Arsenal recorded a comfortable 3-0 victory over Aston Villa at The Emirates to go three points ahead of Spuds and eight points clear of Chelsea who are in fifth. Kieran Gibbs recorded his first Premier League goal, and Theo Walcott added another in the first half before Mikel Arteta’s stunning free kick added icing on the cake in stoppage time.
Tactically speaking there wasn’t a ton of out back and forth between the managers in this game due to the fact that Arsenal dominated for 90 minutes. However there were some interesting points throughout the game that I would like to touch on in this article.
This was a fairly standard tactical battle of 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 vs 4-2-3-1. So with that being said it was pretty standard formation battle in theory with the teams matching up 3 v 3 in the middle and each team retaining a spare man at the back.
However, the first supposed tactical battle actually happened before the start of the match. With Laurent Koscielny picking up a pre-game injury, Johan Djourou was forced to partner with Thomas Vermaelen. Alex McLeish then acted accordingly by instructing Emile Heskey to try and bully the inconsistent Djourou.
McLeish’s tactics in theory were correct; attack the weak link in Arsenal’s backline. However, credit must be given to the Swiss international for playing well and holding up against the physicality of Heskey.
The next thing that was noticed was the play of Villa’s wingers. With Gabby Agbonlahor (a natural striker) on the left, he often failed to track Bacary Sagna and because of this, 41% of Arsenal’s attacks came down the right hand side1.
Marc Albrighton was on the right, and even though he did a better job at tracking his full back than his compatriot, he was still overall very poor in this task as Gibbs was able to find plenty of space on the left and was able to slipped in by Gervinho for the opening goal. However, leaving the wingers high also meant that Villa had some good counter attacking opportunities early on and luckily they were never able to capitalise.
Finally the last thing that was interesting was how Villa defended situations where Szczesny was in possession of the ball. Instead of pressuring Szczesny, usually Heskey or Weimann would get close to one of the centerbacks while one of the wingers would take the other. And as the centerbacks spread wide and Alex Song dropped in the middle, Stephen Ireland would pick him up.
This would force Szszesny to either play short passes in traffic or play longs balls. Most of the time he took the obvious choice and played long, but when he didn’t it lead to some of Villa’s best chances.
With that being said though, this tactic had a drawback as well. Whenever Szczesny did play the ball long and Arsenal won it, Villa’s midfield was often disjointed and out of position and this lead to Arsenal being able to run at Villa’s backline fairly often.
Today the Arsenal midfield bossed the game and the understanding between Song, Arteta, and Rosicky that has blossomed over Arsenal’s current win streak was one of the main reasons. When these three click and can rotate in and out in their fluid double pivot, you get results and statistics like today, with 72% possession and 8 shots on target against Villa’s none.
All three also had outstanding individual performances:
|Player||Key Passes||Passes||Pass Accuracy||Long Balls||Acc Long Balls||Through Balls||Acc Through Balls||Who Scored Rating|
Couple these dominant passing statistics with the midfield (and whole team) pressing together as a unit and you get games like today. This proves that a) we are definitely not a one-man team, and b) when the right players are put in to Arsene Wenger’s system and they fully understand each other’s playing tendencies, this team has the potential to not just beat most teams in Europe, but also dominate most teams in Europe.
Ultimately there wasn’t a whole lot going on tactically through out this game and the midfield was outstanding today. But with that being said the whole team also needs to be praised for one of Arsenal’s most complete performances of the year. The defenders were excellent, the midfield controlled the game, and the forward offered a constant goal scoring threat. With Arsenal having a firm grip on a Champions League spot, they are now in control of their own destiny and need to continue to play at a high level to make sure that they retain third with games at home against City and Chelsea, and a trip to Stoke still on the fixture list.