Arsenal have moved to within six points of 5th placed Manchester United after the Gunners ran out 2-0 winners against Wolves at Molineux in yesterday’s Premier League battle.
A well-executed volley from teenager Bukayo Saka and a composed touch and finish from striker Alexandre Lacazette helped Arsenal to an unlikely win, with the Frenchman scoring his first away goal in the Premier League since February 2019.
Whilst credit is often given to the scorers, I think a lot of praise should be given to the Arsenal defence, who looked compact, focused and organised throughout. Here is my analysis on what I think Arsenal did best to keep out, and score against, a very well organised Wolves team.
No space to play
One of the benefits of playing the 3-4-3 formation, which became a 5-4-1 when Arsenal defended, is the lack of space the opposition get when on the attack. It’s also a great formation for defending against attacking wing-backs, something Wolves utilise often.
As you can see in the picture above, the Wolves players have no space to work with. The gaps between the defence and midfield are minimal and Joao Moutinho, on the ball, can only go sideways here. The only forward pass the Portuguese could make would be to number nine Raul Jimenez, however, the Arsenal players around him would swarm and the Mexican would have no one to pass to.
Arsenal’s tight man-marking was also hugely beneficial, with each player seemingly having a player each to focus on. For example, Cedric Soares, the Arsenal right wing-back is seen marking his opposite number Jony, whilst Ainsley Maitland-Niles is not letting winger Adama Traore out of his sight, and that brings me onto the next point.
Nullifying Adama Traore
One of Arteta’s biggest tests coming into the game was to come up with a plan to deal with the threat of Wolves forward Adama Traore, and his way of doing this was asking his players to get as tight to him as quickly as possible.
In the image above, Mustafi is pressuring the Spaniard before he even receives the ball, and the defender wins the ball back as a result. Arteta’s instructions of putting in a tackle whenever you were in touching distance of him, even if you didn’t win the ball, worked a treat for Arsenal.
However, these instructions would not be applicable in every scenario, and in a direct 1v1 battle against Adama, it was fascinating seeing how Arsenal dealt with him.
The last time I saw a fullback try this hard to force a winger onto his weaker foot was when I watched Arjen Robben play, a man who made shooting from range on his left foot as efficient as penalties. However, this time round, it was Arsenal wanting to show Adama on the inside.
As the picture shows, defender Maitland-Niles has completely blocked Adama’s route down his left and towards the side line. His only options are to go on the inside or to go backwards. If he goes backwards, he slows down the attack, if he goes on the inside, then he has two more men to beat. Adama isn’t easy to nullify, however, I think Arsenal did a pretty good job of it.
The overload then switch of play
Now talking about Arsenal’s attack, this move was used perfectly by the Gunners and it resulted in their first goal. The purpose of this tactic is to drag players over to one side of the pitch, leaving the other side a lot more open to exploit.
Cedric Soares, the player with the ball, finds himself involved in a 3v5 duel, meaning the likelihood of him losing the ball is quite high. As a result, he seeks out Aubameyang, top of the picture, who releases the ball behind him to Tierney, who’s out of shot. Tierney’s deflected cross then finds Saka who volleys home in impressive fashion.
Finding space in the Wolves defence takes some doing, however, Arsenal’s players did so excellently, and they could’ve certainly scored more. If not for Cedric’s inch perfect pass, taking out the Wolves defender in front of Aubameyang Willy Boly, this goal would never have been scored, so huge credit should be given to the full-back.
Wolves went into the game unbeaten in eight games, keeping clean sheets in seven of them and had not conceded a goal at home since January, so this result really does demonstrate how much Arsenal have improved under Mikel Arteta.
After the disappointment of the Brighton game, Arsenal have won three league games in a row, two of them away from home, keeping clean sheets in all of them. This confirms that Mikel Arteta is now only three clean sheets away from equalling Unai Emery’s total as Arsenal manager in the Premier League, with 36 less games played.
The improvement in structure, effort, decisiveness and in-game intelligence has improved hugely in such a short space of time under Arteta. Arsenal will be hoping these results and performances can continue with tough games against Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool being their next three Premier League fixtures. Only time will tell if Arsenal and Arteta can build on these promising signs.