In a surprising result, Arsenal succumbed to a disappointing 1-0 loss away to BATE Borisov in the Europa League. The Gunners travelled to Belarus with the majority expecting a straightforward win for the London side given their opponent’s stature. However, Stanislaw Drahun’s headed goal gave the home side a slender advantage going into the second leg. Arsenal’s troubling performances over the past few weeks have drawn flak from supporters and pundits alike but this limp defeat to BATE really highlighted the lack of progress under Unai Emery. The Gunners looked far from the side they are expected to be and barely threatened the opposition. For BATE, on the other hand, the game was all about a pragmatic game-plan and it’s perfect execution.
Arsenal lined up in a 3-4-3. Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey missed out again due to illness and injury respectively as Unai Emery continued with Alexandre Lacazette up-front. Granit Xhaka returned to the side and played with Matteo Guendouzi in midfield. Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles continued as the wing-backs. The side selected by Emery seemed extremely conservative yet again, following the struggle against Huddersfield. The home side lined up in a 4-1-4-1 formation but was far from that in reality due to the deep-block they opted for. Ex-Arsenal hero Alexander Hleb lined up against his former side and Maksim Skavysh led the attack. Stanislaw Dragun operated as a destroyer in front of the defence.
To put plainly, Arsenal have been exceptionally poor over the past few weeks. The ecstasy and euphoria of attacking football that the 4-2 win over Tottenham brought is long gone. The Gunners genuinely struggled to break down a resolute Borisov but it’s hard to see, despite the home side’s solid defending, how a team like Arsenal failed to break down BATE’s defence.
It’s been highlighted in a couple of previous tactical analysis’ of Arsenal’s games that Emery’s side are exceptionally reliant on their wing-backs, especially Kolasinac, to create chances. Mesut Ozil being left at home didn’t help matters either. Against BATE, Arsenal could barely create any chances centrally due to the opposition’s extreme low-block. Kolasinac was marked by two opposition players which rendered him ineffective.
Lacazette was forced to drop deep which meant a lack of players in the box. Arsenal were forced to resort to sideways passing between the defence and midfield as they had no answers to the opposition’s tactics. Enjoying a massive 77 per cent of the possession, the Gunners barely looked threatening except for a few half-chances. Guendouzi would frequently drop deep to receive the ball and add an impetus but the lack of movement from his teammates prevented any significant positive passing. The attacking trio of Mkhitaryan, Iwobi and Lacazette were very subdued all night.
Mkhitaryan is a player who thrives when he has space to run into but given the opposition’s low-block, the Armenian barely had a scratch all game. Mesut Ozil would have undoubtedly been perfect for the occasion. Iwobi’s poor decision-making was highlighted yet again as the Nigerian frequently misplaced through-balls and passes. In a lineup as devoid of creativity as this one, Arsenal really need their more creative outlets to step up.
Borisov’s low-block works to perfection
BATE coach Aleksei Baha was realistic in his approach to the game. An extreme low-block was the Belarusian’s answer to the visitors attacking albeit overconfident mindset. BATE sat deep and given Arsenal’s lack of creativity had an easy task to shut out the visitors. At times, Borisov had a six-man backline, with two wide defenders on each flank to counter Arsenal’s overlapping play and maintaining of a physical presence in the box. This low-block was aptly aided by a hardworking midfield-trio who harried Arsenal’s ball-carriers without giving up too much space. The home side maintained their concentration and cohesion without taking any unnecessary risks.
Goalscorer Stanislaw Dragun summed up the home side’s effort. The Belarusian was all over the pitch, winning two tackles, making five blocks, four interceptions and nine clearances. His goal from a set-piece was well deserved as he ghosted between two opposition defenders to score for his side. Igor Stasevich was another who worked tirelessly both offensively and defensively. He assisted the only goal of the game with an exquisite out swinging delivery from a freekick but also made four tackles and five interceptions, an impressive performance for an attacking midfielder.
Baha’s game-plan was realistic and appropriate but was executed to perfection by his side. Much like a hit-and-run, BATE frustrated Arsenal before snatching a win from a set-piece. Interestingly, the pitch at the Borisov Arena was an added benefit for the home side as the patchy and icy turf made Arsenal struggled with their passing and caused a few slip-ups here and there.
An inexcusable result, Arsenal need to pick themselves up for the return leg in a week’s time. Still favourites to progress, the result in London will do no favours towards erasing this disappointing performance from Emery’s side. The inevitable question still remains, are the Gunners making progress under Unai Emery? On the other hand, the win was a fantastic result for BATE Borisov. A realistic approach to the game and excellent execution of the same means that the Belarusians head into the second leg with a handy one-goal lead. It seems obvious that a similar defensive game plan is likely in the return leg but who’s to say BATE can’t pull off an upset again?
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