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Arsenal 2 Napoli 2 | Emirates Cup – Tactical Analysis

Judging from recent transfer activity and preseason results, it is clear that a mouth-watering Premier League season is on its way. It has the potential to be the best and most unpredictable in recent years. With newly appointed manager David Moyes, Manchester United will venture into the unknown without Sir Alex Ferguson for the first time in 27 years. Chelsea have old flame Jose Mourinho back at the Bridge and Manchester City start fresh with an unproven manager in the Premier League, Manuel Pellegrini. These are only the top three teams. Because of these changes, they will be given the grace of a shaky start.

This may not be true, however, for Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman endured immense pressure last season, with the crowd calling for his head week in and week out. Wenger has delivered 11 trophies since joining the Gunners in 1996. So what is the problem? The last trophy came in the 2004-05 season in the F.A. Cup. However, since then, Wenger has turned Arsenal into a modern super club. Their playing style has become the envy of many. The move from Highbury to the Emirates kicked off a transitional stage, financially, for the club.

Through these years, Arsenal lost their best players year after year, yet have still managed to be in the top 4 every year since 1997/98. Keeping the stadium full and remaining in the top four is an amazing feat. In recent seasons, the fans have grown increasingly frustrated at the lack of investment in the team, and more recently losing their best player, Robin Van Persie, to rivals Manchester United who he then won the league with.

All this has Wenger in a tricky position. Wenger has longed for the day that UEFA would bring in financial rules to stop clubs from over spending. This season, it has finally happened. Arsenal are now in the best position as Manchester City and Chelsea have to sell before they can buy, as wages are now on budget. There are no excuses now for Wenger who has relied on his fantastic eye for young, talented players until this point. Here, we take a look at Arsenal’s tactics in the pre-season game against Rafa Benitez’s Napoli in the Emirates Cup.

This game is two weeks before the start of the Premier League. Although there were formation changes throughout the game, and throughout other preseason matches, Wenger should now be resolving his intended tactics for the upcoming season.  Below are the line ups for both sides: Arsenal starting with a 4-3-3 system, and Napoli with a 4-2-3-1.


The defending unit for the Gunners is the goalkeeper plus 4 defenders, two centre backs and two full backs. Arsenal like to play out from the back, keeping the ball on the ground, pushing the full backs into attacking areas. The two centre backs are very comfortable on the ball, setting up play and taking the first pass from Fabianski. The starting full backs in this game are Gibbs on the left and Jenkinson on the right. Gibbs is quick and likes to attack. He wants the ball and can go from box to box without a problem. Jenkinson takes up a slightly deeper position and is not inclined to push as high up in the initial first phase of play. Both players are better attacking full backs than defending full backs. This is not a problem when Arsenal control possession. It can cause problems for the centre backs of Arsenal, leaving them 2v2 through the middle on the counter attack. Take a look at the diagram below. Ramsey is on the ball with Hamsik chasing him back. Both Arsenal full backs are pressed high up the pitch with good movement from Podolski and Gnabry, creating space for them to push on. Rosicky is dropping out to create space also. When Wilshere plays with Ramsey, they both like to get involved with the attack, supporting each other with the option of passing.


Hamsik is a clever player. He follows Ramsey for the first 10 yards, putting on pressure until he passes the ball. Then he does not go deeper. When the move breaks down, take a look at the exposed Arsenal centre backs in 2v2, 3v2, including Fabianski. It is not something that you want at this level.


The midfield is of Arsenal is very strong technically. The 3 players selected have very similar attacking attributes. Wilshere has the best defensive qualities of the three; however, he is not played as a defensive midfielder. Wilshere and Ramsey are  in centre midfield with Rosicky as the attacking midfielder. This can leave the defence exposed at times. The midfield 3 is very good at interchanging positions. However, none of the three are a natural at defending. The attacking 3 are exactly what you would expect from Wenger. Two quick, wide players, tricky and can play inside or outside. Also, a physically strong centre forward who looks to stretch the defending team back towards their own goal, playing off the shoulder and looking for the through ball, giving the side very good depth. When out of possession, Arsenal drops into a 4-4-1-1. This would become 4-4-2 at times when Napoli played out from the back.

