How Arsenal’s Subtle Tactical Tweaks Helped Them Beat West Ham
After Arsenal’s dismantling of Fulham at Craven Cottage, the Gunners played host to David Moyes and his beleaguered West Ham side. In this game, Arsenal ran out 2-1 victors but still faced many problems and struggled to overcome West Ham’s stubborn defence.
This report will analyse the match and break down the key tactics of both teams.
Arsenal lined up in their preferred 3-4-3. Bernd Leno started a second consecutive game, following Martinez’s exit. The three-man defence ahead of him consisted of Holding, Gabriel, and the returning Kolašinac ahead of him. Saka and Bellerin took the wing-back roles, with Xhaka partnering Dani Ceballos in midfield, the latter of whom made his first start since returning on loan from Real Madrid. The front three consisted of the dangerous Willian, Lacazette, and Aubameyang.
David Moyes opted to alter his line-up from the one that lost to Newcastle, changing from a 4-2-3-1 to a 5-4-1. Former Arsenal number 2 Fabiański played in goal, with Diop, Ogbonna, and Cresswell slotting into the back three. Masuaku and Fredericks played as wing-backs, with inverted wingers Fornals and Bowen playing ahead of them. Goal-scoring midfielder Souček partnered Rice in the heart of midfield while up front, Antonio’s work rate and endeavour was once again preferred ahead of Haller by Moyes.
Balance of the game
It was a rather turgid game, with neither team really showing a lot of quality and precision on the ball. Despite losing, it was West Ham who created the greater quantity and quality of chances. West Ham ended the game with a total of 15 shots, with 5 on target – Arsenal only mustered 6 shots, 3 on target. From their 15 shots, West Ham had an expected goals of 2.20, with the biggest contributors being Antonio (1.69), Bowen (0.20), and Ogbonna (0.18). Arsenal, on the other hand, ended the game with an XG of 1.01. Late substitute and match-winner Nketiah (0.52), opening goal-scorer Lacazette (0.25), and attacking wing-back Saka (0.23) were Arsenal’s biggest impacts in front of goal. Arsenal really struggled to free themselves from their markers and get good quality shots away.
Arsenal’s poor attacking play is further enhanced by their reliance to attack down the left. Arsenal executed their usual pattern of play, with the left-sided centre-back altering to left-back when Arsenal are in possession, thus overloading West ham out wide and freeing the likes of Aubameyang and others with time and space. This is shown through the XG of 1.0 coming down Arsenal’s left. Arsenal created very little wide right and centrally, with play constantly shifting left.
Width and Numbers Between the Lines
David Moyes went about circumventing Arsenal’s width by deploying a back 5 which could stretch wide across the pitch. The tight compact midfield 4 was deployed to protect the central areas and any gaps between the back 5. West Ham were more than happy to play 2 v 2 with Rice and Souček, against Xhaka and Ceballos. Arsenal understood and analysed the fact that they couldn’t find a lot of space out wide to attack in behind or exploit 1 v 1s, so they rather packed the midfield centrally and in between the lines.
The aim for Arsenal was to work the ball to a central midfielder who would wait for the West Ham midfielders to close him down, as he dribbled forward. They would then look for a vertical or diagonal pass between the lines. Alternatively, Arsenal would move the ball wider, in front of the West Ham defensive shape, before playing inside and then looking for a diagonal pass between the lines, for a player to receive on the half-turn.
Arteta knew that Moyes would look to play long and direct towards Antonio and then feed off second balls, with Souček and Rice, or balls flicked-on for Bowen or Fornals. Arteta nullified this by asking Arsenal to press high and rush West Ham’s long passes, as to minimise their effectiveness/accuracy. This is shown through Arsenal’s 7.8 passes per defensive action. This means Arsenal allowed West Ham 7.8 passes, before challenging them with a defensive action of some kind. This is compared to West Ham’s 15.4, which at one stage reached 48, as Arsenal controlled their 63% of possession with relative ease.
Directly in the duels between Holding and Antonio, Holding won 1 of his total 1 aerial duels against Antonio, however only won 2 of his 9 ground duels against the striker. Moreover, it was Holding’s poor positioning which allowed Antonio to hold him off and score West Ham’s equaliser. Holding should have done better to get goal-side and across the front of Antonio and between him and the goal.
Another part of David Moyes game plan was when West Ham had the ball out wide, that they overloaded the box. The Hammers ensured that Antonio wasn’t isolated in the box and that there were runners attacking goal. A clear instruction from Moyes was for Souček to make a run targeting the aerially weak Kolašinac. Souček is a very good goal-scoring midfielder and against Kolašinac, who is suspect in the air, had a good chance at meeting the crosses. Arteta responded by ensuring Xhaka and Ceballos tracked runs and followed midfielders into the box, preventing any space which could be exploited and ensured Kolašinac and the other defenders attacked the cross, instead of being passive.
A large part of Arsenal’s poor attacking play was down to their lack of penetration. With the midfield two of Xhaka and Ceballos being as disciplined as they are, there was little room for them to make forward runs beyond the West Ham defence. To be fair, when Arsenal had sustained spells of possession, West Ham sat so deep that there was little room beyond their defensive line, making the execution, all the more technically harder. However, these late runs could yield shots, penalties and cause disruption in the West Ham defence, something Arsenal did little of.
When Ceballos did make a penetrative run, Arsenal found the back of the net through Nketiah. Ceballos only made a penetrative run beyond the defensive shape, in order to drag opponents away from Saka who was in possession. Saka was out of options and spotted a gap to play the pass to Ceballos, who could square to Nketiah.
In conclusion, Arsenal maintained their 100% start to the season, after two very contrasting games. Against Fulham, Arsenal were dominant and created at will, while against West Ham, they were slow, lacked intensity, and created very little. Arsenal seemingly lacked penetration from deep and on the occasion Arsenal did penetrate – they scored. It will be interesting to see if this will prompt any additional business in the transfer market from Arsenal, with rumours about Houssem Aouar being brought in to aid the creativity of the side.
This was the first time in a while where Arsenal faced a side who sat deep and defended with lots of numbers and aggression. Because of this, Arsenal struggled to get there free-flowing attacking football in place. It will be interesting to see how Arteta tactically changes the side to deal with these sort of games in the future.