After scoring just one goal in 4 league games (own goals notwithstanding), Arsenal scored two past Stoke City to register their first win at home for the season. It should, in fairness, have been more, considering the number of chances that were created, but that both strikers were on target should be a major confidence booster for the season ahead.
With Mesut Ozil back from the minor injury which caused him to miss the trip to Newcastle, Arsene Wenger replaced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and as such Aaron Ramsey was restored back onto the right hand side. There was talk before the game that it could be Alexis Sanchez up top and not Theo Walcott, but it was the Englishman who led the line.
With all the furor surrounding the form of the center forwards, the stability of the Arsenal defence has gone unnoticed. And it is at this place where we start the tactical breakdown. Laurent Koscielny was desperately missed in the game against Liverpool, but his return has been a major factor in Arsenal stabilizing at the back. The French international recently celebrated his 30th birthday, and his experience has been vital alongside a much younger, but similar version of himself: Gabriel. Their assuredness at the back, along with Francis Coquelin marshaling in front of him, has laid the platform for the attacking players to express their creativity. It was something which was missing in the first half against Liverpool and it is, I believe, in direct resonance with the number of chances that are being created.
The presence of Gabriel, rather than Per Mertesacker has been instrumental in the way Arsenal set up tactically. Gabriel has the quickness to turn and run and this allows Arsenal to press higher up the pitch, without essentially worrying about players running in behind them. This, in turn reduces the size of the pitch for the opposition to work on because the area behind the defenders is essentially the offside zone. It also helps that Hector Bellerin is so fast off the mark, that this structure is not causing significant defensive problems.
This tactic is directly employed on the other side of the pitch too. Theo Walcott is one of, if not, the quickest player in England, and this prevents the opposition defenders from maintaining a high line. They drop back, essentially expanding the area of the pitch for the Arsenal creative players to operate in more spaces. More space for the likes of Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla is thus, in direct relation to the more number of chances created. The one occasion where the line was held high by the Stoke defenders was when Walcott scored.
If that was the way Arsenal opened up space for themselves and reduced spaces for the opponents, how did the creative players exploit those spaces? The answer: effective use of full backs.
Modern fullbacks are so instrumental in the way a team sets up, it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say they are the most important players on the pitch. The notion of fullback has evolved over the years. They were considered defenders whose task was to stop the crosses coming in. Even until the David Beckham days, two players stuck to the wings- the wide midfielder, who was the attacking player and the full back who was the defensive player. Now though, the wide midfielders are usually the inside-right and inside-left players and the fullbacks are the right-sided and left-sided players. The same holds for this Arsenal side. Bellerin’s pace is again vital here. Aaron Ramsey drifts inside to occupy the spaces (which were created as discussed above) thus providing a stronghold on possession and Hector Bellerin bursts into these spaces to open up the passing options, creating cute triangles. On the other side, Alexis Sanchez drifts inside and it is Nacho Monreal who provides the width. It speaks volumes of the Spaniard’s influence this season, that Keiran Gibbs hasn’t got so much as a look in until this moment. (He might be involved in the midweek European fixture).
So after two weeks of no football, it was good for Arsenal to start off with a win and although it will be expected that the strikers take more of the chances created, it was a positive sign to see the right plans executed to perfection. Now for Europe!
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