Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

A beautiful accident

It’s a rainy Stamford Bridge, so it’s a sloppy match, one that favors Chelsea just because they’re at home. Lots of errant passes from Arsenal to start.

It’s a game where Arsenal would need to make a mistake for Chelsea to score. Without Nicolas Jackson or Armando Broja in the starting 11, they don’t have a pure goalscorer, but they have control.

Cole Palmer and Raheem Sterling are the dynamic duo on the right, but there’s no one in the middle to finish. Conor Gallagher was drifting into good positions, but he’s not a great finisher of late.

One positive of using Cole Palmer as a false 9 was that William Saliba and Gabriel for Arsenal both looked a bit lost at times, not knowing who to mark. They both look more comfortable when they have a man to mark. Man-mark Erling Haaland, stop Erling Haaland. They do well in those types of games. When they have no assignment, space tends to open up because they’re looking for someone to man-mark.

Cole Palmer has a certain clinical snappiness to his play that comes from Manchester City, which his new teammates at Chelsea lack. Maybe it will rub off on them because they have the quality to do what he is doing.

Marc Cucurella is a player who is playing angrily. When a player plays angrily, they play at a different speed than everyone else. He knows he’s expendable; Chelsea has too many high-quality full-back options, and he’s playing like he has nothing to lose. That makes him a perfect match to mark and hound Bukayo Saka.

Chelsea scored from a mistake, the handball, and then sat off, allowing Arsenal to attack them. Arsenal was making mistakes under pressure, but the game state changes when Chelsea goes 1-0 up. Arsenal still had issues advancing the ball and creating chances. Chelsea’s defense is underrated.

Figure 1.1 - Declan Rice and Gabriel Martinelli open, in space, 2v1 against Malo Gusto in the 1st half.
Figure 1.2 - Declan Rice calling for the ball at the beginning of the 2nd half in space with Gabriel Martinelli presumably in space.

Rice and Martinelli were often open on the left-hand side, but they were often ignored throughout the first half and into the second half. Then Declan Rice moved to the right side when Jorginho was subbed off in the second half.

Arsenal’s issues:

  • Cucurella effectively pocketed Saka, preventing Arsenal from making progress through the right side.
  • Declan Rice and Martinelli were consistently ignored despite being wide open.
  • There were a bunch of silly passing mistakes in the build-up.
  • The rest of Arsenal’s midfield and forwards were ineffective centrally because Chelsea applied strong pressure in tackles, either taking out the man or winning the ball, thus preventing them from progressing easily. Moises Caicedo had a very good game.

“A beautiful accident for Mykahilo Mudryk” - Peter Drury

Peter Drury’s call during the game when Mykahilo Mudryk scored from an impossible angle was that it was a “beautiful accident.” Apparently, it wasn’t an accident.

After the match, a question to Mikel Arteta:

Question: “Mudryk has actually come out and revealed that his goalkeeping coach Toni Jiminez said that Raya likes to come out and to loop it over him!”

Arteta: “He said it was intentional? Ah, okay, it didn’t seem, but if they did it on purpose, then credit to them.”

Figure 2.1 - David Raya's positioning last season for Brentford when the ball is at a tight angle. Video source VERIF Football

I mentioned before that David Raya likes to cheat forward and aggressively position himself outside the near post to limit the ball carrier at a tight angle, relying on defenders to cover the cut-back while sacrificing the far side. He did it again, and Mudryk took that opportunity.

Figure 3.1 - David Raya moves forward, anticipating the cross. Mykahilo Mudryk shoots it over Raya's head.
Figure 3.2 - The ball goes over David Raya's head for the goal.

Mauricio Pochettino after the match:

“Yes [he meant it]. To be honest, he tried. It doesn’t mean that only he deserves the credit, but he knew the position of the keeper and that it was possible to score from that position. He needed his first goal at Stamford Bridge. He still needs to improve, but with this goal, I think he is going to be more confident in the future.”

This is why I prefer goalkeepers to stay in their net when possible to avoid unnecessary mistakes like this. There are instances when they should come out, but this is not one of them. It’s a habit Raya needs to break.

There’s a lot of pressure on David Raya right now. That’s the issue with having two number 1 goalkeepers. Neither he nor Ramsdale ever feel safe. You have all the mental drama with the camera zooming in on their faces every 10 minutes. Both are making uncharacteristic mistakes and being inconsistent. It’s not productive; it adds unnecessary drama.

The one time Marc Cucurella lets Bukayo Saka have space, he punishes them with one of the nicest pinpoint crosses you’ll see all season.

Figure 4.1 - Bukayo Saka receives the ball.
Figure 4.2 - Marc Cucurella has to allow Noni Madueke to pick up Bukayo Saka, and Saka passes to Leandro Trossard.
Figure 4.3 - Leandro Trossard one-touch volley for the goal across the goal.

Chelsea played very well, but it ended with the substitutes making the biggest impact. Subbing both Raheem Sterling and Cole Palmer off with 29 minutes left and only a one-goal buffer was a very strange choice. And they were subbed off for Reece James and Noni Madueke, both of whom haven’t had a lot of minutes recently.

I attribute that final goal by Trossard to the substitution because when Reece James and Madueke come in, pressing and marking assignments change, so that little bit of confusion causes Cucurella to pass Saka off to Madueke, and it’s a goal. Arsenal only need one sliver of a chance to score.

Expect a sloppy match, and three of the four goals were errors. Terrible error from Robert Sanchez for Arsenal’s first goal. Trossard’s goal being the only one of quality.

With only 7 points separating 1st and 8th today, that was an important point for Arsenal. Two losses and you are punted down to 5th to 8th. Two wins and you’re in the top 4. Chelsea is starting to click. You’d expect Manchester United to eventually click. The league is as open as it has ever been, and Tottenham has a chance to go two points clear on Monday.

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