Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

What happens when Van Dijk marks Odegaard instead of Gomez

It leaves Bukayo Saka free on the far-side, but Liverpool having Virgil Van Dijk mark Martin Ødegaard instead of Joe Gomez when the ball is on Arsenal’s left side is the first domino to fall in a chain of events that led to the first goal.

Figure 1.1 - Joe Gomez tracks Martin Ødegaard inside.
Figure 2.1 - Joe Gomez marks Martin Ødegaard.

This is from the FA Cup match on January 7th. When Joe Gomez moves inside, that allows left center-back Jarell Quansah to stay back behind, covering the space inside of Bukayo Saka on the far side.

Figure 3.1 - Jarell Quansah marks Martin Ødegaard, as the ball is played down the line to Kai Havertz and Reiss Nelson.
Figure 3.2 - Space behind Jarell Quansah for Reiss Nelson to attack.
Figure 3.3 - Space on the right wing for Bukayo Saka.

When Jarell Quansah marks Martin Ødegaard instead, he moves forward, leaving a large space behind between Gomez and Konate for Arsenal to attack.

There’s space in the middle initially, and then Bukayo Saka is free on the far side when Joe Gomez moves to cover the space behind Quansah.

Figure 4.1 - Virgil Van Dijk marks Martin Ødegaard.
Figure 4.2 - Ball is passed to Martin Ødegaard and Virgil Van Dijk jumps out. Trent Alexander-Arnold jumps to challenge the ball carrier and Ibrahima Konate moves wide to mark Gabriel Martinelli.

Van Dijk is marking Martin Ødegaard; again, there’s a space behind for Arsenal to attack.

Instead of attacking the wide area, like in the FA Cup, Kai Havertz chooses to attack the space central behind Virgil Van Dijk.

This clear pattern of space central is compounded by the fact that Trent Alexander-Arnold jumps to attack the ball carrier, which then forces Ibrahima Konate to move wide to mark Gabriel Martinelli. Konate overcommitted a bit too wide.

Figure 4.3 - Martin Ødegaard chips the ball behind Virgil Van Dijk to Kai Havertz.
Figure 4.4 - Kai Havertz is in, and Bukayo Saka is in space.

Alexis Mac Allister doesn’t track Kai Havertz; he’s not necessarily supposed to. Virgil Van Dijk should simply stay behind and not jump.

The ball is played over the top from Ødegaard to Kai Havertz; they’re in a 3v2, and Bukayo Saka is free on the far side for the goal off the rebound.

A brilliant team goal from Arsenal that takes advantage of the space Liverpool allowed, but it’s a simple fix.

If Joe Gomez stays inside to mark Martin Ødegaard, Virgil Van Dijk can stay behind to cut off the space. You leave Bukayo Saka free, baiting the pass to him, but that’s less of a risk than leaving a large space free central or allowing Gabriel Martinelli to have a large amount of area to run onto on the left wing.

Match: Arsenal 0-2 Liverpool, 7 January 2024 — Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool, 4 February 2024

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