Last season, Gabriel Magalhães was a rock. He and William Saliba formed one of the best centre-back pairings we’ve seen in the Emirates era. Two matches in to the 2023-24 season might feel too soon to be asking questions, but I can’t be the only one who’s wondering why Magalhães, free from injury, has only played 24 minutes so far. That number is almost surely inflated beyond what Arteta planned; he sent Magalhães to help defend a precarious lead over Palace after Tomiyasu was sent off. There have even been transfer rumours emanating from Saudi Arabia and Real Madrid. What gives?Continue reading
Takehiro Tomiyasu. Kieran Tierney. Each of them had their turn as an emerging Arsenal favorite, each of them bursting forward with lung-bursting runs to remind us of the likes of Sagna or Cole, and it felt like they would be nailed-on starters for the foreseeable future. And then…well…it all went somewhat sideways. Both players suffered injuries, Tierney missing the 2021-22 run-in and Tomi missing the 2022-23 run-in. Each was instrumental, even inspirational at times, but both now seem almost forgettable. What gives?Continue reading
According to David Ornstein, the calf problem that forced Oleksandr Zinchenko off during the Newcastle match is significant enough to rule him out for the rest of the season (a whopping three matches). He’ll join Saliba, who will end up missing 11 matches in total. If there’s any good news to soften the blow, it comes in two parts: for one, neither player will require surgery in the off-season. Two, one of our best players of recent seasons is more than ready to step up.Continue reading
Mykhailo felt his phone buzz in his pocket. Looking to the screen, he saw “Olek” and answered quickly. “Zinny!” he exclaimed. “You are ready for this match tomorrow, yes?”
“I am, Mykhailo. The question is, are you?”
There was a long sigh followed by several seconds of silence. Zinchenko started to wonder if Mudryk had hung up. “Misha, are you there?”Continue reading
One of the more-fascinating features of watching this Arsenal side play is the degree to which traditional positions goes out with the bathwater on a regular basis. We might even suggest that the idea of a formation gets thrown out as well. No one seems to epitomise this quite to the degree that Oleksandr Zinchenko does, but we’re seeing more and more positional interplay as players get more familiar with their own ever-evolving roles as well as with their teammates’ ever-evoloving roles. Talk about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. If this sounds difficult for our own players to adapt to, imagine the nightmare it causes for teams that attempt to defend against it.
For the first goal against Everton, we’ll have to forgive Sean Dyche for rubbing his eyes and exclaiming “I’m seein’ double here. Four Krusties!”. Look at that screen shot above. The only player close to his nominal position is Ben White, Martinelli, the left wing, is on the right flank. Zinchenko, the left back, is further to the right than Saka, the right wing. Ødegaard, who lined as a right midfielder, is to the left of our left back. Xhaka a defensive midfielder (okay, a box-to-box type) has popped up in as a centre-forward. Trossard, the centre-forward, is out toward the left touchline. Some of this might be chalked off as Sunday League football in which anyone goes anywhere they want. However, this lack of structure is the structure. These are not untrained professionals. Each of them seems to know what the others are doing. Everton’s defenders? That’s another story.
Only Xhaka is unavailable for a pass. Zinchenko could switch wide to Trossard, pass to Ødegaard’s feet in the middle, or thread a pass to one of Saka or Martinelli. All of them are calling for the ball, suggesting that this might amount to something of a set-piece, in as much as one could call something this fluid “set”. This is something Arteta has drilled them in. For as out-of-position as they each are, they’re all in position, and all positions are filled. There’s still a shape and a structure despite the interchanges.
Pity poor Vitalii Mykolenko. What’s he do, caught between Saka on his right and Martinelli curling in behind to his left? It should be Tarkowski, a 30 year-old CB well-versed in Dychean tactics, who closes Saka down so that Mykolenko, a 23 year-old still finding his way, can shut down the passing lane to Martinelli. Mykolenko even seems to assume that Tarkowski will do this; he’s turned his back to Saka and is shading toward Martinelli—all in all, not a bad position but somethign that amounts to the least-bad of bad options. Should he open up toward Saka, he gives Martinelli free reign to run in behind.
This is one of the numerous byproducts of this amorphous, mutating attack. In the face of a well-coordinated but ever-morphing attack, defenders find themselves isolated, figuratively and literally. Not only will they find themselves one-on-one against the type of player they don’t often face, they find themselves having to make split-second decisions on their own with little input or feedback from teammates. Foosball sides like Everton, which players occupy fairly rigid positions, don’t know what to do when there are overloads and players they’ve not been briefed on pop up unexpectedly. Aside from Martinelli’s reputation, did anyone give Mykolenko a primer on how to defend against Zinchenko or Martinelli? It’s unlikely. Aside from them both being Ukrainian, it would be hard to name two more-opposite outfield players than Mykolenko and Zinchenko. Left-backs are after all like two positively charged ions (okay, that was a stretch).
We talked yesterday about how Trossard’s willingness or tendency to drift left from his central position drags defenses out of shape and creates openings for Martinelli to sluice into. That was only part of the story. The story’s still being written. We may soon see Saka popping up on the left or White charging into the middle of the pitch, maybe even flirting with his own version of Zinchenko’s role (although this would take some tricky communication with Zinchenko as well as with Saliba and Magalhães, the two of whom are frequently charged with playing a high line as Zinchenko and White venture forward.
The potentially exciting element to all this is that it might be most-effective against the sides that do what Everton do: keep eight or nine players behind the ball, parking a bus that has no wheels, and daring anyone to unlock a door that has no key. Before we get ahead ourselves, salivating about what this means for an upcining match against, say, Newcastle, let’s admit that Everton are very static. One might call them Foosball-esque. Newcastle also sit in a low block, but they are much more aggressive in closing down players and shutting down passing lanes. Still, each passing week gives us a chance to refine these tactics more and more.
We are after all still very much a work in progress. This means that, for as good as we’ve been, there’s still no knowing how good we can still become.