated the way Arsenal were playing after Christmas.
Adding Martin Odegaard to the mix on Sunday, enhanced the speed of thought and therefore the tempo of the whole team.
Having all three willing to play fast paced football with one touch passes, flicks around corners for willing runners and give and goes entirely elevated the team.
For this to work however, this speed of thought and deed needs to rub off on the rest of the team.
Thomas Partey is also a contributing factor because he looks to move the ball swiftly and Granit Xhaka and now Dani Ceballos have had to raise their game as well.
With the Ghanaian it is as much about game intelligence and – as with the very best players – having a picture in his head so he already knows what he wants to do next.
Partey employs an trait deployed so superbly by Jack Wilshere at his best – whereby he uses his body shape to shield the ball while allowing it to move pass him.
He knows where he wants to play the pass next and sees no need to control the ball and take a touch before moving it on.
This simple trait of not stopping the ball, controlling it, and then looking up for the pass can save the key seconds that can be the difference in breaking down a tough defensive block.
TRY BEFORE YOU BUY
As I mentioned in last week’s column, for this formation to work and for it to reach its fluent potential, Arteta needs one of his two main strikers to step up to the plate.
Until Sunday, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang looked a shadow of his former self and when played centrally showed no signs of wishing to drop and link up with the quick, creative players in the build-up.
Alexandre Lacazette has been utilised because he has shown such willingness but against Leeds, the skipper got the nod and fully justified the manager’s trust.
By getting involved in the fast interchange early in the move, the striker unsurprisingly found more chances were created for him.
Players not able to play the game with pace and precision may find themselves surplus to requirements in Arteta’s Arsenal.
This does not make Joe Willock, Ainsley Maitand-Niles or even Nicolas Pepe bad footballers but it might mean they need to prove they can adapt or move to a team deploying a different style.
Pepe can excite and has played well of late. He has worked far harder and began to look the exciting player he undoubtedly is.
However, he can take far too may touches, beat an extra unnecessary defender and then find himself playing the pass or cross too late when the opposition defenders have all had time to adjust and find their positions.
It will be fascinating to see how this evolves because all the best teams can operate different formation and adapt styles.
But I sense, this high tempo, high press style may well be Plan A and if so, looking at Odegaard for four months makes perfect sense.
Try before you try to buy.
Gunners Town writer Dave Seager can be found on Twitter here.
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