Category Archives: Arsenal


Arsenal v. Hull City: Tactical Preview

Hull City tended to opt for a back 3 during most of last season, and to start this season, they went with a 3-4-2-1 in their opener, versus QPR. Robert Snodgrass’ knee injury forced Hull to change their system quite a bit during this season (and maybe this would have happened regardless of that). This season, they have gone with a 3-4-1-2, a 3-5-2, a 4-4-2, and a 4-diamond-2. Along with the lack of predictability with the system they will use, Hull’s performances have also displayed a significant level of inconsistency, both between matches and within matches. Therefore, predicting how Hull will play in any match seems like a lot like throwing darts blindfolded.

Maybe we can gain the most insight into how Hull City will play against Arsenal by taking a look at how they set up for the 2014 FA Cup Final. In that match, Hull went with a rather defensive 3-5-1-1. In front of the midfield, Stephen Quinn had the task of getting the ball up to the center forward and doing as much as he could to harass Mikel Arteta. In midfield, they had three central midfielders playing combative defensive roles. Jake Livermore, Tom Huddlestone, and David Meyler formed quite an effective screen in front of the back three. Looking at the back three, Curtis Davies looked to man-mark Olivier Giroud when he could. This left the two other central defenders free to take proactive roles in defense. If Arsenal looked to make a pass into the space in front of the back three, one of the two central defenders had the freedom to step up to make an interception, a tackle, or apply pressure on the receiver. This greater ability to cover space vertically means that Hull’s midfielders did not have to be as static with their positioning. With greater confidence (less uncertainty) that the team had enough resources to defend the space behind them, midfielders could take more risks to pressure the ball or make interceptions, even if that caused them to concede more space behind them.¹

For the first 60 minutes of the match, Hull did well to defend the center of the pitch, and while Arsenal did have a potential advantage in wide areas, Hull did well to funnel the play into the center of the pitch. This helped to cut Giroud off from the rest of the Arsenal team, preventing Arsenal from playing their normal game involving Giroud’s hold-up and link-up play.

Let us pick up the game right after Hull City scored their second goal.


We see Kieran Gibbs with the ball on the left, having just received the ball from Aaron Ramsey. Mesut Ozil is ahead of him in the space between the two lines, but Gibbs would have to have great confidence with his right foot to play a pass into Ozil, as Livermore is in a good position, even though he slipped, to prevent a pass (particularly a left-footed one) from getting to Ozil. Ahmed Elmohamady blocks the passing lane to Lukas Podolski. If there is space to move the ball into, it is on Arsenal’s right side, as David Meyler has followed Santi Cazorla into a central position. Had Kieran Gibbs’ first instinct been to make a pass to the center rather than look up-field, he may have seen a potential passing lane, between Stephen Quinn and Matty Fryatt, to Ramsey. A successful pass could allow Ramsey to potentially move the ball to Bacary Sagna, who has plenty of space between him and Rosenior.

However, Gibbs does not seem to see Ramsey as a passing option before Quinn gets in position to eliminate that passing lane. Gibbs then clips a pass to Per Mertesacker, who chests it to Ramsey.


Ramsey does not cleanly take the ball. When he finally gets it under control and faces Hull’s goal, he finds Fryatt in front of him. He has Sagna as a passing option, sideways to the right, and Arteta, sideways to the left. While there exists a large amount of space behind Fryatt, Arsenal do not have a player in that space. As I stated in the Chelsea-Arsenal preview, Arsenal tend to have a desire for verticality in midfield. That way, when the ball moves from midfielder to midfielder, the play moves up the pitch with greater speed. However, even if Cazorla came deep sooner than he does, Livermore has no problem following Cazorla. So, instead of waiting to see if Cazorla will drop into that space and get free from Livermore, Ramsey plays the ball to Arteta, who quickly shifts the play back to Gibbs.

With Gibbs receiving the ball with his back to goal, Elmohamady advances to close him down. Gibbs does not strike anyone as a player who would receive the ball with his back to goal, make the proper turn, and go past zealous defender. Therefore, putting pressure on him forces him to move back to his goal and increases the probability of a backwards pass, this time to Koscielny.

Koscielny plays it to Mertesacker, who then plays it to Podolski in a central midfield position. Livermore follows him and Podolski looks to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible, making a pass to Ramsey. Ramsey receives the ball with his back to goal, and Huddlestone looks to close him down. This forces him to move back to his own goal and then play a pass back to Arteta, who touches it on to Koscielny. Even though there existed a large amount of space behind Huddlestone, and even if an Arsenal player moved into that space, Ramsey has little chance of finding him in that advantageous position, unless he tried a risky backheel pass.


