Arsenal vs Leicester City 2019/20 - Match Analysis
As Arsenal desperately look to claw their way back into the race for European football, league darkhorse 4th placed Leicester City came to town. Their last clash in November feels like a lifetime ago now as the once Unai Emery lead Gunners were decimated at the King Power Stadium, apart of a nine-match win streak. Since then a lot has changed within the offices and pitches of Arsenal Football Club as a new project sees it's foundations being laid. Mikel Arteta would look to maintain a three-match run of not conceding a Premier League goal as well as a club-record 22 home league games unbeaten against Leicester City.
During this match analysis, we'll examine the 3-4-3 formation of both teams. How Saka playing as a right-sided forward changed the dynamics of the team, why Leicester's press failed and how the changes made by Brendan Rodgers to get his team a point.
Arsenal continued to line up in a 3-4-3 for the fourth game in a row. Edward Nketiah and Cedric Soares would be replaced by Alexander Lacazette and Hector Bellerin from the last eleven that played at Wolves. Bukayo Saka would again be deployed in a more advanced position but Nicolas Pepe would return into the squad on the bench.
Brendan Rodgers would be without James Maddison and Ben Chilwell available. The foxes who sat in fourth place would play their own 3-4-3 variant. Marc Albrighton would operate as a makeshift wingback again. Iheacho would make a second consecutive start after scoring against Crystal Palace. Leceister's own Jamie Vardy has scored nine goals in his last nine matches against the club that once tried to sign him.
The right side of Arsenal flourishes
Through this data visualization, we can see how the right side of Arsenal’s team was the most directly involved in shot-creating sequences, the bigger the circle the more a player contributed in xG and xA. Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos, and Hector Bellerin combined for a total of 1.5 xG+A out of the team’s total of three. Through quick combinations, penetrating runs and clever off the ball movement these three caused the Foxes major problems in the defensive third.
In possession, Arteta’s tactics took shape in a 3-2-5. With the width of the attack being relied upon by the wingbacks. This allowed the likes of Aubameyang and Lacazette to be positioned narrowly and look for cutbacks inside the penalty area. Leicester attempted to counteract the attacking five with a back five.
As we’ll explore further now the three in the bottom right were very influential during this phase. Here, the Spaniards Bellerin and Ceballos make a positional rotation where Bellerin is occupying the half-space and now Ceballos behind him and Saka. In a 3v3 situation, Saka gets creative, spotting a gap from the space Albrighton vacated to engage him he plays a1-2 with Bellerin to receive the ball inside the penalty area and in-behind Leciester’s defensive line.
Saka and Bellerin’s positioning again would pose questions of the makeshift defender, Albrighton. Saka moves inside, while Bellerin looked to make a run in behind him. Albrighton would stop as the pass was about to be played not knowing which player to move to. Highlighting the simple situational problems that can be created by clever positioning within a five-man attacking line.
Play between them would directly result in the home side breaking the deadlock. Ceballos continuing in his role as a deep playmaker rather than an attacking midfielder as he started the post-break matches with, would see an opportunity to make a pass inside the defender to meet Saka. The Hale End graduate made an outside-in run on the blind side of the defender, similar to the movements Arteta would train into Raheem Sterling at his time at Manchester City. Saka would go on to make a perfectly weighted ground cross to Aubameyang arriving toward the back post where the Gabon marksmen made it 1-0 to The Arsenal.
Bypassing the press
Leicester City has committed the sixth-most pressures of any team in the league. This is also the most of any team within the top half of the table. Under Rodgers this season they've been very aggressive out of possession, never giving opponents a second of rest they specifically always want to keep the player in possession under pressure. This of course in order to create turnovers directly or indirectly by forcing mistakes and limiting play space.
Despite struggles earlier in the season under now-former head coach Unai Emery to play through opposition pressure, the Arteta regime in contrast welcomes pressure. The young manager specifically instructs his players when playing in the defensive third to commit a player before passing.
