Leicester City – Arsenal: Arsenal Overcome Leicester In Match Of Rotated Teams (0-2)
With a congested fixture list, both teams rested plenty of regular starters. However, the fluidity and focus on spacing that Mikel Arteta has brought to Arsenal was once again visible, even if it was not executed spectacularly. Leicester meanwhile were somewhat reliant on individual efforts from their attackers to make breakthroughs. A second half own goal from Christian Fuchs eventually put Arsenal ahead before the hour mark, and a late Eddie Nketiah sealed the win in the final minutes.
Tactical analysis and match report by Josh Manley.
Arsenal have largely carried on their momentum from their successful finish to last season under Mikel Arteta. They beat Fulham with ease on the opening day, before a slightly less convincing win over West Ham at the weekend.
The ending for Leicester City’s season was less successful, as they missed out on a top four place after a strong start to the season. The start to this season has been promising, with two wins from two games. For this fixture, Brendan Rodgers rested first teamers such as Youri Tielemans and Jamie Vardy, putting out a rotated team in a 3-4-3 system.
Arteta also stuck with his own 3-4-3 system, but again key first team members were rested from the starting eleven. The likes of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Willian and Granit Xhaka were kept back, while players like Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson were given starts.
Playing from principles
In the early stages of this season Arteta’s principles have been clear in Arsenal’s performances. In particular, the focus on the spacing of players on the pitch while using positional rotations – which has seen some interesting moves from Arsenal’s left side – in which the nominal center-back, wing-back and forward have carried out some relatively unique and fluid rotations.
One permutation of Arsenal’s structure in possession.
Usually, the right side has been slightly more linear, with the usual right back Héctor Bellerín staying more on the wing aside from occasional diagonal movements inside. This usually left Willian to fill the right halfspace. If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace.
In this game against Leicester, the rotations on the left continued. Often, Sead Kolašinac, the nominal left center-back, would move into positions more fitting of a conventional left back when building up, leaving Rob Holding and David Luiz as the two central defenders. When the ball was on the right side, Kolašinac would also push inside as an inverted fullback.
Ahead of him, Bukayo Saka and Nelson were quite interchangeable. Saka would often drift into the left halfspace where he showed his ability to pick up good positions between the lines and receive the ball. In these cases, Nelson would hold the width on this side. Alternatively, Saka stayed wide and Nelson would move inside to play closer to Nketiah.
This time there were also some interesting rotations on the right too. Although Maitland-Niles was nominally the wing-back, he would often drift into central areas alongside Elneny, again much like an inverted fullback.
Elneny played as the deepest midfielder, as Willock moved up in the right halfspace ahead of him. Here Willock found some good positions to receive between the lines through the space between Leicester midfielders Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and James Maddison in Leicester’s 5-4-1 defensive shape. Pépé would then hold the width on the right.
Arsenal’s rotations were not always perfect. For example, Maitland-Niles could sometimes move inside too far or at the wrong time when the space was already occupied. The occupation of the central space between the lines was not always the strongest either, but Arsenal are a more wing-focused side anyway. Overall, the performance was not spectacular, but watching the principles of Arteta continue to develop regardless of the personnel on the pitch should give more encouragement for Arsenal fans and viewers.
Leicester count on Gray and Maddison
Rodgers’ side were employing a nominal three-at-the-back formation of their own, although the positioning was less variable than Arsenal’s. Without the ball, the midfield could become slightly disorganized at times and leave gaps as players did not always seem perfectly clear in which zones they should press the ball, but overall it was defensively solid enough.
With the ball, they mainly built in a 3-4-2-1 shape. Demarai Gray and Maddison were the two players behind Kelechi Iheanacho, and they were the players Leicester counted on for creating breakthroughs when they had the ball.
Leicester in possession.
This was partly because there was not a large amount of individual creativity coming from elsewhere on the pitch. The wing-backs Marc Albrighton and Luke Thomas are not the most dangerous attacking wing-backs in the world. In central midfield, there was Hamza Choudhury who is not the strongest playmaker. Next to him was Dewsbury-Hall, making his first competitive appearance for the club.
Dewsbury-Hall was tidy in possession, though his actions were often relatively simple. What he did do however, is help create space for Maddison. He often made dropping movements towards the back three to collect the ball when they had it. The receiving conditions were not great and he often ended up playing a simple pass back to a teammate as he faced his own goal. This did drag Willock up the pitch on a few occasions though, which left Maddison in more space in the zone behind him.
Own goal to break the deadlock
The teams went into the break at 0-0 without many chances being created. The opener arrived just over ten minutes after half-time. Pépé dribbled into the Leicester box in an Arsenal transition attack, and his ball across the goalmouth from a tight angle was eventually diverted into his own net by Christian Fuchs.
Arsenal’s lead made Leicester somewhat more aggressive but still did not really improve the flow of the game that much from an attacking point of view. There were no shots in the game for the proceeding fifteen minutes.
With just under twenty minutes left, both coaches deployed their first substitutes. Arteta brought on Willian for Nelson, and Rodgers brought on Denis Praet for Maddison. Ayoze Pérez, Dani Ceballos and Bellerín would also make appearances for their respective teams as the game drew towards its end.
The best chance for Leicester fell to Pérez from a set-piece, as he found himself free at the front post from a wide free-kick. He was unable to get the correct direction on his glancing header, missing the target.
Arsenal sealed their victory in the final minute, as substitute Bellerín picked up the ball near the corner of the penalty box and went on a short, skilful dribble past a couple of Leicester players before his ball across the box was eventually poked into the net by Nketiah, making the final scoreline 2-0 to Arsenal.
Arsenal did not light up the game but the ideas being implemented under Arteta were clear to see, as they have been in most of his games as manager. There were once again some interesting rotations in possession, and without the ball they looked compact and solid for the most part, forcing Leicester into quite a few long-range efforts.
Leicester made a full eleven changes from their league game at the weekend, so it is hard to read too much into the performance. As already mentioned, they were very reliant on two players for sparks of individual magic, such as James Maddison’s audacious dinked effort from outside the box in the first half which hit the post.
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