Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

In their first game of the season, Arsenal achieved something they rarely managed over the last few years: a win away from home. Burnley cruised to a 3-0 victory in their opening Premier League fixture, so both teams were hoping to make it two wins from two in this match. Arsenal prevailed 2-1, with goals from Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang either side of an Ashley Barnes strike.

Both sides had periods of ascendency: Arsenal for the opening minutes, but after going behind Burnley piled on the pressure, leading to Barnes’ equaliser on the stroke of half time. The momentum shifted back in Arsenal’s favour in the second half, with Daniel Ceballos linking play between the defence and front line, and it was his perseverance and tenacity in winning possession back high up the pitch that led to the Aubameyang’s winner.

This tactical analysis will look to provide an in-depth analysis of how successful the contrasting tactics deployed by Unai Emery and Sean Dyche were during different periods of the match.  Arsenal looked to attack down the flanks, using Aubameyang’s pace to get beyond the Burnley backline, while the Claret’s hit long early balls to Barnes and Chris Woods, looking to use their physicality to cause havoc and create chances.

Lineups

Arsenal started with a 4-2-3-1, with Aubameyang staring out on the right-hand side of the attack. Ceballos and David Luiz both made their full debuts in front of the home crowd. With Granit Xhaka missing out, it was down to Matteo Guendouzi and Jo Willock to occupy the space in front of the defence, allowing Ceballos the freedom to turn and push forward up the pitch and look to make runs directly at the defence. There was still no space in the starting 11 for Nicholas Pépé, limited to a place on the bench. Burnley went with their tried and tested 4-4-2. New signing Eric Pieters and Jonus Gudmundsson operating on the right-hand side, with Matthew Lowton and youngster Dwight McNeil on the left. Their plan and tactics were to hit the ball forward as quickly as possible, sending in crosses to the physical presences of Barnes and Woods to rattle the Arsenal backline.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

David Luiz’s influence

Ever since Per Mertesacker’s decline and retirement, and Laurent Koscielny’s frequent injury problems, the centre-back position has been a troubling one for them. That’s why the addition of Luiz appears to be a shrewd one. He has years of Premier League experience, confidence in possession and a good range of passing. An £8 million fee seems like a no brainer, even if he is prone to the odd error or two (as we will see later on).

Emery prefers Arsenal to play out from the back, something Petr Cech and Shkodran Mustafi really struggled with last season. With the addition of Bernd Leno, and now Luiz, Emery may finally have players comfortable playing his way. In this match, Luiz always seemed available to receive a pass, then looking for short options. However, it was his accurate long passing that created an early chance for Aubameyang.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

Luiz has several safe short pass options, both back to the keeper or to Willock to his right. But his vision sees the Burnley defensive line pushed up, and the space Aubameyang has to run into. Knowing his teammate is faster than any of the Burnley defenders, he hits an accurate 50-yard cross-field ball, which Aubameyang is able to take down, but ultimately leads to nothing. The Brazilian has a much better range of passing than Mustafi or Sokratis Papastathopoulos, so these type of long balls for the wide players may become a good plan B when they are unable to play short intricate passes through the other team.

As well as his passing, he has the ability to read danger signs early to deny opposition goal scoring opportunities. A long ball forward from the Burnley Nick Pope bounced over Sokratis, with the Greek defender misreading the flight of the ball, whilst under pressure from Woods.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

Barnes would have had a clear sight at goal, was it not for Luiz assessing the situation and moving early to prevent the chance. This sharp movement meant Barnes snatched at the shot, with it harmlessly trickling wide. Luiz’s reading of the game meant he took charge and acted decisively, nullifying what would have been a good goal scoring opportunity.

Despite these positive signs, Luiz is still capable of switching off or taking unnecessary risks. Early in the first half, he played a pass right across the six-yard area, only just evading an on-rushing Burnley attacker.  He got away with it on this occasion, but a later lapse in concentration lead to the Burnley equaliser.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

Luiz has not pushed up in time, playing Barnes, who is lurking behind him onside. He then steps to his right, away from Barnes, leaving him free to receive the ball from McNeil.  Guendouzi attempts to cover round, but by this point, it is too late, and Barnes has his third goal against the Gunners in his last three games. This sort of error may become less common as Luiz settles into the side, but it is something he will have to be aware of to ensure Arsenal don’t concede soft goals like this in the future.

