Tactical analysis West Ham United Arsenal 1-3 Premier League

West Ham United – Arsenal: Rapid-fire Arsenal Comeback Sinks West Ham (1-3)

The Premier League served up a Monday night matchup between two sides in poor form. West Ham United, hovering a point above the relegation zone, would play host to Arsenal who were situated in the mid-table area of the table. The visitors came into the clash having only earned a point in their two fixtures following Unai Emery’s departure, despite the favourable opposition. This clash ended in a 3-1 victory for Arsenal but it was far from comfortable or as commanding a performance as the scoreline suggests.

Tactical analysis and match report by Julian Chingoma.

Manuel Pellegrini set up the home side in a 4-4-1-1 formation. David Martin was in goal with a four-men backline ahead of him. Ryan Fredericks and Aaron Cresswell were the fullbacks with Fabián Balbuena and Angelo Ogbonna being the central defenders. Mark Noble and Declan Rice formed the midfield pair sitting in between the wide players, Robert Snodgrass and Pablo Fornals. Felipe Anderson would then be in support of the man up front, Michail Antonio. Antonio’s inclusion in place of Sébastien Haller could point to a more counterattacking approach from Pellegrini.

Caretaker boss Freddie Ljungberg lined Arsenal up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The visitors had Bernd Leno protecting their goal with Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Calum Chambers, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Kieran Tierney forming the defensive line ahead of him. Granit Xhaka and Lucas Torreira were the double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. in midfield. Gabriel Martinelli and Nicolas Pépé were tasked with providing the threat out wide while Mesut Özil would operate in his usual advanced midfield position. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang would handle the lone striker duties.

Arsenal with the ball

From the first whistle, the dynamic of the game was immediately established. Arsenal would hold most of the ball, ending the game with 64 percent possession, while West Ham would sit back, looking to press and counter. West Ham would be in a 4-4-2 formation while defending and would employ a high press, mainly triggered when the ball was moved wide to the Arsenal fullbacks. This proved successful on various occasions throughout the game, where they either won a turnover or forced Arsenal to play it long.

When Arsenal were building up, they would advance at least one of their fullbacks, while Xhaka and Torreira would assist the remaining defenders to bring the ball out. Keeping one of their fullbacks deep with the central defenders may have been to mitigate the risk of a West Ham counter. This threat was evident as soon as the fifth minute when a counter had Anderson charging at Sokratis and Chambers with Antonio in support while the Arsenal midfielders and fullbacks struggled to recover. Luckily for the visitors, Antonio skied his effort after being picked out by Anderson.

Özil would often drop deep to contribute in the initial buildup before floating forward once more to find positions behind the West Ham midfield line. Özil would also drift out wide and it was in these areas that the away side began to find joy as the game wore on. On the left, Martinelli would shift more centrally, to form a sort of front two with Aubameyang, which allowed Tierney to push forward. Özil could then offer a connection to the central areas. Since Maitland-Niles played as the more conservative fullback, with Tierney and later on Sead Kolašinac, the wide play from the right hand side was predominantly the responsibility of Pépé. The Ivorian winger would constantly look to get past players and provide a spark on the right and he was certainly Arsenal’s biggest threat throughout.

The usual setup when Arsenal were in possession.

The usual setup when Arsenal were in possession.

West Ham with the ball

West Ham would build up their play similarly to their opponents with a focus on working the ball out wide. They would send Fredericks and Cresswell up the pitch in line with the midfield line. Of their double pivot, it was usually Rice who would drop to offer an option to Balbuena and Ogbonna while Noble would move to a more advanced position akin to that of Anderson. Fornals and Snodgrass would move out wide to stretch the Arsenal shape and were joined by the fullbacks out wide.

Long balls to Antonio were also frequently used as he would drop off slightly from the Arsenal center-backs. If one followed him this would open up runs in behind by Anderson, otherwise he would be free to bring it down and lay it off to a teammate.  Arsenal would defend in a similar fashion to the home side with their 4-4-2 / 4-4-1-1 shape. Their wingers would drop deep to flank the double pivot of Xhaka and Torreira while Özil would usually be next to Aubameyang. The visitors would usually be more conservative and allow the West Ham shape to move high up the pitch instead of pressing aggressively.

The positioning when West Ham were attacking.

The positioning when West Ham were attacking.

A slow start from both sides 

Before the opening goal in the 38th minute, both sides created very few chances besides the aforementioned Antonio miss. Özil had headed a tough opportunity over, although he may have been offside. Then Antonio did well turn inside the box but could only manage to shoot straight at Leno from a tight angle. Thus it was not a surprise that it was a goal originating from a set piece that separated the sides after a half of open play struggles. 

A Snodgrass corner was headed to Noble at the edge of the box, who shot tamely into the crowded box but Arsenal failed to deal with it. The ball made its way to Fornals who lifted it back towards danger. Ogbonna attacked the ball and diverted it towards goal with a deflection off Maitland-Niles taking the ball past Leno in goal.

Arsenal’s strong finishing turns the game around 

A goal flurry from Arsenal which lasted a total of about nine minutes from start to finish flipped and effectively ended the game. One could feel the hosts were hard done by in this period, considering Arsenal ended the game with 1.75 expected goals, The amount of goals a team is expected to score based on the quality of the shots they take. yet grabbed three goals in the blink of an eye. In addition to that, West Ham began to look more threatening in the lead up to the equalizer. They forced Arsenal into some errors with the ball at the back but failed to capitalize these opportunities. 

Then against the run of play, Arsenal bounced back. While Torreira was on the ball in too much space in midfield, Martinelli drifted centrally which vacated the space for Kolašinac, who came on for the injured Tierney, to run into as Fredericks followed Martinelli inwards. The ball was played to him and he delivered a great ball into the box for Martinelli, who had slowed his run, to place into the bottom corner.

At this point, Arsenal’s tails were up and they began to show their extra quality on the ball. The visitors then grabbed the lead in the 66th minute after some quick play to get Pépé one-versus-one against Arthur Masuaku, who had been introduced for Cresswell. The Arsenal winger did expertly to cut onto his favored left foot and curl the ball into the top corner past Martin. 

Two minutes later Arsenal had their third goal. A stretched West Ham shape allowed the necessary gaps for Arsenal to quickly move the ball vertically and have Özil running at a backpedalling West Ham backline. He somehow found Aubameyang who then backheeled the ball to Pépé in an almost identical spot from where he scored, faced up against Masuaku again. This time he delivered a looping ball to Aubameyang who lost his marker and the Gabonese striker duly volleyed it home as he fell back. From this point on, Arsenal took a stranglehold on proceedings, retaining possession for significant chunks, creating a few more scoring opportunities while restricting to low-quality opportunities of their own.


West Ham will be severely disappointed in the manner with which they lost the game, failing to remain organized during a chaotic period of less than ten minutes. After having grabbed the lead it is difficult not to look negatively at their organization thereafter, which allowed too much space for their opponents. 

Arsenal, on the other hand, did not impress with their overall performance, but at least showed a glimpse of the attacking quality that the squad possesses. They now move on to face Standard Liège in the Europa League while West Ham go away to fellow strugglers Southampton in the next set of Premier League games.

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