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Tactical Points from Arsenal's pivotal victory at Villa Park

By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)

A composed away performance- minimising the opposition and controlling the tempo in attack to come out of a gruelling week with positive spirits:

  • Aside from Smith-Rowe, there hasn’t been anyone else immediately challenging from the bench for a starting role so, despite the difficult week, rotation wasn’t likely or necessary.

  • Away games against the competitive teams (mid-table ones) are all about how quickly the scrappiness can be sorted out and controlling the tempo of the game in a hostile atmosphere. Arsenal started out with a point to prove after the Liverpool game and took control of the game very early and didn’t let up in the first half.

  • Villa neither utilised a high press nor did they sit back in a low block to stop the build-up. Arsenal played through the lines with ease and created the 1v1s in the wide areas without much of a sweat and Villa's refusal to support the full-backs left them vulnerable- Saka made Young pay on the right.

  • The lack of combination play on the left side with Martinelli has been highlighted before and with Smith-Rowe, things were far smoother. The passing triangles with Xhaka central were on point and the rotations to create the overloads showed the difference in understanding between the talented youngsters. Against Liverpool, the emphasis was on getting Martinelli isolated against Trent as quickly as possible for a direct threat and it was effective despite the lack of end product. Against deeper sides, playing with a 4-3-3 will utilise the triangles to open things up on either flank and Smith-Rowe is a better fit for the team here. The upside to dealing with youngsters is that there is always the potential for improvement on the training pitch and have a more balanced threat from each flank.

  • Having been stifled against Liverpool, Odegaard was back to pulling the strings by drifting out to the right and linking play. The wide areas gave Arsenal a lot of joy so there wasn’t much of a need for Lacazette’s link-up play in deeper areas to progress upfield.

  • Villa changed things in the second half as they started to press higher and look to be more direct with their play by attempting to isolate Watkins against White in the channel. They weren’t much of a goal threat throughout the game but Arsenal dropped deeper than required and too many simple mistakes prevented the same control from the first half. Fatigue is the most reasonable explanation here but it doesn’t make it a tension-free watch.

  • In an attempt to be more direct, Villa attempted to focus their play through crosses to the far post, and added to that, their shooting threat around the box is something to be wary of. Arteta responded to this by switching to the 5-3-2 to deal with the aerial threat and stopping any loose play around the edge of the box.

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