The Perfect Defensive System #4- Total Football + Gegenpressing

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

Lineups and Formation

Fulham

Fulham lined up in a 4-2-3-1. Rodak was preferred to new signing Areola in goal. The back 4 had Odoi (right), Bryan (left) as full-backs and Ream and Hector as centre-backs. The midfield double pivot was captain Cairney and Reed, with Cavaleiro (left), Onamah (centre) and Kebano (right) in front of them. The sole striker up front was Kamara.

Arsenal

Arsenal lined up in a 3-4-3. The back three consisted of Tierney on the left, Gabriel in the centre and Holding on the right. The 4 in midfield consisted of the two wingbacks: Maitland-Niles (left) and Bellerin (right). Xhaka and Elneny were a double pivot in the centre. The front 3 had Aubameyang on the left, Willian on the right and Lacazette through the middle.

Approach and Common Themes

Arsenal

An interesting aspect of Arsenal’s game was their fluid left side. The most common theme of their 3 at the back was to see Holding (right) and Tierney (left) move a little wide with Gabriel in the centre. However, there were some instances of Xhaka dropping in as the third centre back.

Xhaka dropping in as the third centre back.

Xhaka drops in at LCB, allowing Tierney (out of image) to go wide. Maitland-Niles tucks in and drops deeper to create a passing option in the area Xhaka has just vacated. Xhaka ultimately goes long to Aubameyang – the pass to Tierney is cut off by Kebano (#7) and AMN’s movement is being closely marked by Reed.

Xhaka dropping in at LCB again.

Maitland-Niles had a very fluid role on Arsenal’s left side. As seen above, when Xhaka would drop in at LCB, Maitland-Niles would occupy the space around the area Xhaka had vacated in central midfield. Since Maitland-Niles is a right footed player playing on the left, he was more comfortable with drifting inside when in possession. One such instance led to a very good through ball attempt

AMN Pass Attempt

With Aubameyang drifting inside, it was common to see Maitland-Niles be isolated wide on the left. This led to some good chances. If Aubameyang stayed wide, Maitland-Niles would tuck in, sometimes almost playing as a second striker. This instance seconds before Arsenal’s first goal is a good example

Maitland-Niles CF run

If Arsenal were not pressing Fulham in possession, they defended in a 5-4-1 shape. Maitland-Niles and Bellerin joined the defence to make it a 5 at the back; Aubameyang and Willian were on either side of the central midfield leaving Lacazette up top.

Arsenal looked to press high up the pitch sometimes. Let’s look at one of their presses that lead to a goalscoring chance.

Willian leads the press with Xhaka, Elneny, Bellerin and Lacazette all joining in. Ream was forced to go to Bryan, who is pressed immediately.

Bryan loses the ball and after good work from Lacazette and Elneny, it leads to the below Elneny chance. Elneny’s shot, not powerful enough, gets blocked.

Fulham

Fulham pressed well in the first half. There were times in the first half when Fulham pressed very high up the pitch and Arsenal were unable to play out from the back effectively. Let’s look at one such example. In this particular instance, Cavaleiro starts the press from the left, with Kamara, Onomah and Kebano all joining in.

Gabriel, who is pressed immediately,

passes to Tierney on the touchline who has no option but to go long.

One interesting aspect of Fulham’s attack was their strong emphasis to attack Arsenal’s left side. Notice how in the press example shown above, Fulham press from left to right and pressurize Arsenal’s left hand side. Even when in possession, Fulham seemed to strongly prefer playing on Arsenal’s left side, attempting to attack any potential space left behind by Tierney.

Substitutions

Arsenal

  1. Pepe >> Willian (75′)
  2. Ceballos >> Xhaka (78′)
  3. Nketiah >> Lacazette (87′)

All of Arsenal’s subs were just brought in to be given some minutes. There wasn’t much time to impress since the game was effectively over but Pepe and Ceballos looked confident on the ball and had a couple of nice individual moments.

Fulham

  1. Anguissa >> Kebano (63′)
  2. Mitrovic >> Kamara (63′)
  3. De Cordova-Reid >> Onomah (75′)

Fulham’s subs were made after the game was over a content. None of them can be blamed for being unable to affect the game as Arsenal were in cruise control.

Key Moments Of The Game

  1. An early defensive error from Arsenal gave Fulham a good chance but Leno intervened well. My initial impression was that it was a sloppy pass from Maitland-Niles but after a second look, it was just a classic case of misunderstanding, especially on Gabriel’s part.
  2. There was a slight element of fortune surrounding Arsenal’s first goal. From a Fulham perspective, right back Odoi failed to deal with a simple ball over the top. Fulham then again failed to pick up Xhaka at the edge of the box whose shot resulted in a goal.
  3. Arsenal’s second goal was poor man marking on Fulham’s part, leaving Gabriel with a free header from point blank range.
  4. Arsenal’s third goal was a wonderful team goal. Starting from Leno, Arsenal played out of Fulham’s press extremely well. This time, Xhaka takes up a position in between the lines. He finds Bellerin on the right touchline (not seen in the previous image). Bellerin’s pass to Elneny, in my opinion, is the most important pass of the buildup. He plays a good pass to find Elneny in space (pressing from Fulham could have been tighter), who produces a nice flicked pass to Lacazette. Lacazette is fouled only for Willian to pick up the loose ball. Willian plays a good pass to Aubameyang, who scores sweetly. Notice how Hector’s eagerness to win the ball leaves a lot of space in behind Fulham’s defence.

Areas To Improve

Arsenal: After a good all-round performance, it is hard to criticise any aspect but after a bit of nitpicking –

Fulham: A bright start to the game but Fulham had plenty to learn from the game.

  • Lack of penetration in the final third: Fulham showed some nice play in midfield and down their right-hand side. However, they failed to create anything meaningful after reaching the attacking third.
  • Defensive shape: Defensively, Fulham were not up to the mark. As noted above, for the first goal, they did not deal with a ball over the top and then later left Xhaka completely unmarked at the edge of the area. There were instances of Hector being completely dragged out of position.

Final Thoughts

  • Man of the match: Willian, undoubtedly. He played a part in Lacazette’s goal, got an assist for Gabriel’s header from a corner and played a nice pass for Aubameyang’s goal. He hit the woodwork with a free-kick attempt, led the Arsenal press and helped out defensively too.
  • Positives for Fulham
    • Fulham’s high press in the first half was cause for optimism. Often they cut out Arsenal’s passing options and regained possession by forcing Arsenal to go long.
    • Reed and Cairney were good with the ball in midfield. They showed some nice touches and buildup play to create attacks down their right-hand side.
  • Positives for Arsenal
    • Both the debutants impressed but Gabriel’s debut was a good showing in a new league in a new system without having many days to adapt. He looked strong in the air and quick to mop up loose balls. He looked a little unwilling to go long to find runs when pressed but that could be due to a lack of chemistry with his teammates so early on.
    • Lacazette‘s performance, especially in the first half, was quite good. He got a goal, showed some nice touches (Willian’s freekick off the bar) and link-up play (Elneny’s chance in the first half).
    • Arsenal’s entire second half performance was impressive. The first half was fairly even but Arsenal absolutely dominated the second half. They were able to play out of Fulham’s press for their third goal. After that, Fulham stopped pressing high and sat back a little and Arsenal showed some nice, confident football to create a few chances.

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