Mikel Arteta’s versatile blueprint to problem Arsenal to even greater heights

Almost as soon as Mikel Arteta began Arsenal’s post-restart matches with a three at the back the prevailing assumption was that this was a temporary patch for a defence that needed as much bulking up as possible.

It is an understandable view to have. Most head coaches would prefer to be able to pack their team with more attacking talent and just enough defenders that they can keep a clean sheet.

Arteta himself began his tenure with a four man defence and still brought the solidity that Arsenal craved. In the 15 matches between his dugout debut and his COVID-19 diagnosis the Gunners conceded just 12 goals. In the same span before his appointment they let in 28.

Equally then that begs the question why Arteta felt the need to adjust his side from the 4-2-3-1 that was their default on his appointment to the 3-4-3 that they used for much of the run in. A belated option to compensate for injuries and red cards against Manchester City and Brighton soon became the starting point for Arsenal and a successful one at that.

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There must have been more benefit to moving to a back three than simply shoring up the defence, as has been widely assumed.

New seasons tend to see head coaches set out their stall for how they want to approach the year ahead. Principles will be compromised when the harsh reality of the coming months dawns but the friendly matches now are a chance for any head coach to drill his side on the way he wants to play.

It has been notable then that there has been no abandonment of the back three. When William Saliba made his first appearance in an Arsenal shirt he did so to the right of a three man defence anchored by Rob Holding, when the Gunners returned to Wembley to face Liverpool in the Community Shield Arteta deployed a trio of Holding, David Luiz and Kieran Tierney.

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