Build-ups are the litmus test for possession-based teams, and how organised and successful they are in progressing the ball out from the back tells much about how organised and successful they are in the other phases. It’s here where you see the excellence in Mikel Arteta.
Arteta is pure positional play: some core principles but without been rigid, instead letting the players’ intelligence and synchronisation between one another to define the shape. Positional play is not about tying down each situation to one group or subgroup, but knowing that each is different and being able to dominate them regardless through previously developed moves and decision making.
Arsenal’s build-ups are a joy to watch. They tend to use a back 3 in this stage, with the 2 centre-backs and another player that changes. Sometimes it’s one of the pivots in Granit Xhaka, or the other in Dani Ceballos, or the left-back in Cedric Soares. Who decides which of these drops deep? The footballers themselves, based on the 4 fundamentals: where the ball, space, teammates and rivals are.
Arteta is wonderful at working on the details, the micro, which is what Barça need. At Man City, he was key in improving the body orientation of Raheem Sterling and others. Arsenal’s pressing and progression has improved a lot too, with third-man runs and a great occupation of spaces. A La Masia graduate himself, he has always said he is inspired by Barcelona’s style, that he feels most comfortable with a 4-3-3 despite now using a 4-2-3-1 for not having the tools for it, and he is a coach I would love to see here one day.