In-depth Tactical and Performance Analysis of Arsenal vs Olympiakos

Tactical and performance analysis – the long read by Sean M

Fellow Gooners,

Like many of you, I’m feeling particularly deflated today. After a few months of what has felt like progress, yesterday’s loss has left a strong, bitter taste, and those impossibly lofty ambitions we all had at the start of the season feel like they’re fading from the realms of possibility. And so, what’s the remedy for such a feeling? An unnecessarily deep inspection of what went wrong, of course. So here is my In-depth Tactical and Performance Analysis of Last night’s game.

Defence

The cracks that MA’s tactical nous has recently been papering over were exposed yesterday. Hector Bellerin is not just ‘lacking match fitness’ but has been shorn of the few attributes that allowed him to not look too out-of-place in recent years. Not only has his pace withered, but his self-confidence is shot. He dithers, makes bad decisions in tight areas, offers Pepe little support going forward, and can neither pass or cross to an acceptable standard. Going forward, Pepe is often outnumbered, and coming back, Bellerin has little support from the winger, which, as he’s already a bang average defender, means he is beaten for fun by any winger with a decent turn of pace.

David Luiz, as we all know, just isn’t consistent enough and doesn’t really think like a defender. His distribution is either fantastic or way off, most often the latter, and I don’t think I need to talk about his decision-making at the back.

While Saka is given the freedom to bomb forward, Bellerin isn’t offered the same cover by the RCM (Ceballos/Torreira), which leaves the right side of defence as a huge weakness that was exposed yesterday and especially by Saint-Maxim. On the plus side, the CBs aren’t exposed as much as they were under Emery meaning we seldom see those breaks through the centre that caused so much sphincter-tightening. The rejuvenation of Mustafi has, of course, also been a huge positive. His positioning is excellent; he has been mercurial in the air. Watching the highlights of the Everton came really brought home how excellent a defender he can be. It’s nice to know that we only need one solid centre back in the summer.

Midfield

Let’s start with Xhaka. In any performance analysis, his weaknesses have been much-discussed, especially during the fan stand-off, but to recap: a lack of mobility, an inability to press without giving away cheap fouls, generally poor discipline and zero penetration and a preoccupation with sideways and backwards passing. I mention these again because, in Arteta’s tactical set-up, Xhaka is irreplaceable. No other defender can be groomed for the CM cum LB spot with a special focus on distribution. What this means is that the other CM is always withdrawn in order to maintain the extra threat down the left and defensive balance.

But in a game like yesterday’s, where the opposition sit deep, it would be useful to formulate a plan B that would sacrifice Xhaka’s role instead of the creative/driving component of the squad. I hope we can all understand that MA is only able to maximise the quality of the squad he has at his disposal, but we’ll all be watching carefully in the summer to see how new recruits can shift the balance and bring a bit more energy to the centre.

On another note, as the commentator mentioned yesterday, Arsenal adopted the slow, immobile pace of play that Olympiakos set. Something we all noticed towards the end of Unai’s reign was the lack of movement up top, along with a lack of imagination in the centre of midfield. Yesterday’s game demonstrated that when you have someone like Xhaka in the centre setting a slow tempo, the rest of the team adopt the same flow. Any one player darting around making space learns quickly that he will never be rewarded and will instead see the ball head back towards the keeper. Without a good pair of tempo-setters, the rot sets in and we become very easy to play against.

Whether you have Ceballos, Guendouzi or Torreira pairing Xhaka, the lack of (or inability to make) risky passes severely diminishes the capacity of the more creative and proactive midfield players to attack with any real potency. In a sense, improving one area (the defence) has come at the cost of damaging another (CM).

Couple this effect with Ozil’s one-dimensional style of play and the midfield become predictably blunt. In the modern game, where defences are compact and organised, creative midfielders need to both create space and find the perfect pass, a combination of attributes best embodied by de Bruyne or perhaps Utd’s Bruno Fernandes. Ozil has become less consistent with his passing accuracy and doesn’t seem to be able to make space like he used to. He has always had enormous quality, but also lacks the mental fortitude to fight until the last minutes (or fifth). In an ideal world, he would still be a great squad player, but looking at his performance analysis when he’s played week in week out, teams find it very easy to prepare for his style of play.

Attack

As previously mentioned, the lack of movement up top characterised the Arsenal of this season. Especially last night, Laca held an incredibly small area of movement, which I suspect was an instruction. His job was to occupy the CBs to create room for Ozil and Ceballos, but as Olympiakos played so deep, he cut an isolated figure and was barely visible. We’ve seen this happen far too often this season. He’s a great poacher but he doesn’t do enough (or, to give him some credit, isn’t asked to do enough) to justify his place on the field. Set aside his lack of goal-scoring sharpness, having such a one-dimensional, static role makes life far too easy for the defence. Either a false nine, or a regular position-swapping with the forwards (or, Christ, any kind of dynamism) would surely offer more of a threat.

