Mikel Arteta exploited Liverpool’s sole weakness at right-back as he proved his tactical nouse in a big game once again in the Community Shield win.
Mikel Arteta is a shrewd tactician. That is not news to anyone who has followed Arsenal closely over the last few months.
Increasingly, against the Premier League’s elite clubs, Arsenal are playing with real discipline, organisation and adaptability. They no longer look overawed, intimated by the best teams in the country.
That was the case again in the Community Shield on Saturday. The Gunners’ approach nullified Liverpool’s attacking threat, disrupted the flow of their midfield and ultimately resulted in more silverware.
It is not just from a defensive point of view that Arteta has proved himself an intelligent and perceptive coach, though. He was aware enough to identify the main weakness in Liverpool’s starting XI at Wembley and ensured that his side exploited it ruthlessly.
It helped, of course, that Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the man in the prime position to benefit from it. But it was an obvious and well-executed ploy nonetheless.
Neco Williams, a young right-back with plenty of promise but still inexperienced, was the player Arsenal targeted. The 19-year-old looked nervous and slightly off the pace, understandable given the quality of the man he was tasked with marking.
It seemed, throughout the first half, that Williams was left alone, abandoned by his teammates and left to fend off the hunting pack.
That was again intentional from Arteta, who clearly instructed his players to get the ball out to the left flank as quickly as possible. Aubameyang, predictably, was a constant threat, while Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ tireless forays forward from left wing-back meant Williams was often overwhelmed, unable to contain his opponents.
The first goal was scored in a manner that most would have seen coming from the first few minutes of the game: fluid, sweeping passes forward, the last of which was an exceptional cross-field ball from Bukayo Saka into Aubameyang.
The latter drove towards the edge of the box and finished emphatically, with Williams left trailing in his wake.
The young defender had a difficult time of it, his youthfulness highlighted by the clinical finishing of a seasoned and elite forward. That he was hauled off by Jurgen Klopp just before the hour mark was not a surprise.
Arsenal, of course, still have a long way to go in their development under Arteta. He is more aware of that than anyone and has repeatedly emphasised the need for patience as his side project makes gradual progress.
Liverpool were, for long periods, in control, and when Williams was withdrawn it became harder for the Gunners to threaten.
But there were more promising signs from a tactical perspective. The ability to take advantage of weak points, to make use of minor details and fine margins, is often what separates teams at the top of the Premier League.
Arsenal are doing that regularly under Arteta, and it bodes well ahead of the new season.