Following his appointment as Arsenal’s new head coach in December 2019, Mikel Arteta continues to face the task of solidifying the Gunners’ ever-fragile defence.
Under his predecessor, Unai Emery, keeping clean sheets was a problematic task, with the North London side often prone to defensive capitulations and individual errors.
A problem which ultimately cost them the Europa League final last season.
Transforming Arsenal’s resoluteness is unlikely to be achieved overnight but there are numerous things Arteta can do over the coming months to make his side more challenging to beat.
So, without the need for recruitment, let’s consider how Arteta can unite his defensive unit.
Embracing a variety of systems
Upon being given the job at the Emirates, there was an element of predictability over the Spaniard’s preferred style of football.
Having worked under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, it was expected that Arteta would implement a possession-based approach that encourages fluidity in the attacking third of the pitch.
In the early stages of Arteta’s tenure there were indications that he would set his team up in a similar fashion to the 2018-19 Premier League champions.
The Spaniard’s first game finished in a 1-1 draw against Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth at the Vitality Stadium.
However the fixture saw the former Everton midfielder opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Mesut Ozil adopting a free-roaming role behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
And although from an attacking sense this allowed the 38-year-old to start his leading goalscorer alongside Alexandre Lacazette and Ozil, it undoubtedly put pressure on the club’s fragile defence.
Now following back-to-back defeats against Manchester City and Brighton upon the resumption of the league, Arteta has altered his on-field approach.
Instead of favouring an attack-heavy style, he has switched to a five-at-the-back system.
As well as providing extra support to his inconsistent defenders, such as David Luiz and Shkodran Mustafi, it enables the Spaniard to deploy Bukayo Saka further up the field.
Crucially, this gives the Gunners a hardworking, yet unpredictable option out wide.
And as showcased by Newcastle United’s Allan Saint-Maximin, this is one of the greatest assets in modern football.
Vitally, this alteration has yielded a much-needed upturn in form.
Having made the change to face Sheffield United on June 28th, Arsenal went on a run of three consecutive wins, before then drawing 1-1 with Brendan Rodgers’ Leicester City at the Emirates after going down to ten men.
In turn, Arsenal have managed to play their way back into contention for a European spot, as they’re now 7/2 with betting from Betway to secure a top-six finish at the end of the 2019-20 season, as of July 9th.
Faith in youth
While Saka has already proven himself as being a capable left-sided full-back, it’s expected that Scotland’s Kieran Tierney will regularly feature in that position when he’s fit.
Arsenal’s £25 million summer signing from Celtic in 2019 has just started to play his way into Arteta’s side after suffering both hip and shoulder injuries shortly after completing his transfer.
The Scot, who is just 23, possesses the attributes to fill a position that has long troubled the Gunners.
In addition to Tierney, Arteta will also be able to call upon France U-20 international, William Saliba in his defence next season. The six-foot-four centre-back has thus far played 12 league matches during his loan spell in France.
In the games that he’s featured in, Saint-Etienne have kept four clean sheets and because of his height, the 19-year-old could be an imposing figure at the heart of the Arsenal defence.
Having cost the Gunners a reported £27 million, the Frenchman comes with a promising reputation.
Patience is required
Ultimately, the ongoing project at Arsenal is one that is reliant on consistency and the retention of a long-term vision.
Perhaps most importantly, Arteta has nothing to lose in placing his trust in up-and-coming players.
At numerous points during his tenure, he has been let down by lacklustre displays from the north London club’s experienced defenders and as a result, gambling on younger, hungrier options is something that is unquestionably worth serious consideration.