Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Bernardo Silva moves behind Akanji opening space in the half-space

April 7, 2023 — Arsenal’s man-to-man press led by Martin Ødegaard, Kai Havertz, and Declan Rice did very well to neutralize Manchester City in the first half, but City made key adjustments in the second half to disrupt and penetrate through the press.

Figure 1.1 - Arsenal's pressing structure.
Figure 2.1 - Illustration of Arsenal's pressing structure.

Kai Havertz would annoy the backline with his curved press while Declan Rice closely marked Rodri, and Martin Ødegaard marked Mateo Kovacic.

Figure 3.1 - Arsenal's pressing structure in the middle third.
Figure 3.2 - Curved press from Arsenal to funnel the ball into Manuel Akanji.

Arsenal shadow covered Manchester City in the middle third, forcing them into the wide areas. The goal being to funnel the ball into Manuel Akanji.

As noted last season, the angles for Manuel Akanji on the left are not good; it doesn’t work.

Figure 4.1 - Declan Rice man-marking Rodri
Figure 4.2

Declan Rice was glued to Rodri. Anywhere Rodri went, Rice went. There was no breathing space, so it was impossible for Rodri to progress the ball forward if Rice was on his back. Every pass had to be backward.

If Rice backed off, even an inch, Rodri had the ability to play out and in to Arsenal’s half.

Figure 5.1 - Looser marking from Declan Rice on Rodri allows Rodri to play the ball wide.
Figure 6.1 - Mateo Kovacic drops to play a wall pass between him and Stefan Ortega to John Stones.

When they played the ball backward or out wide, Rodri or Kovacic would be so far out of the play or behind a cover shadow, so that made it hard to connect play.

Runs into the half-space from Julien Alvarez were missing. He needed to drop to help move the ball forward.

There wasn’t enough triangles being created by City once they broke past that initial press from Arsenal. Everything had to be backward.

Figure 7.1 - Bernardo Silva drops into the left half-space.
Figure 8.1 - Illustration of the change in structure in the second half at the 64th-minute mark.

Enter Bernardo Silva.

Bernardo Silva was originally playing on the right-wing in the first half, but he moved into the midfield in the second half.

He or Mateo Kovacic would drop to move behind Manuel Akanji, so there would be someone between Dias and Akanji to connect the play into the center of the pitch.

Figure 9.1 - Ruben Dias, Mateo Kovacic, Rodri, and Bernardo Silva form a diamond in the half-space.
Figure 10.1 - Martin Ødegaard attempts to press Bernardo Silva, opening space in the half-space.

This dragged Martin Ødegaard out of position, creating space between him and Declan Rice, who was pinned to Rodri.

Manchester City are now able to take advantage of Arsenal’s man-to-man marking by manipulating their position on the pitch, creating space.

Figure 10.2 - Kevin De Bruyne receives the ball in space after dropping from Manchester City's third line.
Figure 11.1 - Julien Alvarez drops to play a wall pass to Bernardo Silva.

Then Julien Alvarez, Kevin De Bruyne, and Phil Foden began dropping into the space between Declan Rice and Martin Ødegaard to receive the ball and play wall passes so they could more effectively work the ball into Arsenal’s half.

Figure 12.1 - Martin Ødegaard attempts to press Ruben Dias but Rodri pinning Leandro Trossard opens space in the half-space.

By this point at the 76th minute, Arsenal made some adjustments to their press. Leandro Trossard was subbed on, and he took over responsibility for marking Rodri. Now he is pinned. Kai Havertz moved wide left, now a non-factor. Bukayo Saka moves infield to loosely mark Bernardo Silva. It’s more open.

Figure 12.2 - Phil Foden drops into the half-space to receive the ball and Thomas Partey follows.
Figure 12.3 - Phil Foden lowers his body to prepare to pivot around Thomas Partey.
Figure 12.4 - Phil Foden pivots around Thomas Partey.

Phil Foden used his lower center of gravity to quickly dispense of Thomas Partey on the half-turn into space. Now Manchester City is on the break.

Figure 12.5 - 6v5 for Manchester City on the break.

This small tweak in structure to free themselves from Arsenal’s man-marking by moving a midfielder in front of Manuel Akanji and the introduction of more controllers in Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, who can drop into space and turn, is what created several chances including Cole Palmer’s goal.

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