Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Arsenal's Two Keys to Control Liverpool

Arsenal need to work the ball to the free man on the far-side quicker when they play Liverpool in the FA Cup today. That and I would like to see Rice, Ødegaard, and Zinchenko move as a group higher and more central.

Figure 1.1 - Kai Havertz moves to the right side while Martin Ødegaard miscues a lofted pass to Bukayo Saka.

Arsenal like to overload the right-wing, but what is an overload without an isolated winger on the far-side? Why overload the wing if you don’t switch it to the isolated winger, Gabriel Martinelli.

I understand the intention from Martin Ødegaard in this example. Saka has lost his marker, chip a pass into him 1v1, in on goal. But look how much space Martinelli has on that far-side.

Figure 2.1 - Ben White receives the ball but elects to play the ball down the right-wing rather than play in any of the Arsenal players on the far-side.

Later in this sequence, again, Martinelli is open, Zinchenko is there, Rice is free, Havertz has prepared his body to receive the pass on his inside left foot.

Pass to any of them, Martinelli is in for the cross across the ground to Jesus, Zinchenko is ready to perform an overlap, Rice and Havertz can attack the half-space. Martinelli could also drive 1v1 and shoot on goal.

Ben White hesitates and continues to cycle the ball on the right.

Figure 3.1 - Martin Ødegaard passes to Oleksandr Zinchenko and ignores Gabriel Jesus.
Figure 3.2 - Oleksandr Zinchenko takes the low-quality shoot, misses, and ignores Gabriel Jesus.

Liverpool have improved defensively this season, but their right side is frequently aloof when it comes to tracking their men on the far-side of play.

When Martin Ødegaard turns, immediately pass across to Gabriel Jesus. If Arsenal leave a man wide on their left, they will be wide open. Trent Alexander-Arnold is always tucked in and he will avoid the tackle 1v1.

Fine from Ødegaard to ignore Jesus, but Zinchenko has to play Jesus in on goal. That is a high-quality chance for Jesus from a good angle with Konate, Trent Alexander-Arnold, and Szoboszlai all attracted to the ball.

Figure 4.1 - Declan Rice, Martin Ødegaard and Oleksandr Zinchenko all shifted to the right, deep, pinned back in their own half.

Liverpool did a good job of pinning Rice back, which pinned Arsenal back. Pin and then swarm the ball. They can’t invite Liverpool to counter-press.

Figure 5.1 - (Left) Illustration of Figure 4.1. (Right) Arsenal central with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Martin Ødegaard pushing forward, allowing Kai Havertz to move central.

The onus is on Declan Rice to dictate how much control Arsenal have. His positioning dictates how threatening Arsenal are. He should look to always move higher up the pitch, to allow Zinchenko and Ødegaard to move up and support Kai Havertz in the midfield.

The more support Havertz gets, the more he can roam central, which would allow Jesus to move wide. Havertz has to stay on the left to not over-isolate Martinelli. If Zinchenko is too far back he can’t fill in to support Martinelli.

Liverpool won’t have Mohamed Salah as an outlet long on the right-wing. He is away to AFCON. Liverpool will need to spread the ball around more. They may even play better when they are forced to quickly circulate from left to right, rather than mostly through the right. Dominik Szoboszlai is out with a hamstring injury. He won’t be marking Havertz or paroling the right-wing, helping Trent Alexander-Arnold.

  • Find the free man on the far-side quicker to catch Liverpool when they ball watch and cheat too heavily to one side of the pitch.
  • Keep forcing Declan Rice to move central to avoid dragging Arsenal’s midfield back and to the right.

Do those two things, be sharper passing the ball, and Arsenal should control the match at home.

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