Tactical Analysis: West Brom vs. Arsenal

Tactical Analysis: West Brom vs Arsenal: Back 6, zonal marking & Disorganised build-up.

After cooling dispatching of Lincoln City 5-0 last weekend, the Gunners looked to return to winning ways in the league with a trip to the Hawthorns. Having lost three out of their last four league games, both Wenger and the fans were expecting a strong response from the players. What stood in their way was a West Brom team that had just suffered back to back defeats.

Regardless, the East Midlands side found themselves sitting pretty in 8th position, four points clear of the nearest competitor. Arsenal, however, were not so comfortable in terms of table positions.

The Gunners sit an agonisingly five points fourth-placed Liverpool, however, this game against West Brom was one of the two games in hand Wenger's men had.

Arsène Wenger responded to the high-pressure situation by making two changes from the team that won last Saturday. Danny Welbeck and Nacho Monreal came into the side to replace Olivier Giroud and Kieran Gibbs. Mesut Özil missed the game with a slight hamstring injury. West Brom also made two changes by bringing in Chris Brunt and Salomón Rondon.

WBA vs Arsenal Lineup

4-3-3 vs. a deep 4-5-1


Lack of Tactical Identity

Arsenal looked completely discombobulated without the ball, the players couldn't decide whether to press or sit back. In the end, West Brom made the decision for them due to their incredibly deep shape. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey also couldn't decide what side of the pitch to be positioned in, the two kept switching to no avail or effect.

In build up the players were just as poor. Even though Granit Xhaka has proved he possesses a great passing range, the Swiss international was off the pace today in a game where the Gunners really needed him. One of his flaw's is that he doesn't seem to know where he's passing to before he gets the ball. The great dictating holding midfielders of the past always performed that one quick glance before receiving the ball so they knew exactly what they were going to do before the ball reached their feet. Granit Xhaka doesn't do that. And against low-block teams like West Brom, you need to be two steps ahead of the pace to exploit any holes that may appear.

WBA vs Arsenal Back six

West Brom sitting in a deep low-block

This is why a Santi Cazorla or Jack Wilshere is dearly missed, both these midfielders have the ability to unlock defences with not only their passing but with their close dribbling control, something Xhaka doesn't have in his Arsenal. Regardless of personnel, the team just don't seem to have any pattern to their play, there's no systematic flow to their passing or movement. The team just seek to rely on individual moments of brilliance from Alexis Sánchez, but that's not always enough.

Zonal Marking vs. Aerial Dominance

Most teams know that Arsène Wenger is a stern believer in the zonal marking system. The Frenchman believes that this type of organisation helps his team cover all the necessary zones of the penalty box. The system doesn't track runners or man-mark players, it demands the Arsenal players to deal with anything that comes into their zone. West Brom completely exposed how futile a system this is with the wrong application.

WBa vs Arsenal : zonal marking

Arsenal's preparing their zonal system for a corner.

Pulisball against an unorganised Arsenal defence was always going to be a mismatch. Two of the three goals Arsenal conceded at the Hawthorns were from set pieces and Arsenal never looked like stopping them. Albion simply overloaded & overpowered Arsenal's marking system, leading to two soft goals. Wenger should have known this was coming, the Baggies are a team that have scored the most goals from set-pieces in the Premier League. Tony Pulis' men have now bagged 18 goals from set pieces this season.

West Brom's Lower than Low-Block

Tony Pulis, aka Jose Mourinho's disciples, has always been notorious for deploying negative tactics. Pulis has made a habit of setting up his teams in a defensive manner with two banks of four with two men pressing up front. Against Arsenal, he re-enforced this format with the aid of his wingers. At first, Nacer Chadli wasn't tracking back like should and that allowed Monreal to double up on Dawson leading to Sánchez's goal. After that Pulis clearly got the word around and the Baggies basically played with a back 6.

Average player position

Average position of the West Brom players, full-backs are level with the wingers. (Credit: StatsZone).

With six at the back, defensive midfielders Darren Fletcher, Jake Livermore and Chris Brunt sat in the middle to cut off passing lanes to the forward three. This left Salomón Rondon on his own up front to press the centre-backs. These negative tactics helped West Brom deny the Arsenal players of any space and time on the ball. The direct counter-attacking approach, funnily enough, led to the Baggies creating more chances than Arsenal, despite only having 23% possession.

All in all, the 3-1 defeat will be incredibly hard for many fans to swallow. For the fifth time in seven games, the Gunners have lost a game. It's one of the worst runs in Arsène Wenger's entire tenure. With fan volatility reaching maximum levels alongside the prospect of Arsenal not winning any silverware, all blame seems to lie at the feet of the manager.

Now the Gunners are facing the possibility of missing out on a top 4 place for the first time in over two decades. Whilst Arsenal face treacherous times, the Baggies are experiencing a record high. They're currently sitting 8th in the league only two wins away from catching Manchester United. Things couldn't be any better for Tony Pulis but for Arsène Wenger, his demise may finally be upon us.

About the Author Mathaeus Abuwa

Arsenal fan with a soft spot for Pascal Cygan.

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