Tactical Analysis: Valencia 2-4 Arsenal FC
Baku’s calling for London clubs Chelsea and Arsenal Football Club. Arsenal will see their first European final in 13 years following a 4-2 victory at Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium. After a 3-1 victory in the first leg at the Emirates, Arsenal brought a great advantage with them into this game.
A series of uninspiring performances in the Premier League leading to Arsenal missing out on automatic Champions League qualification gave plenty of reason to be worried despite Arsenal’s advantage. Arsenal had lost two previous away games in the Europa League throughout their path to the semi-final. Arsenal’s bad run of form featured pour play in the opposition half, abysmal defending and sloppy buildup play. So what ideas and tactics did Unai Emery implement into Arsenal’s 3-4-1-2 system? This tactical analysis will answer those questions.
For the most part, Emery stuck to the formation he’s been rolling out more and more frequently. He’s opted for a 3-4-1-2/3-4-3. He opted to continue to play both strikers up top, which as we saw has continued to be effective for the Arsenal as before the game, the duo had netted 43 of the Gunners goals in all competitions. Özil tucked in behind playing as a 10 was there to provide service. However, as stats bore out the German playmaker was forced to drop deeper in the midfield more often to get the ball which not only took him off of his game, but left a gap of space between the forwards and midfield. The net result was fewer chances created when on the ball.
A specific area Arsenal have struggled in during possession is buildup play. They particularly focused their buildup play out wide, rotating the ball side-to-side through the back three. Probing for an opening into Valencia’s half.
To combat issues of turning the ball over in buildup Unai Emery looked to create numerical advantages in passing sequences. He did this by having Strikers Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emmerick Aubameyang drop deep and wide when Arsenal looked to enter Valencia‘s half. Combine this with a quick tempo and energetic off-the-ball movement the Gunners transitioned into the attacking phases with little to no problems.
Playing into Valencia’s favour
Emery’s idea to crowd the ball side and outnumber Valencia however, in a way contributed to Valencia’s attacking approach. Valencia looked to quickly switch the side of play after winning the ball and counter-attack. The Spanish side particularly looked to play down their left side through Jose Gaya and Goncalo Guedes.
The same pattern of switching play from the right to the left when winning the ball resulted in a goal for Valencia. They were quick and ruthless attacking in transition catching Maitland-Miles out of position.
Emery forced to adapt
Valencia were finding loads of space going forward and a serious goal threat. As seen in Arsenal’s recent games, defensively Arsenal have been a mess. So Unai Emery adjusted the forward runs of midfielders Lucas Torreira and Granit Xhaka. Instead of making forward runs they stayed back shielding the back three. Instead of passing forwards they often passed backwards or sideways recycling possession. Arsenal also began to close Guedes down faster when the ball was switched to him.
With this change brought less attacking threat. Arsenal began to rely on Aubameyang and Lacazette’s individual brilliance to create and score goals. The creativity of Mesut Ozil was limited overtime due to his defensive responsibilities.
Ainsley Maitland-Miles and Sead Kolašinac, however, were allowed to help provide width in attack. Maitland-Miles all season has attempted to add the ability to beat his man into his skillset and saw his efforts pay off as he beat Guedes and Aubameyang met his cross to score Arsenal’s third. No player successfully combined with Lacazette and Aubameyang more than the youth-product, combining for a total of 10 times.
Unai Emery managed the tie perfectly, although not dominating it in possession. Striking a balance in attack and defence, maintaining Arsenal’s attacking threat but also eliminating the space behind them.
With Aubameyang and Lacazette catching form, while seemingly finding a solution to the defensive issues. Arsenal can now look forward to the last resort at Champions League qualification and a potential first European cup against London rivals Chelsea.
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