With a mere point separating each of the top three teams in the table, the pressure was on Arsenal for yet another win to retain the top spot. With this pressure looming, Arsenal were expected to be as organized and tactically smart as they have been so far, and they didn’t disappoint. Hosting Fulham over the weekend, Arsenal had an interesting attacking shape as usual, with lots of fluid movement between zones, lines and positional rotations. One part of the game plan was to draw out Kieron Richardson from his left back slot, and exploit it. In the 1st half, it only worked a couple of times but nothing really came from it.
They changed shape slightly in the 2nd half, widening the field and playing with lots more positional discipline, but with more 3rd man runs to exploit the spaces left as Fulham moved across the field.
Arsenal’s Attacking Game Plan
Arsenal, like most major teams, like to build play through 5 lines, with 2 players on each line, with players who move forward on one line someone else will move back on another. Ozil tends to stay high and operate between lines 4 and 5, while Wilshere, Gnabry and Cazorla float between lines 3 and 5, Gnabry staying more on the right side, with Wilshere and Cazorla allowed a more central role to help Ozil and drift around looking for space or overload opportunities.
Arsenal liked to have 4 players occupy central positions most of the game, with Cazorla and Gnabry helping Flamini and Wilshere when the ball was around line 2 and 3, when it was on 3 and 4, Ozil would complete the overload as Flamini sat deeper to protect the defence.
Attack the left back, Gnabry drops deep to draw him out of position and exploit the space 3rd man
Gnabry dropped deep firstly, to draw out Richardson, and secondly, to help overload in central midfield. This gave Arsenal extra short passing options to change the passing angles, while opening the space to penetrate the midfield.
As the run across the field into Gnabry’s space wasn’t tracked, Wilshere was free between the lines, which is exactly what Arsenal wanted to have. Ozil and Wilshere linked here to create a scoring chance.
Gnabry draws out Richardson, while playing in the ‘half space’ with Ozil for 3v2 in CM
Wilshere acted as a playmaker and used Gnabry as a wall to draw out Richardson from left back. Giroud drifted across the line into the space left at left back.
Gnabry finds a little line of space to find Giroud behind Richardson to get Giroud a shooting chance.
Arsenal central midfield overloads, wide players helping the central players to play 4v3 or 4v2
We have already seen Gnabry dropping deep with Wilshere going into his space, but this was not always the case. Sometimes Wilshere would be the playmaker with Cazorla coming in from the left, and Ozil between the lines. On a few occasions, Giroud was the extra player in central midfield.
Central Midfield Overload
Cazorla drops in from left midfield, and overloads the centre. Giroud and Gnabry have switched.
Wilshere was on line 3 with the ball, Cazorla dropped in to help in central midfield. Giroud moved deep as Gnabry took his position, while Ozil plays between the lines to offer penetration.
This time, Wilshere makes the run behind the midfield as Ozil drops off to play through the midfield line. Gnabry again tries to lure Richardson out of position.
Wenger’s Half Time Tactical Adjustment
Arsenal struggled to break down Fulham in the 1st half, mainly due to having too many players deep or central, and they needed to stretch the Fulham midfield to find a way through. To do this, they changed to a 4-1-4-1, or 4-3-3 depending on the positions of Cazorla and Gnabry.
Generally, Gnabry would stay high on the right, while Cazorla and Wilshere could change on the left and left centre, Wilshere dropped onto line 3 to act as playmaker, while Ozil stayed on line 4 in penetrating positions. When Wilshere passed forward, he would make his trademark run ahead of the midfield line and look for return passes or 3rd man penetration.
Cazorla would stay wide left, with Monreal for help, but instead of Arsenal drifting over to help him, he would have the space inside left for him to dribble into, then find a pass into the half space run by Ozil or Wilshere, or find the feet of Giroud inside the box.
We can see that Gnabry and Cazorla are wider than before and stretching the Fulham midfield, leaving central space for Wilshere and Ozil.
Cazorla movement pattern from left side – Ozil/Wilshere drag open the space
When Cazorla and Monreal are on the left, Wilshere or Ozil will look for the diagonal run into the half space, offering a pass behind, or a pass into Giroud as the passing lane is opened by the marker following the diagonal run.This time on line 4, Ozil is on the ball, with Wilshere between the lines, Cazorla moving inside to overload with Flamini deep. Gnabry again tries to draw out Richardson but Meulensteen must have told him to stay in position and only press if the ball is in transit, and not to get tight.
Cazorla starts in wide position to look for the cut inside as Wilshere or Ozil opens the space
Cazorla opens up the field on the left with the help of Monreal, opening up the half space, which Ozil or Wilshere will move into to offer a pass into, or open up the space for a pass into feet to combine.
Cazorla’s pass into Giroud’s feet and move inside is not followed into the box. When Giroud passes 3rd man into Wilshere, he cuts back to Cazorla who scores.
Arsenal Organised Defensive Structure in 4-1-4-1
Arsenal’s defensive shape and pressing system varied in the 1st 30 minutes of the game, which varied between a 4-1-4-1 organised set up when allowing Fulham to bring the ball into the defensive half after a period of 8 minutes high pressure defending in a high 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 block.
Generally, they would set up in a 4-1-4-1, and try to contain play on one small area, with 8 players in position to force play one way, and into the hands of Arsenal, particularly high balls where Berbatov is ineffective.
Typically, Arsenal prefer to play a full press quickly in defensive transition, but sometimes they expected Fulham to play direct into line 3 or 4, and breaking the 5 player press, so to counter this, they played a 2 or 3 man ‘half-press’ and dropped into a solid defensive shape of 4-4.
Arsenal in compact defensive 4-4-1-1
Arsenal have allowed Fulham possession, which gives them time to rest from the intensive pressure and movement off the ball when in the Fulham half, but now offers a counter attack in transition through Wilshere, Cazorla, Ozil, Gnabry and Giroud, with Flamini staying in position for balance.
Arsenal ‘Half-Pressure with containment’ 4-2-3-1 defence
Here, Arsenal have pressed in a 4-1-4-1, with an emphasis on allowing Hangeland possession, and directing him central into Wilshere, as Ozil and Giroud block off the horizontal passing lanes, as Gnabry, Wilshere and Cazorla (deeper at LM) man-mark, as Flamini and the back 4 balance the defensive shape.
Monreal wins the header with Mertesacker pressing the 2nd striker, as Koscielny marks the CF, Flamini in the zone of the 2nd striker, able to press anything short into his feet.
The ‘half-press’ here has worked as it has allowed Arsenal to have a solid 4-1 base, and forced Fulham into doing what Arsenal wanted them to do – play high and long, away from the capabilities of Berbatov and the other attackers.
Arsenal ‘Half-Press’ shape to force long passes into Koscielny and Mertesacker
Here, Ozil and Giroud block easy horizontal passes, Wilshere blocks the easy pass into midfield.
Arsenal’s 4-1-4-1 High Block
Arsenal have again allowed Fulham to have possession, but they try to contain play in one side of the field, where they have 4 players who can press quickly if Giroud’s body shape is better. Gnabry stays wide to press the outball, delay, then allow support to get across and do the same on the opposite side.
Stats aside, Arsenal still came out on top, winning with two goals and a clean sheet. With Man City’s goals galore in each game and being only one point behind the Gunners, and Chelsea also catching up, Arsenal face challenges in retaining the top spot. However, if they continue their form as they have done so far, and remain focused, we could well be seeing a Premier League trophy back with the north Londoners after a decade long absence.