Throughout the match, they would take advantage of the space created between the defensive lines because of the press to bypass multiple players and play directly to players in advantageous positions. In this possession that ended in a shot on target, Ceballos receives the ball, waits to lure in Tielemans out of position, and then makes an exquisite incisive pass to Aubameyang. With this one pass, he eliminates seven Leceister players from the game bypassing their first two lines of pressure. Aubameyang receives the ball with the defensive line now backtracking and their support left in the dust.
The man on loan from Real Madrid would actually complete the most passes of any Arsenal player on the pitch. His excellent touch, ball control, and vision helped him him excel in these ball progressing duties in tight spaces. This time he picks out Kieran Tierney between the gapping gap between the midfield and defensive line. The North London side made two big chances in the first 45 minutes, according to Opta, as their attackers easily transitioned throughout the thirds.
Goalkeeper a pressing trap
On the other hand, the Gunner's were very successful in their press. It's one facet of Arsenal's tactics that have been evolving and improving over time has been their pressing. Starting with a standard 4-4-2, it's changed to various shapes such as a 4-2-3-1 and now to a more complex 3-4-3 scheme. Although the opposition pressured in a similar shape, they executed it much better. Able to make 48 pressures in the opposition defensive third disrupting Brendan Rodger's philosophy of playing out the back.
Naturally, the 3-4-3 equals out a three-player defensive line. So when Leicester would try to playout the back they would utilize their goalkeeper in an effort to create a 4v3, as goalkeepers are becoming more and more influential in this third. But despite being at a 3v4 disadvantage Arteta would turn this into an advantage.
Schmeichel would always receive the ball deeper usually between his posts making it easier for him to be pressured. So a player would make an angled run toward him that would create a cover shadow covering his backpass. Only leaving him with one to a player that was usually covered or forcing him into making a long pass.
Despite this being a persistent part of their tactics, Leicester would opt to play long passes rather than risking turnovers in dangerous areas more often then not in the second half.
Leicester take advantage of the extra man
In the 75th minute, Edward Nketiah was introduced into the game for Alexander Lacazette. The youngster was making his 11th Premier League appearance. Three minutes on, a challenge he made on James Justin would result in him leaving the pitch and his team being down to ten men. From this point on belief exploded into Leicester City as they chased down points in their battle for the European places.
Everything that was going well for Arsenal subsequently started going wrong. Rodgers right away brought on Demari Gray for Ryan Bennett who was playing as a center back. This saw them move to a 2-4-4 shape in the defensive and middle third, and a 2-3-5 in the attacking third.
Leicester was able to fully take advantage of the extra man. From this point on, they completed 162 passes to the gunner's 19. This ruined Arsenal's pressing scheme as Ayoze Perez would drop deep to create a 3v2 overload against Arsenal's double pivot when progressing the ball through the defensive third. Following a few of these failed pressing sequences, they would fall back and opt not to press because of the gaps being created when they pushed forward.
Into the attacking third, another overload would be formed on the right-sided zones. Demari Gray and co. would make positional rotations with the goal of penetrating the interior channel to then make a cutback. Xhaka and Torriera would be tasked with tracking these runs. However, Gray through his sleek ball control would make space for himself in such zone to make a low cross that would be poked home by talisman Jamie Vardy for his 22nd goal of the season, topping the charts.
Despite an outstanding first half, the one goal scored by the Gunner's would not be enough for them to claim victory against the Foxes. The Arsenal players will be disappointed as their missed chances came back to haunt them. However through tactical analysis we can concluse that, Arteta can be happy that the team generally played well and is continuing to progress through his playing ideologies and tactics.
Brendan Rodgers and Leicester will be happy to end their run of poor results on trips to Arsenal. Especially despite some key figures missing. The point they gained could be massive in the grand scheme as it sees them increase their gap between 4th and 5th to four points.