Again, Arsenal attack down the left, starting with a Koscielny pass to Mesut Ozil. Ozil finds himself with plenty of space because he drops in from the James Chester’s (the right-sided center back) zone. While Chester wants to close down an Arsenal player between the lines, he refrains from going beyond the midfield. He leaves Ozil to Jake Livermore, to whom Ozil represents a “new” piece of information, which he must integrate with the rest of his knowledge about the current situation, to come up with a decision on how to defend his zone at that moment.

Gibbs does not present much of an option for Ozil, given the proximity of Elmohamady to the Arsenal left-back. A pass into Giroud would call for the Frenchman to potentially face a 1-on-3. Therefore, Ozil opts for a pass into the interior to Podolski. If Podolski receives the ball smoothly, he has the chance to drive at Hull’s back line. This threat to the back line may give Giroud a chance to make a run on goal, breaking away from Hull defenders, who may be focusing too much on the ball. Instead, Podolski takes a poor first touch, and Livermore puts hoofs the loose ball towards Arsenal’s goal.

I will not continue to describe the play after this, but from the moment Livermore hoofs the ball, Arsenal spend about 1:10 with all of the possession and attempt only one pass through midfield line. The pass goes to Giroud, who does not successfully receive the ball due to the pressure applied by Davies. Hull regain possession; Ozil commits a foul; the referee awards a free kick to Hull, thus ending that flow of play.

Given the success that they have had with these particular tactics against Arsenal, Hull may attempt to clog the center of the pitch, have plenty of resources allocated to the back line to incentivize the aggression of their midfielders in closing down spaces and winning the ball, who have cover for the times such their aggressive approach fails. Therefore, Arsenal may want to create more space for their midfielders and some confusion in Hull’ back line through the use of their attacking front.

Depth from the Forward Line

The way Arsenal solved the problem of Hull’s defensive set-up primarily came down to the addition of Yaya Sanogo. Sanogo gave Arsenal another player who worked hard off the ball, especially compared to Podolski, and his positioning high up the pitch helped to better occupy the Hull City center backs. This reduced Hull City’s center backs’ ability to aggressively close down the space in front of them and forced them to take up deeper, more variable positions, as the combined work of Giroud and Sanogo pulled apart and caused confusion in the Hull back line.

Going back to analogy that the excess center backs served a loss-covering function (note 1), the introduction of Sanogo limited Hull’s ability to cover the losses of unsuccessful risks taken by Hull’s more advanced defenders. This may have helped to reduce the aggressiveness of Hull City’s defending, along with general fatigue, as they knew they did not have someone behind them, free to bail them out. Combine this with better movement², and the move to a kind of a 4-2-2-2, and Arsenal took control of the match.

While Arsenal will not have the duo of Giroud and Sanogo to push back Hull City’s back line, they can use a trio of Alexis Sanchez, Danny Welbeck, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal could look to push this trio high up the pitch, especially if Hull City opt for a back three (probably comprised of Davies, Chester, and Michael Dawson). Against a back three, playing three players in the highest line of attack could force Hull’s wingbacks to drop into deeper positions, lowering their threat on the counter and creating open space to the sides of the midfield line. Playing this high attacking front could help with some of the spacing issues Arsenal seem to have, which may worse without Mesut Ozil.

Without the selflessness of Ozil, Arsenal do run the risk of Wilshere, Cazorla, Sanchez, and Welbeck congregating in the left half-space, in front of the opponent’s back line (this happened anyway against Chelsea. Look at the Player Positions figure at the bottom of the Whoscored match report). The proximity of Arsenal attackers in this cluster does allow for quicker interplay and a better ability to win the ball if possession is lost. Also, with a player on the right-side playing in an advanced position, looking to make diagonal runs in behind, these relatively deep clusters of Arsenal attackers on the left could work to suck the opponent’s defenders ball-side. This would increase the effectiveness of a diagonal ball from left-to-right, looking to pick out the diagonal run of an Oxlade-Chamberlain or a Theo Walcott. However, the trade-off of this clustering is pretty clear. By shrinking the attacking space, they make themselves easier to defend. Therefore, they make it easier for the opponent to win the ball.

The depth created by Arsenal’s attacking front could prove essential in helping them maintain possession and giving their midfielders more space to operate. And it is not like the attacking front has to chain themselves to their advanced positions. By having three players in Sanchez, Welbeck, and Oxlade-Chamberlain who can also drop into midfield, Arsenal can also create quite a bit of uncertainty for defenders.

