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How Arsenal Earned a Scrappy win Against Rapid Vienna


Arsenal travelled to the Allianz Stadion to take on Rapid Vienna in their first game of the Europa League season. Mikel Arteta looked to make the perfect start and went with a strong squad.

Arsenal ran out 2-1 victors, with Luiz and Aubameyang sharing the spoils after falling behind to a Fountas goal.

This report will analyse the key moments in the match.


Rapid Vienna lined up in a 5-3-2 formation with manager Dietmar Kühbauer playing the closest to the strongest line-up he could.

Mikel Arteta kept his favoured 3-4-3 formation. Leno started in goal, with Kolašinac, Gabriel and Luiz forming the back three. Saka and Cedric started as the wing-backs, flanking Elneny and debutant Thomas. Nketiah replaced Aubameyang, with Lacazette starting through the middle. Nicolas Pépé got a good chance to show why he should be starting ahead of Willian off the right.

Rapid Vienna

A lot of credit has to go to Rapid Vienna and their manager Kühbauer who nearly masterminded a remarkable victory over the Gunners.

Kühbauer recognised that upon Arsenal advancing up the pitch, the back three altered to a back two, with Kolašinac pushing higher. He looked to use long balls into the channels or direct to his strikers to maximise the numerical equality. Two of the three midfielders would look to support the front two and win second balls, or run in-behind. If the balls were direct to the strikers, the midfielders would look to run into the channels. If the balls went into the channels for the strikers, the midfielders would come inside. Upon Arsenal regaining the ball, Vienna’s trigger for the press would be any back passes, especially if they were to Leno. Vienna’s directness is shown through their 51 long passes, of which they had a success rate of 51%. Furthermore, Vienna had an average pass length to the final third of 34.4 metres, to Arsenal’s 23.7 metres.

Arteta responded to this not by moving Kolašinac back into a more traditional third centre-back position and creating a 3v2 but by being proactive and pressing higher and with more aggression. This is shown through Vienna’s five passes per defensive action. With the fresh legs of Aubameyang and Bellerin coming on, Arsenal could rush and force Vienna to play passes that were easier for Arsenal to intercept, with Thomas mopping up in front of the defensive line. As part of Vienna’s deep defence, they allowed Arsenal 18.5 passes before engaging in a defensive action. They wanted to draw the Gunners onto them before hitting the space behind the defensive line.

The system

Arteta’s 3-4-3 is his preferred option and he is drilling it into the players as every week passes. Without the correct personnel, the structure can falter and Arsenal can struggle for fluidity. This was shown in this game.

Against Vienna, Arsenal’s shape was flat, disjointed and Arsenal’s left-hand side was very congested. As you can see from the image below, Arsenal overloaded the left, however occupied the wrong channels and spaces. This lack of balance did not help the fluidity of the team and perhaps the two biggest culprits to Arsenal’s struggles were Nketiah and Kolašinac. Neither have played a great deal, with Nketiah mainly playing as a striker, when he has started. Both struggled down Arsenal’s left and stunted any advancements for the Gunners. You can see that when Aubameyang came on (14), he played much higher and in the half-channel, whereas Nketiah proffered to drop deeper and get involved in play when he just needed to hold his position and trust the ball would arrive to him. Disappointingly, he didn’t have any touches in the Vienna box, whereas Lacazette had two and Pépé four.

For Nketiah, his desire to drop and get on the ball could really hinder his chances under Arteta. Arteta wants to play positional football, which requires players to hold their position and create the correct structures, otherwise we will see what we saw against Vienna, where ball progression isn’t possible and breaks down.  In truth, the match-winning moment was bringing Aubameyang and Bellerin on for Nketiah and Cedric. They could fire up Arsenal’s positional play and rotations and create the best structures to unhinge Vienna’s defence.

How Arsenal scraped past Rapid Vienna

As you can see from the image above, Rapid Vienna caused all manner of difficulties for Arsenal and disrupted their balance whilst maintaining their own.

A lack of creativity

Arsenal really showed great difficulty in breaking down Vienna. Their need for that player who could operate in the pockets of space and pull the strings higher up the pitch was most definitely seen.

Neither Partey nor Elneny are particularly creative, therefore adding pressure to the forwards to create for one another. Neither Lacazette nor Nketiah are creators, they are strikers, finishers. Pépé does create, however coming from the wide right side into traffic was always going to be a struggle. This is reflected in his 15 ball losses. Arsenal needed one of their midfielders to pick up the ball and drive with it. Elneny dribbled twice, completing just one, whereas Partey didn’t complete his one dribble. The lack of central inroads allowed Vienna to hold their positions and shuffle as Arsenal passed laterally across them.

Arsenal recorded an expected goals of 0.60 to Vienna’s 1.0. Aubameyang’s goal recorded the highest measure for Arsenal with 0.24 and Luiz’s header recording 0.11.  The image below shows the quality of chances being created throughout the game. Rapid Vienna really should have done better with their chances and taken advantage when they could. Eventually, Arsenal’s quality told.

How Arsenal scraped past Rapid Vienna

This image shows the balance of play throughout the match. Vienna (green) created the best chances throughout the match and should be disappointed to have not taken the lead.


Thomas Partey

Thomas Partey made his first start for Arsenal, following his deadline day switch. The former Atlético Madrid man read play, broke up dangerous attacks and fed his teammates very well. Under Diego Simeone, Thomas played in a midfield two, in a 4-4-2. This familiarity with the position will be fundamental for his time at Arsenal, given Arteta likes a midfield double-pivot.

Against Vienna, Partey held down the midfield, providing plenty of cover behind the advanced wingbacks. Pépé, Nketiah and Lacazette all like to show their flair and skills off. Against a team who defended deep and with numbers, the chance of them losing the ball was greater. Having Partey behind them, who can effectively read play, use his athleticism to cover the pitch, both vertically and horizontally, and defend with great effectiveness, allowed them a psychological boost, knowing he was ready to clean up should they lose the ball.

Partey won all four of his direct 1v1 defensive duels, however only won one of his five 1v1 offensive duels. He made seven interceptions and two clearances. Most impressively, he used his athleticism to cover the pitch and make 21 ball recoveries (winning possession back for Arsenal and keeping the ball), of which 12 recoveries came in the Vienna half. This intelligence will be a much-needed asset for Arsenal. In possession, Partey was a machine. He completed 83% of his 109 on the ball actions. His 109 actions were second to only Gabriel, who had 118, with an 83% success rate. The new midfielder also completed 93% of his 86 passes. Additionally, Partey completed 80% of his 20 forward passes and 100% of his 11 progressive passes. He also completed 96% of his 46 lateral passes.


Arsenal were incredibly poor. It was almost as though they had reverted to their former self. Sloppy play when passing out from the back, sideways passing in midfield and a lack of desire to take the bull by the horns. If it wasn’t for a poor decision from the Vienna goalkeeper, coming for the cross he would never get, then it’s unlikely Arsenal would have equalised and won this game. However, you have to give credit to Arteta. He would have been dearly wishing to not have to bring the big boys off the bench, however he knew the value of victory and getting off to a good start.

Partey’s debut was that of great expectation and he lived up to it. Both on the ball and off, he showed his class and excellence, understanding his tactical role to perfection. This is impressive, given he has not been with the team for too long. It’s exciting to think that there is still more to come from him.  Bring on Leicester.

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