Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Odegaard on the turn

Arsenal were less pragmatic than Manchester City because of the way they attacked, and they were more effective at creating chances. A big reason for that was Martin Ødegaard and his ability to get open, immediately turn, and play the through ball.

Figure 1.1 - Ball is passed to Martin Ødegaard. Bukayo Saka anticipates the pass and begins his run.
Figure 1.2 - Martin Ødegaard plays in Bukayo Saka.
Figure 2.1 - Martin Ødegaard moves into the space for Thomas Partey to play the pass forward.
Figure 2.2 - Martin Ødegaard immediately passes to Leandro Trossard.

Arsenal sat back in defense but they did not waste time when they had the ball. They looked likely to score on each attack in either settled play, when City had time to get back behind the ball, or on the counter.

Figure 3.1 - Manchester City press Arsenal, blocking off the pass to the midfielders via cover shadows, forcing them to play back to goalkeeper David Raya.
Figure 3.2 - Aggressive press from Manchester City forcing Arsenal back to David Raya.

One of my keys to this game was to block off Ødegaard — don’t allow him to get the ball.

Porto cover shadowed Arsenal’s 8s, Declan Rice and Martin Ødegaard, which forced them to play long over the midfield. They had trouble creating chances and progressing forward on the ground in the first leg and second leg against them in the Champions League.

If I’m City, I would like to see Rodri sit deep to help win second balls when they’re played long and headed down by Kai Havertz, and then have two midfielders aggressively follow Martin Ødegaard and Declan Rice around the pitch. Cut off the passing lane into their feet.

Worst comes to worst, Ødegaard must always be covered. This sounds like a job for someone like Mateo Kovacic or Bernardo Silva to follow Ødegaard.

If I’m Arsenal, I would constantly be moving Ødegaard around to open that passing lane into him, into feet. Get the ball into his feet and it will become a basketball game, and we know how well City have managed transition games lately.

Manchester City did a masterful job for a majority of the match at pressuring Arsenal high, cutting off the pass to the midfield, forcing them to play back and then long. But when they became stretched, and when Arsenal got the chance to get that ball into Ødegaard’s feet, they didn’t take that chance for granted.

Figure 4.1 - Martin Ødegaard plays Kai Havertz in to the box.
Figure 5.1 - Martin Ødegaard finds a pocket to receive the ball.
Figure 5.2 - Martin Ødegaard immediately turns and plays the through ball to Kai Havertz.

Unlike Manchester City, who were unwilling to progress the ball when the space was open, Arsenal through Ødegaard played that final pass on multiple occasions.

Ødegaard was ready on the turn, and the forwards anticipated each pass, ready to take advantage of the way that Manchester City passively tackle. They were only a fraction off the mark.

I’m not a fan of teams that sit back and defend with a back six. Wingers acting as full-backs. It’s not my cup of tea, I’ve never enjoyed watching it, but I respect the approach. My only stipulation is that if you’re going to sit back, you have to take your chances. And they did.

Arsenal had very little possession but they had more progression than City.

My critique would be this. Arsenal made an adjustment in the second half to press higher, which opened the game up. They still remained cautious in doing so. This is a risk, but I would have liked to see them be even more aggressive when they realized Manchester City weren’t progressing the ball.

Match: Manchester City 0-0 Arsenal, 31 March 2024

Players: Martin Ødegaard

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