Football Tactics for Beginners: Defending Corner Kicks

We are all afraid of it. It is the 90th minute, your team is up by one goal and the opposition is about to...

Latest Posts

The Power of Football in Politics and Society

Football, and footballers, have long been stuck with a bad reputation. Hooliganism colours many people’s opinions of the sport just as much as the...

Mourinho’s return to form makes Spurs Premier League contenders

When any club hires Jose Mourinho, they do it to win trophies. Daniel Levy had the same expectation when he appointed the Special One...

A look at Marcelo Bielsa’s tactics at Leeds United

Leeds achieved the perfect start in their comeback season to the Premier League. Leeds’ amazing beginning of the season has been mostly because of...

PSG 1: 2 Man Utd- Tactical Analysis

In this analysis, we will be looking at the tactics of Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Thomas Tuchel in PSG and Man United's most recent...

Man United’s possible lineup against Chelsea based on the new and exciting back 3 formation used in the PSG victory

Manchester United's victory against PSG came after a tumultuous start to the season with questions already being raised over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's eligibility to...

Serie A’s Last Outsiders Part 1: Hellas Verona, 1984/1985

With the 2020–2021 Serie A underway, there is a general sense of uncertainty about a league that has fallen from the heights of its...

Have Opponents Got Used To Liverpool’s 4-3-3 Formation This Season

Liverpool are conceding goals at an alarming rate when you consider that they only conceded 33 Premier League goals throughout last season’s title-winning campaign....

Football Books

Foul- The Beautiful Game, An Ugly Truth [Book Excerpt]

The clip-clop of football boot studs on concrete echoed through the tunnel over the hum of distant crowd noise. A drenched team of players...

Best Football Analytics Books

We have compiled a list of the best football analytics books for the casual football fan. Football analytics and data science/machine learning in general...

The Best Football Books of 2019

It's been another eventful year in the world of football. As we look forward to 2020, we have compiled a list of the best...

The Best Football Books of 2018

It's been another eventful year in the world of football. As we look forward to 2019, we have compiled a list of the best...

5 Books every Soccer fan needs to read before the FIFA World Cup 2018

The FIFA World Cup is just around the corner and it's the perfect time to brush up your history and facts about the World...

Fulham 1-5 Arsenal : Tactical Analysis

Match summary:

Possession vs. Counterattack — Arsenal obtained their first, truly resounding victory of the season through nullifying the threat of Fulham’s attacking midfielders, before counterattacking into the space behind their back three.

Lineups:

Slaviša Jokanović elected to switch Fulham’s starting formation from a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 to a 3-4-2-1, with Le Marchand and Cyrus Christie slotting into the team for Joe Bryan and an injured Fosu-Mensah as the LCB and RWB respectively. This meant Luciano Vietto and André Schürrle instead played ‘floating’ roles behind Aleksandar Mitrović upfront, while Ryan Sessegnon played a hybrid of his past and present roles, as a LWB.

Unai Emery had surprises of his own to make. With Mesut Özil out due to back spasms, Alex Iwobi started instead (despite having played in midweek against Qarabag), with Henrikh Mkhitaryan preferred over Aaron Ramsey. What was more interesting, however, was that Danny Welbeck started over Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang upfront, alongside Alexandre Lacazette, This meant that instead of a 4-2-3-1, Arsenal played something approaching a straight 4-4-2.

In-game tactics:

Fulham’s approach

As said, Fulham went with a 3-4-2-1. This made a lot of sense tactically, as firstly, Fulham lacked a proper ball-winner in midfield, so having an extra defender behind helped to shore things up, and also added an extra player to the buildup. Arsenal’s 4-4-2 meant that despite their pressing,

View post on imgur.com

there was always a man left free at the back, often Le Marchand, who exploited his freedom well by looking for Seri. The latter was as usual, Fulham’s metronome and calmly kept possession ticking by moving the ball to the flanks,

View post on imgur.com

although it should be noted that his passing was somewhat ‘safe’ and intended to keep hold of the ball, instead of providing incision. This was fine though, as Fulham weren’t aiming to slice through Arsenal through passing the ball, but by pressing them.

This was where the 3-4-2-1 shone; it provided them with more players in central positions, which made it easier for them to press Arsenal and prevent them from building up vertically. The wingbacks could press further up than fullbacks in a back 4, and the narrow positioning of the ‘2’ behind Mitrović placed them in good pressing locations around the half-spaces. It wasn’t uncommon to see the front three, plus a midfielder or wingback tasked with shifting from flank to flank in order to press the midfield — they would try and force Leno to punt the ball long,

View post on imgur.com

or block a simple forward pass into midfield.

