The match was a cagey affair that saw a clash of two styles. Arsenal, led by the newly appointed Mikel Arteta, looked to build out from the back and break in between the lines. These tactics are very similar to Manchester City, which is managed by Pep Guardiola. After being Pep’s assistant for a few years, Arteta hoped to emulate his former boss’s style of play. Contrarily, Sean Dyche led his team to play the traditional long ball style of play that his teams are famously known for. This analysis will dive deeper into the clashing styles of each manager.
Burnley set out in a 4-4-2 formation which sought out to utilise their strengths. The classic English formation was spearheaded by Jay Rodriguez and Chris Wood. Ashley Barnes was sidelined with an injury, allowing for a more creative striker in Rodriguez to partner Wood. In this formation, Wood was the focal point during the match.
Regarding the defensive shape, Dyche had two sets of four blocking the goal from danger. This fairly balanced team was set up to hurt Arsenal where they are quite shy: defending the long ball.
Arteta played a 4-2-3-1, with the Spaniard hoping to break down Burnley’s midfield four by getting in between the lines. Mesut Özil occupied the number 10 role with an attacking threat of Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, and Gabriel Martinelli pushing forward. This combination of attacking players is something Arteta has been experimenting with. Furthermore, Bukayo Saka was deployed at left-back, showing the Arsenal managers confidence in his attacking ability. In this positioning map, Saka constantly pushed up to be one of the main attackers. This is quite remarkable considering his role as a left-back on the team sheet. It was very clear that Arteta set up to attack down the left-hand side to allow his talisman, Aubameyang, to lead the line.
Burnley’s bread and butter: long balls
It would be no surprise to anyone reading this tactical analysis that Burnley focused on utilising the long ball in this match. Specifically, they used Chris Wood as the target man. Whenever they launched the ball to Wood, Rodriguez would be in close proximity to act and an option to Wood (who typically had his back to goal). The reason for this decision from Dyche was simple: Burnley’s midfield two were outnumbered and arguably outclassed by the talent Arsenal possesses. In order to win the battle in the midfield, Burnley had to bypass that battle. Just as a tactician in a war would not engage in a battle they knew they would lose, Dyche’s tactics allowed Burnley to play to their strengths.
There were multiple instances where these tactics played out throughout the match. First, on this occasion, Rodriguez (Wood’s striking partner) is even playing him long balls! He picks up possession in his own half. Due to tactical instructions, he lifts his head up and launches a long ball to Wood. This bypasses the five midfielders you see ahead of the ball compared to the three Burnley midfielders. That tactic allows the pitch to open up and get Burnley forward.
Another instance where this tactic occurs happens in a slightly different scenario. In this analysis, Wood is receiving yet another long ball. This time the delivery originates from the centre-back. What makes this scenario different is that Rodriguez is there to pick up the ball once Wood has controlled it. By positioning themselves close together, they can create chances that will result in more shots.
Playing out from the Back
Perhaps one of Guardiola’s statements as a manager has been his persistence with playing out from the back. It seems as if Arteta has the same persistence. Arsenal looked to create problems for Burnley throughout the game as each of their attacks originated from the backline. Here, you can see how Burnley aimed to stop Arsenal’s build-up play.
The high-press from Burnley focused on blocking passing lanes to the middle of the pitch and forcing Leno out to the fullbacks. By pushing the strikers and two central midfielders forward, Burnley created a box in the middle. If Leno was to play the ball into Mattéo Guendouzi, each of the players could collapse and win the ball back with immediate pressure. This tactic eliminated the major threat of Guendouzi, who is a deep-lying playmaker for the Gunners.
Despite analysing how Burnley did well against Arsenal’s possession play, there were times when it was not as successful. Arsenal was able to break the lines and get into great attacking positions. This was significant early in the match when Arsenal had a large amount of possession.
Here, Shkodran Mustafi picks up the ball and plays a great pass to Özil. His ability to sneak behind Burnley’s pressing gives him ample space to turn and run. Without a deep-lying midfielder, Burnley was left exposed multiple times. This analysis shows an action that resulted in a chance created for Arsenal, furthering the importance of Özil’s positioning. If he continues to drive with the ball, Arsenal will be able to advance into the attacking half of the pitch. If one of Burnley’s defender’s presses, it would have created a numerical advantage for the attackers. By Özil taking up these positions, Arsenal was able to occasionally beat the Burnley press and expose their strategy.
Again, we see Özil constantly taking up great positions in between the lines. The pass from the defence bypasses all of Burnley’s midfielders, leaving space and creating problems for them. Arsenal can utilise the pace of Martinelli and Aubameyang to burst up the pitch.
Burnley’s Crossing Focus
As Burnley grew into the game, they began focusing on crossing the ball into dangerous positions. This change of emphasis occurred just after half time as Sean Dyche realised that his side was on the front foot. Just after the break, they averaged a 0.6 attack-per-minute ratio and were in control of the match. The reason they began to create chances was their decision to put the ball into dangerous areas. By the end of the match, Burnley had created 13 key passes, many of which came during that dominate period of the match.
In this analysis, Ashley Westwood is delivering a ball into the box to target the big man Chris Wood yet again. What is important to note is his decision making. Instead of playing the ball to the top of the box where his teammate is in a favourable position, he looks to get the ball into the box. Wood and Rodriguez averaged a 41.5% aerial duel win rate during the match, making them very dangerous in the box. Here, Westwood delivers one of Burnley’s 27 crosses of the match. This cross resulted in a chance created for Burnley.
The exact same decision making occurs just minutes later in the match. This persistence by Burnley shows Dyche’s tactics were extremely focused on getting the ball into the box. The reason why this tactic is important for Burnley is their ability to win the ball in the air. Traditionally, they are superior to their opposition when winning headers. In this match, it was no different. Burnley had a 66% win rate compared to Arsenal’s 34% win rate in the air. It played to Burnley’s advantage to skip the midfielder at the top of the box.
These tactics created problems for Arsenal. During this phase of the match, they were lucky not to concede.
Overall, this match was standard. Most football enthusiasts would predict both sets of tactics from each team. The managers played to their team’s strengths. However, their weaknesses were not exposed. Sean Dyche was probably the happier of the two managers as he made no changes to his personnel during the match.
Both squads were unlucky not to score as they wasted many chances. Despite those missed chances, it is fair to say that a point shared between the two sides was the correct result.