Tactical Points from Arsenal's dismal defeat to Leciester
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
An engrossing first half followed by a limp second ultimately left us exposed to being sucker-punched by Arsenal’s bogeyman:
The much anticipated 4-3-3 looked to have finally arrived on paper but in execution, it looked to be a hybrid of the 2-3-5/3-2-5 (seen before lockdown) and the 3-4-3 used more recently with Xhaka playing in the hybrid midfielder/centre-back role.
This allowed Tierney to play high up the pitch down the left-hand side and Hector to make late runs on the other side with the combination of Luiz and Partey spraying the ball around well. Saka looked to drift inside, dragging Castagne in, leaving Tierney with a lot of space to receive and deliver the cross.
Leicester’s attack without Vardy looked as toothless as it gets and it was a comfortable first half defensively for Arsenal, conceding an xG of just 0.03. But without the ball, Leicester really packed the central areas, which left Partey very little space to operate and provide a passing outlet to progress the ball.
The first half was arguably one of the better attacking performances we’ve seen over the last few months with 11 shots on goal, a lot of dangerous and what-if moments but crucially, no goals at the end of it.
While Luiz coming off really hurt Arsenal in terms of ball progression, another key shift that Leicester made was to drop the defensive line even further, thereby making the ball over the top easier to deal with and Arsenal were forced to find other solutions.
From the start of the second half, the sloppiness in Arsenal’s passing was creeping in with fatigue also perhaps being a factor. The goal ultimately came from a poor press at the start and a bad defensive line left the keeper exposed. The goal was eerily similar to the one Arsenal scored against Leicester in July with Tielemans (Ceballos) playing the ball around the corner for Under (Saka) to latch onto with Xhaka (Soyuncu) caught out giving Vardy (Auba) a tap in.
Ceballos seemed to be on the periphery of the game throughout with the Spaniard getting to grips with his new role. He seemed to be either too advanced and play around Lacazette or come deep to receive the ball when he should be the link between the lines but these should hopefully get resolved as the familiarity with the formation improves.
Rodgers mentioned in his post-match interview about using Praet to press Xhaka to prevent him from progressing the ball forward and the lack of space centrally reflects in the number of passes that Xhaka made and Partey’s lack of involvement in the game and the low number of passes received. The lack of movement is the main issue that needs resolving, especially in the second half after Saka went off. Perhaps moving away from Xhaka’s hybrid role and giving Partey more space to operate down the left could have been one way forward. These are things that need to be resolved as the understanding of the roles become better.
With the lack of space in central areas, Lacazette couldn’t receive the ball to his feet and struggled to win aerial duels against Evans as well. He looked to spin behind many times in the first half to latch on to long balls but having Aubameyang or even Nketiah for that matter making those runs would be more effective. Giving away a lot of needless fouls did not help Arsenal’s cause either. Something has to be done in this regard because Aubameyang on the right wasn’t working, Lacazette centrally isn’t looking like the way to go either.
On 8 July 2020, Arsenal had a really good first half but got just one goal out of it and after Eddie’s red, ended up dropping two points. Yesterday, another impressive half but no goals and a counter-attack meant we dropped all three. In between these two games, we have had many not so good displays, but got the three points at the end of it, but such is the irony of football.