While Aubameyang doesn’t need much of a performance analysis – he has led by example and almost single-handedly kept us fighting for a European spot – Pepe deserves a mention. What we saw yesterday, and have started seeing more and more, is a player that is finally taking risks. He was beating his man for fun yesterday and, unlike the rest of the team, gave the backline something to think about, forced other players to double and triple team him, which is an incredibly important attribute to have, as long as there is support from RB, CM and CF, which, alas, there wasn’t yesterday. In the end, he had an average game; his passing was hit-and-miss, shooting wild and crossing inconsistent; he also still has a lot to work on defensively, but in Pepe we have a young player with excellent raw attributes who can create spaces, finish and cross. That said, hearing him speak and seeing his body language, I am often concerned about his attitude. He lacks the hard-working eagerness that, for example, we can all see in Martinelli. He needs to know that he needs to improve, and I hope MA can instil that in him.

In general, the attack looked tired and out of ideas. MA needs to work on how to deal with such situations much better than he has been, because if it’s as simple as sitting back, absorbing pressure, then countering quickly against a nervy defence, we will be far too easy to play against.

Overall, I think Arteta made a mistake with the team selection. We needed vibrancy and energy last night and he admitted after Everton that the (first) team was exhausted. However, the team lacks depth and the risks of rotation understandably forced MA’s hand. Perhaps if we’d made 5 changes and lost, fans would direct their anger towards him rather than the players (in many ways it’s a shame that fans, whose experience of football management can be calculated in terms of FIFA hours, have such loud voices). I hope others agree that that I think we really have something special in Arteta; he’s a natural leader, a world class coach and possesses great tactical depth.

It goes without saying that we are at the very beginning of a complete rebuild. We need, at a bare minimum, a CB, RB, CM and AM. The CM needs to be a strong box-to-box player with good technical abilities. The AM needs to offer both pace, vision and a strong shot; he needs to operate throughout the final third with inimitable energy, but importantly, needs the support of the front three and a CM to play one-twos and unlock the Premier League’s stubborn defences. The CB (hopefully like Saliba) needs to be strong, quick and, essentially, be comfortable carrying the ball out. For all of Mustafi’s strengths, he is unable to take advantage of opposition attempts to cut passing channels by breaking into space and launching an attack.

So, here’s my proposed discussion. Apart from disagreements with the above performance analysis, what should the role of the more defensive CM and lone striker be? Would Torreira be sufficient for the former? Henderson is no great player but provides the cover that gives the space and freedom needed for Pool’s attacking creativity. Would a false nine allow for midfielders to combine better and suck central defenders out to give space to inverted wingers?

NB I would add, with the utmost respect, that as much as it is frustrating to see our team put in a sub-par performance, let’s try to keep our criticism constructive. This is no time to attack our own team, but one to club together, as fans and as a collective, and debate how the team can improve moving forward. This means no talk about players leaving, no talk of players you wish to be sold. Negativity helps nobody so, as hard as it is, let’s keep smiling and keep fighting to regain our place among the world’s elite.

Sean M

19 Comments

  1. Reggie says:

    We moaned about the pace of play and passive play at the end of wengers reign. We moaned about the slow build up and pace of play with Emery. I thought that the pace we moved the ball under Arteta would be quicker and more positive. I know Guardiola likes players to play the ball quicker and to get it forward as fast as you can. I know we haven’t players like Guardiola but surely Arteta must demand a style of play that doesn’t facilitate 80% of our passes going sideways or backwards at walking pace. Our football has be be more progressive, last night it took something like 75 minutes to get the first shot on target, thats awful.

    1. patH says:

      Henderson is not a great player. Its funny that he is Klopps and Southgate’s first name on the team sheet. He is certainly better than anyone we have at Arsenal. I just wonder where we would get anyone like him, who is the captain and driving force at Liverpool for less than £50 million. That’s assuming they would be available and come to Arsenal.

      1. arie82 says:

        Henderson is average, it was fabinho who make he seem great.
        Xhaka, gundouzi, ceballos easly can replace him in liverpool line up.
        What we need is fabinho type players

        1. RSH says:

          He’s not average clearly since he’s is playing in a side that has only dropped points once this season. You dont have any passengers in a side that does that. I can name 5 passengers in our squad easily and many of them make our XI.

