In this round of Premier League fixtures, Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal took on Daniel Farke’s Norwich. It was a game that was important for both teams as Arsenal needed points if they wanted to push for a Europa League place. Whereas Norwich desperately needed points if they wanted to avoid playing Championship football next season.
Nevertheless, it was Arsenal that came away with a comprehensive 4-0 win at the Emirates as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was able to become the fastest Arsenal player to 50 Premier League goals. It took the forward 79 games beating Thierry Henry’s record of 83. This tactical analysis will explore the reasons why Arteta’s tactics were able to win the game. The analysis will also see what tactics Norwich used and how it changed during the match.
With David Luiz back in the squad, Arsenal had the option of a ball-playing centre back this enabled Arteta to go with a 3-4-3 as Luiz can control the play from a deep central position. It is clear from the formation that Arsenal wants to target the width as with only two midfielders in Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos they have two players that are comfortable collecting the ball in the middle and quickly rotating it across the pitch. As Arsenal are playing with wing-backs they are there to provide the width so that the three forwards can operate in a more central for the wide players to target.
Norwich also makes a slight change to their normal system as they moved to a 4-1-4-1 from their normal 4-2-3-1. This was selected to put pressure on Arsenal’s midfielders as it moves one midfielder forward to match Arsenal in the middle, while still playing a defensive midfielder.
Norwich middle block
From the early stages of the game, it is clear that Norwich wanted to try and control the game in the centre of the pitch. They would do this by setting up a flat block in the middle of the pitch. As the example shows Norwich’s four midfielders will sit in a high position so they are close to Arsenal’s midfield, notice how they move laterally across the pitch as a unit meaning that Todd Cantwell is close to Héctor Bellerín when the ball goes to Arsenal’s right, however, on the opposite side Emiliano Buendía is not tight to Kieran Tierney this is to keep a compact formation when the ball is moved in this direction forcing Arsenal to play wide. In a similar way, Tom Trybull will sit in-between the lines to cover any central movement from forwards in particular from Alexandre Lacazette who is playing as the central striker.
As the image also shows part of Norwich’s set up is that the midfield are wider than the defence. This is to adjust for Arsenal’s three attackers who want to opera in a more central area. This is particularly because of Aubameyang who is better in a central position but also wants to drive inside onto his favoured right foot.
To be particularly effective at forcing Arsenal wide it meant putting pressure on Arsenal midfield when they looked to go through the middle, this meant that Norwich would have to remain disciplined to keep their shape and only press when Arsenal wanted to go centrally. Therefore the press would often only happen when an Arsenal midfielder looks to turn on the ball. This is what happens to Xhaka in this example; as soon as he is looking to turn he is meet by the Norwich press causing the midfielder to lose the ball. Xhaka is lucky on this particular occasion as the tackle bounces back to an Arsenal defender meaning Norwich cannot counter-attack.
As the analysis has mentioned Norwich want Arsenal to play down the sides, however, this is exactly how Arsenal are wanting to play as they want to get their full-backs down the side as much as possible in order to get the ball into the box for Arsenal’s forwards. They are aware of Norwich press and it is a clear tactic that whenever Arsenals midfield is on the ball to move the ball wide or back around the defence as quickly as possible. They will do this by taking a few touches on the ball but immediately looking for the wide pass, this could either be a switch of play or a pass down the line. As shown in the image below, Ceballos has picked the ball up in the middle and immediately looks for the run of Bellerín. As the wing-back is one vs one against Cantwell, Ceballos is able to split the defence with a simple pass.
As the half went on Arsenal were on a more regular basis enable to get the ball wide and into dangerous positions for crosses into the box. Then after an error from Tim Krul that gifted Arsenal the lead it gave the Gunners the confidence to kick on and only four minutes later they double the lead.
Unsurprisingly the second goal came from Arsenal playing the ball out wide. This time it came from a long ball from Luiz to Kieran Tierney, at the same time Aubameyang makes a run out wide to drag the defence out of position, this movement enables Xhaka to have space in the middle where he is able to double Arsenal lead.
Daniel Farke narrow structure is designed so that Norwich stop Arsenal playing through the middle, however, it is also how Norwich want to build attacks of their own in fact 88% of their attacks where centrally. The problem they found, was actually building attacks especially with only 35% possession in the first half, this was mainly because of Arsenal high defensive system.
As the image below shows Arsenal have five players in Norwich’s half all spread out in order to cover the pitch. The most important players to notice is Lacazette and the two midfielders, this is because they are all tight to the Norwich midfield. Arsenal is aware that Norwich wants to play through the middle and have therefore made the tactical decision to stay close to the Norwich midfield so they are not passing options. Norwich can be dangerous if they are able to get the ball into the final third as the movement off the ball can stretch the defence, therefore to avoid this Arsenal have committed to sitting higher up the pitch in order to force Norwich long. This was effective in the first half as Norwich struggled to find the pass in the middle and therefore had to go long.
It was evident that tactically it wasn’t working for Norwich as they could not get forward and looked vulnerable at the back. As a result, Farke changed back to the 4-2-3-1 they have been using for most of the season. This worked for the first fifteen minutes as their expected goals rose from 0.14 in the first half to 0.35. As the image below shows, this is because they had an extra midfielder in a deeper position giving the defence another passing option on the ball, as a result, they were able to build attacks.
Arsenal punish mistakes
The change in structure did mean that Norwich had more of the ball in the second half, however, once Arteta made the tactical decision to push Ceballos further up the pitch onto the unmarked defensive midfielder it meant that Arsenal could regain control of the game. The tactical change also meant that the gunners were pressing higher up the pitch. This is what leads to the third goal.
As the image below shows Arsenal have committed players forward to keep Norwich back. They have also shifted players across the pitch to keep them pinned in the corner, as Norwich want to try and play their way out of this situation, and have been able to because of the two defensive midfielders. Nevertheless, because of Ceballos higher position, it means the pass inside is not available meaning Josip Drmić tries the pass back to the centre-back, however, this is an awful pass and puts Aubameyang in, where he is able to put the game beyond Norwich. After the goal Arsenal were able to control the game and play it at their own tempo and were rewarded with a fourth in the 81st minute which was a fine strike from Cédric Soares after a poorly cleared corner.
To conclude this tactical analysis it is clear that Arsenal was too much for Norwich as Arteta tactically got it right in this game. It is is an important win for the gunners making it three in a row in all competitions, Arteta will be pleased with this turnaround after losing the first two games of the restart, however, he will be aware there are still areas that his side needs to improve if they want to play European football next season. As for Norwich, it is another devastating blow in their hunt for survival with only six games left they find themselves seven points from safety showing the size of the task they have if they want to survive.