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Arsenal Opposition Report – Portsmouth


Fratton Park hosts Portsmouth and Arsenal in the FA Cup 5th round. Mikel Arteta will be looking to balance the desire of winning the FA Cup with rotating and resting key players ahead of a busy back end to the season. Arsenal’s recent exit from the Europa League, leaves only the FA Cup as the only silverware for Arsenal this season.

This report will analyse Kenny Jackett’s Portsmouth and what Arsenal can expect from them.

Form Guide

 Promotion pushing Portsmouth currently reside in 3rd place in League One.  They currently have 56 points from their 33 league matches this season, winning 17 and losing 8. Portsmouth have won four of their last five matches losing the other one to Fleetwood. In this run of games, they beat Exeter City 3-2 to progress to the final of the Football League Trophy.


Portsmouth set-up in a 4-2-3-1 system aiming to use width and pace in attack. They look to press in a medium block, killing interior space. The aim of the wingers is to force play wide, away from goal and into areas where the opposition can be pinned. Their first thought is to always play the ball in behind the defensive line for an attacker. They use quick combination play to release their players in space with time to cross. Danger men John Marquis and Ronan Curtis, have scored eight and eleven goals respectively and been directly involved in 58% of scoring activity.


Attacking Shape

Portsmouth look to stretch play with five men positioned across the oppositions defensive line. This helps create angles and options when the ball is central. Portsmouth’s five-man attacking line helps stretch the oppositions defensive line, which opens channels and gaps between players which can be exploited with late runs. A lot of the teams who Portsmouth face, fail to defend all five channels and therefore enable Portsmouth to have lots of success with this approach.  Portsmouth like to play every goal kick and every ball out from defence long into the oppositions half. They want to overload one side of the pitch, before switching the play to the other flank for a cross. The cross is put into the far post and is met with the players from the previous overload, which can cause lots of chaos and goal-scoring chances.

Arsenal Opposition Report - Portsmouth

This image shows Portsmouth attacking with width across Shrewsbury’s disjointed back 5. A common pattern for Portsmouth is the striker (Harrison), will look to drop off the line and play quick combination passes with the number 10 (Evans). This allows Portsmouth to draw opponents in before playing the ball out wide into space or play a penetrative through pass for a winger who’s making an in-from-out run.


Attacking Transition

Portsmouth are very effective when counter-attacking. They look to expand from their defensive shape and attack open space behind their opponents. With first time balls into the channels behind their opponents, they can quickly turn their opponents defence. This allows them to catch the opposition flat-footed and effectively use their pace and understanding with teammates to execute devastating counter-attacks. Kenny Jackett doesn’t like for his team to have possession for possession’s sake. This means that the moment they get it, they look to play long or out wide. With effective positioning, Arsenal should regain possession with relative ease and be able to constantly pressurise Portsmouth.

Defensive shape

Portsmouth drop to a 4-4-1-1 when out of possession. They focus on pressing the man on the ball individually. This means one of their players will break the line to engage, whilst the other will restrict and look to protect any passing angles or exploitable space.  Portsmouth’s pressing system leaves a lot of space between the lines, with the two banks of four regularly getting separated. If Arsenal can create multiple attacking lines and numerical superiority centrally, they should be able to slice through Portsmouth. Third man runs and patterns which see the ball played quickly through the lines into the feet, will be the undoing of Pompey. Burgess likes to step out of the backline and gets attracted to the man, this often leaves space in behind him and can leave the fullback; Bolton, isolate in a 1v1 situation.

Arsenal Opposition Report - Portsmouth

This image shows the exploits that can be had against Pompey. Burgess doesn’t know whether to engage the MK Dons player who has found space between the lines or not. Taylor is looking to press the player in possession. This increases the space behind him for the MK Dons players. Raggett has to hold the line because of the player who is in the half channel between him and Walkes.

Defensive Transition

 As previously mentioned, Portsmouth play with great emphasis on attacking with width and with numbers. In defensive transition, they leave lots of space and exploitable gaps. Portsmouth attack with seven players; the two fullbacks, two wingers, one central midfielder, the attacking midfielder and striker. This only leaves three outfield players back to defend and with the fullbacks advanced, means they have to defend large volumes of the pitch. Portsmouth don’t look to counter-press particularly aggressively. They instead look to recover their positions well. They look to engage their opponents in 1v1 duels in order to slow down any progression of the ball and to help their teammates get back. In these situations they are not rash or impulsive, they just try and slow down the attack.

Build-Up Play

 Portsmouth look to build-up play through long balls into the channels for their quick wingers to chase. Supporting players then follow up these balls to ensure that the move can evolve and that isolations don’t occur. Portsmouth know that if they can stretch the defensive line, then they can create opportunities. They will look to run in the channels and break the defensive line through their supporting players. They do this very effectively.  It’s very rare that Portsmouth will look to initiate play through their two centre backs passing into midfield or dribbling out with the ball. This means that they are relatively predictable and teams can set up to deal with this threat. If they do this, Pompey can find themselves in situations where they struggle to hold the ball up and win the second phase. The ball then comes straight back at them, putting them under more pressure and with players out of position.

Arsenal Opposition Report - Portsmouth

This image shows the Portsmouth players chasing a long pass intended to go behind the fullback. Portsmouth look to follow up the ball, with the support of four players. Their aim is to either win the ball back and attack in a second phase, or should the pass be successful, run away opposition players to help create space for the player on the ball. In this case, the ball goes out of play.


 Once in their shape, Portsmouth look to press in a 4-2-3-1. They aim to position their players narrow in order to force their opponents out wide. When the ball is played quickly out from the back with good connections, Portsmouth’s 4-2-3-1 can be exploited. At times the wingers do get bypassed and don’t get back in their positions. This, therefore, leaves situations where the fullback and covering midfielder get caught isolated and outnumbered. Another issue with Pompey’s shape is when the opposition deploy two strikers. The fullbacks don’t know whether to pass on the striker to the centre back and press out to cover the space between him and the winger or drop off and maintain a low back four.

Arsenal Opposition Report - Portsmouth

This image shows Portsmouth’s press getting bypassed with quick build-up play which cuts their wingers out from the defensive phase. The two MK Dons strikers make sacrificial runs between the fullbacks and the centre backs. This drags the back four away from the midfield line. This helps open space in front of them and behind the wingers. The arrows show where the wingers need to be in relation to where the ball is, in order to protect the space better.


 Portsmouth play with that old English adage of long-ball football. The moment they have the ball they aim to play it long and consequently open the risk of losing it. For Arsenal, a team who wants the ball and wants to attack with constant possession and pressure, this is very welcome. Obviously Arsenal must be wary of this threat and must effectively prepare for it as to not get caught out, but of all the styles to face, this will be preferred. Portsmouth may look to force Arsenal on the back foot early with a high press and balls which turn the defence, however over time this will subside and much like Everton, they will drop back into their shape and allow for Arsenal possession. Arsenal have quick wingers who could easily penetrate the defensive line. With clever patterns and matchups, Arsenal could create the space they need to hurt Pompey.

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