Tactical Points from Arsenal's narrow win at Molineux
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
A tough, gritty win against stubborn opposition is becoming a template for our away wins as the number of "cup-finals" keeps ticking down:
Going back to the double pivot was important for the team to get back on track after a troublesome January. The pivot is an important part of our build-up and pressing under Arteta, although Xhaka's role is evolving into more of a box-to-box one. The Swiss international is pushing forward a lot more and receiving the ball on the turn in the half-spaces to progress the play.
Pressing a 3-4-3/3-5-2 formation is quite different from the usual 4-man formation. Conversely, progression with the ball and finding the spaces are also very different.
In terms of Arsenal's pressing early on, things were not quite right. Saka and Martinelli were marking the wing-backs and with the combination of Lacazette and Odegaard pressing the centre-backs, the Wolves play, especially Neves, had a lot of time and could pick the chipped passes into the attacking trio with alarming accuracy.
After the initial struggles, things were adjusted with Xhaka man-marking Neves and Odegaard shifting back and forth to make up the numbers. The silky duo of Podence and Trincao dropped central to overload Partey and the Ghanian was isolated at times but the home side's early attacking energy was tempered.
In terms of buildup, the five-man backline prevents the isolation of the full-backs against the opposing winger, a tactic very much inherent to our build-up play. Other than counter-attacks, both Saka and Martinelli didn’t have many opportunities to be a consistent threat. Overlaps from Cedric and Tierney were all the more important to break the double-teams and, in this regard, the linkup on the right was much better with the output from the left leaving a lot to be desired.
As Wolves pushed forward more in the second half, there were a lot more spaces available on the right with Odegaard finding himself in a lot of space to progress but attacks were always breaking down at the edge of the box and no chances were created. Lack of fluency is most likely a combination of the break and the doggedness of Wolves.
The balance between keeping this calm and ‘time-wasting’ is something this Arsenal team needs to start getting better at or making it less obvious. Crowd frustrations, scrappiness of the game, and a high number of fouls would have all played a role in the referee’s mind leading up to the red card.
Controversy aside, switching to the 5-3-1 and bringing on Holding was a really decisive and smart decision. Before the red card, Partey was forced to drop deep to support the centre-backs against the aerial threat of Jimenez and Dendoncker. Wolves seemed intent on crossing the ball from every possible angle, so bringing Holding on, prevented any overload from the runners and repel everything thrown at the Gunners.