Tactical Points from Arsenal's edgy win over Sheffield United
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
Three real moments of quality in the game, with a noticeable lack of quality in between. Here are my tactical insights:
Xhaka not being in the starting line-up under Arteta was surprising, especially
considering the team’s record without him in the side, but it was very clear to see why
Elneny dropped into the right-centre back role, allowing David Luiz to stay central and allow the team to create overloads down the left. Since SHU’s right side was forced to drop
deeper to counter this, it was important to have protection on the right to prevent the
SHU started with Burke and McGoldrick up front, which meant they didn’t have an
aerial threat when we pressed high, so it was important to win the first and the second
ball. Arsenal’s defence remained very aggressive from opposition clearances by crowding out the player and winning the ball back as soon as possible.
But after winning the ball back, the passing was just so slack in the first half. Because
of the rain and water-logging, it was obvious passes had to be hit a little quicker and
harder to counter this. Arsenal were guilty of not passing it from side-to-side quickly
enough or with enough pace to create inroads. On a few occasions, close-range passes
were overhit, making it hard to control and give away turnovers.
With SHU staying deep and compact, one of the well-known ways of opening such
teams up is to drag them out and attack in transition. But Arsenal struggled with the
‘out-ball’, with Nketiah particularly struggling to hold up the ball up well enough and
make the right pass. This has to be the next step in his development if he wants to
have a bigger impact on the game.
SHU are a very disciplined team so dragging them out of position or creating overloads
down one side and utilising the open spaces on the other was the gameplan from the
start. This was exactly how Arsenal nearly opened them up with Ceballos’s pass just
beyond the reach of Aubameyang. And when Pepe came on and Willian moved to the
left, the balance in forward areas became much better. Willian stayed in the left-
half space and Ceballos central, which allowed Saka more space down the left, and left
Pepe isolated with their wing-back on the right.
Bellerin tucking in as inverted full-back allowed Pepe space to drive forward and link
up with Auba and give Elneny freedom to move forward.
After the second goal, it became a session of keeping the ball for a little while and we
should have been more incisive in going for the third goal and killing the game.
SHU hadn’t scored a goal this season so it was obviously customary to allow them to
score and make a game of it. It wouldn’t be an Arsenal game otherwise. Defensively,
they were nullified throughout except for the super strike and one key factor in this
was that Arsenal gave away just 3 fouls in the whole game and just 4 corners (mostly
in the last few mins) and set-pieces are a key part of their game plan. The lack of
shots continues to a be major worry for Arteta to solve and it has to be done quickly.