Think of uncertainty as an implicit tax placed on individuals. Say I want to make an investment, but I perceive that there will be a significant amount of variability in the interest rate, regulations, taxes, etc. over the timeframe of the investment. More importantly, I do not have a feel for the pattern of the variability over that time. So, I know there may be changes in these factors, but I do not have a clue about the number of changes, the time any particular change would occur, each one’s magnitude and direction, etc. That excessive uncertainty makes the difficult task of making a good investment harder. Maybe one kind of investment looks good now, but in a few years, changes in those factors could turn my investment into a poor one. Maybe investments that appear as poor options, under current conditions, wind up being very good investments down the line, due to changes in these factors. This excessive uncertainty not only makes it hard to make good investments, but it also makes it harder to plan, increasing the difficulty of coordinating with the investments of others (or even my own investments over time).

In a football match, where defending essentially comes down to the coordinated actions (investments) of eleven individuals, creating uncertainty helps create goals³. If Arsenal played a static two up top, with another player looking to link-up in midfield, then that predictable set-up makes it easier for a defense to plan. Hull City can determine a way of making investments that will have relatively predictable payoffs. This certainty allows them to plan (both centrally and with respect to the individual decision makers) on what to do as a team, helping them to coordinate the actions of all eleven players, making them more effective as a defensive unit.

If Arsenal have a front three where any one of the three can operate as the linker with the midfield or in the most advanced line, then Arsenal become much more difficult to defend, as the increased uncertainty they impose on the opponent increases the difficulty of making the right investments for each of the defenders. If the individual defenders cannot make the right investments consistently, nor can they predict what their teammates will do around them (how they will invest), the wrong decisions will be made more often and that crucial sense of trust among the defenders might evaporate because they cannot properly predict each other’s actions. If I have no idea as to how my teammate will react, then how can I trust him to do his job? Do I have to do his job for him? Who will take over my responsibilities if I go help him? Ultimately, the ability to coordinate the actions of the defenders, so to work as a unit, becomes more difficult, and the risk of a bunch of individuals defending in an uncoordinated manner significantly increases. This makes it much easier for the attacking team to have their way with their opponents.

Dribble Fiends

I have seen a few tweets and pieces (here is one by Michael Cox) highlighting Arsenal’s propensity for dribbling. Now, the quantity of dribbles may have to do with a lack of cohesion, reducing the value of the pass-and-move game that Arsenal tend to base their game around. However, if Hull employ a similar strategy to the one they used in last season’s FA Cup Final, then the individualistic skill that Arsenal have showcased could prove valuable. In that match, sometimes an Arsenal player received the ball with his back to goal with a Hull City player closing them down. Behind that Hull City player, there existed a large amount of space. If an Arsenal player had made the proper turn and gotten past that initial defender, then the whole pitch would open up for them. They could dribble towards the back line, have plenty of time and space to play the through ball, and could occupy the attention of Hull’s defenders, helping their teammates create separation from their defenders.

Given the potential gains from dribbling in this game (yes, there are downsides, like turnovers that results in counter-attacks that lead to goals.), Jack Wilshere could have himself quite the match. According to, Wilshere has made 3.9 successful dribbles/90 minutes, completing close to 50% of his dribbles. Along with Cazorla, in Arsenal’s 4-1-4-1, Wilshere could severely punish Hull City’s aggressive style of defending. With a front line creating depth by pushing against Hull City’s back line, Wilshere could find himself dribbling into quite a bit of space, with plenty of freedom to pick whatever option he sees as the best one to open up the Hull defense.

Set-Pieces and Counter-Attacks

One of the reasons that Hull City may look to adopt an aggressive and defensive approach in their own half, but not look to press high up the pitch, so to win the ball back closer to Arsenal’s goal, is because they have a willingness to rely on set-pieces and counter-attacks initiated from deep positions. In the 2014 FA Cup Final, both of their goals came from a passage of play that started with a set-piece, and they would have scored a third off a set-piece had Kieran Gibbs not made a headed clearance to prevent that goal. With the likes of Curtis Davies, Michael Dawson, Abel Hernandez, Nikica Jelavic, and Mohamed Diame all above 6’1”, Hull City have a clear advantage in the air that they may look to exploit as a part of a low-risk attacking strategy. The same goes with counter-attacks. By countering from deep, Hull City would try to exploit the defensive problems of Arsenal’s attacking shape, combined with an inconsistent commitment to counter-pressing,4 by looking to hit them on the counter, particularly with their wingbacks bombing forward to deliver crosses into the box or long balls up to the attacking front.

There are ways to combat these things. One could try to counter-press to prevent the opponent from exploiting them on the counter. Along with that pressing, one could also add a win-the-ball-or-take-the-man approach where if the ball is not won, at least a foul gets conceded to stop the play. While Arsenal do not want to concede set-pieces, a set-piece 60 meters away from one’s goal should not pose much of a threat and gives a chance for the defense to get organized. There is always the option of having a fullback sit deeper, potentially sacrificing the team’s effectiveness in attack to reduce their susceptibility to getting ripped apart on the counter. With Nacho Monreal probably playing left center back, Arsenal probably need to put a special emphasis on either mitigating the damage from counters and/or limiting the number of counter-attacking opportunities that make it into their half.

