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Tactical Analysis: What the Scotland Friendlies tell us about Arsenal’s Style of Play – Part 2


Welcome back to the second part of over analyzing the Scotland tourThis time around we’re going to set the focus on chance creation, something that has been very wavy during Arteta‘s first full season. Watching the two matches, there’s a couple of things that jumps out, that might also explain why we have a hard time penetrating certain types of teams and formations.

today, though, we’re going to focus on two areas, being Channels of Progression and Shot creation as these were the two things that jumped to mind while looking through the 180 minutes.

Channels of Progression

In my first part about possession, we touched upon the positional changes and the individual tasks. This time we’re going to move further and try to focus on the ways Arsenal progress the ball forward.

Over the top

The quickest way to turn defense into attack is to have a forward that’s willing to run in behind the defense and protect the ball until the rest of the team is in place. Giving Arsenal’s interest and consequently signing of Ben White, should stamp the importance of having ball playing central defenders in your roster. 

Typically, you’d see David Luiz spray a long diagonal ball from the RCB position and onto a touch line wide Tierney, who has been instrumentally good at beating his man and setting up a good cross. But with Aubameyang up front, there’s also the option of hitting the half space area behind the central defender, since the Gabon international will likely get to the ball first in 9/10 situations. 

In both situations, the idea is to set up for a cross into the box, either an inswinger from Pépé or an outswinger from Tierney. 

In this example, Cedric plays the role of gear shifter, and finds Aubameyang in behind a rather high defensive line. From there, there’s a lot of motion to get 2-3 players quickly into the box, so when Pépé receives the ball, he has targets to aim for.

Cedric finds Aubameyang running off the shoulder of the last defender

The balls trajectory forces Aubemyang to turn away from goal, as Pépé joins to offer support

Pépé sets himself in a good position to cross it in, aiming for the room between defenders

Unfortunately, Baloguns run isn’t agressive enough and he doesn’t get in front of the defender.

Unfortunately the ball doesn’t quite hit the mark, falling short of Balogun and hitting a defender, though one could argue you really want someone to attack the near post on all occasions.

The “Drag and move”

One of the biggest drawbacks that comes from going with long balls over the press, is the predictability of play. Without a player like Antonio or Calvert-Lewin to out muscle the defense, and a willing sprinter, like Lingard or Grealish to force the defenders to step back, you usually find the opposition to contend themselves with dropping a few yards back and diminish the space available to run in behind. 

So when you’re Arsenal, and haven’t acquired the likes of Tammy Abraham yet, hitting a hopeful long pass towards Aubameyang isn’t going to be a viable long-term strategy.

What Arteta, and Emery, has been trying to introduce instead, is a more possession based approach, trying to drag the opposition up the field and create opportunities for our dangermen to get 1v1 situations with defenders.

As the ball progresses up the pitch, using the space given by the opposition will usually also see play being shifted from one wing to the other, using our midfielders as a passing link. Both Pépé and Aubameyang have a tendency to drag a couple of extra players towards them, denying them a clear way forward, which then forces the opposition to allow space either in central midfield or the opposite wide area. Using the brilliant Partey and Smith-Rowe as space invaders and “enablers” has the ultimate effect of creating pockets of space for a chance on goal.

In this example, Pépé drops back to allow Partey a forward pass, while Balogun’s positioning allows Aubameyang to turn his man create a situation where Pépé and Balogun is occupied by the same defender, who’s only save by the foot shift pause Pépé does before crossing and and the cross itself. If given the chance again, I’m sure Pépé would just hit the ball first time, either hard and flat across goal or a floating cross toward the back post.

The Horse-shoe

To be fair, this isn’t as much a strategy as it is a consequence of possessional play. As you set yourself up as the sole conqueror of the circular egg, the opposition has to settle with limited egg-holding opportunity. This is done by simply keeping the opposition to egg possession in areas that don’t worry your coop-hen. And thus the horse-shoe is created, as the egg-possessors try to provoke the no-egg-possessors to leave the warmth of their coop, while increasingly worrying that there will be a time where egg-possession will shift and end up in their own coop.

Leaving the poultry metaphors, the horseshoe of death has been a known problem for Arsenal, in which they fail to create space for their dangermen (or the dangermen fail to utilise set space). It’s a problem that has a deep rooted history, as Arsenal force flair where sometimes flair doesn’t need to be.

As the horse-shoe begins to form, the power-battle also begins to skew. The more resilient the box is defended, the more players you need to bring forward to break the mold. The more players you leave forward, the greater the risk of being hit on the counter becomes. 

In the end the formation of the horse-shoe can only be destroyed by not relying on possession of the circular egg to be dangerous.

This also means having players that are ready to follow the Jesse Marsch book of “Pressing to score” or the “10 second rule”, which Arsenal have had varying degrees of success in finding.

Personally I believe that Arteta is going to have a rude awakening as teams begin to realise that denying space for Pépé and Aubameyang will ultimately leave Arsenal fresh out of goals.

Shot creation

So here were supposed to be a whole addendum regarding shot creation. But the fact is, because of the channels of progression being very lackluster, the shot creation is very much up to individual talents and moments of star alignment.

Without consistency in the progressional play, in where the people who you want to take the shots are actually in position to take them, creating chances is like throwing 100 balls in the air and trying to grab as many as possible before they hit the ground.

I’d like to see Arsenal work a lot more on direct play, using the inward movement of Pépé and Smith-Rowe to create pockets of space for our shot takers. If Lacazette’s best work is outside the box, set him up so he can shoot outside the box. If Aubameyang enjoys the left half space, create a pocket for him with change of play. Get Xhaka to let off his XhakaBOOMs again. Get Lokonga into the 20yard area. Just let people go out and pepper the goalkeeper!


If you follow the transfer rumours, you’d quickly notice what type of players we are trying to acquire.

The interest in Tammy Abraham, and lately Vlahovic, shows Arteta’s intent on bringing in a striker that can be dangerous on his own, while the continuous interest in Maddison should give you a hint of Arteta’s intent on getting a player that will force the opposition to second guess dropping deep.

In the end, Arsenal’s biggest problems this season look to be stemming from the front and our inability to convert the work of the defense and midfield into shots on goal.

As the goals falls short, the defense begins to dwindle ever so slightly, as the opposition hone in on when and how to strike.

Next time I’ll take a look at the defensive jobs and movement under the Scotland Tour.

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