Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

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Leandro Trossard is Jesus reincarnated for Arsenal

February 27, 2023 — When Gabriel Jesus got injured, Arsenal lost the unpredictability and positional rotation that created chances for Gabriel Martinelli and others. But, they regained it on Saturday versus Aston Villa when Leandro Trossard played as a false 9.

Eddie Nketiah filled in at center-forward in the beginning of December, when Jesus got injured. He stepped up to the tall task of filling Jesus’ shoes by netting 7 goals. He’s a pure goalscorer, great striker of the ball and knows where to position himself in the box to be available for scoring opportunities. However, he doesn’t create chances for others, through his off the ball movement and passing ability, like Jesus does.

Jesus can play out wide on the wing, centrally down the middle, in tight spaces, and can even help out in defense if needed. He’s got a good shot, but can be inaccurate at times, and he’s a better passer of the ball than he is a goalscorer, providing high-quality chances due to his movement, high work-rate, passing ability, and dribbling prowess in tight spaces. Leandro Trossard, who was signed from Brighton Hove & Albion in January for £27 million, has those same qualities.

It was evident throughout the entire match on Saturday that Trossard added that dimension of unpredictability in movement to Arsenal’s game. I couldn’t highlight every instance where he had an impact on Arsenal’s play the same way Jesus does, so to keep things concise, I’ll highlight four examples.

The first example came in the 4th minute, when the ball was with Gabriel Martinelli, who ventured over from left-wing into the right half-space with Martin Odegaard, 4v2.

Trossard rotated out to the left-wing to fill in the space that Martinelli was meant to operate in. He then made a cutting run towards Martinelli, dragging a Leicester defender forward, which opened up space for Granit Xhaka in-behind him as the free man.

Martinelli and Odegaard played a one-two within that 4v2, then Odegaard dinked a ball over Trossard and the defender in to the path of Xhaka to run into the box.

Both Martinelli and Trossard make their runs into the box, but Odegaard smartly holds and curves his run to make himself free on the edge of the box as an option for Xhaka. Xhaka played the higher quality chance into Martinelli on the far post but it was off the mark.

This was the first sign of this dynamic movement at play. Martinelli is comfortable being more expressive and venturing out of position, because he knows Trossard is just as capable at left-wing.

This understanding and movement makes Arsenal much less predictable and harder to defend against because there’s so much more motion and freedom with press resistant proficient dribblers moving all about the pitch.

Another example came in the 18th minute when Oleksandr Zinchenko, the inverted left-back who moved into the left half-space to help Martinelli overload the left-wing.

Trossard ran out wide, then ran back centrally, which created the space for Zinchenko to run into to receive a pass from Martinelli. Normally, it would be Xhaka making this run ahead of Zinchenko to form a triangle with Martinelli, but because Trossard is comfortable in that tight space at the edge of the box with three defenders surrounding him, he filled in.

Zinchenko, once he received the ball, quickly played the pass back to Martinelli, with Trossard checking back, making himself open within the triangle they created.

Trossard’s movement attracted the attention of one of Leicester’s center-backs, dragging them out of the 4v3 in the box on the far side. Martinelli played a ball into Bukayo Saka on the far post that was put out of play.

Normally, if Eddie Nketiah was in as a center forward instead of Leandro Trossard, he’d be in the box within that 4v3, waiting for the cross. Then Xhaka would be the one that would need to come out from the left half-space to the left-wing to help create a triangle with Zinchenko and Martinelli. Xhaka isn’t as proficient in tight spaces as Trossard, nor is he as creative passing.

Xhaka is much better served inside the box available when a chance is created, on the end of a cross, like in the example in the 18th minute.

The third example from the 26th minute is just an incredible strike from Trossard on the edge of the box, showcasing his ball-striking ability.

A corner was taken, and he was on the edge of the box, waiting for any scraps to be recycled out to him. The ball was played into the middle of the penalty area, punched out by goalkeeper Danny Ward. Xhaka then played the ball to Trossard, and he planted the ball in the top right corner.

Unfortunately, the goal was disallowed by VAR because left-back Ben White thought he could get away with holding Danny Ward’s arm when he went to punch the ball.

The final example is the first goal and only goal in the match, in the 45th minute. Gabriel, the left center-back, plays a ball down the line to Trossard.

Trossard has moved out wide, with Odegaard sitting central in the center forward position, with Martinelli further back closer to Arsenal’s back line to aid in the recovery of the ball.

Trossard performed a neat step-over, 1v1 his defender, nutmegging the defender with the pass that played Martinelli through into the box for the goal.

Trossard is a highly versatile forward who is proficient playing in multiple positions, can help in tight spaces since he is incredibly press resistant, is a great striker of the ball, and can handle being isolated 1v1 defenders on the wing. Will he replace Gabriel Jesus? No, but Arsenal can be even more unpredictable and difficult to defend against with someone like him in the lineup.

I would even argue that when Gabriel Jesus comes back from injury, Jesus should move into the left center-midfield role that Granit Xhaka currently plays. Xhaka hasn’t looked as convincing in the left half-space as Trossard.

Let Trossard stay central and move Jesus closer to Martinelli. Martinelli, Jesus, and Trossard can all rotate and roam in and out of position to create imbalances and space within the opponents’ backline.

Arsenal has a ton of quality at several positions, all with the ability to chop and change position, helping to solve the problem of a lack of depth as they hit the final stretch and push for their first Premier League title since 2003.

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