EPL 2019/20: Norwich vs Arsenal – tactical analysis
Unai Emery was released from Arsenal following defeat in the Europa League to Frankfurt on Thursday. It’s safe to say nobody was surprised as Arsenal’s poor performances were directly correlating with their results. Former player and youth coach Freddie Ljungberg has been tasked to steady the ship and get Arsenal back on track with a caretaker role. His first game comes up against a tricky Norwich City side that have been competitive with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea. Daniel Farke would pose a good challenge to welcome Freddie to England’s top flight and through this tactical analysis we will examine the two managers tactics that created an end-to-end affair.
Norwich City have only won one of their last 15 meetings with Arsenal. Farke went for a 4-2-3-1 formation. Coming off a 2-0 win away from home against Everton he elected to make one change in midfield as Alexander Tettey was replaced by Ibrahim Amadou. Teemu Pukki who was involved in 10 goals in 14 matches was at the tip of the attack.
In Ljungberg’s first tactical setup he elected to go with an asymmetric 4-2-3-1 shape of sorts. With this tactical analysis, we can saw the front “four” were given license to freely interchange positions. Youth talent Joe Willock who’s worked with the interim coach at youth level got into the team for his first Premier League start since Sheffield United away at the end of October. World Cup winner Shkodran Mustafi was a surprise chose by coach as it was his first Premier League start of the entire season.
Arsenal during buildup
Ljungberg has said he wants to put smiles back onto the faces of players through their football. Despite only conducting one training session during his appointment we can see some of the tactics and ideologies he might want to employ moving forward to get the best out of this Arsenal squads attack.
During the buildup phases, there’s much to look into. They moved the ball in the first half at a relatively fast tempo, especially in comparison to other games this season. Ljungberg used a double pivot of Matteo Guendouzi and Granit Xhaka in midfield. Left central midfielder Guendouzi would drop to the left of the two centre-backs. This gave him space, and his bodying positioning allowed him to scan the entire field. Matteo Guendouzi made 32 forward passes and was integral in progressing the ball into Norwich’s half looking to play through Norwich’s mid-block and first line of pressure.
With Guendouzi covering the space behind, Sead Kolasinac would push high and wide and make overlapping runs. As you can see by the heat map below he was very active up the pitch, 42% of Arsenal’s play came down the left flank.
Joe Willock played an interesting role. Further analysis shows he was primarily operating toward the right side of the field were he’d search for space in-between Norwich’s midfield line. Never participating in the double pivot however. Since Willock’s debut we’ve seen his ability to recognize space and manipulate it. Sometime’s assisting in ball progression and linking passing sequences together. In the image below you can see Mustafi finds him occupying the right-sided half-space breaking Norwich’s first line of pressure and then making a first-time pass to Callum Chambers.
Norwich in the first half did not commit numbers to aggressively pressing Arsenal during these phases. However going into the second half Norwich had a 2-1 lead and looked to keep their foot on the throats of the visitors. They began a man-oriented press which would not allow Ljungberg’s men to smoothly move the ball around the back as they did in the first half.
The double-pivot would be tightly marked and the center backs were aggressively closed down. Arsenal completed 241 passes in the first half but only 200 in the second showing how effective this change of tactics was from Farke. Norwich created six chances in the second half compared to four in the first.
Arsenal improvement in defensive shape
Despite the limited time Ljungberg has had to make his imprint on this side there was something very different about Arsenal when they were settled into their defensive shape. Out of possession, the gunners were deployed into a 4-4-2 shape. The space between the lines was limited as the shape was compact and narrow. Norwich’s attackers would be isolated and left without space and a passing lane into.
This made the Gunners for the first time in a long time hard to break down. Something you wouldn’t see yourself saying about this team. Norwich City were limited to a xG of 0.9 and zero big chances created.
Norwich striking in transition
So where did Norwich’s goals come from? Defensive transition is the answer. Emery tried to solve Arsenal’s struggles in defensive transition by having the team immediately drop back after losing the ball. Moving away from trying to counter-press immediately after losing the ball after numerous individual personnel errors proved it was not a sustainable principle of play for his team.
At Carrow Road, the positioning of the midfielders would be a massive issue exploited by the Norwich attackers in defensive transition. This was on display when Arsenal tried to press in the opposition half and when losing the ball in possession.
We can explore these sequences through tactical analysis. In the first sequence, Arsenal give the ball away and Pukki is isolated with Arsenal’s centre-backs due to the positioning of the midfield pivot. They can’t assist the defenders from their positioning and neither communicate for one to engage the ball carrier, McLean. So the centre-backs drop off all the way to the top of the box. The ball carrier makes a pass to Pukki where he eventually scores because nobody challenges him either.
Being a goal down Arsenal attempt to press high into the opposition half. This season they haven’t done so particularly away from home. Again, the positioning of the midfield pairing allows for significant space for exploit. This time they fail to mark Norwich’s midfield pivot which is crucial to Arsenal’s pressing scheme and it creates a passing lane which then sends Norwich straight into Arsenal’s attacking third.
There is lots of work ahead for Ljungberg. The attack particularly didn’t seem that dangerous against Norwich’s defensive shape and generated their most chances through set-pieces. That is particularly worrying considering the canaries have conceded 10 goals in their last three home games. However, this new look in defensive shape seems very promising and something he can move forward with.
Farke’s attack was clinical, made the most of their possession and executed their tactics to gain a good result.