Arsenal 1-1 Sheffield United: 3 Tactical observations from the encounter | Premier League 2019-20
Their relentless pressure should have also seen them being awarded a penalty for a foul on Nicolas Pepe. However, Sheffield kept their shape and composure to finally equalize through John Fleck as Mikel Arteta's side were again punished for their inability to put games to bed.
Here is a look at three tactical observations from the game.
1) Arsenal mirror Sheffield
Arsenal looked to have set themselves up in their regular 4-2-3-1 formation when the lineups were announced. Granit Xhaka seemed slated to play alongside Lucas Torreira as part of a double pivot. However, that was not to be the case.
Instead, Arteta's side mirrored Sheffield's back three. Initially, Sheffield's two strikers were causing various issues for Arsenal's two centre-backs. Therefore, Xhaka was tasked with playing slightly deeper, more or less as a left-sided centre-back, especially when in possession. And, the above reduced the threat of the Sheffield forwards in the first half.
More importantly, such a tweak actually freed up the midfield for Arsenal to move the ball forward. Due to his deeper role, Sheffield did not press Xhaka as much in order to maintain their defensive shape. When the Swiss midfielder dribbled forward, they were reluctant to press him which facilitated more control on Arsenal's part.
The switch to a back-three also made it easier for Bukayo Saka and Ainsley Maitland-Niles to deal with Sheffield's marauding wing-backs who were finding plenty of space in the initial stages of the game. This simple tweak helped Arsenal establish a foothold in the match after they were completely dominated by the visitors in the first 20 minutes.
2) Sheffield's defensive structure
The goal that Sheffield conceded in the first half came about via a deflection. However, Chris Wilder's side deserve to be credited for their resilience and determination against Arsenal, especially in the second half.
Subsequently, they did not concede a second goal and that enabled them to leave with a point. Sheffield's defensive structure is one of the best in the league. The Blades have an effective system comprising of not just their defenders but also their midfield.
Sheffield's troika of centre-backs made life difficult for the Arsenal forwards. Their physicality made it impossible for either Alexandre Lacazette or Eddie Nketiah to hold up the ball. Even if one of them was beaten by pace, there was always another centre-back on hand to sweep up behind him.
The trio in midfield were also equally successful in preventing Mesut Ozil from operating between the defensive lines. Thus, it was largely an impressive defensive performance, although they rode their luck at times.
3) Arsenal struggle to deal with crosses
Arsenal were much improved against the Blades, both offensively and defensively. However, Arsenal's defending of crosses still left an awful lot to be desired.
Over the past few games, the Gunners have always seemed caught in two minds about how they want to defend. They have neither prevented crosses as a whole by pressing the opposition's wide-player nor have they prioritized remaining compact through the middle.
When Arsenal are unsure about what they want to do, it creates a situation where neither option is effective. In the first 20-25 minutes of the game, Sheffield's wing-backs had the time and space to fire in crosses, a few of which created decent chances.
Similarly, for the equalizer, Fleck was not closed down quickly enough. Unfortunately, it seems that Arsenal cannot defend with conviction, meaning that they are always nervously looking over their shoulders.
Thus, Arteta needs to decide how his side wants to defend against crosses because such insecurity while repelling attacks might not hold the Gunners in good stead, moving forward.Published 18 Jan 2020, 23:38 IST