Mikel Arteta has infused so many incredible things at Arsenal, but there is one small thing in particular that makes this team pop.
Despite all the issues that Arsenal has struggled with this year, despite all the disappointing losses and points dropped, even under Mikel Arteta, it’s hard to say that we aren’t headed in the right direction. Even when the points were being dropped, I would have told you the same.
Most of that stems from the defensive change. You can’t say enough about how Mikel Arteta made a centerback partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and David Luiz look like gold. Like they were two class defenders that anyone would want. They gave up just six goals in eight matches between the turn of the year and the pause.
That’s wack. It’s downright wack.
While it’s not as simple as “one small thing,” there is one small thing in particular that is clearly a prerogative for Mikel Arteta—closing down opposing attackers.
We saw it again against City. While the Gunners were under attack for the majority of the match, their ability to stick to attackers prevented so many shots and crosses from getting to their intended target.
In one instance in particular, a ball ricocheted out to Benjamin Mendy on the right and Kieran Tierney sprinted from inside the box to close him down on the corner of the box. And that wasn’t the only time. It wasn’t long after that Granit Xhaka did the same thing, Sprinting from his support role in the box to close down City. And he had reinforcements coming right behind him.
It’s completely different than the old Wenger-era policy of letting attackers have space. I don’t know where that came from, but it was frustratingly obvious that opposing players were not deemed a threat outside of a certain distance. Like we were willing to give up the long shot. But they didn’t always shoot. Sometimes they took the space to find the right pass.
That’s all changing. Even in the box, when a player is preparing to shoot, there are two, sometimes three guys throwing themselves into every possible lane that the ball can go through.
If there’s one palpable change that you can say Mikel Arteta has insisted on producing, this is it. Close down the ball carrier, deny them any comfort, block any means of progress. It’s a team effort, but it’s all coming around so nicely.