Silent Dominance: Arsenal’s Defensive Evolution

Gaurav Mukherjee
By Gaurav Mukherjee
6 Min Read

Mikel Arteta’s possession-oriented football and tactical adjustments have garnered praise in recent times. However, there’s a hidden gem in Arsenal’s gameplay that has gone unnoticed by the footballing world—their remarkable improvement in pressing and counter-pressing without possession. In this article, we will delve into the intricacies of Arsenal’s out-of-possession strategies, focusing on their pre-season encounters with FC Nürnberg and FC Barcelona to dissect their defensive structures.

Hybrid Pressing

In their pre-season match against Nürnberg, Arsenal employed a hybrid pressing system, strategically designed to apply pressure during the opposition’s build-up phase. Saka played a pivotal role as the hybrid player, tasked with covering both the center-back and full-back positions. The risky yet rewarding approach aimed to regain possession higher up the pitch by committing more players inside the opponent’s half.

Arsenals Hybrid Pressing Structure

Facing Arsenal’s hybrid pressing, Nürnberg sought to disrupt the structure by inverting their full-back to central spaces, causing confusion for Saka. To counter this, Arsenal deployed Vieira to cover the full-back, enabling Saka to press the center-back effectively. The seamless transition of Nketiah as the hybrid player to cover the center-back and pivot created a 2v1 situation. Arsenal then shifted Trossard higher up the pitch to cover the pivot which meant Partey has to cover two deep players in the middle. During the game, the center-backs exhibited caution in jumping onto the midfield, potentially leaving Arsenal’s backline in a man-to-man situation. However, Arteta recognized that in order to regain possession higher up the pitch, he needed to embrace the necessary risks.

Aggression and Adaptation

In their clash with FC Barcelona, Arsenal maintained a similar pressing structure with Trossard and Saka pressing the opposition’s center-backs while cutting off passing lanes towards the full-backs. Barcelona attempted to find the full-backs through third-man concepts, but Arsenal’s full-backs and center-backs showcased aggressive positioning, denying the Barca midfielders and wingers time on the ball.

Arsenal’s aggressive press caused significant trouble for Barcelona, making it difficult for them to play through the midfield and resulting in frequent turnovers. The well-timed jumps of Jesus, who played as a center forward, added to Arsenal’s cohesive defensive performance. As a unit, Arsenal remained patient and executed their press flawlessly.

Promising Signs

Last season, Arsenal displayed a lot of promise in their pressing and out-of-possession structure. One particular game that highlighted their brave approach was against De Zerbi’s Brighton. Despite losing the game, their intentions and the execution of their press showcased Arteta’s profound knowledge of adaptability and his ongoing efforts to evolve Arsenal.

Initial Pressing Structure

Against Brighton, Arsenal maintained a 4-3-1-2 pressing shape, with the front two players pressing the Brighton center back and providing cover shadow on the pivot. Xhaka positioned himself behind Jesus, and Odegaard was prepared to jump on the left centre back. The team focused on marking Brighton players closely.

Locking Wide Zones

However, Arsenal’s timing of jumps during the press was lacking, but their intention demonstrated a significant improvement in their gameplay. They managed to contain Brighton in wide areas, but struggled to sustain the pressure for extended periods as Brighton cleverly utilized long passes to exploit the space behind Arsenal’s backline.

Looking Forward

The upcoming season promises to be intriguing as Arsenal’s pressing and out-of-possession shape continue to evolve. With Arteta’s tactical prowess and the team’s dedication to cohesive defensive play, Arsenal is set to be a formidable force in the footballing world.


Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal has not only impressed with their possession-oriented football but also displayed remarkable growth in their pressing and counter-pressing without possession. The hybrid pressing system showcased against FC Nürnberg and FC Barcelona exemplifies the team’s adaptability and tactical awareness. As we eagerly await the next season, it will be fascinating to witness how Arsenal’s pressing strategies continue to shape their defensive dominance on the pitch.

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