Arsenal host Brentford tomorrow at 7am and I’ve worked up a little preview that answers several questions I’ve had since the match.
What went wrong against Everton?
I’ve had a look at the publicly available data (which is all just Opta these days) and I’ve had a chance to listen to TIFO who really know their stuff when it comes to tactics and I’ve come to the following conclusions.
First, we have to acknowledge Sean Dyche’s tactics. He took a chance with a 451 midblock formation which helped to neutralize Arsenal’s attack and slow our tempo. He played a very specific way against our 343 formation (in possession) where we create a box with our midfield players and used his extra midfielder as a sort of extra man wide.
Arsenal still managed to get the ball forward and the progressive passing and carries stats (along with balls into the final third and balls in the box) were almost all among the best from Arsenal this season. But some of that is down to game state and a lot of it was down to the fact that Arsenal were progressing the ball but into areas where Dyche wanted us to play the ball (wide) so he could spring the double-team and get us to pass back or to turn the ball over.
Once we got the ball into the final third, Dyche also has a very stats-based understanding (I’m sure he’ll just say it’s common sense) of how and where to prevent teams from getting shots. He calls it “the V” but the nerds I know used to call it “shots in prime” because that was the area where statistically shots were more dangerous. Arsenal had 1 shot in prime (Xhaka from a set play) but it was a low xG (0.04) because it was a set play and had a good number of bodies in front.
Meanwhile Dyche’s Everton created 6 shots in prime and 4 big chances (shots with more than 0.15xG). Many of those off a single corner routine that Everton ran every time they got a corner: where they pin Arsenal’s main aerial defenders and force players like Ødegaard to defend against Tarkowski.
It’s also important to point out that Everton left everything on the pitch last weekend. I bet we don’t see many more running performances like that from them this season. They apparently ran 2km more than their most active match so far this season.
Hand clap emoji to Dyche: he set up his team the right way, got them to play exactly how he wanted, ran set plays the way he wanted them to run them, and got the players motivated to run their asses off.
So, why doesn’t every team do what Dyche did?
Well, we might see more try it, and maybe Brentford will play a 451 midblock tomorrow. But the problem is that it’s not that easy (which is why you have to give Dyche some credit) to set up. It’s hard to get a team to play that specific style for just one game and execute it well (much less execute it perfectly). Moreover, many teams don’t have the physical presence of an Onana that they can bring into midfield. Many players can run like that for 40 minutes but not for the entire 90. And players make mistakes, which allow shots in those dangerous areas. There are myriad reason why every team doesn’t “just play that way against Arsenal.”
From an Arsenal perspective, however, we do need to be wary of a few things that Dyche did. The first is being able to adjust to the five man midfield and being shuttled into double teams out wide. I believe that getting Jesus back will help with this because he provides chaotic dribbling into the box (he’s the best in the League, I believe), but until then, we’ve seen it happen a few times that just doubling up on Saka and Nelli blunts our attack. I won’t be surprised to see Brentford boss Thomas Frank double up wide.
That means Arsenal have to adjust somehow. I know that Arteta will have watched the films and will be aware of the problem. How we respond is the interesting question.
The other thing that worried me are set plays. First, defending set pieces when the opponent are able to pin the big guys is a problem. There are ways to get those big guys free and we need to make sure that either we are doing those things or we are defending the other guys better. This for me is the most immediate concern because it’s the one thing that any team can deploy against Arsenal after a few hours of training.
On our end, the set plays we are running from the Nelli side are – at this point – a major concern. Arsenal are insistent on running inswinging corners from both sides of the pitch (85 inswinger, 4 out, 1 straight) and that’s all well and fine but it does make it easier to defend when we are so predictable. And not only that but Martinelli’s corners are bad and Trossard’s are worse. Someone else needs to be on corner duty on that side from now on. Mix it up! I’d rather have Saka taking outswinging corners from that side than Trossard kicking the ball out of play before it even gets to the 6 yard box.
Toney and the gears of justice
One quick side note: Ivan Toney has been accused of more than 200 counts of gambling on football or giving tips to friends and family members. That investigation took several years and if you remember it was announced back at the start of the season that the FA is looking into what punishment to give to the player with many saying a 6-month suspension was not out of the question. Well, that was 4 months ago and nothing has happened so far. As far as I can tell from the reporting on this issue, the authorities have caught him doing these things and he’s cooperating with them. I’m not sure what the hold up is on his punishment but it does go to show you that the wheels of justice in England are incredibly slow. If you expect anything to happen to Man City this season over their financial doping I will be the first to urge you caution. It’s going to be years before they are punished.
I actually find it incredible that Ivan Toney is even allowed to play this weekend but it is what it is. Arsenal could end up dropping points in this game and then see the FA suspend him starting on Monday.
Ok, what’s the preview then?
Well, I’d like it if we didn’t drop any points this weekend for a starter. We need a good performance to shake off the bad one against Everton and get ourselves set for the next big game against Man City.
Arteta is saying all the right things. We need to put that performance behind us. We need to love the players more now than ever (it’s easy to love people when they are winning). We need to step up and win the game in front of us. And he’s said today that that’s what’s happening. According to Arteta the players have responded in training and are ready to give the fans a good game against Brentford tomorrow.
Brentford are not at all a pushover team. They are 7th place this season and thoroughly deserve their position in the League table. There are rarely easy points in this league (unless it was match where Ferguson was playing against any of his former players) and if anyone thinks this will be an easy three points for Arsenal tomorrow they are going to be in for a surprise. Thomas Frank is an astute coach who will know exactly what his team is capable of, exactly what Arsenal’s threats are, and exactly what he wants them to do to counter those threats. Brentford are also very good at set plays and corners and may incorporate some of the lessons Dyche taught them last weekend.
Interestingly, while Brentford are one of the best teams at scoring off corners and set plays they are also one of the worst teams at conceding off corners and set plays. So, I expect that as much as Thomas Frank will know that Arsenal might have a weakness to exploit, Arteta will know that Brentford have a weakness to exploit. I hope that we have some fresh corner routines for them, especially on the left.
Arsenal also need to solve the problem of doubling up on Saka and Nelli. It’s not just that Nelli’s levels have dropped, it’s that without Jesus (who plays on the left more than the right), Nelli has been carrying the Jesus load and so has Saka, to be fair. Nketiah is a decent dribbler (his one good dribble opened up Everton) but he doesn’t try it enough and isn’t anywhere near as penetrative or disruptive as Jesus – Nketiah is averaging 17 touches per game, Gabriel Jesus averaged 53. Telling Eddie to “just fakin go for it”, getting some overlapping wide players in behind, midfield runners, or some other tactic (or combination) needs to be deployed to change things up and get us the goals we will need tomorrow.