The recent emergence of two unlikely players at Arsenal shows just how head coach Mikel Arteta is putting his Pep Guardiola education to use
But when you work under one of the best coaches in the world, there are some ideas and characteristics that will unconsciously submerge into your philosophy.
The Spaniard spent three years working as Guardiola’s assistant at Manchester City before he was handed his first crack at management in December 2019 at the Emirates Stadium.
The pair worked closely together and shared a similar idea of football, so it was not surprising to see Arteta base his principles on a possession-based game, moving the ball at pace and encouraging high intensity pressing.
But one aspect in particular has been torn straight out of Guardiola’s playbook has been the deployment of full-backs Takehiro Tomiyasu and Nuno Tavares, making them a crucial part of his plan.
Arteta’s first summer signing was to capture 21-year-old Tavares from Benfica for just £8.5million back in July, while Tomiyasu was the last signing through the door after sealing a £16m transfer from Bologna.
Neither were household names and nor were they expected to be. Tomiyasu’s talents had been recognised in Serie A, but at 23 he still has his best years ahead of him, while Tavares only made his senior debut in 2019.
And yet, they are beginning to show why the Arsenal manager was so keen to add them to his squad over the summer after some impressive recent performances.
Arsenal needed to find their path back to winning ways following a resounding defeat against Liverpool and they did. Arteta’s men were dominant from start to finish as they swept aside struggling Newcastle 2-0 on Saturday, with goals from Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli.
But unlike previous matches earlier this season, it wasn’t Saka or Emile Smith Rowe running the show. From the wide areas, Tavares and Tomiyasu wreaked havoc all the way from full-back. The former set up Saka for the opener, before Tomiyasu got his first assist with a delightful ball over the top for Martinelli to finish.
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Arteta settled on a 4-2-3-1 formation towards the tail end of last season and it appears to play to Arsenal’s strengths. With Tomiyasu’s incredible supply of energy allowing him to hurtle down the right hand side for the entire 90 minutes, the Gunners are able to overload in wide areas.
On the opposite flank, Tavares’ exuberance with the ball is refreshing and giving him more confidence with every game. The Portuguese carries the back with marauding sprints through the field at such a pace that the opposition are afraid to touch him.
Their support going forward has helped Arsenal keep teams like Norwich and Newcastle pegged back in their own half, allowing them to suffocate their opponents’ space and dominate proceedings.
Compare that to how Guardiola uses Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker at Man City and there is certainly a similarity between the two.
It could be argued that Arsenal have not possessed full-backs with such a desire to burst forward since the ‘Invincibles’ unbeaten season in 2003-04. Lauren and Ashley Cole may have been the less glamorous names in Arsene Wenger’s starting XI, but their impact was undeniable.
Their defensive work cannot go understated either. Since making his debut in the 1-0 win over Norwich in September, Tomiyasu has featured in every league match and Arsenal have conceded only eight goals in that period, with six clean sheets.
Some may put that down to the integration of Aaron Ramsdale, but it is widely recognised that Tomiyasu has been just as important.
It was hardly surprising when he was named player of the month for September by the club’s fans — and he earned praise for Arteta for his seamless adaptation to life in England.
“I’m very impressed, he has done it in a really natural way,” he said back in October. “It puts a smile on your face when you look at him, for how he communicates, how he is.
“It’s not been easy for him, we asked him to come in and play after two days against Norwich, then we went to Burnley, then the North London Derby… a lot has happened and I am really happy with him.
“For me [the Premier League] is the hardest to adapt to, and the hardest to stay at the top. That is the challenge.
“Now he has shown he has the right qualities, the right mentality and personality to play for this club and in this country, and now he needs to maintain that and keep improving.”
Tavares is more of a raw talent, showing his willingness to get forward but also displaying some defensive vulnerability, as he did when he gave away possession cheaply for a goal in that defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.
But his consistent displays while Kieran Tierney was sidelined has helped him maintain his place in the side, while the Scot is forced to wait for his moment to mark his return.
It is clear they are still some distance away from matching the quality of the full-backs Guardiola has at his disposal.
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But considering that Cancelo and Walker cost £101m — some four times as much as Tomiyasu and Tavares — it is a positive for Arteta and sporting director Edu that they are performing to a high level.
Likewise, Arteta has some way to go before he can be mentioned in the same breath as his Catalan counterpart.
But using the traits he learned from the Man City coach, with his own stamp, will only benefit himself and Arsenal in the coming years.