View post on imgur.com

As a result, Arsenal’s top 5 passing combinations were Holding – Monreal, Holding – Xhaka, Leno – Holding, Torreira – Xhaka and Xhaka – Monreal; the Gunners were forced to hold onto the ball in deeper positions and build up much more slowly.

This was in contrast to Fulham’s own build-up. While it primarily focused around the center-backs moving the ball to the wingbacks (their highest pass combination was Le Marchand – Sessegnon and Odoi – Christie), Mitrović’s presence upfront meant that they were capable of playing more directly, with Bettinelli – Mitrovic being their 2nd highest combination.

View post on imgur.com

A look at Mitrovic’s pass map

View post on imgur.com

is particularly enlightening; he rarely completed a pass forward (and poor crossing from the wingbacks meant he was often isolated), but he held the ball up well and distributed it to the two players most capable of doing something in this team — Vietto and Schürrle.

Double no. 10 threat

With Fulham’s midfielders and wingbacks not quite providing drive or incision, it fell to Vietto and Schürrle to try and create something in the final third. Neither were expected to track back and protect the wide zones,

View post on imgur.com

with their defensive actions occurring around or after the halfway line.

View post on imgur.com

Playing a 3-4-2-1 has its benefits against a back 4, especially a 4-4-2 — but what was key here was that Vietto and Schürrle were playing more permanently in the half-spaces, which meant it was awkward for Arsenal’s fullbacks to pick them up, and provided them with a 3v2 against the center-backs.

Historically, Arsenal haven’t been able to deal with this formation without using a 3-4-2-1 of their own (we’ll get to that in the next point), but Vietto and Schürrle are of course, not Hazard and Pedro. Still, the two linking up were responsible for the equalizer — an intercepted pass by Monreal turned into two quick passes on the counter, from Anguissa, to Vietto, and finally Schürrle, who drifted to the right and scored.

Goal aside, however, they weren’t particularly good. Schürrle had a frustrating tendency to shoot from suboptimal positions,

View post on imgur.com

and Vietto mostly looked for a safe pass to the wingbacks or Seri, instead of a more incisive option. And while Mitrović was passing to both players, the reverse was rarely true — neither Schürrle or Vietto looked to play quick one-twos with him, or even to use him as anything, beyond being a target for knockdowns.

Arsenal’s solid base and fluid front four

But part of the reason why Schürrle and Vietto were rather quiet was thanks to Arsenal’s midfield duo, who were splendid today. In recent weeks, Torreira has functioned as more of a sole central presence, with Xhaka helping to build up play in a left-of-center position, where he can cover for Monreal’s overlapping runs. Today, however, both played as a true partnership, with both keenly shielding the center-backs and ensuring that instead of a 3v2 for Fulham, it was a 4v3 for Arsenal,

View post on imgur.com

with the midfielders blocking passes into Fulham’s front three, and the center-backs sweeping up anything that came through. Torreira in particular had a fine performance, constantly nipping in front of opponent to recover the ball (mustard triangles) or to intercept it (blue triangles).

View post on imgur.com

Xhaka played a more reactive role, and as a result made more tackles (green) and blocks (yellow).

View post on imgur.com

This solid base benefited Arsenal’s front four. I’ve spoken elsewhere about Arsenal’s awkward front four being shoehorned into a starting formation, then being told to move into their more natural positions with the ball, but that didn’t happen today. With and without the ball, Arsenal were broadly a 4-4-2, or 4-2-2-2 if you like, with players starting in much more natural positions. This meant the players didn’t have awkward starting positions, but it’s also important to consider the nature of the starting XI.

Welbeck, Iwobi and Mkhitaryan have primarily been second-choice attacking midfielders under Unai Emery, but they provide a versatility that their first-choice counterparts do not, especially with their ability to move out onto the touchline, or to play in the half-spaces. Here, that versatility shone. Mkhitaryan was a much more natural fit on the right, drifting into pockets of space where he could shoot or pass.](https://imgur.com/rBUYgWQ) What was better, however, was his in-to-out movement, with his pass map a good example of his comfort in central or wide areas. As a consequence, he left Bellerin less isolated than Özil would. Welbeck didn’t register a single shot at goal, but his workrate and pace ensured that Arsenal could move up the pitch better, and he regularly attacked in the left-sided channels, trying to play a simple pass across goal for one of the onrushing attackers. As for Lacazette, he played more of a false nine roledropping deep before playing a pass for a midfield runner. What was more impressive, was that he still managed to get two goals despite playing so deep; this was a performance that 2012 Messi would have been impressed by.

