The Gunners beat Premier League bottom feeders Newcastle United 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. After Liverpool ended their 10-game unbeaten streak at Anfield a week ago, the Gunners are now back on the winning track. Two goals from Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli helped them secure the win at last weekend’s Arsenal v Newcastle game at the Emirates.
Eddie Howe’s first game with The Magpies presented a very disappointing performance as the game ended with a loss for the visitors. Howe’s team remains rooted to the bottom of the table with 6 points after 13 games, while Arsenal consolidated their position just outside the top-four. Fourth-placed West Ham are level with the Gunners on 23 points, but the Hammers have a game in hand.
Let us have an in-depth tactical review and analysis of Sunday’s Arsenal v Newcastle game.
Formation and Line-Ups:
Arsenal set up a 4-4-1-1 formation on paper, bringing in Martin Odegaard for Alexandre Lacazette. The rest of the team remained unchanged from the Anfield disappointment.
Meanwhile, Newcastle made 3 changes from the 3-3 draw to Brentford the previous weekend. They discarded the 3-4-3 set-up and played a flat 4-4-2. Dubravka, Krafth and Fraser came in for Darlow, Clark and Murphy.
Saturday’s Arsenal v Newcastle game began with the visitors setting up deep to defend in their own half, with little or no intent to keep possession. Upon regaining possession, they looked to hit Arsenal on the counter and utilize the wings to attack. The hosts countered in an asymmetric shape, Saka and Tavares were the outlets on either wing, while Smith-Rowe and Odegaard functioned in the half-spaces.
The North London outfit took up a 3-4-3 shape during attacks, giving them numerical superiority against Newcastle’s 2 forwards. Arsenal, however, struggled to make in-roads. Playing a passive 4-4-2, the Magpies set up well to congest the midfield. Instead of pressurizing the centre-backs, Joelinton and Wilson attempted to mark Lokonga and Partey out of the game. Saka and Tavares were often caught in 1v1 situations on the wing.
The game was tight and edgy, and in the first 20 minutes, Arsenal had only 2 shots. Odegaard then came close with a free-kick, but Dubravka made a great save. At the other end, Aaron Ramsdale made a great save to tip Shelvey’s shot onto the post.
Newcastle also had a couple of penalty shots, for a hand-ball by Tomiyasu and then a foul from a corner by Odegaard, but to no avail. With Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu effectively taking Allan Saint-Maximin out of the game, the visitors looked bereft of ideas in attack.
Around the half-hour mark, Arteta made a small tweak in the set-up. Aaron Ramsdale provided the Gunners with an additional man, and Ben White was playing more to the right side. In the middle of the field, Thomas Partey dropped between White and Gabriel as the auxiliary centre-back, trying to find Lokonga between the lines. This also allowed Tomiyasu to push forward to a greater extent.
The move provided Arsenal with 2 benefits:
- Arsenal were able to create triangles in the wide areas, mainly on the right-wing. Tomiyasu, Odegaard and Saka switched positions with each other quite well. On the left, Tavares maintained width. Lokonga pushing forward allowed Smith-Rowe to support Tavares, while Aubameyang also drifted wide.
- Defending with a flat back-line, Newcastle wingers Saint-Maximin and Fraser were forced to cover the wide areas. Joelinton had to drop even deeper to make up the numbers in midfield. Not only did this result in a numerical superiority for Arsenal, it almost completely cut off Newcastle’s chances of a counterattack.
Now, the Gunners began to create chances. By continuously creating 2v1 situations on the wings, the wingers and full-backs got into useful positions more often. Arsenal’s far-side winger, Thomas Partey and Lokonga helped the Gunners regain possession around the 18-yard box several times, pinning the Magpies into their own box. They struggled to make effective use of such recoveries, however, often taking wayward shots with better options available.
Arsenal’s best chance came when Smith-Rowe’s fierce header was well saved from a Saka cross. Aubameyang somehow managed to miss an open goal on the rebound. Newcastle looked absolutely woeful, but it did not seem impossible that the points could be shared. Arsenal had 79% of the ball and 12 shots, but only 2 on target. Newcastle had 3 shots of which 2 were on target. Shelvey’s attempt in the 31st minute was their last of the first half.
