This Arsenal FM23 post was written for us by @rocksendfm an Argentinian FM Blogger who has written pieces for SI’s The Byline and is a big contributor to The Argentinian FM community as well as the English-speaking one.
Mikel Arteta has been nothing short of a revolution for Arsenal FC. At its core, the work done by the Spanish coach has been about changing mindsets; among the players, among the fans, and (it even seems) among the board itself. At the Emirates, the outlook has been changing from a pessimist view to an optimistic one.
However, there has also been a change in the tactics, from an outdated approach under Emery and (particularly) Wenger, to a modern one. Right now, Arsenal looks like one of the most cutting-edge sides in Europe tactically. Arteta made good use of his learning years under Guardiola, and while his love of positional game shows, he’s also incorporated elements of his own when putting together this Arsenal team. Now, with the Gunners skyrocketing into the league of the Premier League, let’s take a look at how Arsenal and Arteta are doing it.
Arteta’s Tactics for 2022-23
A key part of the Arteta revolution in the Emirates has had to do with what the team shows on the pitch. Once not too long ago an apathetic and predictable side, now the Gunners are a side that can regularly make you jump out of your seat (ask Dan Gear and FM Stag about their match-watching experience with me).
Arsenal plays a youthful and exuberant style under Arteta, something that makes sense as they’re the youngest squad in the EPL. The Gunners look to move the ball quickly vertically and use movement and sharp passing to unsettle the opposition. Their basic shape is a classic 4-3-3, with a holding midfielder and two free-eights operating behind the front three. Once the ball gets rolling, however, things start to change.
At the base of it all is goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. The unquestionable winner of Bernd Leno’s confidence shortage after the injury that saw Emiliano Martinez’s career get kick-started, the English goalie is comfortable at the ball, and his distribution has been as important for Arsenal as has his (at times heroic) goalkeeping. His excellent passing abilities from goal kicks and his confidence on the ball in open play mean Arsenal can have him spread the ball short and long depending on what’s required at any given point.
Keeping the England international safe we have the back four of White, Saliba, Magalhaes and Zinchenko. While still far from that famous Arsenal defence, the four have been key for the Gunners this season, and look set to be so for some time. The centre-back pairing of William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes is the foundation of it all. Not since the days of prime Koscielny and Mertesacker did Arsenal have as good a fit as partners for central defence, and it shows. With Saliba more suited to build up from the back, read play and intercept or tackle using his excellent 1v1 game, Gabriel provides a more aggressive and physical presence, particularly in the air., However, neither depends on the other to do what it takes to win the ball back.
On the right, Benjamin White has performed excellently since being “pushed” to the flank as a result of Takehiro Tomiyasu’s injury and the return of William Saliba. Far from the flair and electricity of a more typical right back, White provides a solid defensive presence which combines with good ball control and a solid understanding with his flank mate Bukayo Saka. Most importantly, White is a very intelligent footballer and knows how and when to either overlap Saka or tuck inside to create a back three, which (you’ll see) is key to how Arsenal plays.
On the left, however, plays arguably Arsenal’s most important player this season: Oleksandr Zinchenko. The influence the Ukrainian has had in the Arsenal set-up is hard to quantify. Mentality-wise, he’s been an injection of spirit and hunger, always roaring to go. However, his impact on the pitch has been even greater. Nominally, Arteta deploys him as a left back, but he very quickly inverts as he used to do at Manchester City, and has a licence to roam all across the pitch, constantly offering passing options, progressing the ball and even having the odd pop from outside the box. As his stats from Arsenal’s now iconic 3-2 win against Manchester United show, he has full licence to pull the strings all along the left flank and into midfield.
With the such adventurous play on Arsenal’s left flank, it’s clear the midfield has to provide some support, and a big part of that is Thomas Partey. The former Atlético de Madrid man has been a rock for the Gunners. Despite often being branded as a defensive midfielder, he has provided defensive support and a passing outlet almost in equal measure, and his injury absences have proved hard to overcome for Arteta.
Sitting right in front of the Ghanaian are Granit Xhaka and Martin Odegaard. The Swiss have gone from an outcast under Unai Emery to playing his best football ever with Arteta. A key cog in partnership with Zinchenko, Xhaka will either push forward or provide cover depending on how and where the Ukrainian moves, while he’s also been deadly with his runs and late arrivals into the box.
Odegaard works almost as the playmaking hub for the Gunners. Free to move and find space, he shares a great understanding with Arsenal’s talisman, Bukayo Saka, and they constantly pass and move, switch positions and playmakers for each other. From there, he usually moves into the 10 positions to play a pass or look to score, benefitting from the movement of Gabriel Jesus as the striker, with whom he can combine in short to split open the low blocks Arsenal has often come across.
Arsenal’s front three has been one of the most exciting sights in the Premier League this season. On the right, Bukayo Saka starts very wide; this serves two purposes: on the one hand, it allows him to stretch the opposition, something the more defensive and less electric Ben White often can’t do, while also allowing him to receive into space out wide or (as Arteta would prefer), cutting inside, which allows him to break out of the box oppositions look to keep him in. From there, it’s a game of pass, cross or finish, all of which the highly talented academy player can do brilliantly.