When Napoli goalkeeper Reina had the ball at his feet in play, Arsenal got into a compact shape. Take a look at the diagram to see how they set up.

* Fabianski (blue circle) takes up position to support the back line as a sweeper keeper. This allows the defence to push up and stay compact.
* The back 4 stay as tight line, keeping the space between each other small, both sideways and in front.

* The midfield is now a tight 4, also with Podolski and Gnabry dropping back as wide midfield players instead of wingers. They are keeping a short distance in front of their fullbacks.
* Rosicky takes up a dynamic position. He can drop back in making it a 4-5-1 or stay making it 4-4-1-1, supporting his striker. He also made it a 4-4-2 by pushing up on the centre backs of Napoli when they tried to play out.
* Giroud stayed high between centre backs, waiting for Reina to select the pass. When the first pass was played, Giroud would close that pass, supported by Rosicky closing off the second.


This is good shape from the Gunners. It leaves very little space between the lines for Napoli to play short passes to cut them open. In the second phase when Napoli do get the ball into midfield areas, this was a problem and led to the first goal. The team unit dropped deeper by 15 yds. It was still compact though. The ball was played to Inler for Napoli. There was no real pressure (coming late from Giroud) on him. This allowed Inler to select his pass and play a long ball to Insigne. This ball was dealt with poorly by Jenkinson. The ball fell to the feet of Insigne inside the box. An easy finish for Insigne gave the Italian side the lead after 6mins. The second goal from Napoli started with Arsenal in possession with Rosicky in possession on the left. He lost the ball in a tackle. Take a look at Ramsey’s position in marking Hamsik. It’s a good starting position.

Ramsey position

In the next picture you see Napoli on the ball. This gives Ramsey a choice to go tight on Hamsik, as he may get the ball to his feet or  make a defensive movement to keep the ball in front of him, allowing Hamsik to slow down if he gets the ball. Ramsey instead makes a move towards the ball. See the picture for the movement of the ball (yellow line) and the run in red that Ramsey attempted. The lines in black show the move that Ramsey should have made if he was more defensive minded.

Ramsey decision

This allowed Hamsik to run at Arsenal, playing only through balls for the keeper to be rounded. The Gunners were now 2-0 down. The selection of like for like centre midfield players proved to be a brave but costly choice from Wenger against a counter attacking side.

Ramsey tracking

The second half saw a change up front for Napoli with Higuain coming on for Pandev. The trend of Arsenal attacks breaking down in the final third continued. The central pair of Wilshere and Ramsey remained as Napoli continued to counter attack. The counter attack was not as dangerous in the second half as it was a lot slower. Arsenal held possession better over all with a sharper play. On 55 mins Arsenal made two changes: Gnabry and Jenkinson came off for Walcott and Sagna. Walcott went onto the right side of attack with Sagna playing right back, Albiol and Dossena were on for Napoli. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Ramsey and Arteta on for Wilshere on 60mins, direct swaps for the positions. Hamsik also came off and Mertens came on.

Napoli soaked up the Arsenal pressure, and Arsenal struggled to test Reina. Arsenal had been poor most of the game at corners kicks. Walcott is now taking them and provided an excellent cross for Giroud to finish with an overhead kick with help from a deflection off of Sagna. The combinations of the Arsenal midfielders and attackers were much better in the second half with Walcott and Chamberlain linking up well. Sagna gave excellent width down the right. Rosicky’s hard work all game was now paying off. More space opened between the lines as better movement and more pace caused Napoli problems. Arsenal’s superior fitness really told in the last ten minutes, with the Italian league starting a week later, this is to be expected. Napoli started to lose shape. Arteta and Chamberlain bossed the middle. The Gunners got a deserved equaliser on 86 mins from a set piece again, excellent delivery from wide area. Napoli failed to deal with the initial header and Koscielny nodded into the bottom corner. This will be a tough season for the Gunners and more so for Wenger. Defence still not convincing, a striker needed too!


Trevor Casey
Trevor Casey
UEFA B Licence Coach. Work as Coach and Analyst with Waterford United U19.
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