Burnley’s physicality causing havoc and confusion

While Leno is good with his feet and comfortable playing out from the back, he seems to struggle with balls into the box especially against tall, physical presences. Dyche’s typical tactics are to have his big forward players use their strength to unsettle defenders and goalkeepers, and with their centre-backs to do similar from set-pieces. This meant Leno was always likely to have a tough time against the side from Lancashire.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

A ball in from Gudmundsson played into the six-yard area towards James Tarkowski causes panic, as both Leno and Luiz try to win it. They end up clattering into each other, leading to the ball to go out of play for a Burnley corner. The German goalkeeper was either not vocal enough when calling for it, or Luiz didn’t trust him to successfully claim it, so also attempts to clear it. Either way, it could lead to other teams looking to exploit this vulnerability.

A corner later on in the second half saw two of Burnley’s most imposing aerial threats, Barnes and Tarkowski, double up on Leno as the ball is swung in.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

Here not only was the Leno being crowded out, but Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the one player attempting to protect his goalkeeper. This is quite the mismatch, surely one of the Arsenal centre-backs should have spotted this and taken charge of the situation. The ball was swung in and again Leno panicked, this time it dropping into the six-yard box with it pinballing around until it was eventually hacked clear. Set pieces are clearly something Arsenal will need to work on during training, as they will concede a lot of goals if they carry on defending them in this way.

Ceballos takes control

Any player who gets a standing ovation as they leave the pitch on their debut must have done something pretty special, especially at the Emirates where the crowd are notoriously hard to please. Ceballos’ stats for this Premier League fixture really speak for themselves. He had the 97 touches (more than any other player), 70 passes with a 90% pass accuracy, created four chances and bagged himself two assists.  This evidently shows what he is capable of doing. The first assist came from a corner, with his delivery finding Lacazette on the top left-hand side of the six-yard box, who held off two defenders to turn and score through Pope’s legs. But it was the second assist that showed what Ceballos has to offer.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

After losing the ball following an attempted cross-field pass to Pépé, Ceballos quickly closes down Gudmundsson, winning back possession within five seconds. This tenacity and desire to make amends for his earlier error finds Aubameyang in space, as Lowton had pushed forward to help out his teammate. Following a cut inside on to his right foot, Aubameyang hits a shot from the edge of the area, nestling in the bottom left of Pope’s goal. It clearly meant a lot to Ceballos to create the chance for his teammate, as going by his celebration you’d be excused to thinking he was the one who had scored.

This is a key part to his play, but what elevates Ceballos further is that he is unafraid to take responsibility himself and go for goal directly. Earlier in the half, he had tracked back to the halfway line as a Burnley attempted to move forward quickly down their right-hand side. Maitland-Niles recovered it, and as soon as his pass is played forward, Ceballos appears in the left-hand side of the image, bursting to get into a goal-scoring position.

Premier League 2019/20: Arsenal vs Burnley- tactical analysis tactics

Lacazette plays a first-time ball into the space ahead of the Burnley midfield, with Ceballos picking it on the outside of the box with his left foot. A quick shift onto his stronger right side and his powerful curling effort was only just tipped round the post by Pope. This time he was unfortunate, but his desire to get into these kinds of positions means he is likely to carve out chances for himself on a frequent basis.

Arsenal have lacked an all-rounder midfielder who also poses a goal threat like this since Aaron Ramsey had his purple patch in the 2013/2014 Premier League season. His quick feet and technical and ability are also reminiscent of Santi Cazorla. Emery will be hoping these are the first assists of many to come this season, and if he carries on in this style he will quickly become a favourite with the Arsenal fans. It will be interesting to see how he does in this weekend’s fixture against Liverpool, as you can imagine the European champions won’t be so obliging and let him dictate the game as he did here.

Conclusion

Dyche’s post-match analysis will show that Burnley’s tactics did cause Arsenal a number of problems, particularly in the first half. However, his players tired and had to chase the game, it was always likely Arsenal would find a way to break them down again. The extra space meant Ceballos was able to run the game, linking well with Aubameyang in particular, and caused Burnley all manner of problems.


Artwork by @chapulana

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Graham Hollingsworth

Graham, 28. Manage to split my football allegiances evenly between Liverpool and Ipswich Town.Part time marathon runner.
Graham Hollingsworth