After their thrashing by Liverpool, Arsenal bounced back with a 4-1 win over Fulham. However, the win wasn’t as easy as the scoreline suggests. Most of the game was very tight until Arsenal’s third goal in the 79th minute. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at why this game was so tense.

Despite Arsenal being more dominant, this was because Fulham made a great account for themselves. Going to the Emirates they weren’t scared to attack Arsenal.

Fulham’s threats

This belief that they could attack Arsenal was evident for large stages of the match. This was even more evident when looking at their attacking trio of Ryan Sessegnon, Aleksandr Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle. In these three, Fulham were able to pose different challenges to the Arsenal defence.

The variety in their play made in incredibly hard for Arsenal to predict where or how they’d attack. Through this, Fulham created many goalscoring opportunities in the game. This was especially the case in the first half as Arsenal started the game with a three-man defence.

That set-up massively benefitted Sessegnon, because he was playing as an inside forward off the right. It therefore became even harder for the Arsenal defence to pick him up when he found spaces behind the wing backs and in between the three centre-backs.

Here’s an example of how Sessegnon was used on the right.

Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Fulham do well to advance centrally through Arsenal’s press. Schurrle drops in to lay the ball off to Cairney in midfield, and his movement has dragged Sokratis out of position. Also note how high Kolasinac is.
Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
This essentially gives Fulham a three vs two (Mitrovic may be offside but is still in a threatening position). Cairney can easily slide the ball through for Sessegnon who bears down on goal.
Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Sessegnon races into the box and is unlucky that his shot goes just wide.

Here we saw how the elusiveness of Sessegnon created problems for Arsenal. Off the right, he was able to run in behind a defence who struggled to pick up any of Fulham’s front three.

The route to Mitrovic

However, they were able to change their approach depending on their desired target. Mitrovic has been their most dangerous player this season. They didn’t struggle to give him service, as he managed to put three headers on target. On another day, he could’ve scored.

Below is an example of how straightforward the route to Mitrovic was for Fulham.

Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see Arsenal have changed to a back four. This saw them drop into two banks of four defensively, which gave Fulham’s midfield more space as seen in this image. Seri has time to pick out a deep cross to Mitrovic.
Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Despite getting good contact, Mitrovic heads straight at Leno. This occurred earlier in the game also.

Over the course of the game, Arsenal struggled to get to grips with Fulham’s attack. This became evident again as Fulham brought on Aboubakar Kamara to chase the game.

Fulham’s and Arsenal’s switches

Arsenal had already made a switch at half time, bringing on Lucas Torreira for Shkodran Mustafi. This allowed the change to a four-man defence.

With Kamara coming on, however, it gave Fulham a new way to attack Arsenal. Kamara went up top with Mitrovic and Sessegnon went out to the left. This allowed Fulham to stretch Arsenal’s back four and eventually led to their goal.

Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here we see similar problems to the previous image. The spaces between Arsenal’s defenders are too varied. With Kamara and Mitrovic central and Sessegnon left, Fulham are now better equipped to attack.
Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Mitrovic is picked up by Koscielny but Kamara is left free. Sessegnon is then able to play a killer cross to give Kamara no option but to score.

At this point in the game, we saw how dangerous Fulham could be. Chasing the game, they could have gone on to get a result, but Unai Emery made a key change.

Bringing on Aaron Ramsey for Alexandre Lacazette was unpopular at the time. However, adding another body in midfield enabled Arsenal to somewhat numb Fulham’s attacks. Thankfully for Emery and Arsenal, Ramsey scored the all-important third goal too.

But here’s a closer examination of how Arsenal were able to create good chances.

Alex Iwobi helps Arsenal shine on the left

Alex Iwobi was one of few positives from the Liverpool mauling. At Anfield he was a threat early on, playing a great ball to assist Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He was similarly impressive against Fulham.

This came from the pressure he was able to attract and alleviate. As every Arsenal fan knows, Iwobi isn’t a traditional winger. He doesn’t fly down the wing, get to the byline and whip crosses in. However, when he’s played out wide, the spaces created ultimately help Arsenal advance. This was seen on many occasions against Fulham.

Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
Here, Lacazette plays the ball into Iwobi on the edge of the box. Iwobi is then closed down by the highlighted Fulham players.
Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
With Iwobi being a tricky player, as players close in on him, this creates space behind them. These spaces can be attacked by both him and onrushing runners like Lacazette in this instance. This time, he pops the ball behind Fulham to buy more time and space.
Premier League 2018/19: Arsenal vs Fulham Tactical Analysis Statistics
This has also created a massive gap between Fulham’s central defenders. Now Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can attack that space as Iwobi finds him with a cross.

The importance of Iwobi and support runners, mostly Kolasinac, was the key to Arsenal’s win. Arsenal’s first three goals all came from the left channel. Whether it came as a result of an Iwobi cross or support runners taking advantage of space created in behind, it was a constant theme in the Arsenal attack.

Summary

Although Arsenal eventually pulled away to win, it was never as easy as the scoreline suggests. It’s clear that major work still needs to be done with the defence. Too often they look lost in whichever system is played, unable to identify when or who to pick up. This makes them incredibly weak when facing counters as we saw against Liverpool.

If Fulham were more ruthless, this game could have gone very differently. However, this game also showed that players such as Iwobi and Ramsey shouldn’t be dismissed as quickly as they have been recently. Thankfully for Arsenal, they helped steer Emery to victory.


If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Get your copy of the FIRST of two December issues for just ₤4.99 here, or the SECOND of the December issues with an annual membership right here.