Tactical Analysis: Arsenal vs. Watford

Tactical Analysis: Arsenal vs. Watford: Unbalanced Pivots; Wrong Decisions.

In a night where the title race was set to take another momentous turn, Arsenal responded in the most diabolical fashion ever. The Gunners hosted Watford at home while league leaders Chelsea made a daunting trip to Anfield. Four days before their top of the table clash on Saturday, Arsenal had the opportunity to heap the pressure on Conte's men. What stood in their way was a Watford team who had just been knocked out the FA Cup by Millwall. Also, a Watford team that hadn't won in their last 7 games. Surely this would equate to an easy Arsenal win? Wrong.

After disposing of Southampton so comfortably on the weekend, Wenger rewarded his players by making several changes. Out went star performers in Walcott, Welbeck, Chamberlain, Maitland-Niles, Gibbs and Lucas Pérez and in came those who had been rested. For Watford, they welcomed to the starting XI new loan signing, M'Baye Niang.

Arsenal Watford Line up

4-2-3-1 vs. 4-5-1


1st half) Abject, disrupted & passive:

This may have been Arsenal's worst first half performance at the Emirates in Premier League history; they were pathetically inadequate. The eleven players on the pitch performed like they had never seen each other before, there was no chemistry or balance present. Watford who had a day's less rest than the Gunners looked the more energised of the two. They were first to every loose ball, winning every single 50-50 and Arsenal couldn't cope. After 13 minutes the Gunners were 2-0 down and void of answers. Passes weren't connecting in attack and gaps weren't being filled in defence. After securing a two-goal lead Watford began to sit back and restrict Arsenal of space.

Arsenal Watford banks of four

Watford defending in two banks of four with Niang pressing the full-backs.

Arsenal's midfield balance was laughable, Ramsey & Coquelin, as they've shown on many occasions, don't work together. Neither of the two can dictate from deep like Xhaka or Cazorla. Ramsey is a box-to-box player who can high press and make 3rd man runs into the box. While Coquelin is a destroyer that presses aggressively in the middle to break up play. The dictating play is in neither of their skill sets, neither of them are good in tight spaces to avoid presses. Watford pressed Arsenal high up the pitch and the dysfunctional MF pivot didn't have the tactical nous to drop deep and help Mustafi & Koscielny build from the back.

Arsenal Watford Build up

Coquelin & Ramsey positioning themselves in places where they can't help build up play.

Things only seemed to go from bad to worse for Arsenal when Ox came on for an injured Ramsey in the 20th minute. However, the Ox showed Arsenal fans what they'd been missing for the previous 20. Perhaps now is the time for Wenger to finally recognise the Ox as a legit first team CM. The 23-year old has all the assets to thrive in the middle;

  • The physique to win 50-50s.
  • Close control to wriggle out of tight spaces.
  • Pass selection to build up play.
  • Pace to track back & cover space.
  • Explosive acceleration to beat a press.

In a club that has five CMs, it's funny that a player that's spent most his life on the wing, may be Wenger's answer to a midfield crisis. Arsenal have so many midfielders but not enough competent pairings.

2nd half) Increased intensity with poor balance:

In the second half, Arsenal actually turned up. Theo Walcott came on for Giroud, which moved Alexis central and Iwobi to the left. Sánchez's movement and influence is far better through the middle, he's become too predictable on the left. The Chilean was dispossessed five times in the first half with a 65% pass accuracy due to his predictability. However through the middle, he was linking up well with others and Iwobi was involved in more 1v1 dribbling, his specialty.

From Iwobi's 58th minute header it was back to the walls time for Watford, who then reverted to a back five. Arsenal were flowing again, and their fluid combination play had returned. The balance had been temporarily restored until Wegner decided to bring on Pérez for Coquelin. With that sub, the attacking balance and sustained width fell to pieces. Iwobi was moved to CM where he looked awkward and Pérez spent most of the time up front, with Alexis back on the left.

Perez and Alexis

Lucas Pérez playing through the middle with Alexis pushed out wide.

It was just a bizarre decision to move the most dangerous player on the pitch to somewhere he wasn't comfortable. After that substitution Arsenal became way too narrow and Watford's back 5 enjoyed the congested nature of play. As the last 20 minutes of the match dragged by so did Arsenal's fading title challenge. The final whistle was greeted with raucous boos and cries for 'Wenger Out', the revolution is upon us.

Arsenal watford back five

Watford's back 5 seeing out the game.

In the same night Chelsea dropped points, they somehow managed to gain a point over Arsenal. Gunners fans will be livid that another chance to close the gap at the top has been wasted. Instead, the Gunners will be now looking over their shoulders with their place in the top 4 at stake. For Watford, they've now recorded their first win in seven games moving them up to 13th in the league, 8 points clear of the relegation zone.

About the Author Mathaeus Abuwa

Arsenal fan with a soft spot for Pascal Cygan.

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