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Tactical Analysis: Where It Went Wrong for Arsenal vs Leicester


Arsenal returned from their trip to Austria on Thursday to face fellow Europa League contestants Leicester City.

Unfortunately for the Gunners, they couldn’t convert their possession and chances and fell victim once more to a Jamie Vardy goal as the Foxes snatched a 1-0 victory at the Emirates.

This report will analyse what went wrong for Arsenal and the tactics both sides used.


What Went Wrong for Arsenal vs Leicester

Mikel Arteta went for his favoured 3-4-3. Ahead of Leno was Luiz, Gabriel, and Xhaka as they formed the back three, with Tierney and Bellerin as the wing-backs. Thomas Partey started for the first time in the Premier League next to Dani Ceballos. Saka, Lacazette, and Aubameyang formed the front three. Mustafi returned to the bench, as Willian missed out through injury.

Brendan Rodgers’ injury-hit Leicester, saw Schmeichel start in goal and a back five of Justin, Fuchs, Evans, Fofana, and Castagne. Tielemans partnered Mendy, with Maddison and Praet behind Barnes while Vardy returned to the bench.

In Possession

Arteta altered his usual in-possession tactics. The front three played narrow and tight, drawing the Leicester back five to a narrow position. This opened space on the wings for Tierney and Bellerin. Upon the ball being played out to Tierney, Xhaka would move out from left-sided centre-back and cover the space in behind the wing-backs, acting as a ‘false full-back’. He and Partey would look to occupy the central midfield areas, whilst Ceballos was given a more free role in between the lines. Due to Leicester’s low block, Luiz was given permission to move up and advance into space. Leicester were reluctant to press him, given the number of players Arsenal had between the lines. This allowed Luiz to switch play and saw him play 26% of his 46 passes forward and an additional 9 long passes (completing 5), before going off injured in the 51st minute.

Some of Arsenal’s best chances came when the wing-back received and Arsenal had players run central into the box from wide when the ball was on the opposite wing. This allowed them to exploit the space at the far post, for late arrivals.

Leicester’s 5-4-1 when in a deep block, altered to a 3-4-2-1, when in possession. Harvey Barnes never looked comfortable as the lone striker and Leicester struggled to find him and exploit Arsenal’s high line. This was largely down to Arsenal’s high press, which stopped or rushed passes as Arsenal had a passes-per-defensive-action (PPDA) of 8.7. This is comparable to Leicester PPDA of 27.3.

What Went Wrong for Arsenal vs Leicester

The image shows Aubameyang (14) moving narrow from out wide. This drags Castagne narrow and occupies both him and Fofana. As Luiz moves forward with the ball, he can spray it out to Tierney, who has vast amounts of space. Tierney beats Castagne’s recovery run. His cross is narrowly missed by Lacazette

Leicester’s game plan

As previously mentioned, Leicester wanted to stay tight and compact. The back five were tasked with minimising the spaces and gaps for Arsenal’s front three. Specifically, the wing-backs had to close down Arsenal’s full-backs, when they received. This allowed Leicester’s wingers, Maddison and Praet (when in a low block), to tuck in and ensure the inside space near zone 14 wasn’t open.

When Leicester won the ball back, they moved it as quick as they could through the Arsenal pressure. Similarly to against Rapid Vienna, Arteta preferred to defend the space in behind Arsenal’s defence, by pressing high and aggressively, preventing the pass in behind from source, or at least rushing it. This is shown through Arsenal’s 0.30 recoveries per minute to Leicester 0.26. Suggesting whenever Leicester won the ball back, Arsenal could recover it once more, in an attempt to prevent Leicester from moving the ball over the top of the Arsenal defence.

Unfortunately, Arsenal’s press dropped off in the second half and contributed directly to how the goal came about. With Vardy, Rodgers had a natural striker and willing runner. As well as this, Ünder came on and Leicester had an intelligent winger. Leicester won the ball and quickly moved it to Tielemans. He received on his stronger foot and on the half-turn. Tielemans swivelled, opened up his body and released the ball before Thomas could close him down, playing a perfect ball in behind Arsenal’s defence. Ünder was demarked, coming short before going long, exploiting Xhaka’s frailties as a makeshift centre-back. Ünder attacked the space in behind Arsenal’s defence, connected with the ball, and played a pinpoint cross for Vardy. After Vardy came on, Leicester began to play longer, playing 14 long balls in the last 15 minutes of the match, as they attempted to get in behind Arsenal’s defence.

What Went Wrong for Arsenal vs Leicester

The image shows Tielemans receiving on the half-turn, and releasing the ball before Thomas could close him down

Woeful Lacazette and underused Thomas

Lacazette really struggled for space, with Leicester effectively crowding him out. Mendy and Tielemans were quick to close him down and help double mark the forward when Lacazette would drop off the frontline to pick up the ball in pockets of space. By doing this, it meant the back five could hold their position and defend any gaps which may arise.

In a game which was summed up by the clinical nature of Leicester’s talisman, Jamie Vardy, Arsenal’s leading goal scorer for the season went missing. Of his total 55 actions in the match, Lacazette was only successful in 20%. Specifically, of his 23 1 v 1 offensive duels, Lacazette was successful in 39% and he lost the ball on 14 occasions. He had 3 touches in the Leicester penalty box and both of his two shots were off target. Out of both teams, Lacazette attempted the fewest passes (13 completing 11). Lacazette was Arsenal’s second-biggest contributor in their total 1.58 expected goals, with 0.43, second to Saka who had 0.58. His finishing totally abandoned him and with his wrongfully disallowed goal, nothing went the Frenchman’s way.

Thomas Partey both on and off the ball had yet another impressive game. Defensively, Thomas made 2 interceptions, won 75% of his aerial challenges and ended up making 7 recoveries, 4 of which came in Leicester’s half. In possession, he completed 97% of his 50 passes and played 13 forward passes, executing 10 of them. Additionally, Thomas played and completed all 7 of his progressive passes and was successful in 80% of his passes to the final third. The problem Partey had, was rather than finding him in good space, Arsenal (particularly the back three), opted to go long. Partey is intelligent and very good all round. He could have facilitated attacking moves much better then predictably going long, where Leicester’s back three could mop up.


It was a tough result to take for Arsenal, however, it almost felt inevitable after the game began to drift. Arsenal couldn’t punch the ball through midfield into their forwards and the burden on Ceballos to link play and create, it became too much for just one man. Again, Arsenal struggled against a low block. They couldn’t go long and Leicester shielded their goal well.

I wonder if it would have been more beneficial for Arsenal to have dropped their defensive line, rather than press high? This would have opened more space in midfield for Leicester, however, little alterations could have minimised this. This might have somewhat gone against Mikel Arteta’s principles, but the need for 3 points is very important. Arsenal’s high line ended up playing into the hands of Leicester, especially when they brought on Vardy and Ünder.

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