And yet, maybe not switching off represents the solution that provides the most bang-for-the-buck. As Tim points out in his notes on the goals Arsenal have conceded, a lot of the goals Arsenal have conceded are a byproduct of lapses in concentration. A team is made up of eleven individual decision makers, who look to coordinate their actions to achieve the desired result (ideally). Therefore, not only do lapses in concentration increase the probability of conceding goals, they also represent another element of uncertainty, an element that is difficult to plan for, one that can potentially impede the eleven players’ ability to coordinate their actions. So, while it may seem odd to conclude a tactics piece with a call for greater focus, sometimes something as simple as not switching off can go a long way in improving results. And for a side that has only earned 10 points from their first seven matches and is still figuring out how to play with one another, they cannot afford to throw away points due to a lack of focus.


¹If I tell you that you can make an investment (going for a tackle or an interception in this case), and I will cover your losses if the investment goes bad (this is the role the free Hull City central defenders played), it stands to reason (an assumption that people are not risk-seeking or even risk-neutral) that you will be more willing, on average, to make the riskier investment (that tackle or the interception) rather than the perceived “safe” investment (holding your position). This is because the “guarantee” that my losses will be covered increases the expected value of my action (a full guarantee cuts out losses from the distribution of outcomes), but maybe more importantly, lowers the variance (the uncertainty) of the outcome. This idea that reducing the risk associated with an action ends up incentivizing the action is the concept that can be applied to things like driving and implicit guarantees to particular institutions that may have started back in 1984 with Continental Illinois. This can also be observed when losses (or gains that are not sufficiently large) do not matter to the decision-maker. Down 1-0, it makes sense to engage in riskier strategies on average, since losing 2-0 or 3-0 is pretty much the same as losing 1-0, but drawing or winning the match is a significantly better outcome.
²A lack of aggression from Hull City may have facilitated this as well, as Hull City’s lowered willingness to follow Arsenal’s midfielders may have led to Arsenal’s players perceiving that their movement had more value. In the first half, an Arsenal midfielder could work hard, move about the pitch, and have a Hull City player dog him the whole time. He may never break free and may not receive the positive feedback (time, space, and possession of the ball) needed to reinforce that behavior and educate him as to which movements and which spaces are the ones to use and exploit, respectively. After the 60th minute, that hard work and movement leads to more success in escaping Hull City’s defenders and finding + receiving the ball in open spaces. The rather evident success of their actions means that Arsenal players receive better and more feedback concerning their movement and the spaces they exploit. Not only do Arsenal play better as a unit with this increased movement, but that, combined with better feedback, allow Arsenal’s players to reveal more knowledge about how to best rip Hull apart. That is not to say that Arsenal’s players should not have been more active in the first half, but incentives and feedback loops probably matter. Getting rewarded, as long as the reward is rewarding, when doing the right thing, and not getting rewarded when doing the wrong thing probably leads to better patterns of behavior than not being rewarded, regardless of the action.
³You could have an individual matchup that is so much in your favor that you can exploit it over and over again with success unless there is a massive shift in defensive resources allocated to evening up that matchup. However, such advantages rarely exist.
4Against a side with players like Livermore, Diame (coming back from African Cup of Nations qualifying duty with Senegal, who played two matches, including one on Wednesday), and Huddlestone in midfield, along with Dawson, Davies, and Chester at the back, forcing Hull’s midfield + back three to make quick decisions and rely on their ability to control the ball may prove a rather profitable strategy. This game could represent another potential opportunity for Arsenal to employ a high pressing and counter-pressing game to great effect.

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Notes from all 20 goals Arsenal have scored this season: surprise Arsenal don’t score off set pieces

Just a quick follow up to yesterday’s post and the post from the day before in which I broke down Arsenal’s troubles staying focused on set plays. Although somewhat controversial in my methodology I provided my notes from each of the 14 goals that Arsenal have conceded so far this season and my opinion is that there is a clear commonality: whenever either Arsenal or the opposition get a break in play and time to set up, Arsenal seem to relax. After that they are playing catch-up either positionally or trying to make up for a defensive mistake and are then caught out for a goal.

Of the 14 goals that Arsenal have conceded this season 10 have come either as a direct result of a set play or in the few seconds aftermath of a set play. Ten of 14 is 70%. Seventy percent of Arsenal’s goals conceded have come from a result of a set play. And that includes several set plays in which Arsenal initially have the ball but take a poor throw or take the free kick too soon and are immediately hurt by the opposition (Chelsea, Spurs, Dortmund).

