Arsenal Tactical Analysis vs PSG & Atletico Madrid

Arsenal’s tour of Singapore has ended and as ever we are becoming even more familiar with the style in which Unai Emery would like us to play. Of course, it’s not dissimilar to Arsene Wenger’s style but we are seeing Emery’s characteristics surface.

One of these characteristics was how Arsenal deal with a high press. At first, we seemed to struggle when the pressure built but over the two games, the players became more confident in how to play their way out of trouble.

Initial Struggles vs Atletico Madrid

Atletico Madrid have been the biggest test thrown at Emery’s Arsenal so far. Arsenal may have had most of the ball but Atleti proved to be very well drilled as usual and this showed when they squeezed up top.

Here’s a sequence of play that wasn’t too unfamiliar in the game.

Arsenal Match Analysis PSG Atletico Madrid
As the centre backs split a midfielder drops in which is not uncommon across the footballing world. Ramsey, however, is followed into the space at the Atleti player, forcing him to return the ball to Leno and move into the highlighted space.
Arsenal Match Analysis PSG Atletico Madrid
Ramsey receives the ball off Leno again but is now being pressed by Gameiro and Thomas. Ramsey could free Kolasinac but the presence of Correa and the other Atleti player force him to hesitate and not try what he thinks could be a risky pass. Ramsey turns and plays the ball back to Leno.
Arsenal Match Analysis PSG Atletico Madrid
Here, Leno shows that he couldn’t quite take the pressure applied by Thomas and Gameiro and kicks the ball out of play meaning Arsenal have failed to beat the press. With the white arrows, this shows the route that could’ve been taken had he have been a bit more confident.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not slating the players for this here because this is what pre-season is about. Facing this type of press early on should help Arsenal in finding out what issues they may have in this area and where they can find solutions.

Improvements vs PSG: Defensive Third

It was clear that by the last game of the tour, this was something that had been worked on. When facing PSG’s press the overall confidence and positioning was better which helped us successfully move up the pitch. This was something that occurred in a similar situation to the one above in the defensive third as well as better movement through the middle of the pitch as you can see below.

Arsenal Match Analysis PSG Atletico Madrid
Taking the ball under pressure, as he did in the sequence above, Leno now acknowledges Mustafi who is pulling out wide. As he plays the ball out to him the PSG forward players press Mustafi leaving spaces for Bellerin and Elneny to move into and create options for the German.
Arsenal Match Analysis PSG Atletico Madrid
Mustafi plays a one-two with Bellerin to evade the high press. Bellerin’s run into that position dragged away the PSG player who went to help with the press which then gave Mustafi a clear passing lane to Mkhitaryan further up the pitch.
Arsenal Match Analysis PSG Atletico Madrid
To fully free themselves, Bellerin plays an important role yet again as his run gives Elneny the out ball that beats the press after he drifted away from Rabiot into the highlighted space to play the pass.

There were two takeaways which were key to this improvement when it comes how Arsenal coped with the high press.

Firstly, Leno took the chance on Mustafi. If we’re going to continue to build in this manner then we need practice and thankfully we got that with Leno passing this time rather than playing the ball long.

Secondly, the positional play of the supporting players opened up more spaces which helped make the transition up the pitch easier. This is something Mohamed Elneny has been consistently good at over the years and something he help Matteo Guendouzi improve as even though he had a great tour, he did get caught a couple of times on the edge of the Arsenal box.

Another aspect to this sequence which was replicated in the game was Bellerin’s inclusion. Admittedly I was critical of Bellerin for not being as effective going forward last season compared to his first couple of seasons in the first team. However, if this way of playing out is used throughout this season, he should find it easier to get up the pitch somewhat unopposed.

Summary

Arsenal begin the 2018/19 Premier League season against Pep Guardiola, a manager who everyone knows gets his teams to win the ball back as high as possible. Although it won’t be Manchester City’s strongest side that Arsenal face, any Premier League team can put on an effective press. Facing teams that will put us under pressure early in Singapore is very important as it can only help us get into a groove for when we get that treatment in a couple of weeks.

With these players most likely to be amongst the starting lineup, its good to see them getting familiar with Emery’s football. Of course this is a small part of the game, however, these same principles can be seen all over the pitch which helped Arsenal massively when transitioning up the pitch. Hopefully, it is an aspect that continues to improve over the course of the season.