Arsenal posted a superb victory away against a troubled Sunderland this weekend. Arsene Wenger was still without Mikel Arteta, Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla while Bacary Sagna was back so he lined up Carl Jenkinson at right-back as he did against Tottenham last week.
Paolo Di Canio opted to bring on Steven Fletcher pairing him alongside Jozy Altidore up front, implementing a two striker formation with the newly arrived Ki Sung-yueng as playmaker in the midfield alongside David Vaughan.
In terms of tactical analysis it was a classic 4-2-3-1 facing a 4-4-2/4-2-4. The most obvious key was Mezut Ozil’s positioning. Where Arsenal were direct on the right flanks where they played Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere drifted inside into central positions from the left and helped Ozil in the middle of the pitch creating an overload in the central midfield. One could argue that Di Canio’s tactics was wrong on trying to face Arsenal’s numerical edge in the middle with a 4-4-2 formation featuring just two central midfielders with one being a playmaker as Ki but the Italian coach’s game plan would has been acceptable if the two forwards would have been able to collapse behind helping the midfield. It simply did not happen and Arsenal took the numerical advantage in the middle.
When attacking, Arsenal pushed their full-backs high up playing as wing-backs and forcing both Sunderland’s flankers, Adam Johnson and Charampolos Mavrias fielded up for the injured Emanuele Giaccherini as left winger, to collapse behind and play defensively at a very low level of the field.
Ozil and Wilshere’s abilities highlighted Sunderland’s midfielders while the Black Cats’ flat four defence were playing very strict in the way to contain Arsenal’s forwards, with the full-backs trying to help the centre-backs. Ozil and Wilshere provided through-balls, specially for Walcott, who missed them. Wilshere’s movements made him a fourth central midfielder and a second attacking midfielder They both produced a solid performance as Ozil attempted 79 passes with an accuracy of 90% and Wilshere recorded a pass completion accuracy of 87%. Both helped ensuring Arsenal retain ball control.
Another key performance came from Olivier Giroud. The centre forward scored once again, notably adding 2 assists and acting like a true pivot, a deep-forward playmaker. His accuracy of 72% and his 3 through balls testified it.
With the team too long on the field and the forward very far from the two bank of four he built to try to defend against Arsenal, Sunderland relied on long balls. The problem was that the forwards were too far from the midfield, with the players not being able to reach those up front due to the long distance.
Di Canio’s players stepped up in the second half, when midfielder Craig Gardner was introduced in the place of an ineffective Vaughan. Gardner had a passing accuracy of 89% and netted Sunderland’s lone goal. There was a risk too by using inverted wingers, to provide crosses in the penalty box as they both lost a step setting the right foot to facilitate crossing the ball
At the end, Arsenal dominated for a long time and enjoyed the ball in advanced positions. Overloading the central zones exposed Sunderland’s weakness in defending. Both Ozil and Wilshere produced effective runs. The question about how Santi Cazorla will fit into Wenger’s 4-2-3-1 when he will be back remains. On the other side, the Black Cats seemed fragile offensively too. They lost ball control too often and weren’t effective at creating goalscoring opportunities. If 4-2-4 remains the formation they want to go forward with, they need to improve sensibly as they quality when trying to penetrate the oppositions defences.