May 22, 2024

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Why did Mikel Arteta's tactical approach against Aston Villa make sense?

Why did Mikel Arteta's tactical approach against Aston Villa make sense?

After Arsenal suffered a devastating 2-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa at the Emirates Stadium, Mikel Arteta inevitably came under scrutiny for his choice to change his system.

Arteta returned to the approach he used earlier in the season, with Oleksandr Zinchenko featuring at left-back, Gabriel Jesus playing up front, and Kai Havertz shifting to an attacking midfield role, having played up front in recent weeks. . Judge only by the result, this was a disastrous move. But, as was always the case, things got a little more complicated.

These two changes went hand in hand. Jakub Kuyur underperformed at left-back in the 2-2 midweek draw with Bayern Munich, so Zinchenko's return was not a huge surprise. Takehiro Tomiyasu is another option, but Arteta's use of Zinchenko was a more positive option that helped Arsenal control possession in the first half.

In turn, this allowed the attacking option to be used in the left midfield position, with Zinchenko drifting into that area, freeing up the midfielder to become an additional striker. That's the role played by Havertz, one of a curious new breed of players who have played in the No.8 and No.9 positions this season.

Throughout the first half, there were some promising moments. Villa's high line has caused opponents serious problems this season, and the defense is particularly adept at getting forward to catch an offside striker when he starts his run high against them. They have more problems against runners from deep, so Havertz making his runs from midfield rather than attacking makes sense.

Zinchenko was often the player trying to find those kicks, including this lofted ball at the back, from which Havertz received a heavy touch…

There was also this longer pass, which put Havertz through on goal – although there was a late offside flag after the move had finished.

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Then it was Martin Odegaard who discovered Havertz's path in that channel. Here, he was outdone by Villa midfielder Diego Carlos, who was named full-time man of the match. The fact that he was so important to Villa's performance, especially in the first half, shows how much Havertz's movement causes problems.

Here's a slightly different situation: Havertz exploiting space in the channel to get to Leandro Trossard's ball in behind. The shot was a bit tame, but the danger was there.

Certainly the biggest issue has been the performance of Jesus, who has struggled to find goalscoring form in his first matches at the club since suffering injury problems last season.

Here, his movement is great to get to Odegaard's ball in behind, and his awareness to insert Bukayo Saka is also encouraging.

But then Jesus checks his spot on the edge of the box and sticks to it rather than lunging for goal – not a major offense here, but a common theme when he's not in goal-scoring mode. Another thing to note is that Trossard is at the far post asking for the pass.

Here is a similar case. Notice that Trossard again calls for the ball on the far side. Odegaard plays the decisive pass, and Saka holds the ball behind the right flank.

Jesus chooses to run to the far post, but he can't get there fast enough to get behind Carlos. Perhaps the best option here would have been to get in between Villa's two centre-backs, and make Saka's pass easier.

Instead, Saka tries to push the ball across the penalty area, and it is blocked.

Here's Odegaard releasing Saka again. Jesus this time is in a good position waiting for a ball between the defense and the goalkeeper. Saka spots the players at the far post and fires a cross over everyone's heads.

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Jesus made some other bad decisions. In Arsenal's next attack, Saka sent a cross from the left to Jesus at the far post, and he tried to hit Emi Martinez at the near post with his head.

This will never work; A curling header towards the far post, where Trossard was lingering, could have been better.

Arsenal's movement, which involved Jesus, Odegaard, Saka and Ben White on the right flank, was excellent and led to Jesus blocking the shot.

He probably should have been entitled to take that shot, although Trossard was making an excellent run back, into space on the penalty spot.

Arsenal consistently gained advantageous positions and then struggled to match the cross with the right run.

This situation, in which Zinchenko tangled with Trossard and then fired the ball at the far post, was particularly frustrating. Arsenal had no one there, with Saka injured.

Meanwhile, Saka also struggled to make the right choices. Another excellent pass from Odegaard put him behind Lucas Digne…

But the problem was a slight miscontrol of the outside of his left foot, which made it wider than he would have liked.

This meant Pau Torres could pass and close the corner, convincing Saka to shoot at the near post rather than send the ball across goal.

But Arsenal were in front throughout the first half, and while they barely avoided conceding when a defensive mix-up allowed Ollie Watkins to hit the post, Arteta's side should have been 1-0 up five minutes before half-time. .

For all of Odegaard's assists, this chance came simply from a lucky bounce: his shot was deflected into Jesus' path. For once, Jesus made the right choice. For once, Trossard got the pass he wanted.

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The angle behind the goal shows how much of a goal this really should have been.

Arsenal clearly failed to win the game in the first half, but lost it by a lot in the second half.

Villa's near-total dominance was a marked contrast to the first half. β€œThe only way to win here is to maintain possession,” Unai Emery said after the match. If we had tried to be 90 minutes late, it would have been difficult. The plan after half-time was to keep building and avoid pressure and with (Nicolo) Zaniolo we started to keep the ball more.

Arteta's substitutions could certainly be in question, even if partly to avoid fatigue ahead of the second leg of the test against Bayern.

He pointed out that replacing Odegaard with Emile Smith Roy was for fitness reasons. Another change at the same point was perhaps even more significant: Jesus departed and was replaced by Jorginho, rather than another striker. At that point, Arsenal were not trying to finalize the moves, but simply trying to gain some sort of foothold while Villa piled on the pressure.

But the approach Arteta took initially had merit. Havertz's running into the channel has caused Villa more problems than anything else. Arsenal's failure to capitalize on these situations was due to some poor decisions, some poor finishing, some solid defending and goalkeeping, and a bit of bad luck.

This does not hide the fact that this result may have cost Arsenal the title.