Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Arsenal's left midfielder experiment

Leandro Trossard and Kai Havertz both moved wide when Jakub Kiwior or Kieran Tierney inverted from left-back. Arsenal tried complicated solutions to attempt to replace Granit Xhaka.

Figure 1.1 - Goal kick showing Arsenal's 3-2 sub-structure.

Arsenal built up in a 3-2 sub-structure with Jakub Kiwior inverted from left-back. Gabriel pushed wide.

Figure 2.1 - Illustration of the structure and movement of Arsenal in possession.

The moment Kiwior inverted, Leandro Trossard would push wide to the touchline on the left-wing, and Eddie Nketiah would drop.

What Trossard is doing is not something Granit Xhaka would do. This is new. Gabriel Jesus would often drop, but not consistently on each possession. It’s all a bit too overcomplicated.

The two wingers invert, and Fabio Vieira would often also push wide, but for the most part, he was planted higher in the right half-space.

Figure 3.1 - Eddie Nketiah dropping.

Every possession, Leandro Trossard would automatically move wide once Kiwior inverted.

Jakub Kiwior’s role was similar to how John Stones would be used for Manchester City last season. He would invert and then fill in at left center-back. Gabriel would then act as a left-back. It’s not a role that I think suits Gabriel.

Figure 4.1 - Jakub Kiwior inverts, Gabriel cycles back to left center-back, and Leandro Trossard moves wide.
Figure 4.2 - Once Leandro Trossard receives the ball from Jakub Kiwior, he'll have no central outlet.

This is the issue with pushing the left center-midfielder wide, becoming a left midfielder. There’s no outlet central.

The team is split in half. One isolated far-side, the other congested ball-side.

Figure 4.3 - Reiss Nelson drops to provide a pass for Leandro Trossard, and Eddie Nketiah moves wide.

No outlet wide because Nelson is moving to provide a pass central. It’s lacking triangles, and the angles don’t allow you to move forward, only backwards. It’s a mess.

Everyone is so spread out. There’s a lot going on as far as cycling movement, but no progression or penetration. It’s like Mikel Arteta watched one Fluminense match and decided to try to copy their form of relationism.

Figure 5.1 - No outlet central once Arsenal progress into the final third.

Due to all the commotion in the build-up, they lacked bite in the final third. No one was in the dangerous zones. It’s a dead end for the attack. Split in half.

Figure 6.1 - Jakub Kiwior at left-back. No outlet central.

When Jakub Kiwior was at left-back, Arsenal would form a 4-3-3. The spacing between Leandro Trossard, Thomas Partey, and Fabio Vieira wasn’t great. To progress into the other half, Kiwior would feel the need to invert.

Figure 6.2 - Jakub Kiwior inverts, and Leandro Trossard immediately moves wide.

Normally when Oleksandr Zinchenko would invert from left-back, Granit Xhaka would move further upfield.

Figure 7.1 - Kieran Tierney inverts from left-back.

We move to the second half. It is July 2023, and Kieran Tierney is still inverting. It doesn’t work. Tierney is a great full-back, but he can’t work inside, like many other great pure full-backs.

This is where Mikel Arteta’s inexperience creeps in. He should recognize this doesn’t work. It’s not even an option worth exploring because there are many other better options.

Figure 8.1 - Kai Havertz moves wide when Kieran Tierney inverts.

Like Leandro Trossard in the first half, now Kai Havertz moves wide. The angles aren’t good. He’s better on the right side of the pitch, not the left.

Figure 8.2 - Kai Havertz advances with the ball uncontested, and Arsenal have a 5v4.

If he receives the ball in a situation like this, he’ll need a quick short pass outlet because he’s not fast. He won’t be beating anyone down the line.

Figure 9.1 - Kai Havertz receives the ball with his back to goal.

Havertz can use both feet, but he’s better at fending off defenders with his hips facing towards the right, instead of his left. Because of this, when he receives the ball on the left side of the pitch, he will always be pointed backward or towards the wing. He’s not quick, so he relies on shielding the ball. For this reason, he’ll always favor passing backward or be forced into the predictable pass wide.

Figure 9.2 - Defender wins the first challenge, and Kai Havertz is off-balance.
Figure 9.3 - Second defender wins the ball.

If they can crowd him, all a defense would need to do is cut off the pass wide to win back the ball.

Figure 10.1 - Kai Havertz makes a run towards the LW as the ball is played wide.
Figure 10.2 - Ball is played to Kai Havertz on the run, but he's elbowed off the ball.

Havertz is not the fastest, so defenders just need to be physical when he’s moving at speed. In this case, an elbow stopped Kai, getting him off balance.

Figure 11.1 - Fabio Vieira moved wide, Leandro Trossard drops from his center-forward position, and Kai Havertz cycles forward.

Mikel Arteta on where he sees Havertz playing, from The Atlantic:

“He’s (Havertz) not a replacement,” Arteta said. “He’s not gonna be like-for-like because everybody’s going to be very different from what Granit gave us. It will be very different, but Kai has tremendous qualities for our way of playing.”

“It’s the talent, the quality, the physicality, and the goal threat that he has shown over the past few years. I think it’s true that we have to see how we adapt him the best. He needs to build some relationships on that pitch, but so far he’s adapting really well, and we’re happy to have him.”

Kai Havertz on where he sees himself playing:

“I’m quite flexible, and I have played lots of positions over the last couple of years,” the Germany forward added. “Last year I came more off the No 9, but I am used to this midfield position because I played there from a young age, and now it’s time to just get all the movements back into my brain, and hopefully, it will be good on the pitch.

“Maybe having a settled position will be good for me; let’s see. I’m just happy to be on the pitch with the boys. You see the talent they have and the strategy the manager shows; it’s just fun to be on the pitch.”

A ‘settled position’ is the key phrase. How will this end? The dynamics are strange.

I’m going to have to assume Martin Ødegaard will be used in the way Fabio Vieira was played in this match, but Havertz is better on the right. So there is either another plan, which I assume there is, or Arsenal have made a mistake by bringing Havertz in for this purpose.

I am of the opinion that in the short-term, Kai Havertz is a backup to Leandro Trossard, not the other way around. If they plan on continuing with this structure, this role on the left better suits Trossard.

Jakub Kiwior looks like a better fit than Oleksandr Zinchenko at the inverted left-back role because of his ability to drop to the center-back position. Kiwior is more disciplined in his movement, so Arsenal will be less likely to be exposed once they lose the ball.

I will need to see Kai Havertz, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Jesus, Bukayo Saka, and either Oleksandr Zinchenko or Jakub Kiwior all play 45 minutes together at the same time to get a better picture of what the end goal is.

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