Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Aaron Ramsdale channels his inner David De Gea

April 21, 2023 — Yesterday, I talked about David De Gea’s mistake, which cost Manchester United their win, and Aaron Ramsdale made a similar mistake for Arsenal today that could potentially cost them the title. One mistake is all it takes.

Figure 1.1 - Gabriel passes back to Ramsdale to recycle the ball
Figure 1.2 - Ramsdale surveys the field for an open man, and Zinchenko moves into a pocket of space

Notice how each Southampton player is less than two steps away from an Arsenal player, making it risky to pass to Partey, Zinchenko, Viera, and Odegaard. The only safe option Ramsdale can consider is a long ball to get out of their half or a lateral pass.

Figure 1.3 - Ramsdale passes to Zinchenko, who is facing the goal
Figure 1.4 - Ramsdale misqueues his pass, and it’s intercepted

One small mistake, one scuffed his pass, and Southampton is in for the first goal. This came from the pressure and organization of Southampton to remain compact and force Arsenal into an error in a dangerous area of the pitch. They were prepared.

Figure 2.1 - Southampton press Arsenal high and compact

Southampton did not shy away, and they pressed high to make it difficult to quickly progress the ball into their defensive end, where Arsenal is most dangerous. The only safe pass for Rob Holding to play was lateral to either Gabriel or Ben White. Zinchenko and Partey were not options, nor were Odegaard and Vieira in the half-spaces.

Figure 3.1 - Ruben Selles commands his defense to remain compact in the 16th minute

They clogged the middle of the pitch and remained compact. Gabriel Jesus could have attempted to drop into the middle of the pitch to create an imbalance and force Southampton out of their compact shape, creating more space on the wings for Martinelli and Saka, but in the end, that wasn’t necessary.

After one pass from Rob Holding over the top to Bukayo Saka, Southampton began to back off with each Arsenal possession. As the 1st half went into the 2nd half, Arsenal gained authority over their defensive end, which allowed them to advance into their attacking end quickly.

Figure 4.1 - Progressive pass attempts plot from Markrstats on Twitter

This progressive passing plot shows how pinned back Arsenal was, forcing them to play long passes by Gabriel and Holding deep from their half into tight spaces on the wings and half-spaces. When the ball was received in those tight spaces, they were quickly closed down.

Figure 5.1 - Southampton defends compact, and Partey is closed down
Figure 5.2 - Southampton wins back the ball and starts a quick counter
Figure 5.3 - Alcarez plays Walcott in for the second goal

The same compact and close-distanced defense forced Thomas Partey into a turnover, starting the quick counter ending in the second goal.

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