An overview of Arsenal’s Singapore tour by Hatta Aziz of BootHype.com</a>
“Press” has been the operative word here for Arsenal since they have arrived in Singapore. We were given exclusive access to watch Arsenal train for 20 minutes at the Singapore American School under ominous dark clouds and once again during a session for selected fans.
Pressing as a team in training
The mood on the pitch was anything but dark as the players seem to enjoy themselves training with Unai Emery and coach Juan Carlos Carcedo.
Warm up sessions also seem to vary from what we used to see under Arsene Wenger. We saw some focus on agility for 1-v-1 jockeying and quick stop-start movement that could prove useful for defending and launching counter attacks respectively.
A training routine that caught the eye was a massive game of Rondo where all the players would surround 3 players in the middle who have interlocked hands. This obviously makes movement more challenging for the 3 men who are tasked to win back the ball but could force them to harmonize their movements for when they press for the ball in the game.
There were exercises which saw a game of keep ball which had 4 players in the middle in a tight square formation looking to press the player in possession and keep their shape to prevent passes through the lines. No doubt trying to work on pressing coordination too.
A practice match of 7 v 7 caught the eye as well with Aubameyang and Leno being the major highlights. We constantly saw Aubameyang lurking on that inside left channel to good effect against Mustafi who played on the right side of defence.
We’ve already seen the Gabon forward play on the left last season and in this season’s friendlies and he might be a regular feature there if the manager wants to use Lacazette in the team as well. It was good training as well for Mustafi who had to sharpen his focus against a striker who excels in ghosting past defences.
The first impressions of Bernd Leno were also positive, striking diagonals with ease to help his team with a breakaway. Expect sharper counter attacking play if we play to this strength.
A case for the defence
Holding, Mustafi and Bellerin had many separate sessions led by coach Juan Carlos Carcedo, assisted by Steve Bould. Much of the focus was on playing out from the back with Mustafi stepping out to make diagonals with Hector Bellerin further up the field. Bould worked very closely with Holding on practicing his technique and movement to play his way out of an opposition forward closing down on him.
Bellerin also trained on a very specific move in the opposition third – he was practicing a quick cut and dribble towards the space between the opposition full back and centre back. This might be a tactic that minimizes his issues with his crosses as this move will get him closer to the box as opposed to whipping crosses from close to the touchline. His speed might also prove to be an advantage as the move might antagonize the opposition in taking him down for a foul in and around the box.
Mavropanos, Sokratis and Chambers also had separate training sessions together to practice playing as a back three which saw Sokratis stepping out often to make passes and intercept the forward.
It was no wonder that these 2 formations were seen in the Atletico game in the first and second half respectively. The PSG game had Mustafi and Sokratis starting and despite being the most experienced defenders within the team, their partnership looked porous at times – allowing PSG’s faster paced players to get in behind them. Chambers and Holding seemed to be the better pair in the second half of that game.
I would not be surprised if Holding, Mustafi and Bellerin started the game against City in a back 4 with Emery yet to decide on his preferred left back. The back 3 could be a possible plan B as well for cup games and the Europa League.
Keeping that line high
Both matches against Atletico and PSG showed hints of Emery’s plan. However, the best execution for it has been in the first half against Atletico in a 4-3-3 formation. The defenders took a collective effort to remind each other to move up as a team and quite often, they managed to keep the line steady.
The full backs were also more defensively switched on than before with both of them often tucked in next to the centre backs. We saw very little of both full backs bombing forward recklessly without covering back. If one moved up, the other full back stayed back with the extra security of Guendouzi cutting any opposition passing lanes.
There was a moment against Atletico where Arsenal won a throw in close to the right corner flag. It was quite a sight to see the whole team condense the space to within that quarter of the pitch with Kolasinac positioned in the centre circle.
“Protagonists” for the high press
Arsenal did not press the ball incessantly through the games. Quite often, they dropped back if they didn’t manage to win the ball in the opponent’s third. They had one leader who would signal to his teammates nearby to press for the ball. In both matches, we had Ramsey and Elneny who would instigate the press when the opportunity was right.
However, Ramsey was more successful in doing so than Elneny.
It was also not a coincidence that the team played better as a pressing unit when Ramsey was on the pitch in the first half of the Atletico match and the second half of the PSG game where they put PSG to the sword.
A player who does seem a little out of place in this style was Mesut Ozil. In the first half against PSG, he did seem to continue his role of free floating player and wasn’t pressing the opponents heavily. With him on the pitch, the team did look to revert to the same possession-based style that featured under Arsene Wenger. Emery did acknowledge this in the press conference as a positive but the upturn in performance in the second half might give him food for thought.
A very welcoming sight down the touchline was Emery who was ever present in cajoling his team to move well. Not limited to just asking the defensive line to press higher, he gestured heavily to the midfield to get them in the right positions to anticipate counter attacks.
A tactic that he seems to favour is to get the wingers to temporarily switch position for about 10 minutes at the 55-minute mark. Expect this to be the Emery era’s choreographed tactic akin to Wenger’s 70-minute substitution. Emery was also an ever-present figure in training, moving from group to group to fine tune their progress in his training methods.
Matteo Guendouzi – Midfield Metronome
Despite all the star names that appeared on pitch, the name that was on everyone’s lips after each match was Guendouzi. He showed exemplary positioning to support his team with and without the ball. The young Frenchman was always a passing option between the defence and midfield and was constantly calling for the ball which was quite brave for a young player who just joined the team. He slipped in between centre backs seamlessly when either full back bombed forward and showed a keen awareness to be placed at the right place to cut passing lanes by the opposition midfield.
He wasn’t too bad on the ball either with the ability to receive on the half turn, shield the ball and make accurate “moderate value” passes to keep the game moving. There’s something Michael Carrick-ish about his game which bodes well if he gets to grow more into this position.