Maximilian Arnold is a German midfielder who was born on 27th May 1994. Arnold has started in 23 of his 24 appearances for Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this season, as well as starting 8/8 matches in the Europa League. Throughout the 2019/20 Bundesliga campaign, he has only been substituted off four times from open play and substituted off once from open play in the UEFA Europa League. His average playing time per game is 85.4%, clearly proving how crucial he is to Wolfsburg’s setup.
Arnold is a player who does not always get his fair share of publicity, however, he is one of the most effective players in the Wolfsburg team. The German midfielder’s main position is central or left central-midfield. With the ability to execute key passes and pin-point set pieces, Arnold holds the responsibility of trying to drive his side forward into the UEFA Champions League places.
There have been numerous reports of top English clubs battling to sign the German, with Arsenal being the favourites to land his singature.
This tactical analysis scout report will analyse why Arnold is such a key player in Wolfsburg’s tactics, and discuss why his performance during the 3-2 away win at Hoffenheim was so crucial to them taking all three points.
Recognition of space to play forward
Although Arnold is known for being a passing master and set-piece specialist, his ability to recognise space to receive and play forward should not go unnoticed. Throughout the game against Hoffenheim, Arnold would disguise his movement off the ball in order to take up a better position in space to receive. On receiving the ball, he would adjust his body position in order to take his first touch forward.
Arnold shows his ability to receive to play forwards when Wolfsburg’s left-back has the ball. Two opposition players would go to press, leaving space in-between the midfield and defensive lines for Arnold to move into to receive. Arnold’s recognition to perform quick movements into these pockets of space allows him to receive and travel forward in one movement.
On numerous occasions, the ball into Arnold would take out the two pressing opposition players, creating an overload situation when he progresses the ball forward.
Out of the 24 Bundesliga appearances Arnold has been involved in this season, he has created 16 key chances which have led to a goal-scoring opportunity. As we can see above, Arnold receives the ball deep in the opposition’s half to try and capitalise on space in between the lines.
During the Hoffenheim game, he would also recognise space in his own half and provide an option for his teammates who were pressured by more than one opposition player. He would then shift the point of the attack to a different area on the pitch. These areas would most commonly be teammates in a 1v1 or overload position.
In the above image, we see Arnold receiving off his midfield partner Xaver Schalger who is on the right touchline. Before receiving, he checked his surroundings to identify where space would be to take his first touch into and where the pressure would come from, from the nearest opposition player.
His body position when he receives allows him to take his first touch in three different directions. Due to Arnold liking to play direct, he always tries to orientate the ball forwards. In this case, his first touch went into the forward space and played a split pass into his attacking teammate. This took out the two opposition central-midfielders and enabled Weghorst to receive in-between the defensive and midfield lines.
Identifying the space to receive in not only allows Arnold to play forwards quickly but also gives him two more options. He could have let the ball run across his body and play out to the left central-defender, who then could have changed speed into the space in front of him. He could have also taken his first touch backwards and played to the right-back to retain possession of the ball.
Arnold’s ability to recognise space to receive in between the lines provides him with numerous passing options once in control of the ball. This skill makes Arnold one of the top players with the highest pass accuracy percentages in the Bundesliga.
Strong passing ability
Arnold is most commonly known for his passing ability and the high success rate when executing a range of different passes during a game. During the match against Hoffenheim, Arnold produced 33 passes, 30 of which were accurate. He made seven long passes, of which six were accurate. He has the skill set to carry out different ranges of passes, whether they are passes to penetrate or short, unopposed passes to retain possession and build the attack.
Above we can see Arnold in possession of the ball in a tight area with pressure from the side. With Mehmedi in space to the right of him and Weghorst the furthest forward, the only option is to perform a split pass into the path of latter player who is unmarked. Arnold could have played out to the left, however, his quick vision and strong ability to perform short passes meant the pass to Mehmedi was so effective. Mehmedi was able to take his first touch forwards into the path of Weghorst and start an attacking opportunity.
Arnold has achieved a 94% accuracy simple pass rating in his own half during a 90-minute match and an 88.5% accuracy simple pass score in the opposition’s half. Even with four players pressuring him, as seen in the image above, he is still able to carry out a short pass that takes his team out of danger and into an attacking situation.
Alongside simple passes, there were many occasions during the Hoffenheim game where Arnold performed accurate long passes to switch the play. His quick thinking and ability to identify space quickly saw him produce many passes to teammates on the opposite wings to exploit the space and create 1v1 situations.
This season, he has accumulated a total of 221 long passes, of which 45.2% were accurate towards a teammate. We can see below an example of this in action against Hoffenheim.
