Arsenal slumped to a 1-0 defeat at the Emirates against Leicester City on Sunday evening, and the same problems that have been evident throughout the season were apparent yet again.
A constant theme for Mikel Arteta’s men during the season has been the inability to break down their opposition defence, who will often sit with 11 men behind the ball and look to counter.
Whilst Arsenal’s midfield still lacks personnel that can help their creativity, is there more that Mikel Arteta and his players can do to help make the Gunners flow more in attack?
Teams who play a possession style of football, as Arteta does, will often come up against players sitting back and narrowing down the spaces between the lines of their defence and midfield, and breaking these lines is what Arsenal have specifically struggled with this season.
The above picture is taken from the 86th minute where Arsenal are 1-0 down and should be doing whatever they can to grab a late equaliser, however, a mixture of poor decision making and positioning hindered the Gunners in the attacking third throughout the second half.
Firstly, Arsenal’s midfield is of no help to Mustafi here, with none of the midfielders offering an option to the German defender. Throughout the season, the Gunners have controlled the middle of the pitch, however, their problem has lied with breaking into the attacking third.
Arsenal’s three midfielders are all sitting in front of the Leicester City midfield, and they tend to do this against almost every opposition, which is why Arteta’s men are so dominant in that area. However the Gunners need some extra men who will play in between the opposition’s defence and midfield so the ball can be given to the attackers more often.
Given Arsenal don’t have this option, Mustafi can either play a risky pass and feed the ball into Lacazette, which in my opinion I think he should do as we’re chasing the game, or he can play the ball sideways to Gabriel and try to break Leicester down through the wings.
The latter method is what Arsenal were forced to do due to the lack of central options, and the triangles formed on either side of the pitch demonstrate the overloads Arteta was trying to pull off.
In the first half, the Spaniard’s tactics worked well, with David Luiz able to find Tierney on numerous occasions as a result of the Leicester fullback and winger being occupied by Granit Xhaka and Bukayo Saka.
However, when Luiz got injured early in the second half, those diagonals were no longer an option and the Gunners had to use shorter passes to try and break down Leicester’s low block, which they failed to do.
As a result, Arsenal were passing from the left side of the pitch to the right for the entirety of the second half, with their forward players struggling to even get a touch of the ball, let alone a shot, due to Leicester’s compact shape that stopped the Gunners building up attacks from out wide.
Overall, there is not one particular man at fault for Arsenal’s stuttering attack this season. While the players sometimes need to be braver on the ball, whether that’s through dribbling or more direct passes, Mikel Arteta also needs to take some blame.
The Spanish manager has been a revelation since joining in December, however his cautious approach to games will need to loosen slightly if Arsenal are to start scoring more goals.
However, it must be remembered that Arteta hasn’t even spent a year as a professional manager yet, so he is learning on the job, and this will naturally lead to him being more cautious.
When Arteta first joined, the football was attacking and free-flowing, so it’s clear that’s what he wants in the future, however this doesn’t come with the click of a finger, and fans will need to be patient as their young manager aims to find the right balance between defence and attack.