Arsenal Tactical Analysis vs PSG & Atletico Madrid

Building up to Arsenal’s opening Premier League game against Manchester City, confidence was rising after an encouraging pre-season. As the games went by, Unai Emery’s ideas were becoming more apparent.

Unfortunately for Emery, facing the champions proved to be too tough a task to take away three points. However, here’s how his footballing ideas panned out in his debut as Arsenal manager.

Cech Struggles Playing Out The Back

One of the main takeaways from pre-season was the way in which Emery wants Arsenal to build attacks from the goalkeeper. This is something that I’ve touched on before and seemed to be improving as we approached the start of the Premier League.

However, a big part of Arsenal improving in this aspect of the game was the use of Bernd Leno in goal. The German was far more comfortable on the ball than Petr Cech during pre-season which allowed Arsenal to play through high presses and build attacks quickly. This is why for me at least, Petr Cech’s inclusion in goal was slightly confusing taking into consideration the rate at which City press when off the ball.

Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
In familiar fashion the ball is played to Cech and Mustafi back-peddles to create an angle for him to bypass Sergio Aguero.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Cech wasn’t aware enough and rather than pass to the two open (red) options, he puts Matteo Guendouzi under great pressure as Raheem Sterling closes him down quickly.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Luckily for Cech, Guendouzi handles the press well. He wins the initial ball before coming out of the resulting challenge on top and then rolling the ball to the support out wide following pressure from Fernandinho.

This wasn’t the only shaky moment Cech had against City and as the game went on it was clear that he wasn’t adjusting to this style of play that well. Although Cech made some impressive saves in the game, for me, Leno is a must-start against Chelsea.

Off The Ball Positives

Another facet we saw added to Arsenal’s game in pre-season was pressing high up the pitch when off the ball. This was also very encouraging as it saw Arsenal defend on the front foot and create turnovers in great positions.

When playing in that 4-3-3 system the press is usually started by Aaron Ramsey with the other forwards following suit. When done well, we saw this do two things. One: push teams all the way back to their goalkeeper and have to restart their attacks and two: crumble under the pressure and kick the ball out of play.

This was on show again against Manchester City and worked well in parts.

Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Ramsey is furthest up the pitch having started the press. With the others joining in, this only leaves one good passing option open for Ederson.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Upon receiving the ball, however, the attention of the press is well switched to Fernandinho. He is forced to play the return ball to Ederson whose options are still being cut off.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Benjamin Mendy is the only free man for Ederson but with Mesut Ozil, Guendouzi and Ramsey applying the squeeze he plays a wayward pass which is just kept in by John Stones.

This is a great indication of how Arsenal can put teams under immense pressure this season. Should this continue we should see this pressing routine improve him more and possibly result in a few goals.

Off The Ball Negatives

Although this pressing game was a positive overall, it also brought some lessons that could be learned. On occasions, the team wasn’t quite a unit in their press which allowed City to play through it easily and get higher up the pitch.

Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Here, the players assigned to press City high have done a good job. Kyle Walker hasn’t got a close option to find. But this has left a massive space in between the lines as two of Arsenal’s three centre midfielders and the left back are part of that press.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
In this case the defensive players could have pushed up a tad to close off the space. This gave Walker an easy out ball and Sterling the chance to get in behind.

As the season grows the communication between the defensive and attacking units should improve and as a result hopefully, this will be a less regular occurrence. Whoever the defensive central midfielder is may need to drag an extra player in with him.

Lacazette Needs To Start

For me, as well as Cech starting, Mkhitaryan starting was also very confusing. In pre-season Arsenal have looked at their best with Alexandre Lacazette playing centrally and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang out to the left. The pair seem to bounce off each other well and Aubameyang stretches defences well when out wide.

We didn’t get this with Mkhitaryan but when Lacazette came on, we saw glimpses of what could’ve been.

Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Dropping in, Lacazette attracts bodies which creates the space for him to free Aubameyang down the wing.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
Due to his pace, City double up on Aubameyang as he continues his run. Ozil gets picked up in the middle, meaning Lacazette is left free as he makes up ground.
Unai Emery Arsenal Manchester City Tactical Analysis
City doubling up means there is a huge gap in the full back-centre back channel. Lacazette spots this and makes a run towards the space but Aubameyang’s pass is misplaced.

We saw Aubameyang and Lacazette become more in sync as the game evolved and one of their connections saw Lacazette go inches from scoring. The way the pair complement each other is something that I believe must be utilised as much as possible this season as you can see above it creates good spaces to take advantage of.

Summary

Overall, Arsenal fans probably expected defeat to Guardiola’s 100 point-men. Despite this, it’s important to remember that this is possibly the best team on the planet at the moment and there is always going to be room for improvement after a new manager’s debut. So, there were lessons to be learned but also some very encouraging signs to kick-off Arsenal’s 2018/19 Premier League campaign.