How a depleted Arsenal competed with a full strength United- Tactical Points
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
Late kickoffs over the last month have disrupted my ability to write tactical points but what a game to make my comeback. A tense, hard-fought, see-saw game with a lot of dangerous moments for both sides but an important point for Arsenal with the squad players finally putting in a shift with key players injured:
This condensed season is such that fitness is always going to be a worry and it is virtually impossible to maintain a high level every few days, especially in terms of a strong press when a team doesn’t have the ball. Stats wise, there’s been a drop-off in pressing intensity of almost 40% across the whole league compared to last season.
So, in that vein, it’s easy to see why Arsenal couldn’t replicate the strategy that was so effective in the win at Old Trafford. There were some elements of it visible in this game, especially in the second half, but nowhere near consistent enough.
United’s approach to this game was in contrast to their approach in the games against the ‘big-6’ as they looked to press much higher up the pitch and create turnovers in the final third of the pitch. Despite some good moments, Arsenal fell into these traps way too often in the first half and couldn’t retain the ball for too long.
The left side of Cedric and Martinelli struggled in the first half. Every time Cedric looked to break the press by cutting in, Martinelli wasn’t always in the best positions to receive the ball and this forced the Portuguese to play the risky passes and contributed to low ball retention.
Defensively, Martinelli certainly tracked his runners as well and this was crucial because Cavani’s movement was causing Arsenal problems. The striker’s runs dragged Luiz much closer to Holding, forcing Cedric to stay inside to negate gaps but this compensation left a lot of room for Rashford at the far post to exploit. Martinelli’s energy in the press was lacking its usual spark and Arteta’s constant instructions in Portuguese to him suggested that the gameplan wasn’t being carried out.
As bad as he’s been in an Arsenal shirt, this was certainly a much more positive performance from Willian. The pressing from Arsenal was much more aggressive at the start of the second half. Willian gave Arsenal some much-needed ball retention as Arsenal provided a much-improved threat from the left and his link-up with Smith-Rowe also played a big part. The duo interchanged positions frequently and created quite a few problems for Van-Bissaka defensively. He may not have taken his chance very well but Arsenal’s attacking threat improved markedly after he came on. Another way to look at it is the Smith-Rowe effect as we have seen in the last few weeks, he seems to be bringing out the best in the other attacking players.
The link-up between “Croydon KDB” and Pepe was Arsenal’s biggest takeaway from this game. Smith-Rowe seemed to break the press very well at times and release Pepe into the right areas frequently. The best way to describe Pepe’s performance in this game is ‘he smelt blood’ when he went up against Maguire and Shaw. His work-rate to win back possession was much better and was a constant, being a threat in the final third. One can only hope that he ‘smells blood’ consistently to provide a constant goal threat.