Out on the left, Gabriel Martinelli starts every bit as wide as Saka, since Zinchenko is more often than not cutting inside; however, he plays a much more direct game, using his speed and dribbling skill to either find a scoring opportunity by running into space or break into the box for a cross.
Leading the line is Gabriel Jesus, who was a revelation early on in his Arsenal days but has since struggled with injury. Regardless, the Brazilian is the ideal man for Arteta’s play, as he’s not only a solid goalscorer, but also willing to drop deeper to create space for the runs of Saka, Martinelli, Odegaard and Xhaka, and offers a great passing option in the final third to break down deep defences.
Taking Arteta’s Arsenal to Football Manager 2023
As with every tactical recreation done on FM, we must consider that while the tactics toolbox at our disposal is very versatile, it can’t mimic perfectly what a real-life coach can train and set real-life players to do on the pitch. It is understandable and expectable. Therefore, for most recreations, I always aim at looking to mimic the general concepts a manager applies, and not dwell on the irreplicable minutiae that fall outside our reach.
To recreate Mikel Arteta’s tactics on Football Manager 2023, I created a brand new save with the latest 23.4 update to take a look at the team. Going into the tactics board, we’re going to set up in a 4-3-3 with a DM sitting behind two central midfielders.
Starting from the back, in goal, we’re going to use a Sweeper-Keeper in Support Duty to take the best advantage of Ramsdale’s passing and vision. In front of him, we’ll have a centreback pairing of a BPD-Cover on the right and a CD-Stopper on the left, played by William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes respectively. I’ll instruct Gabriel to stay wider when the team is in possession, to provide more cover for Zinchenko.
The right-back will be Ben White, as a Full Back on support. We’re also going to ask him to sit narrower when the team has the ball, to form that back three, while also asking him to run wide when he’s on the ball to set up an overlap. On the other flank, we’ll have Zinchenko as an Inverted Wing-Back on Attack, which will be enough to have him cutting inside and ruling the space on the left.
The midfield trio will be composed of a Deep-Lying Playmaker on Defense, played by Thomas Partey, and two free-eights to replicate the roles of Xhaka and Odegaard. For the Swiss, on the left, I’ve gone with a Carrilero while also asking him to Get Further Forward and Shoot More Often to utilise those deadly longshots by the former Basel man. On the other side, for the role of Odegaard, I’ve gone with a Roaming Playmaker. The idea is to have him free on the right side to mix and pass with Saka and Jesus.
On the right side of the attack, we have Bukayo Saka as an Inverted Winger on Attack. I’ve asked him to Stay Wider when the team has the ball to provide that defence-stretching positioning, while the role and his Player Trait to Cuts Inside from Right Wing guarantee he’ll be going into the half spaces. Opposed to him, Gabriel Martinelli will play an Inside Forward on Support to make that darting runs with or without the ball, while also being asked to stretch the opposition by staying wider.
Last but not least, we’re taking advantage of the 23.4 databases to have the now fully recovered Gabriel Jesus back on the team. He’ll play a Complete Forward on Support to better use his Teamwork, Passing and Vision without entirely dropping him as a scoring option.
Going into our Team Instructions, we’ll start with a Positive mentality. In Possession, we’ll look for quick circulation of the ball as a way to unsettle our opposition and open gaps in the defence. We’ll do it first by looking to build from the back with Play Out of Defence, while at the same time going much shorter on our passes and upping our tempo as we have the technical ability to do so. We’ll also narrow ourselves to keep passing options near the ball carrier, which favours ball movement.
In Transition, we’ll add Counter-press and Counter, a staple of Arsenal lightning attack, although Counter can be turned on and off depending on how the opposition settles defensively. We’ll also ask the goalkeeper to distribute with short kicks, keeping the options open during the buildup and using Ramsdale’s vision to sort out the best pass.
Out of Possession, we’ll simply set a High Press with a High Defensive line, letting our role selection and player attributes do the work.
That way, the final look is this:
How it all works together
With our tactic ready, it’s time to test it out and I’m very happy with the results. We’ve achieved a team that’s capable of lightning transitions of shorts passing, with lots of movement and lovely combinations, while also managing to mimic some of Arteta’s Arsenal’s best moves.
On build-up, we can see how the back three is formed by White, Saliba and Gabriel, with Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli stretching the play and keeping the opposition fullbacks busy.
This leaves huge gaps for interplay, as you can see with two players nearly unmarked on the left, allowing for creative play.
Like the real-life Arsenal, one of the ways we created the most danger was via Xhaka’s rushing on to the box. Here, Odegaard spots the Swiss making one of his darting runs behind the back of a centreback and passes into space for him to create a clear chance.
As we discussed, another staple of 2022-23 Arsenal has been the influence of Zinchenko, and his FM23 counterpart does not disappoint. Looking at the Ukranian’s performance, we can see how he influences the game through the left flank, offering passing options across that half of the pitch.
That influence can be seen on the pitch. In this action, Saka spots the Ukrainian making a run behind the defenders and plays a pass into his channel.
With the ball under his control, Zinchenko breaks into the box and lays off a ball for Gabriel Jesus to score on a very easy chance.
Overall, we’ve managed to imprint on Football Manager the essence of Arteta’s style, playing some exquisite football. I encourage you to try it out and see if you can improve on the Gunners’ performance this season.
Thanks for reading!
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