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Mikel Arteta is already using a Pep Guardiola tactic at Arsenal




“All our moments of attacking ended in a foul. You can look at the statistics,” then West Ham manager Manuel Pellegrini declared after his side lost to Manchester City last August.

Mikel Arteta

The Chilean was not the first to have questioned Pep Guardiola’s side for their use of tactical fouls.

In fact, the Spaniard’s teams are famous for it, dating all the way back to his time at Barcelona, who would routinely foul opponents if they could not win the ball back to prevent dangerous counter-attacks exposing their unprepared defence.

And Pellegrini was right to point to the stats. City committed 13 fouls during their 5-0 defeat of the Hammers, and seven of them came in the attacking half.

Analysis by BBC Sport and Opta suggests City employ tactical fouls frequently. In 2018/19, they ranked third for the percentage of fouls in the opposition half.

They were also joint-second for the time between losing the ball and committing a foul. On average, it took City 8.3 seconds to commit a foul after losing the ball.

In the 2017/18 season, that figure dropped to 7.6 seconds, again the second lowest time in the division.

So perhaps it is no surprise to learn that the man who was Guardiola’s number two at the Etihad for three years is now using similar tactics at his new club.

According to the Athletic, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal rank top for the percentage of turnovers ending in a foul this season on 7.8.

Of course, not all of these fouls will be tactical, but the stats do go some way to showing the immediate response of Arteta’s team once they lose the ball – commit a foul to stop a potential counter-attack.

In fact, since Unai Emery’s departure as Arsenal head coach, that figure has actually risen to 8.2%. Since November 21, not only are Arsenal the leading foulers per turnover lost in the league, they are also 0.9% clear of the next closest teams – Manchester City and Everton.

Guardiola has always refuted the claim he encourages tactical fouls. Following criticism by Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, the City boss responded: “Like I said many times, when I was in Barcelona and here, I have never in my life had a meeting with players to talk about tactical fouls.

“It’s simple. When you lose the ball, you have to make an incredibly quick transition and sometimes you are late and in that second make a foul.

“If the people can judge that our legacy will be tactical fouls then that is their own problem, not ours.”

Guardiola may protest his innocence, but there is plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise. There are the statistics, of course, which reveal a fairly obvious pattern, and then there are the comments of those involved.

“I am learning new things – how to go, when to stay, when I have to do a tactical foul. It’s good for me to learn these things” Rodri told ESPN following his move to City as Fernandinho’s replacement in defensive midfield this season.

Arteta has also become embroiled in the debate. In the Amazon documentary, ‘All or Nothing’, which charted City’s centurion seasons, he is seen telling players: “Make fouls if there is a transition.”

Guardiola was asked about this in the same press conference as issued his impassioned defence of his coaching methods. He quickly directed journalists to Arsenal to “ask Mikel”.

Arteta himself was asked the difficult question a week later. “It was the wrong clip on Amazon!” he said. “I will ask the journalists to go back to Manchester and ask [Guardiola] the same question again.”

Whether Guardiola or Arteta will ever publicly acknowledge their coaching of tactical fouls remains to be seen, but Arsenal and City appear to be among the leading perpetrators as far as the stats are concerned.

And based on the Gunners’ performances under Arteta, including conceding just four goals in their last seven games and only nine in the 10 he has been in charge, it is working.

And Arsenal won’t care, just as City have not cared throughout the Guardiola era. But it is clear that Arteta is learning from his predecessor, and reaping the rewards.

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