There’s something different about Arsenal this season. The most obvious change is in the full-backs. Thomas Partey at right-back instead of Ben White. It’s a big tactical shift, with the full-backs now more central.
Compare the pass maps of Arsenal’s full backs against Fulham last weekend to their win over Liverpool last season. Arteta’s full-backs playing more centrally doesn’t mean Arsenal are attacking down the middle, though. It has been the opposite.
Last season, Arsenal created most of their chances through the middle. This season, it has been their least productive area.
There are a few reasons for this. Arsenal’s full-backs moving central pushes wingers Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli wider. Kai Havertz is more attacking than Granit Xhaka, so the two midfielders in front of Declan Rice move higher. And, crucially, Rice is not the same holding midfielder as Thomas Partey.
A new pivot Arteta must use differently. Partey excelled at short passes in the centre of the pitch, while Rice is far better at picking the ball up deep, behind the press, and spreading it wide.
Mikel Arteta has been tinkering with his system, but the numbers show the Gunners are up on last season
Kai Havertz has been one of the more notable changes in personnel, and is much more attacking than Granit Xhaka
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You can see below the difference between Rice’s pass map against Fulham and Partey in the corresponding fixture last season.
For all the talk of tinkering and questions about changing a winning formula, the numbers suggest Arsenal, albeit after only three games, are putting up better numbers than last season. Will it be enough to bridge the gap to Man City?