Arsenal’s business in the transfer market has come under plenty of scrutiny this summer.
The Gunners spent more than any other team in Europe as they look to build for the future which has attracted criticism from some pundits who believe that such an outlay should have them challenging in the here and now.
This combined with the lack of permanent outgoings and a poor start to the Premier League season left many underwhelmed by the time the window closed on August 31st.
The early signs though are that the acquisition made on that day could be crucial to helping change the mood around the Emirates.
There were plenty of decent performances during the 1-0 win over Norwich, but that of new signing Takehiro Tomiyasu was particularly promising.
As the Japanese international trudged around the edge of the pitch to warm applause from the Emirates faithful following his 60th minute substitution, statistics began flying around social media proving exactly that.
Two clearances, 100% ball accuracy and seven out of eight aerial duels won all make for pretty impressive reading for a man who had only known had one and a half training sessions with his new teammates.
After the match Mikel Arteta echoed the sentiments of those watching by praising the 22-year-old’s display.
“Really positive,” he said. “Just the first impression when you met him, it was just joy and happiness and good energy.
“The moment he steps on the pitch he was really focused, determined, he understands the role really good.”
The understanding of the role referenced there is something Arteta has been struggling to find since he took over at Arsenal in 2019.
With the attacking excellence of Kieran Tierney on the left side, the Spaniard wants a right back capable of providing balance on the right.
Having been mentored by Pep Guardiola, Arteta’s desire to use an ‘inverted fullback’ has been clear, but in Hector Bellerin, Calum ChambersCedric and Ainsley Maitland-Niles he has lacked options to do that.
Tomiyasu changes this.
Having spent much of his career at centre back the Japanese international’s inclination is not replicate the offensive thrust of Tierney, but rather to compliment it by drifting inward to form a midfield three in front of the defensive pairing of Ben White and Gabriel as shown in the screenshot below (image from Wyscout).
As well as providing an extra central passing option in the build up, this also provides more defensive cover in the event of a counter attack.
The above picture is a good example of this (image from Wyscout).
Here Tomiyasu is sat deep and central, rather than looking to get beyond Nicolas Pepe on the right wing. This in turn allows the Gunners the security to commit players forward, one of whom is Tierney, seen here on the left side of the box in a typically advanced attacking position.
The positional tweak seemed to liberate Pepe who was able to create more chances than any player on the pitch on the day and played a key role in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s winner.
With more defensive insurance Arsenal as a team also looked more confident in pressing higher up the pitch.
This was on full display against Norwich and was particularly effective, as the Gunners pressing forced Tim Krul to give the ball away five times and being further up the pitch saw them register 30 shots – their most in any game since 2017.
When Tomiyasu’s deadline day arrival from Bologna was confirmed many Arsenal fans were left slightly disappointed. They had been hoping for what effectively would have been a right footed Tierney in the mould of Max Aarons, Achraf Hakimi or Emerson Royal who they were linked to across the summer.
Maybe it’s the shirt number, but instead it seems like the Gunners have instead found a player more akin to a right sided Nacho Monreal – a full back capable of playing in the middle whose focus was on defensive duties as much as his attacking ones.
Of course Tomiyasu’s display was not perfect.
70% passing accuracy can certainly be improved on, while there were a few moments were the Japanese international lacked composure and awkwardly hacked the ball clear from danger.
This tough can probably be put down to debut jitters and the early signs suggest that Arteta’s approach to the right back spot in the transfer market is set to be vindicated.
It hasn’t been a great start for Arsenal as Mikel Arteta looks to arrest the slide
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The Spaniard had five of his six summer signings in the starting line up on Saturday and Arsenal appeared to have a far clearer identity as a result.
There will be sterner tests than Norwich at home for sure, but with pressure still on his job, Arteta will be hoping this upward trajectory can continue across the crucial coming matches.