The true star of Arsenal’s front four however, was Iwobi.

Iwobi

There’s a good chance that Iwobi wouldn’t have started against Fulham, had Özil been fit — he had after all, been playing against Qarabag in midweek. But he showed no signs of exhaustion, and was probably Arsenal’s best attacker. Like Welbeck, Iwobi found a lot of joy running down Fulham’s right flank, with wingback Christie having a horrid performance, often caught out by his in to out movement, outside and around the back three, before looking to play a pass into the box. He didn’t always succeed, but his direct running exposed the space behind Fulham’s high defensive line, and he would prove vital to the first Arsenal goal — Lacazette drops deep, plays a pass to Iwobi, who drives forward and finds Monreal, who then plays the Iwobi role by passing sideways into the box, for Lacazette to finish off the move he’d started. A fitting goal, given the nature of Arsenal’s play.

Welbeck’s role was also important here, as he often drifted to the left flank to allow Iwobi to rampage forward unchecked. It’s difficult to think of say, Ramsey or Özil playing such a selfless role for another creator — and perhaps highlights that the 11 best players aren’t always the best starting XI.

Still, Arsenal only turned this match into an actual trashing after Iwobi was substituted for Ramsey, with Aubameyang having come on 5 minutes earlier.

Counterattacks expose Fulham

It should be noted that despite the scoreline and balance of play, Fulham had went into the break 1-1, and only a stunning Lacazette goal from outside the box restored Arsenal’s lead. This caused Jokanović to swap to a 4-4-2, with Ream subbed off for Kamara.

This however, only made things worse. One, Schürrle and Vietto were now playing deeper, and therefore unable to influence the play as they had in the first half. Two, Fulham’s wingbacks continued to play as wingbacks, and not fullbacks — this is an important distinction to make, as without an extra defender, it meant Fulham were much more exposed, especially down the flanks. The knock-on effect was that Christie actually made 5 key passes, but on a rewatch, only 2 of them led to good goalscoring situations, with one a bad Kamara shot, and another a Mitrović shot that went straight into Leno’s hands.

These factors all played a role in goals 3, 4 and 5. Ramsey’s goal, scored barely after he came on, owned much to Fulham’s exposed defense. They pushed up high and were left with a 4v2 situation to defend — an incredibly suicidal act, especially against a top side. For Aubameyang’s first, Sessegnon is caught lazily jogging back while Bellerin overlaps forward, which leaves him free to receive a long crossfield pass from Mkhitaryan, and free to assist Aubameyang. The second Aubameyang goal is less clear, but Ramsey is left free to receive a pass between the lines, without a midfielder or defender pressuring him.

All of this points not just to sloppy defending, but also to an inability to adjust to different tactics mid-match, and perhaps an inability by Jokanović to understand the limitations of his players. Surely a deeper defensive line, coupled with fast players to counterattack, would have been ideal against Arsenal?

Conclusion:

This was Arsenal’s finest performance of the season. Not only did the front four look much better, with versatile forwards smoothly interchanging — instead of the awkward Lacazette/Aubameyang/Ozil/Ramsey quartet we’re used to seeing — Torreira and Xhaka were hugely impressive, with both helping to counter the unusual threat posed by Fulham’s ‘2’ behind the striker, while Holding, Mustafi and Leno continue to quietly impress.

However, Fulham’s aggressiveness played a key role in the scoreline, and while the Gunners should be praised for such an utter victory, more time is required to determine whether this was a one-off, or a sign of things to come.

As for Fulham, there isn’t a lot to glean from their performance. Neither the 3-4-2-1 or the 4-4-2 showed a lot of promise either; the former was torn apart by Arsenal’s wide players, and the latter did not suit Fulham’s players, with Christie and Sessegnon uncomfortable as fullbacks, Seri and Anguissa not quite defensive enough to shield the defense, while Vietto and Schürrle were isolated in deeper positions.

It’s commendable to play proactively, even aggressively against a much better side (on paper). But continuing to play in that way, and conceding multiple goals from doing so, is nothing short of suicidal, with their single goal indicating that counterattacking and defending deep would have been a better approach.

Related

Arsenal need to get back where they belong

Arsenal are one of the teams who have fallen from their usual place in the English football system over the last decade or so....

