Talking Tactics: Leicester City v Arsenal; The Match Nobody Wanted to Lose

August 22, 2016

This analysis comes courtesy of our new technical partner Footballytics

It is never good to lose two in a row and it is especially bad if it happens to be first two games of the season. Arsenal and Leicester were both risking that faith before their clash at King Power stadium in Leicester. Neither of managers wanted that as hit on confidence could be determinant on current campaign in Premiership.

While Claudio Ranieri had his best players all available for the match, Arsene Wenger had to bench Mesut Özil and Olivier Giroud as they aren’t fully fit after their participation in Euro 2016. However, he got Laurent Koscielny back in defence and Granit Xhaka in midfield while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took Alex Iwobi’s place on right wing and Santiago Cazorla replacing the injured Aaron Ramsey in the attacking midfielder role. In comparison with match against Liverpool last week, Arsenal were immediately stronger in defence and the deep lying midfield position.

Although Kante went to Chelsea, Nampalys Mendy seems a good replacement and Leicester loooked strong in defence as they were all last season To counter the strong double block of four defenders Wenger occasionally employed Bellerin and Monreal to come inside instead of hugging the line.

Lack of runners from deep was rucial in Arsenal’s ineffectivness to win the match

Lack of runners from deep was crucial in Arsenal’s ineffectivness to win the match

In the image above bove you can see Monreal drifting inside which left Oxlade-Chamberlain alone on the wing. However, as Cazorla has already left his attacking midfielder slot there are no runners from deep to further disrupt Leicester’s defensive block. The fact that Coquelin and Xhaka were strictly tasked with not venturing too far forward and providing cover for possible counter attacks = Arsenal didn’t get the support in the midfield they’d need. However, as we have already established the objective for Arsenal was not to lose second match in a row so the set up is understandable.

While Arsenal had the advantage in ball possession in first half it seems their fluid movement of front players did not really work against Leicester. At points it seemed as Sanchez had free role to move around, as he was often drifting into Oxlade Chamberlain’s space while Cazorla was also moving laterally. Instead of creating confusion in Leicester defence as was likely the aim of this strategy, it at times it looked more like disorganized attacking that offered no attacking threat to the hosts.

Xhaka was crucial in Arsenal build up. However, front two had so much freedom of movement it hurt them (image source: via twitter @11tegen11)

Xhaka was crucial in Arsenal build up. However, front two had so much freedom of movement it hurt them (image source: via twitter @11tegen11)

This excellent chart from @11tegen11 provides an insight into Arsenal’s  offensive play versus Leciester. You can clearly see Xhaka playing they deep lying midfielder role and was the focal point for which Arsenal created passing opportunities. In additon to Xhaka, there was heavy involvement with both fullbacks as passing conduits. The left side is clearly more active side in Arsenal’s attack as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanchez and Cazorla are often seen drifting left to overload opposition. However, lack of runners from central area doesn’t destabilize the defence and there is very little to show for all the running.

Arsenal failed to use the width of the pitch which made it easier for Leicester to defend

Arsenal failed to use the width of the pitch which made it easier for Leicester to defend

Above you see that Coquelin is under pressure from Leceister but the real problem Arsenal has is that they are playing into hands of Leicester despite all the possession they have. Sanchez and Monreal are too narrow helping the defensive line stay compact and close enough to support each other. There are at least 15 yards of space on left flank of Monreal and Sanchez they should really use to stretch the defensive line and open up gaps for their faster teammates like Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain to run in. Additionally, the positioning of Cazorla is completely out of position. Even if Coquelin wasn’t under pressure, Cazorla would never be able to receive the pass, in the end all he is doing is effectively bringing the defenders closer to Bellerin who also is in a tight spot.

The second half opens up much differently as Leicester adjusts and begins to pressure Arsenal much higher up the pitch and close the opposition down really well. Suddenly it is the visitors who can’t get on the ball and Leicester’s high tempo gets the Gunners into a lot of trouble.

With second half Leicester played much higher and closed down well preventing Arsenal from creating much even when Oezil came on the pitch

With second half Leicester played much higher and closed down well preventing Arsenal from creating much even when Özil came on the pitch

You can see above how the high press by Leicester really worked. The player on the ball doesn’t really have an option and winds up clearing the ball aimlessly. As second half progressed Leicester won a lot of balls higher up the field and were able to launch quick counter attacks. If the direct approach via Vardy couldn’t be used,  the ball frequently went to right side to Riyad Mahrez who would then looked to either attack 1 v 1 or search for a crossing option to stretch Arsenal’s defence.

As game the game progressed, it was quickly getting out of hand for Arsenal, Wenger replaced Cazorla with Özil while Oxlade-Chamberlain was substituted with Giroud and finally, Coquelin went out and was replaced by Wilshere. Özil took his customary role, in the center of Arsenal’s attack, while Wilshere coming from deep was more keen to make forward runs compared to the repalced Coquelin. While this might have worked in first half with Leicester sitting deeper, it didn’t really work in the last 15 minutes of the match with the hosts pressing high, closing down well and Arsenal without their speedy attack to exploit the space vacated behind the high press of Leicester.

To conclude, Arsenal were way too cautious in the first half opting to play with two holding midfielders and while they had the ball, Leicester was all too happy to rely on quick breaks. In the second half, it all went all wrong for Wenger and Arsenal as it was the Leicester players who were always first to the ball allowing them to spring attack after attack. In the end both teams will likely be satisfied with a point as which was probably the game plan for both before the game.

Leave a Reply

About The Author


Founder, editor, writer, designer of When he’s not following the Arsenal,he’s busy coaching various age groups the right way to play the beautiful game

I am neurotic. Well, Arsenal tends to do that to you and due to this maddening love affair I have with this team across the sea, I rise and fall like everyday (given our current state some times more than 5 times a day.) I love this team and hope it comes through even slightly with this blog.

If I am not here blogging away, I am either working or writing coaching sessions. All in all, I'm loving it. UTA!

Copyright 2017, All Rights Reserved