In order to get a better sense of Arsenal’s playing style (and because I’m a glutton for funishment), I looked at all 20 of the goals Arsenal have scored this season and used the same criteria to judge whether these goals were scored via set plays.

The result is pretty clear; of the 20 goals that Arsenal have scored this season they have scored just 6 times off set pieces. That is a directly inverse relationship. 70% of the goals Arsenal have conceded this season are from set plays and only 30% of the goals that Arsenal have scored are from set plays.

What isn’t clear is exactly why this is happening. The impulse is to suggest that Arsenal are just poor at set plays and there is some evidence to suggest that this is the case. Last season, Arsenal were 16th in the League in set piece goals scored with just 11 — three of which were penalties. However, in the season before that, Arsenal were 7th in the League with 17 — five of which were penalties.

What we do know is that Arsenal are terrible at corner conversion. I have a piece coming up on that on Arseblog news soon so I don’t want to spill any beans but we are pretty bad. We don’t even get the ball into the right zones for attacking on corners. It’s poor.

But other explanations could shed light. For example, Arsenal tend to score more goals than the opposition. This means that we score multiples in some games. If the opposition is looking for just one goal and then not attempting to really score more we could have a situation which distorts their goals tally. In other words, they get one off a corner and they stop trying. We score one off a corner and keep going for a second or third goal.

Regardless (or irregardless as my friend would say) I thought I’d post you some more notes on this topic. Saturday we have the match and Naveen’s match preview should be up on Friday for you all to “banta” about. I think I have something from Les for Saturday and a Man at the Match report from Chary on Sunday.

I also want to give a plug to Jonathan Blaustein’s monthly column the Match Day Photo of the Month. Get out the cameras and start recording your match day experience. Send the photos to This is a fantastic way to share your match day experience with others. And no, you don’t have to be one of the luck few who go to games at Highbury North East, You can just take creative photos from anywhere and send them in. Sure, even a picture of a tortoise. Whatever you want! Send them in!

Anyway, here are the notes as promised.




First goal (Welbz, Alexis assist)

Szczesny passes to Koscielny who passes to Gibbs. Gibbs is completely unmarked and casually slides a ball up to Alexis. The Chilean is also unmarked and allowed to dribble, he turns inside, sees that Welbz has caught Melo napping and slots in a through ball.

Analysis: Galatasaray fell asleep on the goal kick and failed to press the ball at any point. Melo was at fault for letting Welbz get past him on the run. 8 seconds start to finish. Arsenal score on a set play.

Second goal (Welbz, error Melo)

Flamini wins the Gala goal kick with a powerful header but sends the ball back to the Gala right back. He failes to deal with the ball (put under pressure by Alexis) and heads it back to Melo. Melo is asleep again and Welbz beats him to the ball. A nifty little header to himself, Welbzz skips away from Melo and scores past their hapless flappy keeper.

Analysis: another goal coming almost directly off a set play, this time it’s from their own goal kick. Galatasaray caught napping and Welbz takes advantage. Again, Melo largely at fault but Welbeck did show good strength to beat Melo to the ball. 8 seconds again from start to finish. Arsenal score on the opposition set piece.

Third goal (counter attack, Alexis, Ozil assist)

Mertesacker intercepts the attempted through ball to Yilmaz and plays a 40 yard pass to Ox. Interestingly, Arsenal have no one in the actual midfield for this play, Ox, Ozil, Welbz, and Sanchez are all forward with Welbz standing offside. Anyway, Ozil plays in Sanchez, Alexis cuts back and beats his marker and picks out the far post for an easy goal.

Analysis: Galatasaray had 6 men back but Arsenal got in a series of vertical passes which leapfrogged the two defensive mids. Ozil’s pass left Sanchez plenty to do but the Chilean beat his marker deftly. I think that Arsenal overloading the space behind the Gala DMs was a gamble on Arsenal’s part which paid off. Arsenal open play goal

Arsenal 4th goal Gala (Welbz, Ox assist)

Welbeck drops deep to receive Gibbs’ ball in midfield, under pressure he plays to Cazorla who is in even more trouble. Somehow the Spaniard splits two defenders deep in our half and finds Welbz. Welbeck then dribbles forward and passes to… Alexis in midfield. Alexis plays to Ox and Welbeck makes a diagonal run behind the defender. Ox nutmegs his marker and Welbeck ghosts in for a goal.

Analysis: Probably a lack of communication between the two center halves but other than that this was just all around stellar play by Arsenal. There were a few moments where it looked like Arsenal could give up the ball in a bad area but they broke pressure and scored. Arsenal open play goal

Tottenham (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, 74)

Tottenham fail to clear (Lamela actually plays the ball back into their own box), Sanchez collects at the edge of the area and passes to Cazorla. Cazorla has a shot from outside the box which wasn’t going to bother Lloris but it takes a deflection and pops up to Welbeck. Welbeck dummies (ha!) and the ball comes to Ox in the perfect position to lash it home.