  2. Shakir says:

    First of all it was a very good defensibe performance from olmpiakos .But we had good chances to win the game but unfortunately we couldnt.
    Talking about our performance,there was lack of movement from the forward players.And our midfield specially ceballos couldnt find those penetrating passes that he usually does.Ozil had some good moments but he was in and out of the game.The biggest area of concern for the team yesterxay was the defence.Bellerin cant play that inverted role.Luiz positioning is terrible and he cant mark.Saka is not a left back and his contribution defensively needs to improve thats why i always say that a natural player like tierney is the best in that position.Mustafi was the MOTM yesterday,did nothing wrong and he actually saved us quite a few times yesterday.Leno is not good with the ball.Its his error that lead to the corner which ended in the 2nd goal.

    I thi k Mari needs to replace luiz soon in the CB position.His height is a huge advantage in set pieces.And i think AMN should return to RB because he seemed good in the inverted role.

    The defeat hurts but thats how life is,whatever happens we move on

    COYG

  3. Phil says:

    Sean-a good effort in writing that analysis mate.My take is that 4 games in 11 days played a big part in the performance.I have this afternoon watched the game again, after being at the Emirates last night, and I honestly don’t believe the result was because of a lack of effort from any player.But what was more than obvious is what is being continually said by most, and that is the slow build up and transition in our play. We have phenomenol pace in Auba and Pepe in attack and good pace in Bellerin and Saka from out wide.But when did we ever really use this last night? Credit Olympiakos for getting their defensive set-up right but with the slow, methodical build up in our attacks we played into their hands.
    MA4 made mistakes last night, but he is still a novice in management and we must accept his learning process as a price we must pay.He has got an awfull lot more right than wrong since he has been here so we should be gratefull for that and support him to get us over the line for a EL spot as a minimum. He has made some very ordinary players look better than they are, but was let down by them last night. The Portsmouth game now becomes a must win and to do this he needs to have both Holding and Mari as CB’s and go with everyone else who played last night, with Martinelli in place of Lacazette and Auba as CF. The FA Cup is always a winnable trophy and we should treat the competition with the respect it deserves. A good win Monday and we will soon forget last night and with a favourable draw ( Spuds at the WC Bowl for me ) and we can still have a season to allow MA4 to build on

    1. Sean M says:

      Ta Phil.

      Spot on. Plan B for when pace is nullified by a deep backline needed.

      1. A J says:

        Hi Sean M.

        Alternative went by the name of “Olivier Giroud “.

        And half of our lot spent their lives moaning about him !!!!!

  4. Tom says:

    I think this topic of tactical and performance review of arsenal is best noted with not an isolated game but as a review of their level of performances and tactical awareness during a season.

    Arsenal 9 times out of 10 at home win this game. But we lost. The reason for this? Arsenal currently cannot maintain the levels required week in week out.

    If you review barcelona at their peak, liverpool this season, city the 100pt season. What is common is the level of performance we see week in week out.

    In this article basically what is being said is that performances are not consistent. And they are not.

    The method of play, the slow build up is common when you have 3 slow central midfielders. For me this is an area where we need to be at our very strongest.
    But it’s also down to the players we have who are starters that cant play 90 mins week in week out.

    Forward options are brilliant. Defence has Tierney Saliba Paolo Cedric (that’s a whole new bk line 🤔) all to join so we can reserve
    What we should do/or what will happen here.
    But our midfield is not dynamic.

    There is laters to resolve. Defence we need confidence with the new personal options coming in. We need individuals who will stand up and performance like how Mane VVD De Buyrne does for their teams…

    One note I will add. We will be saddened frustrated and angry at what we feel we have seen from arsenal in the last 5 years.
    But this year, with our 3rd manager in a season (i cant recall the last time Arsenal FC in their history had such a situation), the drama of old, kos ozil robbery, xhaka telling fans to F*#k off, ozil will he wont he play drama…

    It’s been an eventful year. Arsenal for years have been the target of abuse from angered fans who saw us dominate with arrogance. We knew we were good.
    It’s a legend of old that is burdening the current management and players.

    They need to be free from it, but only by making the harsh changes required to get the standards we need week in week out

    1. Sean M says:

      Agreed. Arteta will earn his money this summer by shipping out some of the old guard and having the balls to basically start from scratch.

