How Arsenal’s high pressing tactics caused chaos against a Casemiro-less Manchester United this weekend – tactical analysis
Recent successes against Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, Chelsea, and sixth-place Brighton attest to Mikel Arteta’s progress owing to his diligence and effective communication.
The team’s success and discipline have both improved greatly since ten Hag took charge. Despite the removal of Cristiano Ronaldo, that appears to be working out well.
This tactical analysis will illustrate the key plays that determined the outcome of the game. This analysis will look at the tactics used by both and also delves into why Arteta, ever-animated on the sidelines, saw this game as so crucial.
Mikel Arteta, feeling the vibes of the home crowd, kicked things off with his go-to 4-3-3 formation, with Aaron Ramsdale in goal. Centre-backs Gabriel Magalhaes and William Saliba began the game as a solid pairing, with Oleksandr Zinchenko and Ben White on either side.
For most of the contest, Thomas Partey took on the role of the lone pivot, with Granit Xhaka and Martin Ødegaard positioned just above him. The young Brazilian, Gabriel Martinelli and the lightning Bukayo Saka were placed as the flank men. In Gabriel Jesus’ absence, Eddie Nketiah began in the middle of the attack, who has been vital to the team.
The 4-2-3-1 formation, which Erik ten Hag has always favoured, was used. World Cup heroes Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane began in the defence, with David de Gea in goal. The starting fullback spots went to the red-hot Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw.
Bruno Fernandes played immediately above Scott McTominay and Christian Eriksen, who acted as the double pivots. On the wings were the skilled Antony and the explosive Marcus Rashford. In Anthony Martial’s absence, Wout Weghorst gets his second start under ten Hag.
Arsenal’s collective defending
Arteta’s pressing strategies relied heavily on his fullbacks. In terms of the team’s pressing abilities, both White and Zinchenko were crucial pieces. Saliba can fill in on the left side of White ventures too. Also, Gabriel keeps a safe distance to the left, covering for Zinchenko’s press.
As the game progressed, the full-backs’ aggression to press was immense. Saka from the wing would go inside to mark one of United’s midfielders when White takes his chance to go high up the pitch.
Nketiah’s press had more meaning when Saka and Ødegaard marked the centre and White came into action against Shaw. The most important learning for Arteta might be the team’s pressing. They chose the best time to press and when not to. This allowed them to save energy to put it to work elsewhere.
In great part due to their pressure, United had 27 clearances. In the above image, Ødegaard sprints at Martinez in the nick of time to push him into clearing the ball. The quick presses were almost never-ending for Arteta’s men as they pushed ten Hag’s men to make clearances.
Arsenal piled up the advantages in the aerial duels, often doubling or tripling up on a single guy to win the ball and keep the attack roll. They always had several players on their side as it was a collective of defending and chasing back.
Odegaard, defending in his half, moved up and teamed up with Nketiah to form a dual-man front defence. Thus, the Gunners formed a 4-4-2 formation as United kept possession. Arsenal was comfortable in switching formations from 4-4-2 to 4-2-4 even.
In the second half, when White was taken off, Tomiyasu matched Rashford’s pace to help eliminate the danger. United’s eagerness to attack was thwarted by Arsenal’s resolute defence.
Lacking Casemiro, United’s defence was vulnerable, allowing Arsenal to successfully attack. United’s defence was significantly weakened without him. McTominay had taken his place.
The midfield trio of Eriksen, Mctominay and Bruno did not operate as well as they had in prior matches. McTominay’s shoes couldn’t possibly replace Casemiro’s ferocity and importance to the squad.
Partey and Xhaka adopted a different pressing route in the second half since they knew they had Zinchenko’s backing from the back. It was clear that ball retention was a major priority for their press. Once after Tomiyasu’s introduction after the break, he provided a different flavour to the team’s defence as well as in the attack.
How Gunners’ structure controlled United’s attack
Erik ten Hag‘s United solely relied on their offensive that quickly moved the ball into the attacking third. As soon as Eriksen or Fernandes had the ball, Rashford would begin his sprinting approach from behind. United was unable to break through Arsenal’s tight organisation and was forced to play long balls.
They were unable to maintain possession of the ball in attack and unable to generate any real threats in the final third. Their main tactic was to counterattack and force the enemy to defend a larger area, allowing them to exploit openings inside the block.
Arsenal’s success may be attributed in large part to their organisational framework, but the efforts of each player might as well be recognised. After Wan Bissaka kills Martinelli in a duel, Arsenal’s defence is broken when Partey matches Antony’s pace with a sprint of his own.
These connections and the sacrifices the Gunners had and made were crucial to their win against the sturdy United. Given Antony’s fidgety feet, he only had a major impact on his half, but they were no match for the zeal of the home team.
