Before lockdown Mikel Arteta was tied to using a 4-2-3-1, but is yet to use that system since Project Restart began.
Instead, he has used a 4-3-3 and 3-4-2-1 with one bearing much more success than the other. With Arsenal’s two victories [against Southampton and Sheffield United] coming with the back three in use, the decision to switch has paid off extremely well.
Since his arrival as head coach in December, Arteta has been striving for balance in his side. In the early months of his reign, the Gunners were incredibly reliant on David Luiz, Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang combining down the left. So much so that left-sided players had scored 11 of Arsenal 23 [47.8 per cent] of Arsenal’s pre-lockdown goals under the Spaniard.
This dominance down the left was present yet again when Arsenal first switched to the back three at St. Mary’s. The chain of Kieran Tierney at centre-back, Saka at wing-back and Aubameyang as the left-sided wide forward worked seamlessly as each carried out their roles to near-perfection.
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Down the right, the same could not be said with Hector Bellerin and Nicolas Pepe as the pair just didn’t connect as well as those on the left. Bellerin was far too unreliable with the ball at his feet, forcing Pepe to come deeper where the game bypassed him for the most part.
Testing the combinations more at Sheffield United did yield better results, however, as Ainsley Maitland-Niles filled in superbly at right wing-back. There, he didn’t just help Pepe’s game with his positioning and decisions on the ball, but his defensive work also proved just how important he could be to Arteta in the long run. Even if he does go on to play more regularly in midfield, he will always be a decent option if needed in Bellerin or Cedric Soares’ absence.
Seeing as Cedric is getting closer to match fitness, Norwich could be a great chance to hand him his debut and try out yet another combination down the right. Having impressed enough in training to be given a long-term contract, how well he fits into Arteta’s right-back role will be incredibly interesting to see.
With the demands Arteta puts on his right-back to be heavily involved in more central areas of the pitch, this, along with his accuracy in terms of delivery in the final third, will be what can set Cedric apart to being one of the side’s key players.
“He’s a different quality in the full-back area than what we have. He’s a gifted, technical player and is probably the best we have in the final third to make the right decision and attack the box as well. He can play in a four or a five, he’s a really good player with experience in the Premier League that can help us.” Arteta said about him ahead of the game.
When Maitland-Niles and Bellerin were playing at right-back this was evident from late…