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A Tactical Breakdown of Arsenal’s win over West Ham

By Vinay Shankar

Both teams came into the game extremely low on confidence, languishing in the bottom half of the table and in desperate need of a convincing result.

Freddie Ljungberg made some much needed changes to the line-up with Chambers replacing Luiz at the heart of the defence and Maitland-Niles playing at right-back after Bellerin pulled out with an injury in the warmup. In the front three, Pepe and Martinelli came in to provide natural wingers, allowing both Ozil and Aubameyang to be deployed centrally.

Arsenal had the lion’s share of the possession, with West Ham appearing happy to absorb pressure, ready to pounce on an inevitable Arsenal mistake. There was a serious lack of urgency and quality in possession and no link between defence and attack. Xhaka and Torreira sat deep with Ozil far up the pitch resulting a big gap in midfield and the team labouring in possession, deep within their own half.

The team is trying to get the right balance between the attack and defence and if the first hour is anything to go by, there is till a lot of work to do in this regard. Except for a few routine stops, West Ham failed to create anything noteworthy and Arsenal didn’t have a shot on target until the hour mark. The West Ham goal came from a set-piece with Arsenal unconvincing in clearing their lines. Neither side played well in the first half but of the two teams, West Ham looked more likely to score.

The first ten to fifteen minutes of the second half were in the same vein and as West Ham started to chase the second goal, spaces opened up for Arsenal to attack. It was from one such transition sequence that released Kolasinac down the left-hand side to cross into box for Martinelli, finishing impressively. It was Arsenal’s first real attack of the match and all it needed was for the ball to moved quickly. Thereafter, Arsenal were clinical in transition with Pepe heavily involved in both goals- a Robben-esque curler into the top corner and a quality cross for Aubameyang to dispatch into the net.

One goal was all it needed to improve confidence and allow the attackers to play more freely. Three shots on target, three goals scored- efficient to say the least. In the last 20 minutes, the team was focussed on seeing the game out, with Guendouzi and Nelson impressing with some quality touches and ball retention.

Until the equaliser, Pepe’s confidence was visibly very shaky and a couple of strong Cresswell challenges would have definitely hurt. He was hesitant to take on Creswell one-on-one but once the English left-back was substituted, his quality was evident. The exchange between Freddie and Pepe when he was substituted was a heart-warming sight.

Martinelli’s energy levels were evident throughout and he was always tracking back to help out Kolasinac. He can be a great pressing machine similar to his countrymen Gabriel Jesus and Roberto Firmino. However, what also stands out is his instinct for goals at such an early age.

The 4-2-3-1 setup employed is more suited to allow the team to play in transition rather than dominate possession. The pace of the front three, if used effectively, could be very useful in the game against Man City and the Manchester derby provides ample evidence about the effectiveness of such a setup. On the other side, such an effective strategy requires near-perfect games from the defence and midfield and this would be a big test for this team, who lack quality personnel in these areas.

All of this aside, the win brought a tremendous sense of relief around the entire club and the relief on the player’s faces was visible. There is still a lot of improvement required, especially considering the upcoming games, but mission “bring smiles onto faces” has began.

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