Analysis: Tottenham could have done better to clear the ball but really this is one of those goals which prove that every once in a while the players should just have a go at goal. Good things happen, especially if the ball is hit low and hard and the box is packed. Open play goal.

Southampton (direct free kick, Sanchez)

Arsenal score on a direct free kick. Fonte fouled Alexis leading up to the shot. Keeper couldn’t do anything about it. Arsenal set play goal.

Aston Villa

First goal (Ozil, assist Welbeck)

Fantastic one-touch play between Ramsey, Ox, and Welbz opens Villa’s midfield. Welbeck drives at the defense, Senderos is caught ball watching, the Villa right back is a bit lazy, and Ozil ghosts in behind where Welbeck plays him in.

Anaysis: the speed of this play takes Villa out of the game and Senderos doesn’t see the danger until it is way too late. I think his fullback partner, who could see this develop, probably should have given a shout but just raises his hand instead looking for offside. Open play goal.

Second goal (Welbeck, assist Ozil)

Lovely one-touch from Ozil to Ramsey, Ozil makes a run and the Villa right back doesn’t track. Senderos is pulled over to block Ozil and Clark covers Welbeck. Clark inexplicably stops short of the full run and Welbeck gets behind him.

Analysis: despite the fairly shoddy defending, Ozil still had plenty to do with the cross and puts in one of the best passes he’s made all season.  Welbeck finishes and makes it look easy. Open play goal.

Third goal (own goal Cissoko)

Villa fail to clear, Gibbs pokes in a long shot (or was it a cross?), Cissoko really has to do something about the ball (because Ox is at the far post looking to score) but does the wrong thing. Still, open play goal.

Man City (Wilshere goal, Ramsey assist)

Koscielny presses high up the pitch, Aguero is dispossessed, Arsenal break with five players in a central position. Ramsey is the furthest forward, collects Alexis’ pass, passes to Wilshere on the right. Wilshere skins Clichy and neatly chips Joe Hart.

Analysis: ha ha ha… Gael Clichy. But seriously, Arsenal push a lot of players forward, I think there were four midfielders behind the City defensive mids. It’s kind of crazy actually but it worked out. Open play goal.

Second (Sanchez goal, Wilshere assist)

Another top quality goal from Arsenal. Ramsey clips over a cross that Kompany heads away (little shove from Welbeck). Wilshere heads the ball back in to Sanchez and the Chilean strikes it first time.

Analysis: a goal worked from almost nothing. The chip from Ramsey wasn’t the best and Wilshere’s header back into the box was powerful but a bit lucky. Alexis really made the most of the chance though. Open play goal, Arsenal.

Leicester (Sanchez goal)

Leicester had managed to keep a semblance of a shape until the ball was pinged around several times, then the entire Leicester defense formed a sort of Maginot Line with what I swear is 8 players lined up across the 18 yard box. How do you neat the Maginot Line? Cazorla plays a neat little chip over the top to Sanogo and the Frenchman tries to get a shot off against the onrushing Schmeichel. I don’t know if it’s a shot or a block but the ball comes to Alexis and he blasts it into the back of the next.

Analysis: Leicester were quite sloppy and disorganized but the Cazorla chip was good and Sanogo did OK to get a shot off. Arsenal rewarded by having Sanchez I the box. Arsenal open play goal. One of the few were Arsenal are playing the ball around the 18 yard box.

Besiktas (Sanchez goal, Ozil assist)

Arsenal win a throw but the ensuing cross is cleared out. Monreal wins the second ball and passes to Wilshere. Wilshere passes to Ozil and Ozil plays in a perfect pass. Sanchez runs onto the end of the pass (beating Wilshere) and slots home his first Arsenal goal.

Analysis: Beskitas didn’t switch off on the set play. Instead, the fault lies with #10. He tracked back on the intitial cross and then as the ball was cleared ran back out, past Alexis and Wilshere. I think he was either trying to get an offside or start a break. But either way he leaves the space for Sanchez. Arsenal open play goal.


First goal (Ramsey goal, Cazorla assist)

Is this a set play goal? This one is stretching the boundaries for sure. Arsenal win a throw. Monreal, Ozil and Cazorla ping the ball around in the Everton final third for few seconds before Cazorla drives at the Everton defense. Cazorla is covered by two defenders and plays a splitting ball into the 6 yard box. Ramsey had made a run and Osman and Baines ran with him but Ramsey just beats both to the ball.