In the second half of the Arsenal v Newcastle game, Mikel Arteta made a few more tweaks to the system. Lokonga occupied the half-space in a role similar to what Tomiyasu often plays. Full-backs Nuno and Tomiyasu also started attacking the space between the opposition centre-back and full-back, pushing Smith-Rowe and Saka wider. This gave the English duo, arguably the most technically gifted players on the field, more space and freedom to operate.
If you analyse the above photo, you will notice three important points:
- Tomiyasu maintaining width forces Saint-Maximin to defend almost like a full-back.
- 4 Defenders are effectively taken out of the game watching over Aubameyang and Odegaard.
- Tavares and Lokonga hold up intelligent positions which allowed a quick combination play to give Saka a chance at goal.
Arsenal went on to create several such situations throughout the second half but were often caught lacking in end product or decisiveness. Arsenal were forced to make a substitution due to an injury to Saka. Replacement forward Martinelli scored with practically his first touch of the game, finishing with a delicate chip from a glorious pass by Tomiyasu.
↗️ Out to the right
↖️ Into the box
🥅 Only one place for it…
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 27, 2021
The move began with Nuno Tavares making a fantastic recovery to deny Callum Wilson a 1v1 chance. Odegaard drew in a marker that allowed Martinelli to attack the space behind Newcastle’s defensive line. Aubameyang and Smith-Rowe occupying the spaces between the lines meant that Newcastle’s defenders had their attention divided between watching their backs and covering Arsenal’s forward.
Newcastle were not free of criticism, however. As this goal exposed, they often tried to play a high line of defence without pressing actively enough or compressing the length of the field. Arsenal attempted to exploit this in the first half, but Schar and Dubravka were alert enough to avert the danger. This proved to be a more successful ploy in the second half, however. Like the first goal, Newcastle again failed to execute a proper offside trap.
The second goal effectively killed the game. Elneny and Lacazette came on for Partey and Aubameyang. Newcastle brought on Almiron and shifted to a 5-3-2 shape for the final 15 minutes, but struggled to create anything to truly trouble Ramsdale. Martinelli had a penalty shout that was questionably not given for a foul by Lascelles, but Arsenal held on for a comfortable 2-0 win.
- Lokonga and Tavares: After a difficult game against Liverpool, both the youngsters put up a bright performance at the Emirates. Lokonga played, arguably, his best game ever in an Arsenal jersey, and was a calm and composed presence in the midfield. Tavares was a thorn on Newcastle’s right-wing and put in an excellent shift defensively as well.
- Tomiyasu-Gabriel Connection: Tomiyasu put together another outstanding display and was FotMob’s Player of the Match as well. The Japanese full-also showed an excellent understanding with Gabriel Martinelli and could have had a couple more assists to the Brazilian. Depending on how Saka’s injury develops, Arteta may want to experiment with this duo a little more.
- Saka, ESR and a clean sheet: The two academy products are developing to be crucial cogs in the Arsenal system. But the Gunners put in another team performance to effectively support the English duo. Partey, White and Gabriel pieced together a solid defensive display to minimize Aaron Ramsdale’s work as well.
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Areas of Concern:
- Shot Quantity, but not Quality: Arsenal won the xG battle 2.0-0.2 as well. However, out of 24 shots, they registered a mere 6 on the frame. 11 shots came from outside the box, with Tavares, Tomiyasu, Partey and Odegaard taking several attempts from poor positions. Against better opposition, Arsenal will need to try and create more shots from a closer range
- Aubameyang: Arsenal’s top scorer missed the simplest of chances in the first half. The Gabon international had 0 SCAs and failed his only attempted dribble. Aubameyang’s skill-set is best suited against a higher line of defence, where he has space to run in behind. Against a compact unit, Mikel Arteta may prefer the profile of Lacazette. The Frenchman’s hold-up play and positional awareness would be more effective to create spaces for other forwards as well.
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