Tactical Analysis: Arsenal 0-0 Red Star Belgrade

Match Analysis Arsenal


Arsenal: Macey; Holding, Elneny, Debuchy; Maitland-Niles, Coquelin, Willock (Nketiah), Nelson; Wilshere Giroud, Walcott

Red Star Belgrade: Borjan; Gobeljic, Le Tallec, Savic, Stojkovic; Krsticic, Donald; Radonjic (Pesic), Kanga (Milic), Srnic (Racic); Boakye

Lack of Fluidity Kills Arsenal

Arsenal is a team built on the fluidity of movement; some of their best goals begin with quick one-two’s and third-man runs into the channels. Part of this success is predicated on individual talent but the best Arsenal sides have a form of subconscious synchronicity developed through years of playing alongside one another. This is partly, I believe, why Wenger is reticent to sell-on players: having a model like Man City or Chelsea, where players are constantly coming and going, would make Wenger’s tactical ideology difficult to implement.

That is partly why these Europa League games have been difficult, in an attacking sense, for Arsenal. The team thrown out against Red Star is an eleven made from substitutes, those Wenger could not sell on, and academy youngsters. There are quick passes between the lines that no one runs onto and misplaced diagonal balls. There is a static placement of players or, worse, highly individual moments of action. Notice the lack of options for Joe Willock, who receives the ball deep on the left flank. Who can he realistically pass to that can generate any type of vertical attacking threat?

The lack of off-ball movement and strong attacking structure force Willock to pass backward to Holding. The lack of fluidity led to too many attacking transitions to falter.

The passing network for Arsenal against Red Star highlights the frailty of their attack. Too often Arsenal is slow in their build-up play, dependent on either patient ball movement run along the flanks or vertical ground passes to the inside-forward in the half-space. This lack of variety can make them predictable and easy to defend with a well-drilled defensive shape. Arsenal has shown an ability to be creative in their passing structures as they move into the final third; their second goal against Swansea is demonstrative of that. Whether this mashup of players can develop that is a whole other question indeed.

Red Star Expose Arsenal Underbelly

Red Star enjoyed several moments throughout that with a better squad and more clinical finishing could have won. While they did not expose anything new regarding Arsenal’s defensive problems, they exploited them in ways that make the upcoming Manchester City match worrying.

Everyone is familiar with gegenpressing, the rock-n-roll defensive theory deployed by a cadre of German managers. While I won’t go into its inherent problems, I want to quickly mention two of its most important features. First, when utilized correctly, it provides strong defensive stability in an age where most teams are adept at transitioning quickly into their attacking phase. Second, your team is in a more advantageous shape when the ball is gained back through a strong spatial organization. This is not how Arsenal deploy counterpressing. While I’m not arguing for Arsenal to implement gegenpressing into their defensive schemes, it can be worrying when individual players press maniacally without any contribution from other defenders. Just look at Theo. He’s trying to press three players but without Giroud, Nelson, or Coquelin pushing further up, Red Star can easily pass around him.

Theo Walcott is the only Arsenal player pressing Red Star’s initial buildup. That Giroud and Wilshere sit off gives the defender three easy choices for simple attacking progression.

That Arsenal constantly struggles with second balls builds off their problems with maintaining their pressing action. When Arsenal transition into their defensive shape, there can be a disjointedness between the attacking five (the forwards and central midfielders) and the defending five (wing-backs and center-backs). The former, at times, will push higher up the pitch to shadow-cover passing lanes while the latter will maintain a five-man defensive line further back. Red Star was able to play simple long balls into the channels or straight to Boakye, who would provide a simple lay-off to a midfielder in space. The lack of defensive compactness makes Arsenal vulnerable to this type of ball progression and will be something that Pep Guardiola would have noticed as he preps for Arsenal’s visit this Sunday.

A simple long-ball from Milan Borjan leads to a dangerous attacking transition for Red Star. Kanga is in a great position to claim the second ball and play in Srnic, who hits a tame effort at Macey. Notice the positioning of Coquelin and Willock. The complete disconnect with the three center-backs leaves them isolated in space.

Welcome to Debuchy-land

Few fans would have remembered that Mathieu Debuchy still existed, that is how long he has gone without first-team minutes. In the Europa League so far, he has been one of our better defenders as he plays the right side-back in a back three. Defensively, he was good in denying ball progression into the half-spaces and aided in ball circulation during Arsenal’s initial buildup. While he lacks the attacking instincts of Nacho Monreal, he provides yet another emergency option in the side-back position in case someone gets injured. I never thought I would write those sentences this season.

About the Author

Barry Brillantes
Barry is an aspiring journalist and received his M.A. in Anthropology in 2016. He has been an avid follower of Arsenal since 2001 and hopes one day to perform a Bergkamp turn in a Sunday league match, though Arsenal is more likely to win the title first.