The third round of the EFL Cup saw Leicester City and Arsenal face off in a direct knockout match away from the English top-flight, with both sides looking to go the distance in this competition and challenge holders Manchester City. The Foxes were sitting pretty on top of the Premier League table, while the Gunners had managed to equal their points tally and were close behind. So, this was set to be an exciting fixture, even though both sides were expected to rest some star players.
After a close battle, Arsenal emerged 2-0 winners thanks to Christian Fuchs’ own goal and Eddie Nketiah’s late strike. Here, we take a detailed look at how the two teams were set up and where the match was decided in a tactical analysis.
On paper, Leicester fielded a 3-4-2-1, but their tactics were quite different in practice. In reality, the Foxes lined up in a slightly unfamiliar 4-2-3-1 for the first time in the new campaign, after fielding a 4-1-4-1 in the opening stages of the Premier Leagues. However, they did switch to the formation that you can see above when they were defending (as we will discuss later). The likes of Çağlar Söyüncü, Timothy Castagne, Wildred Ndidi, Youri Tielemans, Harvey Barnes and Jamie Vardy were all rested. In fact, Brendan Rogers made 11 changes from the lineup that faced Burnley over the weekend.
So, Danny Ward was in goal with Wes Morgan and Christian Fuchs in front of him. Daniel Amartey got his first start in about two years for Leicester at right-back, with youngster Luke Thomas on the opposite flank. In midfield, Hamza Choudhury was paired with Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, who was making his full debut for the Foxes. James Maddison occupied the number 10 role in his first start after a hip surgery, and he had Marc Albrighton and Demarai Gray on either side of him. Kelechi Iheanacho was the sole striker.
Arsenal, on the other hand, maintained their 3-4-3 formation that we have seen since the start of the season, but there were many changes in personnel. Gabriel, Granit Xhaka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette did not feature at all as they were rested, presumably with the Premier League clash against Liverpool in mind. Only four of the starters from the West Ham match kept their place in the lineup here.
Bernd Leno was in goal, and he had a back-three comprising of Rob Holding, David Luiz and Sead Kolašinac in front of him. Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Bukayo Saka were deployed at right and left wing-back respectively, while Joe Willock and Mohamed Elneny played in midfield. The front three saw Nicolas Pépé, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson get their first starts of the season. With that in mind, let’s begin the analysis.
Leicester’s five-man defence
In a way, Leicester’s system was the exact opposite of what Arsenal have been doing so far in this season. Perhaps this was done to counter the Gunners’ fluid 3-4-3. On paper, Brendan Rodgers deployed a back-four, but in the match, Marc Albrighton would often join the defence as a sort of right wing-back to mark Arsenal’s attack-minded left wing-back, Bukayo Saka.
The switch to a back-five is quite clear above, as Marc Albrighton has joined the defensive line with Daniel Amartey tucking inside. The five men forming the back-line were instructed to hold position in the defensive third, as is evident below:
In a separate instance, you can see how Leicester are maintaining the back-five deep inside their own box even with only three Arsenal attackers in a central position. Mind you, this position was not formed from a set-piece, but rather from open play. So, Leicester tried to crowd the Gunners out in the box and closed any openings from which their goalkeeper could be tested.
Leicester’s high press
Leicester City looked to test Arsenal’s defenders in possession, and they did so by pressing them high up the pitch.
Here, four Leicester players are in the attacking third, and they are leaving very few options for David Luiz, who is on the ball. Marc Albrighton is trying to hurry the Brazilian centre-back, while Hamza Choudhury is staying close to Joe Willock. Kelechi Iheanacho is marking Bernd Leno out of the game, while James Maddison is on the far side.
So, when Leicester win the ball high up the pitch as Hamza Choudhury does here, they already have four other attackers ahead in dangerous situations. It’s essentially man-for-man in this situation, and Leicester should have capitalised by scoring, but they failed to do so. These missed chances would later come to haunt them.
Naturally, this high press had its own drawbacks.
Over here, Leicester have six men – the entirety of their attack and midfield – in frame while Arsenal only have four. Obviously, if the Gunners manage to break the press, they will have a clear run on goal. That is exactly what happens next:
It’s a three-on-three in attack for Arsenal, as Leicester’s defence is evidently being stretched. The Gunners have lots of space in the wings too, but on this occasion, Reiss Nelson was a bit selfish and went for all the glory himself. However, the signs were very clear – Leicester were vulnerable once their press was broken.
Arsenal’s patient build-up
So far this season, Mikel Arteta has emphasised on patience in possession and building out from the back. Arsenal did just that in this match, particularly when they were trying to preserve the lead to slow the game down. Since Leicester were in desperate need of a goal, they had no choice but to press even higher, and this allowed the Gunners to stretch their opponents’ lines just as they would have wanted.
Here, Arsenal are recycling possession with their centre-backs inside their own half. Normally, they would search for a progressive pass, but here, Dani Ceballos has dropped deep from midfield to create a triangle and be an added passing option. Only two Leicester players are around the halfway line, so Arsenal are trying to draw the rest of the Foxes’ attackers and midfielders further away from their goal. They did so by passing the ball around between David Luiz, Rob Holding and Ceballos.
Brendan Rodgers’ men have no choice but to walk into the trap because they desperately need the ball, so six Leicester players appear over 40 yards away from their goal very quickly. As you can imagine, there were vast expanses of grass between the Foxes’ midfield and defence. So, when the time was right, Arsenal quickly upped the tempo and moved forward with a progressive pass over the top of the midfield.
Nicolas Pépé received it, and he brought it down for substitute Héctor Bellerín. Hamza Choudhury is the only Leicester midfielder in frame, and there is a massive pocket of space between him and the back-four. Bellerín looks to exploit a gap in the defence with his fresh legs and a quick turn of speed.
When he gets inside the box, you can see that the Leicester defence is in an absolutely terrible state. Nobody is close enough to the six-yard box, so Bellerín decides to play it into the path of Eddie Nketiah’s run. Even though the young striker wasn’t the first to get to the ball, he was by far the most determined, and he managed to stab it home to seal the victory for Arsenal.
Though Leicester had some good chances early on in the match, Arsenal were able to ease to a victory in the end. Mikel Arteta’s newly-devised system has kept his side unbeaten, and it has seen the Gunners concede only twice in four matches so far. As for the Foxes, the defeat can’t be considered too bad considering the fact that they were essentially playing their second team, and also because they will have a tight fixture schedule in the coming months with games in the Premier League, Europa League and FA Cup.
Yet another good result after a tactically solid performance in what has been a solid start to the new campaign for the Gunners.
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