Arsenal Tactical Analysis vs PSG & Atletico Madrid

Arsenal’s pre-season is finally over. We now just have six days until our Premier League campaign kicks off against Manchester City at The Emirates. But in our final pre-season game Unai Emery wasn’t done experimenting with the side.

For most of pre-season Arsenal have set up in different variants of a 4-3-3. This has reaped rewards as our play on the ball has looked purposeful and suited to those in that system. However, against Lazio we saw Emery use a 4-4-2 which many of suspected could be used over the summer.

Here are a couple of the main takeaways from Arsenal playing 4-4-2:

Defensive Setup

For years, Arsenal have been criticised for their defensive fragility. Now, I’m not saying everything is solved because of this pre-season but there were some encouraging signs. It’s also nice to see visual proof that Arsenal’s defensive shape is being worked on ahead of two enormous games against City and Chelsea to open the season.

Arsenal Tactical Analysis Lazio
Lazio’s left back receives the ball from the goal keeper. Here we see Arsenal’s right sided forwards close of the space he can use to get the ball higher up the pitch. His infield option is also being tracked.
Arsenal Tactical Analysis Lazio
Here we now see the banks of two and four which frustrate Lazio. The pass goes infield and the front two converge on the receiver. The pass couldn’t go further up the pitch as Arsenal’s midfield four are compact enough to have all Lazio passing lanes covered.
Arsenal Tactical Analysis Lazio
The ball is returned to the left back who then returns the ball to the goalkeeper. This is again, due to the Arsenal forwards shutting down his space but also because of the positioning of the midfield four and Calum Chambers who is ready to engage if a long ball is played.

Despite this looking like a very rigid shape, what’s encouraging is its fluidity. Apart from the central midfielders the players aren’t bound to their positions but can take on whichever role is required of them.

For instance, in this sequence, Alex Iwobi is part of the front two meaning Alexandre Lacazette fills in at left midfield. Then as Reiss Nelson applies the final squeeze, Stephan Lichsteiner steps up as does Chambers and every Lazio player is covered.

Of course its normal for most players to cover each other during the course of a game but the seamlessness in which Arsenal kept this shape throughout the game was nice to see, especially as Lazio found it hard to break us down as a result.

Still Impressing Out The Back

Following Arsenal’s trip to Singapore, I highlighted the way in which they improved when facing high presses. This is a challenge they faced again against Lazio, and for the most part continued to impress.

When playing out of the back, however, there are ways that Arsenal do this. The one I’ve focused on already is where the progress up the pitch is very much in the wide areas. But here is how Arsenal progress through the middle of the pitch at great pace.

Arsenal Tactical Analysis Lazio
As usual the centre backs split. Torreira drops in almost as a third centre back and Leno waits to draw his marker before playing the pass. Lichsteiner hugs the touchline to occupy a marker. This allows Torreira has also taken a man with him which creates the highlighted space for Chambers to run into upon receiving a first-time pass.
Arsenal Tactical Analysis Lazio
As Chambers advances the movement of Eddie Nketiah is exquisite. Running in behind he takes two defenders with him creating space for Chambers to feed Nelson in between the lines.
Arsenal Tactical Analysis Lazio
Effortlessly getting to the edge of the box, Nelson passes to Iwobi whose shot hits the post. Nelson cleverly followed in round the back post and was able to poke home the rebound. Something that shows he’s thinking at a level that could see him impress in the first team this season.

It may have only been in a friendly but the side getting more familiar with these patterns are imperative. Knowing which positions to pick up when being pressed, how to evade pressure and play through it will be a key theme as the season draws on. Of course this wont be perfect in the first few months of the season but there’s something to build from.

Summary

Coming up against two very strong sides right off the bat, I won’t surprised to see that 4-4-2 shape when out of possession. Manchester City and Chelsea pose great threats and this shape may be the most effective way to nullify those threats. However, one drawback of the 4-4-2 was Arsenal’s counter attacks. Unlike when playing a 4-3-3 we weren’t able to break at pace and weren’t as cohesive.

As for Arsenal playing out of the back, it’s clear we’ll need the right players to execute this once the season starts. Over the course of pre-season Shkodran Mustafi and Calum Chambers have looked most comfortable when asked to play this way so I won’t be surprised if that’s our centre back pairing on Sunday.