Arsenal v Manchester United (3-2): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

Arsenal v Manchester United (3-2): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

  • Tactics
  • January 28, 2023
  • No Comment

Arsenal welcomed the Red Devils to the Emirates in a game that rekindled some past rivalry and tested this Arsenal side’s credentials.

Arteta’s line-up did not surprise anyone. Lining up in a 4-3-3, it was Arsenal’s go-to set-up this season. Meanwhile, for United the absence of Casemiro meant McTominay came into the line-up. Lisandro Martinez also made the XI, partnering Varane in central defence and Antony joined Rashford and debutant Weghorst in attack.

Arsenal’s & Manchester United’s Starting XI’s

The game started off in rapid fashion. Arsenal soon rose into ascendency as their system and the players functioning in it were always a couple of steps ahead of their opposition. Arsenal’s build-up in a 2-3-5 with both FB’s inverting in the initial phases of build-up and later overlapping or underlapping as required by the movements of their respective left/right winger was the dominant trend over what United could do defensively.

Arsenal’s 2-3-5 build up and United’s Narrow 4-4-2 block

The passing network is a clear visualization of how much Zinchenko (Number 35) had inverted. Normally, Ben White would’ve done the same on the right too, but he had a red-hot Marcus Rashford to take care of on the defensive side of things, which made him stray a bit from his attacking role. It also shows how packed United tried to be in the center, leaving a one-on-one battle on the wings often.

Passing Networks of both Arsenal & Manchester United

United’s defensive structure was constantly forced to backpedal especially on the wings as Martinelli & Saka stayed wide or came inside, making marking them an extremely hard task. Although Wan-Bisakka managed to keep Martinelli relatively quiet to good measure 1v1, Shaw versus Saka was a matchup that Saka won over and over. McTominay often dropped into the backline, but couldn’t do anything much about the situation.

Saka’s runs from the wing forcing United’s defensive line further back

United could not muster up much in the first half offensively, although they were pretty good defensively. Arteta’s side dominated proceedings and created several opportunities at goal, but failed to hit the target.

Erik ten Hag’s side pressed with further care when against Saka during Arsenal’s build-up. Saka was constantly out-numbered on the right as Shaw, Rashford, and Eriksen often rallied around to defend against him. In fact, although Rashford’s goal was a brilliant piece of individual skill; that situation arose from the tactical press that was imposed on Arsenal’s English wonderkid.

United outnumbering Saka during Arsenal’s build-ups

Arsenal defended in mid/low block 4-4-2 but pressed high in a 4-2-3-1 / 4-1-4-1 structure without the ball. Neither teams pressed high intensely, but United were clearly lesser intense about their press; as shown by the PPDA(Passes per defensive action) count of Arsenal’s 10.4 to United’s 11.4 (Lower the value, more intense the press).

Arteta’s side are known for their rhythm, and sometimes it’s all about being a bit out of rhythm, or in football terms; ‘La Pausa’. Something which is well illustrated in Arsenal’s equalizer. Credit to Nketiah for finishing it off at the back stick but the awareness from Odegaard in the build-up to ignore the one-two that Zinchenko triggered to find the overlapping Xhaka was beautifully crafted.

Odegaard’s slowing down of the play, Xhaka’s overlap and Zinchenko’s one-two option

We have to talk about Arsenal’s midfield though. Especially the pivots.

Xhaka & Partey in midfield, are an exemplary pair. They did not put a foot wrong for the entirety of the game. Whether it was tactically, physically, or technically; the Swiss-Ghanaian pair came out on top.

As I pointed out earlier, Zinchenko inverting meant United would find space on the right with Antony sooner or later. Not under Partey’s watch though. His well-timed defensive actions from tackles, interceptions, and even fouls, foiled countless opportunities where United could have overloaded Arsenal’s left flank.

Arsenal’s 2-2-6 structure v Manchester United

On the same hand, another brilliant tactical ploy by Arteta was to let Xhaka join the attack as Zinchenko formed the pivot. This meant Arsenal always had at least the trio of Nketiah, Odegaard & Xhaka awaiting cut-backs or cross-ins from the flanks. This meant that Arsenal did attack at times in a 2-2-6 and this happened for periods of 5-6 minutes on the bounce.

Ten Hag’s response was to withdraw Antony for Fred which took off that one bit of transitional attacking threat for the Red Devils, which again played into the hands of Arsenal who only had Rashford and occasionally Weghorst, to cover defensively. The pressure was immense on United’s defence and it was only a matter of time before they crumbled.

Apart from Martinez’s goal which came out of nowhere, it was completely Arsenal dominating proceedings since Rashford’s opener. Whether in offense or defence, they were significantly better than United.

Arteta was aware of United’s direct nature and hence perfectly set up his offside trap which blunted 4 of United’s attacks. Accumulating an xG of 2.49, having 25 shots in comparison to United’s 0.29 xG from 6 shots, the goals were bound to come. 3-2 may seem like a close scoreline but this was a complete performance from the Gunners, barring a few momentary lapses and lack of luck.

Arsenal v Manchester United – Expected Goals & Expected Threat chart | from @markrstats on Twitter

Although, as impressive and dominant Arsenal were, it did take a 90th-minute winner from Nketiah to seal the three points for the Gunners. Call it grit, passion, or an ‘all for the crest attitude’; United had no right to stay in this game for as long they did.

And the fact that they did so is a testament to the mental resolve & progress that Erik ten Hag has brought in. Mentality alone does not win football matches nowadays though, and Arsenal were the far superior side in this clash. They were deserved winners, & are deserving league leaders.

In 2017-18, the eventual winners Man City had 55 points after 19 games and were declared Champions by April. It’s the end of January now and Arteta’s Arsenal are at 50 points after 19 played; surely putting them on course for the title. It is a revival of the Wenger years for the Gunners and it’s been some run & story so far.

Also read: Manchester United v Manchester City (2-1): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

Related post