Arnold has the habit of switching play to isolate opposition players. He can also recognise when the opponent’s teammates are out of position and capitalise on the space created by this. Above we can see he has received the ball off the left full-back, opened his body and executed a long pass to Mbabu who is in space on the right side.
The key to Arnold recognising the opportunity to exploit and isolate is his vision before receiving a pass. He recognises he is in space and before receiving, checks his shoulder so he is aware of his surroundings. In the Hoffenheim game, we see him scanning behind him before receiving so he knows where his first touch needs to go to set himself for the next passing action.
In the Hoffenheim game, Arnold deployed seven long passes, of which six were accurate. It was only when they were searching for the winning goal, however, when we saw him performing these types of passes. This could prove that Wolfsburg’s in possession tactics go through Arnold when looking for that decisive moment to break down the opposition’s defensive lines.
As well as making him aware of where to take his first touch when receiving, scanning his surroundings before receiving the pass also allows him to notice where his teammates are positioned. Here we see him noticing Schlager in space, so upon receiving he can guide his first touch towards this direction.
With the game currently being at 2-2, Arnold is the type of player you want on the ball to create goal-scoring opportunities and perform key passes at key moments in the game. His high passing statistics clearly indicate his confidence to perform different types of passes in the game.
Arnold was the key man in the creation of Wolfsburg’s third and crucial goal to win the game against Hoffenheim. Although he has only completed 38 through passes and only gained a 23.7% accuracy average, it can be argued that his key pass into Weghorst who went on to score was actually a smart pass, due to the number of defenders around him and the decision he made at that time.
Above we can see Arnold in lots of space to control the ball and setting himself for his next action. Weghorst has recognised that there is space behind the left full-back to capitalise on if a ball is played through. He is also aware that Hoffenheim’s last defender is playing very deep so the timing of the run isn’t an issue due to him being well onside.
Arnold has achieved a 60.7% accuracy smart pass into the box on average and, in the above example, we can clearly see why. His decision and timing of the pass into Weghosrt’s off the ball run puts him in a great goal scoring opportunity.
The run from Weghorst does take the defender closest to him away from goal, creating space for Arnold to execute a shot at goal. However, with only 27.3% of his 66 shots being on target, Arnold’s decision to pass to Weghorst instead was the better decision.
Alongside passing being his main strength as a midfielder, he also proves he can dribble the ball out from dangerous areas against pressure from all angles. Not only does he dribble forward into space at speed, but he can also combine his dribbling and passing strengths, especially when counter-attacking.
Overall, Arnold has been involved in 39 1v1 dribbles this season, of which 30 (76.9%) were successful. Not only does he have strong passing traits, but beneath the surface he clearly shows his bravery in possession under pressure.
With the score at 2-2 and Wolfsburg unhappy with anything less than three points, Wolfsburg needed one of their players to set up and drive them forwards. We see Arnold dominating the midfield third, receiving the ball from the centre-back and driving forwards 1v1. His strength to hold off pressure from behind, in this example, allowed him to exploit the forward space and pressure the Hoffenheim backline.
With Hoffenheim opting to play with a back three and one central defensive midfielder, this allowed gaps to appear in behind and out wide. Once Arnold broke past the initial pressure area, he was able to perform one of his strong accurate passes into the wide or half-spaces.
Again, we see Arnold collecting the ball high in his own half from the centre-back. The open space he has in front of him allows him to carry the ball into the opposition’s half and control the pressure. He has Weghorst in space in-between the opposition defensive and midfield lines and Mehmedi available just in front of him.
With his ability to perform different types of passes in many different situations, we can see that whatever pass he does decide to play will be accurate. It will also mean that if he does play into the attackers’ feet then oncoming supporting players off the ball could create an overload situation in the opposing half.
When he does lose the ball off the dribble, he’s quick to counter-press as defensive duels are a real strength of Arnold’s game. He wins an average of 7.1 defensive duels per game, good for a 54.2% success rate. Taking the ball from Arnold is hard enough, but keeping it against him is an equally difficult challenge.
Maximilian Arnold is a player who can be seen as very underrated yet so effective in everything he does. He holds many different strengths which he can deploy during different stages of the game to drive Wolfsburg to victory.
This tactical analysis scout report has analysed the main key strengths of Arnold’s game and how he fits into Wolfsburg’s tactics. Not only does he carry strong technical passing attributes, but it has also been shown that he is effective in many different areas of the game. The ability to identify space to receive to play forwards in different parts of the pitch, as well as having the bravery to dribble the ball in 1v1s, highlights the range of skills he has available.