Tactical Points from Arsenal’s comfortable win over Southampton
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
Our Tactical Analyst, Vinay, was unfortunately unable to cover this game and provide us with his excellent tactical insight, so I’ve stepped in for him- and what an interesting encounter to analyse it was:
· As our Senior Writer Rob wrote about in his post-match synopsis last night, it was Arteta’s implementation of a fluid tactical system that saw us pick up all three points.
· Arteta has stressed his desire to make us tactically flexible within games, and since the restart, we’ve seen our previously stringent structure tweaked with somewhat.
· It appeared to be a 4-3-3 when the team was announced, but in actual fact Arsenal set up in what resembled more of a 3-4-3. Out of possession, Kieran Tierney tucked in to fill an auxiliary third centre-back role, whilst Saka and Bellerin dropped into wide deep positions forming a back five. In possession, Tierney and Mustafi went slightly wider as Saka and Bellerin pushed forward, with Bellerin in an inverted wing-back role, and Saka occupying the touchline, providing Arsenal with width.
· Saka’s width enabled Aubameyang to push inside, almost operating as a second striker to Nketiah. Our left side worked well with Tierney, Saka and Aubameyang’s combination play and movement causing Southampton problems, although our threat was reduced to an extent following Saka’s injury, which seemed to inhibit his ability to get up and down the flank.
· Our right-hand side was far less effective. Theoretically this system should’ve got more out of Pepe, as he was occupying an inside forward role, attacking the half spaces and being deployed more narrowly, instead of being isolated out wide. However, we failed to feed him the ball in dangerous areas frequently enough, and a lot of this was down to Bellerin’s indecision on the ball and tendancy to look inside rather than directly forward to Pepe. The Spaniard only found the Ivorian’s feet on two occasions, whereas Tierney found Saka on the opposite side 12 times, and even found Aubameyang on four occasions.
· Arsenal looked to counter-press Southampton as much as possible, with the double pivot of Xhaka and Ceballos playing much more aggressively than they usually would, pushing up to form Arsenal’s cohesive pressing system. The pivot were seemingly liberated by the extra security the back three/five afforded them, which meant they could provide that extra layer of pressure. However, whether we were instructed to sit off and protect our lead or it was a result of the intense south coast heat, this press faded significantly in the second period.
· This press was co-ordinated by our lively front three, and spearheaded by Nketiah, who relentlessly closed down Southampton’s centre-backs and goalkeeper throughout the game, and the young striker was awarded for his endeavours with a well-deserved goal. Arteta clearly instructed Nketiah to do this, and it worked so effectively, with the Englishman leading the game for pressure regains, and notching up the highest xG of anyone on the pitch with 0.91 in his 78 minutes.
· There was an obvious strategy of going long in our distribution and using our good ball progresses in our back three (and Emi Martinez) to play over the intense Southampton press rather than through it. Whilst this meant we surrounded possession a bit too easily on a few occasions, it also meant we weren’t caught out very often in our defensive third, which is how Southampton create the majority of their opportunities.
· Whilst we lack aerial prowess in our front three, the quality of our distribution meant we were often able to get in behind Southampton’s high line rather than having to compete with their rangy defence in the air. This was particularly evident on two occasions. Kieran Tierney’s ball over the top which saw Aubameyang hit the bar in the first ten minutes and Martinez’ exquisite ball into our Captain which almost resulted in him squaring the ball into Nketiah’s path for a tap in, mid-way through the second half.
· Our influence and control over the game faded in the second half as we became less aggressive in our pressing and sat deeper, possibly due to fatigue caused by the weather. However, we remained compact and limited them to few high quality chances.
· The red card and fresh legs brought by the late substitutes introduced meant we regained control and dominated the last ten minutes.