Arsenal continued their rich vein of form as they duly dispatched a hapless Huddersfield side at the Emirates. From the 68th to 72nd minute, classic Wengerball made a return to pip three goals that ended with a final scoreline of 5-0.
Arsenal: Cech; Monreal, Mustafi, Koscielny; Kolasinac, Xhaka, Ramsey (Wilshere), Bellerin; Sanchez (Welbeck), Ozil, Lacazette (Giroud)
Huddersfield Town: Lossl; Cranie, Zanka, Schindler; Lowe, Hogg (Whitehead), Mooy (Williams), Hadergjonaj; Quaner, Kachunga, Mounie (Depoitre)
Arsenal Possession Play and Huddersfield Defensive Shape
Arsenal settled into their usual structural buildup since they’ve utilized a back three with the sidebacks split wide and Xhaka sitting as the deep 6. This dual triangle in the initial buildup allowed for the maintenance of possession and the ability to transition quickly from side to side. Huddersfield, in response, matched Arsenal like-for-like in a 3-4-2-1 with Mounie as the sole striker.
At times throughout the match Arsenal were able to easily bypass Mounie, who was left isolated up top as Kachunga and Quaner dropped wide to form a 5-4-1 when in their defensive phase. In the earliest phases of the match, Huddersfield was reluctant to compromise their defensive structure by pressing the ball-carrier aggressively. This left Ramsey and Ozil to drift into pockets of space between the lines and force multiple defenders to abandon their position. They were exposed through these means for the first goal as they gave Ozil too much space in the center zone and Ramsey freedom to play an easy one-two with Lacazette. He was able to get in behind so easily because Cranie was slow to get back into their low block and Schindler lazy in closing Ramsey in the half-space.
Arsenal’s Final Third Movement
Ozil and Sanchez were undoubtedly Arsenal’s most influential players and their constant movement into deeper positions to create opportunities for vertical progression caused Huddersfield constant problems. Arsenal has utilized these half-space movements since they’ve moved to a back three and it has proven quite effective. Defenses, unless they are properly trained, struggle to press correctly when Arsenal move the ball this way. Multiple defenders attempt to close the ball and Wenger’s proclivity for quick one-twos in wide areas gives deep runners easy access to the final third.
Arsenal as well smartly deployed a tight diamond shape in their midfield that moved according to the direction of their attack. Their midfield positioning was never static and the constant interchange of Xhaka, Ramsey, Ozil, and Sanchez, created fluid overloads in central areas. Arsenal would have a spare man in possession, which would allow the receiver time and space to pick a forward pass or quickly switch play to change the angle of attack. When Arsenal lacked intensity, these movements were slow and lacked the compactness that made this structure effective. This resulted in either recycling possession to the first line of buildup or forced passes.
Praise needs to be given to Lacazette, whose off-ball dynamism offered a different dimension to Arsenal’s attack and why they look more dangerous when he is on the pitch. The Frenchman randomized his movement throughout the first half, sometimes coming deep to receive the ball and other times making diagonal runs in the channels to disrupt the compactness of Huddersfield’s defensive block. The variety of his attacking depth caused a disconnect between Huddersfield defense and midfield which gave everyone else room to receive passes in space. Obviously, players are still getting familiar with Lacazette’s movement; he makes some channel runs that go unnoticed or are reluctant to attempt such a direct pass. He is different enough from Giroud that there would be growing pains but it is starting to look like the adaptation phase may be coming to an end. Hopefully, his groin strain suffered in the first half won’t keep him out for long as he has proven to be our only reliable goalscorer.
Huddersfield Pressure, Four Minutes of Arsenal Bliss
David Wagner’s men came out after halftime with more urgency in their game and threatened Arsenal several times in the first 20 minutes. Huddersfield made two small changes to disrupt Arsenal’s possessional play and give them some opportunities to attack. First, they became more aggressive in their pressing, especially in central areas. Where in the first half they would sit deeper to keep their structure compact, the four midfielders pushed higher to disrupt the timing of Arsenal’s passing. Balls received by Xhaka or in the half-spaces were met instantly with a defender. This led to some misplaced passes that gave Huddersfield the room to counter.
Second, the lack of compactness in Arsenal’s defensive transition allowed Huddersfield’s attacker’s too much room to continue their momentum into the final third. Partly this is because of a lack of communication between the midfield and defense wherein Xhaka and Ramsey will reposition themselves to pressure the receiver while the defense sits in a deeper block. Huddersfield had too many opportunities to simply switch the ball to the opposite flank because both Xhaka and Ramsey tried to touchline press. Without either Sanchez dropping deeper or the defensive line pushing higher, space between the midfield and defense was available to generate forward attacking pressure. Against a more clinical side Arsenal may have conceded but with Huddersfield now gone 315 minutes without scoring a goal, they never looked threatening.
Yet in a span of four minutes Arsenal constantly fashioned clear-cut chances to score three goals and increase their lead to 4-0. Huddersfield struggled to maintain sufficient distance between their midfield and defense as they pushed forward to equalize. This left massive gaps in the half-spaces that Ozil especially was eager to exploit.
Simply put, Ozil turned into a living, breathing warlock. His eagerness to get in behind through quick one-twos for the second goal and an easy third man run wide for the third demonstrated that when he is up for it, Ozil is a tactical nightmare. He glides into open space and forces defenses to make split-second decisions on if they should close him down or maintain their shape. When given the time, there is no one better than him at unlocking the opposition and Huddersfield couldn’t cope with his constant off-ball movement.
As a team, no one is better at turning a close game into a rout in such a short span of time. For four minutes Arsenal’s collective concentration and ruthlessness made a Huddersfield side who played well in the first part of the second half into a tactical puddle. That Arsenal struggle to do this consistently is what makes it all the more frustrating.