Arsenal’s defense was once a crisis injury, but Arteta now has all the bases covered


fter six goals and maximum points from two games, Arsenal’s attack is rightly receiving plenty of praise.

New signing Gabriel Jesus has transformed his attacking line, while Gabriel Martinelli’s performance has stepped up a gear from last season.

Add to that the fact that Bukayo Saka has only made one regular start, and that Emile Smith Rowe and Fabio Vieira have just returned from injury, and it’s easy to see why there’s such buzz around the Arsenal’s attacking potential.

“I think it raises the standards with the way he (Jesus) trains every day and the way he talks and the way they connect,” Mikel Arteta said.

“If you want to be at the top, we have to score a lot of goals and we can’t rely on two or three players.”

There is versatility found in attack, but it’s the same story in defense and tomorrow’s trip to Bournemouth is an opportunity to show it.

Arteta played the same back four in the first two games, with Ben White and Oleksandr Zinchenko impressive at full-back and Gabriel and William Saliba forming a solid partnership at the heart of defence.

This all happened in the absence of Kieran Tierney and Takehiro Tomiyasu, who have been working their way to full fitness. However, both are now back which gives Arteta a lot to think about when it comes to selection.

Last season Arsenal struggled when Tierney and Tomiyasu were out for long periods. This was particularly the case towards the end of the campaign, when a knee injury sidelined Tierney for the last two months.

The pre-season and the two games of this campaign, however, suggest that Arteta has the depth and versatility he craved in defense. Suddenly injured Tierney or Tomiyasu is not a crisis, but a chance for White or Zinchenko to make their case to keep the jersey.

“He (Tierney) is an amazing player. Even when I was at City I watched his games,” Zinchenko said. “He has ability, quality and I think it’s a good competition for all of us. . We’re going to push each other, and that’s the key. This is how we must move forward. The most important thing is that we both want to try to help the team as much as we can.

Arsenal F.C. via Getty Images

Arteta has been experimenting in training in recent weeks. Tomiyasu has lined up occasionally at centre-back – where he played for Japan – and his ability to operate through defense underlines Arsenal’s versatility there.

Now, there’s not the feeling that there’s a setback of four, but rather the possibility for Arteta to take a ‘horses for lessons’ approach.

Arsenal dominated possession in their first two games and that suited White and Zinchenko. In possession, they pushed high and tucked in, essentially joining Thomas Partey in midfield and allowing Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard to bomb.

This means that with the ball, Arsenal essentially play a 2-3-5 formation, with White and Zinchenko acting as auxiliary midfielders who can dictate the pace of the game.

However, this will not always be the best strategy.

Tomorrow, for example, Bournemouth’s extra height in attack in the form of Kieffer Moore could see Arteta play Tierney and Tomiyasu. Tierney is an excellent one-on-one defender, meaning he can cut crosses into the box, while at 6ft 2in Tomiyasu is one of the tallest right-backs in the top flight .

This all underlines just how much options Arteta has at the back that simply didn’t exist last season.

Arsenal’s defence, not just their attack, has been transformed.

standard Sport

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