Tactical Points from Arsenal’s late defeat at the Amex
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
After all the frustration, there were some interesting tactical aspects to analyse in what was an incredibly soul-crushing evening at the Amex Stadium.
Arsenal lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with Saka operating in the mezzala/half-winger role on the left, Guendouzi as the deep-lying playmaker and Ceballos in an in-between role on the right.
There were two main modes of attack that Arsenal employed in the game-
Getting Pepe isolated against the 6’7 left-back Dan Burn:
To get the Ivorian isolated, Bellerin tucked into midfield during the build-up, dragging the opposing winger with him. This prevented a double up on Pepe and is a very useful tactic but the execution requires the right pass which is where Arsenal failed on multiple occasions.
The pass can come in the form of a first-time ball in transition, a quick switch of play or a smart one-two but Arsenal were very slow in possession with the likes of Guendouzi and Ceballos dwelling on the ball too many times or the pass forced Pepe towards the corner flag rather than drive into the box.
To counter this threat, Brighton brought on Solly March for Aaron Mooy and it worked as aside from the goal, Pepe’s threat in the second half was limited.
2. Movement and interplay of Saka and Aubameyang on the left:
In his pre-match press conference, Arteta talked about how versatile Saka could be, and playing him in different roles would aid his development. For the bulk of the first half, it was clear to see how well he is adapting to the midfield role.
In his time at left-back, one of his strengths that stood out was his playmaking ability from wide positions and this midfield role utilises a lot of that. Brighton struggled with his movement with the constant switching between him and Aubameyang making him hard to mark.
He stayed out wide at times to receive the ball, allowing Aubameyang to drift inside creating a variant of the familiar 2-3-5 formation that fans got used to before the break. At other times, he received the ball on the half-turn in midfield before trying to link up with Lacazette.
The bulk of the bright moments came out of the triangle play between Saka, Lacazette and Aubameyang, but the worrying aspect here is that none of their teammates were on the same page leaving them to do it all.
Brighton became more compact in the second half which restricted the space for the trio to operate in, but the lack of urgency in the passing will be a cause of concern for Arteta.
Scuffles aside, Guendouzi had a decent game as the defensive midfielder. There were moments where his reading of the game was excellent and recovered the ball very well but it’s the lack of finesse in the role which prevents it from being termed as a solid performance. It’s the little things he does like the hard work of intercepting a pass where he doesn’t gain control of the ball fully or a bad miscontrol which makes it seem very untidy and chaotic. Now some of that is obviously down to his age and inexperience or a youthful midfield in general, but if he’s able to get the simple things right then this allows the team to gain control before going about executing the gameplan. Keeping things tidy and ticking is the basic requirement of the DLP role he’s been asked to play and it remains to be seen if he can improve in this regard.
Kolasinac’s role in this game was very weird for me and the positions he took up seemed more suited for Tierney than the Bosnian. He rarely ventured forward and seemed reluctant to drive forward with the ball despite a lot of space in front of him. The characteristic of his debut season at Arsenal was his bullish runs from deep with the ball but on his birthday, that energy was surprisingly lacking. An important point in the context of this role is how crucial Xhaka was to Arsenal’s build-up play before the pandemic. Playing as a third centre-back at times, the left-footedness of the Swiss midfielder played a major role down that left-hand side and his passing range was certainly a big miss here.