Analysis: Everton looked tired on this play. Lots of lazy clearing and lazy movement. The speed at which Arsenal are able to play is nearly quiescent. Still, the organization was right and both Cazorla and Ramsey were covered by two players. This wasn’t Everton mentally switching off as much as physically faltering.  14 seconds from start to finish, Arsenal open play goal

Second goal (Giroud, header, Monreal assist)

Monreal collects a terrible Ramsey cross, pings a good ball back into the area and Giroud just out-muscles Distan towin the header and score. Flat footed. Open play goal Arsenal.

Crystal Palace

First goal (indirect free kick, header, Koscielny, assist Alexis)

Hangelaand was marking Koscielny but Koz loses him too easily, no one attacks Alexis’ cross, and the result is that Arsenal get an easy headed goal from a set play. Arsenal set play goal.

Second goal (Ramsey)

Arsenal win a corner but Palace clear through Chamakh at the edge of the 6 yard box (first defender). Ball is passed around the box, Ox puts in a poor cross, Koz wins the header back in, Giroud knocks the ball down, Debuchy has a shot saved, Ramsey puts home the rebound.

Analysis: scrappy goal. 14 seconds from start to finish. Arsenal set play goal? Sort of.

Man City Community Shield.

First goal – Cazorla, open play.

Second goal – Aaron Ramsey, counter attack, open play. Arsenal clear to Alexis, he slots a curling ball to Sanogo. Sanogo holds up well and passes to Ramsey. Ramsey skins Clichy and scores.

Third goal – Olivier Giroud, Arsenal set play, assist Ramsey. Szczesny takes a goal kick, Giroud flicks to Ramsey, Ramsey passes back to Giroud and he takes a shot from Downton Abbey, scoring over Caballero.



Full disclosure: my notes from all of Arsenal’s 14 goals.

Because I think some of you are interested here are my notes from all 14 goals Arsenal have conceded this season. I’m harsh on some of the players and you’re going to see a few names over and over again that are probably a surprise to you. But this is what I saw when I re-watched each goal.

This season Arsenal have conceded 10 of 14 goals from either their own set plays or the opposition’s set plays. And they have done so with some almost comedic defending at times. Way too many lapses in concentration, especially from Flamini, and far too much poor positioning, especially from Gibbs, are gifting the opposition far too much space and time to get into dangerous positions to score.

Arsenal have a troubling habit of relaxing on set plays. If you let a loaf of bread rise on your counter and then you pick it up with your hands, the dough will quickly collapse and relax into your hands. This is what Arsenal’s set play defense looks like time and again.

First Chelsea goal (penalty, Hazard):

A series of set plays and throw ins which culminates in an offside against Schurrle. Gibbs takes a quick free kick to Sanchez. Alexis is dispossessed by Ivanovich (probably a foul), passes to Matic, to Cesc, to Hazard all alone. Eden dribbles past Cazorla, then past Chambers, and then is fouled by Koz.

Analysis: Gibbs took the free kick too soon, Atikinson allowed Alexis to be fouled, Arsenal in disarray and too slow to react to Hazard. Set play indiscipline starts the Chelsea move, Chelsea set play finishes the goal.

Second Chelsea goal (long pass, Costa (Cesc assist):

Long ball to Alexis in the CF role, turnover, Mikel quick pass to Cesc, Fabregas has all the space and time, Costa beats Koz and Szczesny with a great first touch and special finish.

Analysis: pushing up for the win, not enough pressure in midfield from Flamini, leaves Cesc too much time to create.

Galatasaray goal (penalty):

Sanchez dispossessed in midfield, defense switches off, Gibbs tries to step up to force the offside but Per doesn’t, Yilmaz gifted tons of space, Szczesny comes for the ball, foul.

Yilmaz scores the penalty.

Analysis: Gibbs probably shouldn’t have stepped up to draw the offside. There was, however, lots of lazy play leading up to it and the Arsenal players were walking all over the place. To be expected when your team is 4-0 up? Or chronic problem with Arsenal’s soft mentality?

Tottenham goal (Chadli):

Szczesny claims the Erikson free kick easily and then hurriedly passes out to Chambers. Chambers is challenged by Erikson and passes back to Mertesacker, who passes to Flamini. Flamini takes a lazy touch and turn, is dispossessed by Erikson. Jack lets Lamela waltz past him, Lamela picks up Flamini’s recovery tackle, and passes to Chadli who scores past Gibbs (who recovered with a quick sprint), Koz, and Szczesny.

Analysis: Szczesny shouldn’t have taken the throw so quickly, the defense was disorganized, and Gibbs was too far up the pitch and for what reason I don’t know. Flamini was too casual with the ball and Wilshere, his midfield teammate, didn’t attempt to help out but stood and watched as Flamini was dispossessed. Lamela got the assist because Jack didn’t track him and Chadli the goal because Gibbs couldn’t recover. Better shape at the back and calmer presence from the keeper and this goal never happens.