These connections and the sacrifices the Gunners had made were crucial to their win against the sturdy United. Antony’s fidgety feet only had a major impact on his half, but they were no match for the zeal of the home team.
It was only through Rashford’s solitary efforts that 10 of Hag’s men were able to crack the code. He dribbled with great intensity, beating a few opponents before trying to shoot.
As a result of how Arteta has cultivated his team, each player can make split-second judgements in defence of his teammates.
Marcus Rashford gave United the lead with a stunning run and strike in the first minute. It was the forward’s ninth goal in nine appearances across all competitions since the World Cup ended.
The following view shows how important the attackers’ chasing back was in keeping the tight structure when the midfielders engaged upfront. It’s like everyone has to look out for one another; that’s what gives the structure its vitality.
Why United’s defending could not hold Arsenal’s consistency
Arsenal is a well-rounded team with strong attacking and defensive capabilities, so they were prepared for any scenario. The guys under Arteta’s leadership showed more of an appetite to press the assault and take the lead. They had a staggering 25 attempts, but only five were on target, whereas United tried just six shots, with four on target.
Although both managers’ strategies were on show, the xG indicated that the Gunners were the deserving winners. There was a massive gap between what each team anticipated achieving. The Gunners held on to a resounding 2.14 while United could only hold on to 0.36.
For the most part, Zinchenko was in control of the game since he was in the middle of the field whenever Xhaka had the ball. It would change to a back three with Zinchenko and Partey in the centre and Saka and Martinelli on the flanks.
The successful exchange between Xhaka and Zinchenko was just part of the playmaking unit’s overall layout. They were able to switch positions and create a three-man midfield with Zinchenko and Xhaka going forward and Partey staying back.
They were able to do everything Arsenal set their minds to. When Martinelli stepped inside to offer his hands, like in the below scene, Wan Bissaka was faced with a difficult choice.
Nketiah has shown himself worthy of starting and getting playing time in a game that might determine the team’s title. Therefore, he was both the shallow playmaker Arteta had envisioned for him and a goal-scoring threat up front.
Because of the one-of-a-kind nature of Nketiah’s job under Arteta, he may sometimes disguise as a false 9 to come deep and combine. And he showed off yet another facet by scoring a header from a cross from the left wing when he baffled Wan Bissaka from behind.
A greater part of Zinchenko’s performance was determined by his mind rather than physical manoeuvres. He was perceptive enough to recognise the area and make frequent use of it. From time to time, as Zinchenko drove up the middle, the midfield would create a triangle of such balance and reliability.
To help set up their attacks, Arsenal often put McTominay against Zinchenko and Xhaka in two-on-one scenarios. As a result of their strategy of taking turns going up, Xhaka and Partey were able to generate a wide range of opportunities.
More than anything else, Arsenal’s use of left-footed players has proven to be an enormous benefit. Odegaard in the offensive midfield, Xhaka on the inside, Zinchenko on the left, and Saka on the right wing. The game was in their hands until the last whistle.
Wan Bissaka’s recent form and exceptional skill in one-on-one scenarios made him a major obstacle for Arteta to use against Arsenal’s wingers. As Saka faced Shaw in his one-on-one matches, he fared far better than Martinelli did. On rare occasions, though, Martinelli threw a wrench into the works of Wan-Bissaka by causing a tangle in the details.
Unfortunately, neither side was able to mount a sustained counterattack that ended in a shot. The two squads each had one shot attempt that ended in futility. Arteta and ten Hag profited from positional attacks, although Arsenal had 39 attacks and 12 shots against United’s 23 and 4.
Although both managers’ strategies were on show, the xG indicated that the Gunners were the deserving winners. There was a massive gap between what each team anticipated achieving.
Initially targeting a top-four finish has been elevated to a more lofty goal during this season. Arsenal fans may cheer quietly for their team as they sit five points clear of second-place City with a game in hand.
Furthermore, they sit 11 points ahead of fourth-place United, and a staggering 21 points ahead of Chelsea and Liverpool. In addition, they have a game advantage over the rest of the top four teams.
From the get-go, bookmakers had Arsenal as the favourite in this one, but once United showed some strength, the Gunners played like the champions-elect that they are.
Eight minutes into the second half, Mikel Arteta’s team took the lead for the first time with a rocketing drive from Bukayo Saka. An injury-time goal from Eddie Nketiah gave the Gunners their five-point lead back in the Premier League.
We are now a little over halfway into the league season, and Arteta and his lads may be the team to watch this year.
For United, ten Hag’s experience without Casemiro has been instructive. United’s performance in the remaining league games may suffer without such key players.
Quite a breathtaking display from the Gunners as they go all out to win the title. If all goes according to plan for Arsenal, they will win the league and finish astride the team statistics.