Mikel Arteta's Fluid Tactics Give Arsenal Platform for Convincing Win Over Fulham

12 September 2020 06:00

Arsenal got their 2020/21 Premier League season off to the perfect start on Saturday - three goals, a clean sheet and the new signings both enjoying very impressive debuts.

What more could Mikel Arteta possibly want, eh? The Gunners strolled to a comfortable 3-0 win over newly-promoted Fulham, with Alexandre Lacazette, Gabriel and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all getting on the scoresheet.

Some may be quick to claim that the north London club shouldn't be judged on one Premier League game of the new season as it was merely against a club who arewell, the favourites to go down. To a certain extent, this is true - but the reality is that Fulham actually played reasonably well at times.

Scott Parker's men pressed cohesively and looked to counter quickly when on the ball, but ultimately, they were simply outclassed and outplayed.

Of course, you could claim that this is what should be expected of Arsenal against a team who have just been promoted - and you would be correct. But it was the manner in which Arteta's men disabled the Cottagers and prevented them from playing which was so impressive.

From the outset, there was a clear game plan, and every player was aware of their role within the system. And it's a credit to Arteta that both new signings slotted effortlessly into his setup, without either showing any kind of confusion or lack of understanding of their role.

The Gunners cut off the supply to the Fulham attackers by pressing high up the field. Indeed, Lacazette, Willian and Aubameyang acted as the first line of the press, forcing the hosts into sloppy mistakes. But as Parker's men broke through and looked to get at their opponents' backline, Arsenal simply crowded the space in the middle of the park and forced them to go backwards.

It was this constant awareness to occupy all areas that simply prevented Fulham from being able to get in behind.

But perhaps what stood out most from the Gunners' victory was the way in which they were able to create space for themselves through their fluid setup. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Hector Bellerin - both of whom have been linked with moves away this summer - occupied the wing-back roles, with Kieran Tierney and Rob Holding either side of Gabriel in defence.

The movement of Maitland-Niles and Bellerin caused problems all afternoon and Fulham were left confused as to who should be tracking who. Instead of making overlapping runs to support Aubameyang and Willian on either side, both wing-backs made darting runs infield to act as an extra attacker.

Indeed, Maitland-Niles was the more effective of the two. His lung-busting sprints through the centre of the pitch took the likes of Tom Cairney and Harrison Reed out the game as they were forced to track his run, creating the space for Aubameyang, Lacazette and Willian to impact the game.

The wing-backs' runs also allowed Tierney and Holding to get forward and create an overload in midfield. Of course, when either defender did so, either Granit Xhaka or Mohamed Elneny stepped back into the defence to fill in. It was simply overwhelming for the hosts, hence why Parker reacted in the second half by bringing on André-Frank Zambo Anguissa to provide extra solidity.

The problem was, however, it was too late - the damage had already been done.

This system made the Gunners a constant threat going forward, while it particularly played to the strengths of new boy Willian. You would have been forgiven for thinking that the Brazilian had been an Arsenal player for years based on his performance on Saturday, as he linked play expertly and appears to already have a real understanding with his teammates.

Sure, his link up play with those around him was clear to see, but it was the fluid approach adopted by Arteta which provided the platform for the 32-year-old to drift around the pitch and create havoc.

Let us not be mistaken, it was not a faultless display. But the win was the latest showing of the direction Arsenal are heading under Arteta, with each player fighting for the cause and doing their jobs both with and without the ball.

They have already shown that this system and formation can be effective against some of the top teams such as Liverpool. But the victory over Fulham gave even more reason for fans to be excited for the 2020/21 season. The intensity with which the players played, mixed with the intelligent movement of those in red, made Arsenal a constant menace in attack.

The foundations are set and the players have bought into Arteta's winning formula. Perhaps Fulham are one of the more likely teams to go down this season, but it was the Gunners' ability to completely disarm their opponents while also carving them open without the ball that gave them such a convincing win. It is a result that will only build confidence ahead of a tough run of fixtures.


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Source: 90min