With a new caretaker manager after Emery’s sacking, Arsenal’s struggles continued as visiting Brighton managed a 2-1 win at the Emirates in the Premier League. Brighton took the lead initially before Arsenal equalised via Alexandre Lacazette in the second half. David Luiz had also scored a potential winner for Arsenal but VAR had ruled it out.
Eventually, near the end of the game, an Aaron Mooy cross found the head of Neal Maupay who put it in the back of the net to win it for Brighton & Hove Albion.
In this tactical analysis, we will summarize what went wrong for Arsenal, what went right and how the result panned out as it did.
Arsenal had a plethora of different formations throughout the season, but on Thursday they lined up with what had been used consistently near the end of Emery’s reign and that was a 4-2-3-1. The only changes from the last match against Norwich was Torreira came on for Guendouzi, Bellerin in for Chambers and Sokatris comes on for Mustafi.
Brighton on the other hand, have also been inconsistent with their formations but before a few weeks ago, they went with 4-4-2 more often than not. On Thursday they lined up in a 4-3-1-2.
Maupay comes in to play a front two instead of the attacking midfielder Bissouma. Otherwise, the only other change was Alzate who came in for Montoya.
Arsenal’s defensive setup
Arsenal played a man-marking scheme. It certainly wasn’t zonal because each player had to take on one certain attacker instead of several closing down on one of the opposition players, and it wasn’t mixed because it was 1 v 1 for most of the match.
When out of possession, Arsenal would always have a certain man assigned to another depending on the situation. If the attacker runs off the ball, in order to keep defensive shape, another man would take that player and the original marker would look to close the space and that way they don’t allow any silly Brighton chances.
Arsenal would stay pretty conservative though and this perhaps explains why Brighton had a higher xG over the course of the game than Arsenal and also why they had more shots overall. When out of possession, they would always have three men at the back with the opposite full-back pushing further in the backline. Bellerin or Kolasinac (depending on the side the attack is ongoing), David Luiz, and Sokratis doing their defensive duties and only getting forward when Arsenal get back in possession.
What the three men did was they would keep a defensive shape and an offside trap and rarely moved out of position when defending. That way they can mark their man while the attacker was onside and give them little opportunity to find space between the lines.
What failed in this wasn’t the idea itself as it was clear, but more the tactical movement in defence from the players didn’t work out well for Arsenal and their manager Freddie Ljungberg.
As you can see, there are three defenders on Brighton’s left while Kolasinac was pushing slightly higher due to lack of danger in the area but also to give counter attacking possibilities. They are not too far apart from each other. It’s neither wide or narrow but more in the middle.
Here you can see every Arsenal defender is taking on someone, at least when it means danger. The one player who isn’t marked though in a somewhat dangerous position being Aaron Mooy. This could mean one of two things: Torreira, who should be there with him, is utilising another strategy in sitting in a position where he could intercept the cross, and start a counter-attack while closing down some space in the box.
The other possibility is that he is out of position and not doing the job he should have been doing.
Here you can see again that every danger man is being taken on by an Arsenal defender. Once again though, there is a space on Brighton’s right that has Kolasinac a bit further from his man. This one makes more sense though, as Kolasinac is simply making sure he doesn’t gift space by running straight by his man, allowing either a dangerous overlap from another player or open space.
So what went wrong for Arsenal?
The first goal was off a set piece and Arsenal were a bit unlucky with were the initial header landed in. Not much of a tactical mistake from the Gunners for the first. As for the second…
Brighton’s second goal came from Neal Maupay. In the image above, he is being marked by Lucas Torreira, right before Aaron Mooy is about to make the cross. Everything is set up OK in this. A few seconds later though, Torreira moves out of the way.
He leaves Maupay to David Luiz, but unfortunately, the Brazilian had already been taking on Dan Burn, so he had two men to deal with and Maupay was at the right side of the cross. This essentially left him open.
Why Torreira left his man could possibly have to do with intercepting the cross, but unfortunately, in this case, it backfired tremendously.
As a result, Neal Maupay scored the header and put Brighton up with 10 minutes to go.
Arsenal’s offensive setup
It is fair to say Arsenal’s offensive setup was ineffective, to say the least. Their only goal came off a corner, and even their disallowed goal came off a free-kick.
Arsenal had a lot of men overload into their box and this left for little midfield options. Brighton were able to take control of the game because of this and they took authority. There were also a lot of technical faults from the home side and it wasn’t all tactical. Kolasinac, for example, could only complete one of his three dribble attempts. This allowed for fewer counter-attacks since Brighton made it tough to play out from the back.
Here you can see four players past the box boundaries (Aubemeyang is also past it making it five, but he’s off-screen). As a result, all Arsenal really did was pump it in the box and hope for luck. Brighton set up well and made it difficult for Arsenal to break into their box and while dribbling was attempted, there were many technical faults as mentioned. Bad first touch, unimaginative passes and not great dribbling.
Here is another example. Aubemeyang in possession would pass it back before receiving possession again and then had a cross attempt. With plenty of bodies in the box, this is all Arsenal did in open play and their best chances came from set-pieces. There wasn’t too much of a strategy, though Brighton made that more difficult with their solid setup.
Brighton’s defensive setup
So what did Brighton do to defend against Arsenal’s box overload so well? In a more offensive circumstance, Arsenal’s scheme could have worked well against a technically inferior team. Brighton being one. However, it was easy to counter and very predictable. Graham Potter clearly noticed this.
Like Arsenal, the visiting side also used a man-marking scheme but had a lot more men in their own half when out of possession. This partly had to do with Arsenal sending many players forward that it required Brighton to be conservative in order to keep the lead or maintain the score at zero.
The difference to Arsenal is that when in possession they pushed slightly higher up, which made defending counter-attacks more dangerous for the Gunners and this is what allowed them to take authority in the game. This also applies to what has been mentioned earlier in that they took advantage of Arsenal sacrificing the midfield for more attack.
In defence, this was done for danger men only, and the less threatening attackers were left more on stand by. However, in attack, they did this for most players depending on where the ball was. They pressed a lot in order to keep the ball at their feet. Like some people believe, attack can be the best form of defence. This was Brighton’s belief throughout the game.
Brighton had many players in their own half as you can see above. You can also see how each of them take man by man. Burn with Aubemeyang, Webster with Lacazette, Alzate with Kolasinac, Conolly with Ozil and Gross with Xhaka.
As for the counter-pressing in attack…
Each player in the zone the ball was in had someone taking on who was trying to play it out. They were counter-pressing instead of retreating to their own box to do their defensive duties there.
As Brighton wins back possession, the attackers take their offensive duties and try to stay away from the Arsenal defenders.
Arsenals offensive tactics definitely could have used some work. In this analysis you saw what Brighton did right in order to win the game and how they counter Arsenal’s overload in not letting them play out. All in all, Brighton were deserved winners of this game for taking the authority and doing what was needed by scoring the goals.
Arsenal’s struggles continue after Wenger and after Emery, but it’s still a matter of waiting as they still only have a caretaker manager.
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