  5. ken1945 says:

    What an excellent article to read and digest Sean M, so many well made points, that are hard to argue with, based on last nights performance especially.
    Breaking down each area also gave me time to see what you were getting at and the defensive issue regarding Bellerin was interesting.
    I’m not sure I agree with you 100% on his current performances, especially with the chelsea equalizer in mind – also he does not get any real support from pepe tracking back, as was the case for AMN when those two were playing together.
    Luiz and Soks are at the twilight of their careers and I believe that the club have addressed that with Salibas and Mari as better replacements.
    So Bellerin/Soares and Tierney/Kolasinac make up a much better defence (on paper at least) with Mustafi, Chamber, Holding and Mavropanos also in the wings.

    Midfield and Xhaka just doesn’t seem to inspire anything at all and I’m hoping AMN will be given a chance to prove his worth, maybe Monday night alongside Torreira.
    Why the latter is not getting more games mystifies me, when you see how he plays.
    On to Ozil and Cebs – two players who should be able to open any defence, but last night I was so disappointed with both of them. With Cebs going home at the end of the season and Ozil’s agent saying today that he will see out his contract no matter what, MA has a lot to think about here and it could give Willock, Nelson or (my favourite) Smith Rowe chances for next season and I’m deliberately not mentioning Guendouzi!!

    Up front, we must keep Auba, sign Saka, Nketiah and Martinelli on long term contracts – not totally convinced with Pepe and Lacs, for me, has failed to deliver, to the detriment of Auba being pushed out to the wing.

    As Reggie correctly pointed out, last night was so tedious and boring and we really do have the players to correct the type of play that we have seen for the last three and a half years at least. Two months is hardly a reasonable amount of time to be given, but he has worked wonders.
    I still believe MA is the right man and it will be interesting to see what happens this summer, both in’s and out’s and what playing style he adopts from this.

    Your excellent article has brought sanity back after last nights woeful performance and I hope my response isn’t to long winded for some…looking forward to certain bloggers doing the same.

    1. Sean M says:

      Good on you for getting through the whole thing and kinds word appreciated.

      I hear you on Hector. My concern is that the issue seems to be mental rather than physical. He has fear now. When this kind of mindset inflicts itself, it is that much harder fix than a physical issue. Jury is certainly not out, especially if Cedric can make an impression. It’s just a red flag area for me right now. And that’s based on all games he’s been back.

      On the midfield, one mistake fans, including myself, have made is not appreciating that having a team of academy graduates as back up isn’t enough. Willock has really struggled and I’d say probably needs time away like ESR and Mav to gain some confidence at the top level. So, while I’m all for giving these lads chances, we can’t just hope that they’ll suddenly be of the standard we need. MA sees these kids every day in training and I’d imagine knows how ready they are.

      Agreed on the rest 😉

  6. Mogunna says:

    Arteta is not a coach but a great assistant coach with duty to prepare team mentally and physically for games.

    When it comes to pick team and define tac tic, we can see a real lack and how his wrong choices affect results.

    Guardiola was in charge of that important part.

  7. Goonster says:

    I think our pampered average squad needs another short no expenses spared holiday away in Dubai.
    Smh

    1. Mogunna says:

      I hear you Goonster. In that Yatch for great position we been!

      That Kroenke management making sure to see us all in stadium as a happy family, with our Captain Mikel!

      No experience at all as a first coach he should be acquiring elsewhere or at least with U23 team.

      A football figure Zidane did just that, losing games with la castia Real reserve, learning, experimenting, assisting top coach before to take first team!

  8. Craig says:

    What a great article.

  9. Grandad says:

    A very interesting, well reasoned article Sean.I agree with the weaknesses you highlight and the need to bring in quality replacements .However before he starts to regenerate the vital midfield area MA must decide on his preferred system and acquire players to suit.Liverpool and now Man City seem to play with a DM plus 2 B to B where Henderson has mainly been deployed. Rodri and Fabinho slot in beside their CBS and are powerful tools to have at set pieces.Sadly I do not feel Torreria is physically equipped to be an effective DM in the EPL nor do I see a role for Xhaka in a high energy, lacey midfield.Of course MA is obliged to work with the players at his disposal and the defeat yesterday is not a reflection on his inexperience as a Manager but the lack of quality of our squad.

  10. Sylvester says:

    I won’t sneer at MA, the players are way below average. They are playing at their best now and no likelihood of improvement even if they were to be managed by Klopp and Pep. I can’t wait for a summer clear out

  11. ZA mind says:

    Hector Bellerine is a good player. The problem is his mate on the right side- Pepe. While Auba will run himself wet trying to assist Saka on the left, Pepe does nothing, he will just run in the lines as the ball is passed beyond him. He never challenges hi ball, standing behind an opposing defender always.

    Regarding the loss to olympiakos, I was perplexed we still play back passes just like the days of Unai.
    There was absolutely no need for the back pass that led to a corner and eventually a goal shortly afterwards.

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