Premier League 2022/23: Why Arsenal vs Newcastle United was one of the best tactical games this season – tactical analysis
In a tempestuous encounter, Arsenal drew with Newcastle United 0-0 at the Emirates Stadium. Both teams, which no one before the season expected them to be in their positions, played one of the best tactical games in the Premier League in the 2022/23 campaign.
The Gunners, who tried to move away in the lead, were in the face of the team trying to exist as much time as possible in the UEFA Champions League qualifying positions.
The Spanish manager Mikel Arteta structured his team in his usual formation, the 4-1-4-1.
Arsenal: Ramsdale, White, Saliba, Gabriel, Zinchenko, Xhaka, Partey, Saka, Odegaard, Martinelli, Nketiah.
On the other side, Eddie Howe continued with his 4-3-3 formation as both managers went with very similar shapes, although the ideas were different.
Newcastle: Pope, Trippier, Botman, Schar, Burn, Willock, Longstaff, Guimaraes, Almiron, Wilson, Joelinton.
Strong Arsenal vs solid Newcastle
This season Newcastle with Eddie Howe have lost just once and only conceded 11 goals which is the best record in the league right now. That clears their defensive solidarity around the pitch, especially when pressing the opponents and attempt preventing them from the build-up approach, trying to get the ball back highly through central and wide traps variously and then countering the attack against an unorganised defence to score.
It was a fine event for Arsenal that have not suffered this season in this phase. Therefore, Eddie Howe set up his team with this intention and instructed them to press with a scheme involving Wilson who was responsible for the right centre-back Saliba meanwhile Almiron pushed diagonally to press Gabriel, and Joelinton was covering the shadow of White on the right channel. Guimaraes had pushed forward to press Partey. Meanwhile, Willock and Longstaff were responsible for Odegaard and Xhaka respectively. Trippier and Burn stayed deeper with Gunners’ wingers while Botman and Schar tried to contain Nketiah. Thus, Mikel Arteta had to react to break this tight scheme.
Mikel Arteta showed a clear plan in this aspect and Arsenal tried to build up play with a 3-2 base to have the superiority earlier involving the goalkeeper who is basically a gift during the build creating a numerical advantage and the inverted fullback Zinchenko who dropped deep alongside Partey which begged the pressors like Guimaraes into questioning who he should care about more, Partey or Zinchenko?
In the scene below, while they were in 3-2, they tried to break through the scheme from the highest point. Xhaka moved wide to drag his marker with him to open a space for the dropping-off Nketiah to combine. Before that Odegaard had moved away from Willock’s shadow. This horizontal movement from Odegaard and vertical movement from Zinchenko offered two passing lanes to Nketiah. Yet, this space on the backline had been opened by Schar who reacted and stepped up to deal with him.
In the below situation, the Magpies reacted to Zinchenko’s initial position, Longstaff decided to jump immediately to press the inverted Zinchenko who had a bad body direction which is considered as a pressing trigger and left Xhaka without covering, So Arsenal easily reached Xhaka through a passing sequence to break the press.
Quickly, based on what happened to defend against this superiority, time and space that Arsenal had in the first line of the build-up, they were near to scoring earlier in the second half by pressing Ramsdale tightly, Eddie Howe changed the role of Joelinton. Instead of staying deeper near the fullback White, Joelinton pushed forward to press Saliba. Wilson became more central covering the shadow of Partey and being ready to press Ramsdale which gave the goalkeeper no time to stay on the ball and decide wisely.
Accordingly, Willock was covering the channel ready to press White and Odegaard. Also Botman stepped up ready to press Odegaard which opened a big space for Saka versus Burn but the only reaching of it would be by a long ball. Burn has the advantage over Saka there. That forced Ramsdale to play a long ball towards Saka and Burn won it.
Alternatively, Arsenal played long balls to the left, and Zinchenko and Xhaka made a 2v1 versus Longstaff with late support from the right centre-back of Newcastle.
In general, Arsenal had succeeded especially when Zinchenko inverted centrally against the worthy diverse attempts of Newcastle which showed them as a solid competitor at this approach this season.
The Magpies’ discipline
Newcastle remained the longest part of the game in a medium block against Arsenal who usually implement 2-3-5 or 3-2-5 fluid structures with Mikel Arteta and attempt to gain the numerical superiority to break the first line of the opponents’ blocks, with the positional superority in between the lines keeping players to receive behind the midfield and trying always to isolate the winger against the fullback with the qualitative superiority.
Eddie Howe systemised his team in a 4-5-1 defensive block with variations. The five midfielders were tight to prevent Arsenal from progressing centrally. Wilson, while one of the centre-backs had the ball, was there stuck in his position trying to close the lanes to Partey and ready to press the other centre-back immediately.
The variation was to transform to 4-4-2, The nearest midfielder Willock/ Longstaff jumped vertically to press the ball carrier centre-back meanwhile Guimaraes also seemed to press Partey if he received.
With four or five midfielders, Newcastle’s defensive block prevented Arsenal from clear penetration by their discipline through quick shifting and keeping efficient width to defend against the switch of play.
Reacting to this secured block, Arsenal’s best idea to penetrate was when Zinchenko inverted alongside Partey instead of staying wide. With Zinchenko’s ability to play progressive passes Xhaka received behind the midfield. Hence, that demanded work from Xhaka to go out of the midfield shadow coverage.
Below, Zinchenko brightly rolled the ball and forced Longstaff to go forward to press him which opened the lane to Xhaka. Then, he did a body feint and passed to Xhaka in the optimal space in between the lines.
Also, Nketiah attempted to overload the left interior corridors with Xhaka in trying to get out of the shadow of the midfield, meanwhile, Longstaff was busy closing the lane to Xhaka then the passing lane had been opened to Nketiah.
Furthermore, Newcastle’s wingers were also constrained to close the diagonal passing lanes to Arsenal’s wingers. But if they got the ball wide by a long ball from the other side or a direct one, Almiron/Joelinton was disciplined to come back supporting the fullbacks.
Even with Arsenal’s attempts to isolate their star Saka with Burn in a space, Burn did a great job and reduced most of the danger.
Final third dynamics
Even with their main purpose throughout the game to use one of their main weapons set pieces, corners or direct and indirect free kicks, Newcastle in-possession were occasionally fine. The Magpies set up in possession in a 3-3-4 structure with asymmetric fullbacks. Trippier moved forward meanwhile Burn dropped deeper forming the back three.
Constructing wide triangles fluidly with a late aid from the midfielders attempting to penetrate wide while they attacked the box from the other side waiting for a cross or a cutback passes.
Newcastle were dangerous in all their attacking aspects including set pieces and had 1.08 xG versus Arsenal’s 1.07.
As this analysis showed, it was a pretty tactical game.
The match also verified the idea that taking care of set pieces is no longer a luxury. Both teams are far from the best teams in this aspect.
For the first time in 17 games, the Gunners failed to score but their keenness, particularly in the second half, was very promising.
The Magpies continue their progression and there is no better way to test your improvement than these games, Newcastle appears as a contender to any team in this league. No one can predict what this team can achieve, especially with the transfer window now open.