T he doom and gloom of Arsenal's preseason seems to be a distant memory now that Arteta seems to be able to get a tune out of his new signings and combining them well with the previously underperforming old guard. Going into this encounter, Arsenal were looking to make it 10 straight unbeaten since their horrendous start to the campaign.
Arsenal had picked up 11 points from the last 5 games, both home and away. That's 2.2 points per game on average. Their opponents Watford who are one of the favourites for relegation were looking to make it 2 consecutive away wins after the shock 5-2 thrashing of Everton. Coming into this game, Watford has picked up 4 points from the last 5 games, both home and away.
The first few minutes of the match exemplified the recent strides taken by Arsenal. They were confident with the ball but most importantly, were purposeful. Meanwhile Watford seemed to be trying to park the bus waiting for the right opportunity to strike a counter - a trademark Ranieri move. Their main tactic was relying on Ismaila Sarr down the right wing, where he sought to exploit Nuno Tavares' aggressive positioning in possession.
Tavares was often found in the midfield trying to force the problem by creating overlaps for ESR and playing through balls to Aubameyang. This left Gabriel pretty exposed and relying on his physical strength to stop the blistering speed of Sarr. Fortunately Gabriel is arguably the best 1 v 1 defender in the Premier League outside of Virgil Van Dijk and Arsenal were able to keep pushing the left back high up the pitch.
Another observation was that Lacazette was given more freedom as a 10, whether be it to help overload the midfield or overlap for Saka. Watford found it really difficult to keep tabs on the Frenchman whose unique blend of strength and hold up play makes him a strange deep lying player to contend with. Man Mark him and he can shrug off the attention and still find a pass, stand off him and he find clever progressive passes or get shots off. It has been a masterstroke by Arteta to use him like this.
During the build-up phase Matitland-Niles slid into Tavares' space to cover for him and to add additional options during the build up. As Tavares moved further up the field, ESR would then shift into the space vacated by Maitland-Niles. It was synchronicity at its best and the hallmarks of Arteta's mentoring under Guardiola was present. Xhaka used to be deployed in a similar manner but his lack of athleticism left Arsenal vulnerable down that flank.
Results might not be completely going to plan under Ranieri thus far but there has been an improvement in the tactical discipline and attitude in Watford in the early stages of the Italian's tenure. They look much harder to beat and their 4-1-4-1 structure has enabled them to become more compact in midfield with Sissoko sitting behind the 4 in front of him, who can press or screen as requited. As seen in this photo Ben White is forced to carry the ball into the midfield eventually attempting to pass it to a closely marked Saka ending in a dispossession by the defender.
Tomiyasu also likes to move forward like Tavares but the key difference is that he moves centrally into the midfield. This is a follow on from the fact Tomiyasu used to play as a centre back for Bologna before moving to North London. He is less comfortable on the overlap but this is not a huge issue as it provides balance to this Arsenal side in possession. It also allows Saka to move further down the wing and run a bit earlier for the through ball.
During the second half Watford were proactive. feeding on the confidence they acquired from the final 15 - 10 mins of the first half. They realized that frustrating Arsenal by being physical with them was leading to more mistakes by the boys in red. Furthermore The addition of Joao Pedro made Watford way more adventurous making a front 4 with Sarr - RW Pedro - CAM Dennis - LW King - ST Along with Sissoko and Kucka,
Initially they were waiting for trouble by leaving Josh King isolated and focusing on their efforts to crowd the midfield and nullify Arsenal's build-up. If they had played proactively from the start but combined it with their discipline in terms of nullifying the Arsenal build up, Watford most certainly had the tools to hurt this Arsenal side who are still a work in progress.
No matter the situation Arteta's plan seems to be free flowing football all around. We have grown past the point where in a 1 goal lead Arsenal would be parking the bus already. Mikel has found the right pieces for his desired build - up and it is showing with the good run of games he had. What seems to be lacking now is a youthful striker with the same mentality and tactical profile that Arteta is looking for.WRITTEN BY JOSE LOUISE (@cjoselouise1)
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