Despite a convincing start to the Europa League for Arsenal, they struggled to overcome Vitoria Guimaraes in this Europa League clash, doing so with two late free-kick goals. A victory is a victory, but just how did they manage to turn this around?
This tactical analysis will review how Arsenal managed to turn this game around and how Vitoria were able to dominate spells of the game.
As they have done in their previous Europa League encounters, Arsenal played with a mostly younger squad. Vitoria on the other hand, have been rotating a lot. The two wingers Davidson and Marcus Edwards have been consistently in most lineups, while Andre Almeida has rotated a lot with Lucas Evangelista.
All of the players on the pitch were below the age of 30, with Arsenal having a perhaps younger squad.
The Vitoria Guimaraes overlap
The Portuguese side played an overlapping game to try and add extra width and surprise the opposing markers by creating space for the other attackers.
Take it in this example here.
Marcus Edwards wins the ball after an aerial clash won by the young Andre Almeida. He gets a touch on it but allows Victor Hugo Garcia to finish his run with the ball as he has plenty of space.
Garcia continues his run and goes all the way to the byline to draw in Rob Holding. Meanwhile, ex-Spurs product Marcus Edwards runs into the box and exploits the open space created by Victor Hugo Garcia.
Edwards receives the ball and is able to make a dribble before shooting and opening the scoring for the visitors.
Keep in mind, there were plenty of instances like this within the game. Garcia recorded four progressive runs in the game, while the left-back Florent Hanin recorded two.
In this system, there would always be a player waiting out wide with open space looking to add width. The team was consistently looking for the overlap in the game.
Here is another example
On the other side of the pitch, Davidson makes a progressive run to start a counter-attack. Right behind him is Florent Hanin who is sprinting to make the overlap.
Davidson waits for Hanin to get to open space before making the pass.
Hanin receives the ball in a good position from his teammate. The link-up between the two was excellent.
If you look at the top 10 links, you’ll notice Davidson and Florent Hanin had the most with 12 smart passes between them in total.
It should be noted that Vitoria were mostly attacking via the right side of the pitch. Most of their big chances came from there and it would always be a 2v1 as demonstrated in the example above.
This is the attacking dashboard for the first 20 minutes of the game for Vitoria. At this point, they had more shots on target and more efforts in the final third. This wouldn’t be the final spell of dominance for the Portuguese. They had another run right before the end of the first half and even managed to score against, but the second half would belong to Arsenal.
As mentioned, Vitoria had the first 15 minutes under control. It was the only point in the game where they had more than 40% possession. Here you can see they had 42% in said minutes.
Both teams had an xG of 1.79 and five shots on target. Vitoria Guimaraes had three more overall shots than Arsenal though. The former had 17, while the latter had 14. After the Portuguese side scored their goal, Arsenal averaged more than 60% possession until the final whistle, but Vitoria hit them on the counter and had plenty of progressive runs.
Arsenal in possession
As mentioned, Arsenal dominated possession the entire game, with it starting out to be a slight difference to being over 60% for the majority of the match.
They weren’t so effective with it, however. Not only were their two late goals not from open play, but they had three fewer shots than Vitoria, as mentioned earlier.
As Vitoria would sit back and look for the counter, Arsenal threw most of their team in the opposition half. The Portuguese side would sit narrowly, while Arsenal tried to exploit this by adding extra width knowing their technical superiorities.
You can see how wide Arsenal are, while Vitoria are trying to hold their lead and playing narrow in order to avoid losing their defensive shape. This was certainly not their downfall as they managed to hold the Gunners in open play. However, there were some flaws with the tactic that the opposition were able to take advantage.
Lucas Torreira was able to find a free wing essentially that he can run towards and get a dangerous chance rolling. Martinelli spotted him and dished out a through ball. Meanwhile, Lacazette’s job was to just stay onside.
In this screenshot, the Vitoria backline did a good job at keeping Lacazette offside. They were able to reorganize themselves just in time. Nevertheless, Torreira’s cross went out for a throw-in.
Arsenal’s win came from technique. Two free-kicks that didn’t come from “tactical fouls”. Quality was able to save a potentially embarrassing night for Emery’s side.
Arsenal’s defensive setup
Arsenal set up with a man to man defensive scheme. Each player had to mark somebody else. It should also be noted that some players were played in a different role, like Lucas Torreira. He played more of an offensive-minded game rather than his usual defensive duties. He had only two recoveries all game as opposed to his 10.11 average. He also only made one sliding tackle.
One Arsenal player marked an opposing attacker at a time. At least with the most dangerous players.
Maitland-Niles goes back to mark the offensive minded Florent Hanin after he took the throw in, as he looks for the overlap as demonstrated he liked to do earlier on. Bruno Duarte held onto the ball and waited for this instance while Mustafi blocked his path forward.
Later in the game, this was shown more clearly. In the image above, you can see four players marking their man individually. Andre Almeida was about to make a through ball to initiate a counter, so Arsenal had to call into duty to get into their defensive shape.
In this case, Davidson was able to outspeed Mustafi and beat the defensive line in order to get to the byline and create a chance.
From there, Arsenal needed to transition quickly while Davidson would take his time to find an attacking player to make a cross.
Once they reach they successfully transition, they each mark the opposing attackers one by one. In the image below, Holding and Mustafi are the two most important defenders. The German is marking Davidson who still has the ball at his feet, and needs to block any cross.
Holding has taken Poha and needs to intercept any pass in case Mustafi isn’t able to stop him. Meanwhile, Tierney has taken Marcus Edwards who was unlikely to receive the ball but he obviously still needed to be taken on just in case the cross went for him.
In this situation, Mustafi and Holding both failed to do their jobs and Poha was able to get a shot at goal on a tight angle.
Arsenal were very difficult to understand and this is because their tactics were all over the place. Vitoria’s job was clear. Score the first goal, and then sit back and look for the counter. In the seond half, at least in the last 25 minutes, their job was to just see out the game. Their attacking plan had to do with providing width via overlaps.
Arsenal had a similar attacking plan as soon as Vitoria went more narrow, however instead of overlapping they just had players exploit the space out wide. Often just one player with little support. In the end, Vitoria will feel they could have won. Nicolas Pepe came on and his technical quality saved the day for the home team. There is still a lot to work on for the Gunners though as shown in this analysis.
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