Match Analysis: Arsenal 2-1 Swansea City
Detailed tactical match analysis as Swansea City lose 2-1 at Arsenal, having gone in front midway through the first half when Abraham fed Clucas down the left before netting his first goal for the club.
Arsenal soon turned the game on its head in the second half though, needing just 6 minutes to score twice, as the Swans never ever looked like threatening Arsenal`s slim, but very safe one-goal lead.
No prizes for correctly predicting that head coach Paul Clement reverted to a 3-5-2 formation for the trip to the Emirates, as we implemented a very similar defensive game plan at Arsenal arch rivals Spurs, managing to gain a point in a 0-0 draw at Wembley.
However, it didn`t work this time around. The approach was simply far too negative to stop Arsenal for 90 minutes, who dominated the vast majority of the game, and had more than 80% possession during the opening 15 minutes of the second half, as their momentum grew after they got on the scoresheet.
Swansea`s defensive approach
The Swans were very defensive from the start, preferring to sit back in their own half, as opposed to pushing further forward and applying pressure on Arsenal`s back line.
Below, you can see both Swansea strikers sitting back just inside their own half, rather than applying pressure on Arsenal`s back three.
The Swans wanted to keep things compact through the middle, reduce the space in between their three lines - the space between defence and midfield, as well as between the midfield and two strikers.
They`ve previously been isolated when playing further forward, with their midfield team-mates operating a good 30+ yards behind them. Keeping a rather narrow and tight defensive shape made it easy for Arsenal to pass around and down the sides, but it made it very difficult for them to penetrate through the middle.
Below shows Swansea`s shape in their own defensive third, keeping two close lines and limiting the space. It also shows how they had their right side covered, unlike in the second half when their defensive organisation went to pieces.
Arsenal played more short-range passes in the first half, and didn`t really stretch the Swans or force players out of position. Rarely did they switch flanks as the Swans shifted back and for as and when they needed to to crowd out the opposition. This all changed in the second half.
Above, the Swans shift across to their right side where Arsenal are in possession, and the home side didn`t switch play often enough to find more space.
On the rare occasion that Arsenal did play a long, diagonal pass, Swansea were well positioned to clear the danger.
The Swans were so defensive at times that after less than 8 minutes into the game, they were already playing in a 7-2-1 defensive shape, as two midfielders drop into the backline, as shown below.
Above, Ki and Ayew now act as the midfield cover as Carroll and Fer drop deeper into the defensive line. You can`t really get any more negative than this so early on in the game. As you can imagine, the Swans had difficulty in attacking with no attacking outlet.
So it was a huge surprise then to see the Swans score the first goal, with what was their first attack on goal.
An Arsenal defender made a mistake as he failed to intercept a pass into Abraham, who did well to pick out Clucas` attacking run, who moved inwards on goal before firing the ball through Cech`s legs.
Having gone a goal up, you might have fancied that the Swans would get a confidence boost and push forward a little, but they simply carried on in their negative shape, inviting Arsenal to equalise.
Here`s a Swansea City through ball courtesy of Ki, we thought you might like it (we don`t see them very often!)
Ki was playing a deep-lying role against Arsenal, but it would be better to see him playing in a more attacking role, as he definitely has the ability to be a creative asset when on form.
Swansea`s big chance to double their lead came just before half time, when Ayew put pressure on Mertesacker at the back before gaining possession. Here, he tries to place the ball over the goalkeeper, frustratingly failing to pick out Abraham alongside him who would most definitely have scored into an empty net.
Second half changes
After a well-organised defensive performance in the first half, the second half saw the Swans fall apart in terms of defensive shape in the second. It was partly down to a tactical switch by Arsenal but you can excuse some of the failings at the back for the Swans.
The warning of Arsenal`s new threat and Swansea`s defensive problems can early in the second half, as they began to shift the ball long and across to the left flank. No longer did the Swans have good cover on their right, as Naughton was now up against Arsenal`s left wing back all by himself.
Arsenal`s equalising goal starts off on their right, with 7 Swansea players all trying to defend a small area as they get sucked in towards the ball. Fernandez and Mawson are treading on each other`s toes as the latter somehow fails to clear the ball when it`s right under him on the edge of the box.
The screenshot above also shows the problems at the back. Van der Hoorn is in the centre marking absolutely no one. Naughton, playing right wing back, who should always be safe enough to defend in a wide position, is far too central, leaving Arsenal`s left wing back unmarked behind him.
Included on the screenshot are Naughton and van der Hoorn`s ideal positions across the back.
The ball makes its way across the box and Arsenal`s left wing back is free to run and pick shot in the corner of the net.
Arsenal continue to benefit from playing with a more varied range of passes. The deep-lying playmaker was always unmarked to spray long diagonals out to the flanks, and the Swans didn`t have the defensive cover in wide areas that they had in the first half, as Naughton in particular struggled throughout the second half.
The Swans have cover on their left, but Ozil looks to switch the play over to the right where space opens up.
Below, with Fer slow to get back into his defensive position, Naughton is caught between two Arsenal players, as the home side continue to enjoy an advantage down that side.
Below, Naughton is again guilty of being too central. He doesn`t need to be this close to van der Hoorn, and as a wing back, he needs to be defending in a wider position. Like the Leicester game, this huge problem was never addressed from the sidelines and Arsenal really should have extended their lead beyond 2-1.
It was inevitable really that Arsenal would get a second goal from the left flank. Again, the ball gets played long over to the left, and Kolasinac is in plenty of space to pick out Ramsey who makes a free run into the box to score.
Swansea`s attacking problems
Other than an offside goal moments after Arsenal`s equaliser, we never ever looked like getting the scores level at 2-2. There was no creative potential in midfield, as they approached the middle third severely lacking options and ideas to go further forward.
Their defensive approach didn`t help either, with strikers very deep meaning there was no outball on the counter, while we saw the same old basic passing patterns amongst the midfielders and wing backs.
In the screenshot below, the arrows show the limited passes that we typically played when we had possession in the middle of the pitch. It was mainly the ball moving between Ki, Fer and Carroll, to the wing back and usually back to the defence.
Below shows an even worse scenario, with Fer in possession - in his own half, and nobody near him to receive the ball.