Fulham 0-3 Arsenal:Tactical Analysis – Willian, Gabriel superb in Arteta’s 3-4-3 formation

Lineups and Formation FulhamFulham lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Rodak was preferred to new signing Areola in goal. The back 4 had Odoi (right), Bryan...

Tottenham 2: 1 Arsenal- Tactical Analysis

In this analysis, we will be observing the tactics of Mikel Arteta and José Mourinho in their recent Premier League clash. Spurs eventually won...

Man City 3:0 Arsenal Tactical Analysis- The Master vs The Apprentice

When Mikel Arteta was an assistant of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, they not only dominated England but were one of the best teams...

Chelsea 3:2 Arsenal- Tactical Analysis

Match summary:An incredibly open match – Chelsea’s long passes exposed the space behind Arsenal’s backline, but Arsenal managed a comeback from 2-0 down through...

Why Arsenal will start fast, but ultimately struggle this season

This summer has been a period of change at the Emirates, with Arsene Wenger leaving the managerial role and Unai Emery, the former Valencia,...

Pushed Wide: How Can Aubameyang and Mkhitaryan Fit in a Top-Heavy Arsenal?

So, it’s finally happened. As the Premier League January transfer window slams shut, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang steps into the Arsenal squad. By now, the Gooners...

The different interpretations of the 3 at the back formation by Conte, Wenger, Pochettino & Guardiola

Antonio Conte came to the Premier League in rather quiet fashion. The arrivals of Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola were the talk of the...

The back 3 formation is no longer the solution for Arsene Wenger’s troubles

The switch to the back three at the end of last season seemed to have finally solved Arsenal's defensive worries as they won 7...

Latest Posts

The Power of Football in Politics and Society

Football, and footballers, have long been stuck with a bad reputation. Hooliganism colours many people’s opinions of the sport just as much as the...

Mourinho’s return to form makes Spurs Premier League contenders

When any club hires Jose Mourinho, they do it to win trophies. Daniel Levy had the same expectation when he appointed the Special One...

Barcelona plot final bid to bring Premier League star to Camp Nou in January

Embed from Getty Imageswindow.gie=window.gie||function(c){(gie.q=gie.q||).push(c)};gie(function(){gie.widgets.load({id:'SW9InB3wQvFgzlegD2mLlQ',sig:'KGb3mzJds9Dl0oHdVay70nKo-0sGTXn0i9QWapQLbMM=',w:'594px',h:'420px',items:'1184273934',caption: true ,tld:'com',is360: false })}); According to the English outlet, Mirror, Barcelona are ready to make one last offer in order to...

How the signing of Osimhen changed Gattuso’s approach

Napoli has started this season in an incredible manner. Unfortunately, Napoli didn’t show up to the Juventus game, which meant they would receive a...

Don't Miss

Forgotten Superstars-Matthias Sammer

Most football fans who consider themselves to be experts will expect to be able to name a long list of recent Ballon D'or winners....

  The different methods to Marcelo Bielsa’s madness

The current Leeds United manager and arguably the most influential coach in modern football, Marcelo Bielsa is the subject of this analysis because I’m...

Hungary – The Golden Team that never quite made it.

When you look back at the history of past World Cup winners and European Championship winners the usual names by in large stand out....

The Football match which started a war

Plenty of football stadiums have statues standing outside of them. There's strange one here and there (Michael Jackson formerly outside Craven Cottage springs to...

When Sir Alex Ferguson Lost by 9 Goals in back to back matches

I'm shattered, I can't believe it. It was our worst ever day. It's the worst in my history, ever. Even as a player I...

Football History

The Football match which started a war

Plenty of football stadiums have statues standing outside of them. There's strange one here and there (Michael Jackson formerly outside Craven Cottage springs to...

A look back at Liverpool’s treble winning 1983/84 season

In the wake of Manchester City’s record-breaking claim to the Premier League, The False 9 will look back at some of the greatest club...

Serie A’s Last Outsiders Part 1: Hellas Verona, 1984/1985

With the 2020–2021 Serie A underway, there is a general sense of uncertainty about a league that has fallen from the heights of its...

Remembering Arthur Wharton: The First Black Professional Footballer

In an interview from 1888, Arthur Wharton recalled overhearing a conversation between two fellow track competitors some years before. “Who’s he,” one rhetorically asked,...

Descent into darkness: Osvaldo Zubeldia and the era of antifutbol

EVEN if Billy McNeill was really nicknamed Cesar rather than Caesar, there was no denying that the scene on May 25, 1967, was one...