Anatomy of a Goal: Breaking Down Arsenal’s Mistakes In Leicester’s Goal
Arsenal coverage is chock full of analysis of matches and players. Much of it is fantastic and it lends itself to a better understanding of the game for all of us. We’ve decided to take our analysis a step further and analyse key break downs for Arsenal.
We’ll analyse it from a coaching perspective, hopefully giving you an understanding into the principles of play and exactly what broke down to lead to a goal against Arsenal. Or if the goal is gorgeous enough, pure tiki-take in its prime, we’ll show you everything that went right.
The reason break downs are interesting, at least to me as a coach and writer, is because it’s easy to look at one player and say, “that player was responsible for a goal.” Sometimes, it’s true but other times, as I tell my players, a goal is often times the result of multiple break downs that could very well have happened a minute or so before the eventual goal.
For the inaugural Anatomy of a Goal, we’re going to break down Leicester’s first goal. First, we’re going to ground you into the basic principles of defending in balance, or what is sometimes referred to as pressure, cover and balance (first, second, and third defenders.) Once grounded in those principles we’ll break down the goal in a series of images to highlight where missteps happened that could’ve prevented Tielemans’ goal in the sixth minute of the match.
Principles of Defending
Most defensive systems work around a simple concept of the first, second and third defenders and its from there that we intend to focus on today.
The player closest to the ball is always the first defender (pressure). The player closest to the first defender and in a supporting position is the second defender (cover) and the player supporting the second defender and furthest away from the ball is the third defender (balance.)
As mentioned previously, this is the player closest to the ball. Their job is to close down the space near the ball, getting between the attacker and the goal. This movement or pressure should in practice prevent the attacker from being able to drive into space and prevent any possible shots, passes or crosses they may attempt.
Attributes you’re looking for here are players have good defensive positions (touch-tight, side on, dictating direction), are aggressive, identify cues as to when to tackle or steal the ball, awareness and speed in recovery.
The second defender has two primary responsibilities:
- Identifying and marking the second most dangerous attacker
- Providing “cover” to the first attacker in the chance they get beat by the attacker
They key here is positioning. In order to be effective in this role, positioning is key, and as we discuss later on, it’s positioning and awareness that breaks down early on.
Some of the attributes you should be watching for as you watch the second defender, are the close enough to their man, are their angles right, is the positioning and distancing from the first defender close enough to provide them cover should they get beat and finally, depending on the situation, ability to become the first or third defender, depending on the movement of the ball.
The third defender primarily acts as a zonal defender. Their responsibilities include being prepared for a possible switch of play to his side of the field. Their primary role is to act as the balance between the first and second defenders. They are also, at least as I coach my players, the mouth piece of the defenders. Why? Because they see everything happening in front of them, they can orchestrate the movement of the other two defenders to be better prepared to handle potential threats
Key responsibilities for the third defender include, marking any potential third attacker who may be on the backside and a target for a switch of play. They should be acting as cover for the second defender. They also switch to the second defender if the first defender is beat and the second defender activates as the first defender.
These are just some general concepts to consider as you watch a match and want to have some idea of who has responsibility and where. Again, it’s pretty broad but the principles are valid for almost all situations on the pitch and within the match.
So let’s apply them to Tielemans’ Goal
Leicester 1 – 0 Arsenal
Let’s get this out of the way, the goal in itself and by itself was a great shot by Tielemans. With Leno on the near post and set, he took an across the mouth shot that found the far side. From a goalkeeper perspective its one that most can’t get. That being said, there were a few moments ahead of the goal that had they developed differently could’ve likely prevented it from happening at all.
Granit Xhaka has been a man reborn under Mikel Arteta and its hard to pick on a guy who in the context of a 90+ minute match had a pretty decent outing. However, the first error is his decision making with the ball once he receives it from Willian. As demonstrated above he’s got the ball on the touch line and has three options. He can pass forward to Tierney (out of frame) which is the best option given Xhaka’s body position relative to the forward pass. He could also return the pass to Willian and release but Willian is essentially double covered at this point. Finally, he could do a negative switch to Luiz who is cross field and open. Its a pass that takes out 5 pressing attackers and one that would wind up working all day long in this match.
Xhaka instead delays the initiation of any pass as Willian closes down the space between the two. It draws in the defender behind him but the pass is so poor he never properly receives it. resulting in a turnover.
The ball is turned over and neither Willian or Xhaka is in prime position to defend it. In essence though, Xhaka now become the first defender but he’s already losing the race. His momentum is carrying him the opposition direction, away from Tielemans and if you had to pick on or the other in a foot race, you’re likely going to pick the Leicester man. Now here is where we begin to see the principles outlined above come into play.
The principles we discussed earlier are going to get a little mangled here simply because of what we know how Arteta wants his midfielders to play. With Xhaka activating as the first defender in a recovery run, he’s been beat. That means either Elneny or Mari should be come the first defender. Given that we know that Arteta wants his midfielders to cover vacated space out wide, it’s safe to assume that what we should’ve expected to see is Elneny make a run following the green line to become the first defender to cover for Xhaka. Mari then would become the second defender who is keeping his eye on the Vardy threat. Luiz way up the top is identified as a 4th defender who can cover the bigger switch if necessary.
As Tielemans drives into the box, Xhaka is no longer a viable defender. The pace of both pretty much make the outcome of that battle a foregone conclusion. However one of Elneny or Mari needs to decide to activate now as the first defender. They need to close down the space Tielemans will have have once he arrives in the box. Right now in the image above, Elneny’s run makes him the best candidate. It’s straightforward and his momentum can carry him there easier than Mari who has adjusted to cover the threat of Vardy.
Luiz now suddenly has a role to play. He’s in effect become a the third defender now. Everything is in front of him and he needs to be the eyes for both Elneny and Mari. He should be communicating and commanding which one of them should go. He should also make Mari away that he is arriving to cover Vardy as well.
The moment above is perhaps the moment the goal was a foregone conclusion. Elneny instead of maintaining his run, steps inside and behind Vardy. This opens the space for Tielemans to run in to. And it winds up being a lot of space because Mari has also dropped into cover Vardy in the box. With Luiz arriving also in the box, he should’ve communicated to Mari that he was now free to pressure Tielemans and cut off the space.
In the end Mari does react to cover the space, but its too late. Tielemans has far too much time and space to get his shot off. Give how much of the far post he can see, the only thing that can prohibit the goal is if he doesn’t get a clean shot off. However, we know he gets it off.
Again, the goal in isolation was a nice looking goal and what expect from a player when given the chance. But we made it easy for him by small mistakes that happened along the way. At a basic level roles and responsibilities are easy to identify as we did early in the piece. In the heat of the game when communication breaks down it clearly (as shown) can lead to it being harder to identify.
It’s always easy to identify the goal and making quick reactions to who is at fault for it. The reality is often more complex and I hope we’ve shown that there are sometimes multiple breaks downs that lead to a goal rather than one clear individual one.