Southampton first goal (penalty Tadic)

Free kick boomed in by the keeper, headed away, but played right back in to the same player, who flicks over to Manaes. Rosicky comes flying in and makes a pointless challenge. Tadic shoots right down the middle.

Analysis: Rosicky made a stupid challenge.

Southampton second goal (Clyne):

Tadic takes a corner, Chambers heads the ball out. Clyne picks it up from 35 light years from goal and fires in a shot which parts the red sea.

Analysis: a goal scored off a corner. Half wonder goal, half Einsteinium.

Dortmund first goal (Immobile):

Arsenal win a throw in deep in the Dortmund half, it’s punted up to Immobile, Gibbs races back, Koz is jockeying Immobile and Gibbs doesn’t make a challenge.

Analysis: Gibbs should have challenged Immobile for the ball, Immobile gets a lucky bounce and scores.

Dortmund second goal (Aubameyang):

Arsenal have another throw, cleared up to Aubameyang who passes to Grosskruetz. Aubameyang runs past Wilshere, between Per and Koz, Szczesny comes off his line, Aubameyang gets a lucky bounce and gets around Szczesny, scores a chip despite Koz’ valiant effort to get back.

Analysis: Wilshere was nominally the defensive midfielder. If he follows that run, it probably gives Per and Koz time to catch up. Instead he ran over to Gross.

Man City first goal (Aguero):

Kompany clears the ball desperately, Flamini tries to clear/tackle away from Aguero but the ball bounces to Navas. Navas drives up the pitch, Flamini runs exactly where you want him to run and tracks Aguero but at the wrong moment stops and Aguero goes past him and scores the cross.

Analysis: I don’t get it. I just don’t get why Flamini would run all that way back, get into nearly the right position and then lose Aguero. It just doesn’t make any sense.

Man City second goal (Demichelis, Corner, header):

Man City send a line of players to attack a spot, pump in a corner and Demichelis is completely un-marked. He actually had a lot to do with the pass, but he sends in a nearly flat-footed, falling away header that Szczeny and Flamini can’t keep out. Szczesny actually palmed the ball into the post.

Analysis: Arsenal had just two players in that zone. Neither got the ball.

Leicester Goal (Ulloa header, cross Schlop)

Koscielny suffered a head injury a few minutes earlier. Leicester ping a ball forward to Scholp, he chests down and makes a break for it, the ball is played back to him and he sprints to the end line. Debuchy is covering fine and Scholp sends in a hopeful cross to where he sees Ulloa running.

Analysis: It wasn’t catastrophic in any way, it was simply lax marking.  Koz is probably to blame (he sees Ulloa but cant beat the man to the spot), except that seems a bit harsh considering the fact that he will be taken off in a minute for his head injury.

Everton first goal (Coleman header)

Alexis commits a foul on an aerial duel. He then spends plenty of time talking to the referee for Arsenal to get set up for the free kick. Everton take the free kick and pass to Barry. Barry passes and moves to a more advanced position. The ball swings to Baines and Baines basses back to Barry who sand wedges a ball into Naismith for the header.

Analysis: This looks like a set play by Everton. Baines and Barry have a chat and then the play starts. It goes through Osman before getting to Baines and then to back to Barry but what that ball movement does is relaxes the Arsenal defense like resting a loaf of dough. I think Barry’s ball was intended for Lukaku but Coleman beat Özil to the ball and headed in far too easily. Classic example of Arsenal switching off.

Second goal (Naismith)

Play is entirely down the left. Monreal is in advance of Mesut Özil and the ball is passed to him in space, he plays it back to Özil who attempts a splitting pass into the box. The ball is hoofed clear and Lukaku wins the first challenge with Mertesacker. Chambers rushes out to challenge and misses the tackle completely. Özil actually busts a gut to get back while “pass master” Monreal stays up top — ready to counter attack. Flamini, alone (which could be a poem), is caught between covering Lukaku and Naismith. Flamini checks Naismith several times, and even points for Debuchy to cover. Naismith waltzes between the two players (not that it would have mattered, they had a man behind Debuchy as well), and strays well offside. Lukaku plays Naismith in and Naismith scores a bit of a lucky goal between Szczesny’s legs.

Analysis: Naismith was offside. Lukaku fouled to win the first ball. Does it seem to you like Arsenal rely more on officials to get the calls right than other teams? Chambers shouldn’t have made the challenge. And structurally ask yourself this question: should Mesut Özil be the player busting guts to get back, what value does Monreal offer going forward, and why shouldn’t he be dropping back or holding back?

Crystal Palace (Hangelaand header corner)

Hangelaand simply beats everyone in the air.

Make of this what you will.