Tactical Points from Arsenal's victory at Old Trafford
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
A much-needed, controlled, but aggressive performance to break our spell of atrocious away performances, both against the Big 6 as well as at Old Trafford:
• United were expected to set up in the so-called ‘diamond’ (which is more like a trapezium really) with Arsenal lining up in their expected line-up with Elneny the only exception in midfield.
• The key point about United’s formation is the lack of width and with their full-backs not pushing up the field too much, the only progression had to come from the pivot of Fred and McTominay. To counter this, Arsenal made quite a few tweaks to the system.
• Lacazette’s job was to stay deeper and cut out the passing lanes into the pivot, while Aubameyang and Willian pressed the centre-backs aggressively and added to that, Bellerin and Saka pushed up to press the opposing full-backs. The duo of Elneny and Partey essentially man-marked Fernandes and Pogba, leaving Greenwood and Rashford as the only passing options and this is where Arsenal’s backline got very physical. Rashford and Greenwood are much more effective running in behind, rather than receive with their backs to goal so Arsenal’s back three got very aggressive and won the ball back as quickly as possible.
• United’s back four aren’t very comfortable playing out from the back, especially in picking the right option under pressure so an aggressive press forced them to go longer and this is where being physical and tight was crucial.
• The only real moment when this pressing strategy didn’t work out resulted in Rashford having a lot of space to pick out Greenwood for a shot from a narrow angle. No other moment of concern defensively for Arsenal in the first half.
• When Arsenal had the ball, the lack of width meant we were always able to create overloads on Wan-Bissaka and Shaw and this was one of the key reasons why the left-right balance in terms of attacking the opposition was much better than recent times. The final ball was the main thing lacking, but the build-up to that point was always good to watch.
• In the second half, United looked to correct this by moving to a 4-2-3-1 formation. This tweak and Arsenal’s intensity not being what it was from the first half, gave United a little more space to get into the game more. Discipline and countering from turnovers became the tactic to fall back on with Arsenal being guilty at times of not pushing on when United started to throw bodies forward.
• One of the key points of emphasis throughout was the way Arsenal wriggled out of pressing traps through smart interplay and more importantly, trust between each other. Breaking the initial press allowed the likes of Partey to progress the ball into the final third and create the overload down the opposite flank. Willian’s calmness and Partey’s progression abilities are the key players who make that difference and allow Arsenal to keep possession.
Overall, a great team performance and a whole lot of confidence to take into other away games against the Big Six.