After their thrashing by Liverpool, Arsenal bounced back with a 4-1 win over Fulham. However, the win wasn’t as easy as the scoreline suggests. Most of the game was very tight until Arsenal’s third goal in the 79th minute. In this tactical analysis, I’ll look at why this game was so tense.
Despite Arsenal being more dominant, this was because Fulham made a great account for themselves. Going to the Emirates they weren’t scared to attack Arsenal.
This belief that they could attack Arsenal was evident for large stages of the match. This was even more evident when looking at their attacking trio of Ryan Sessegnon, Aleksandr Mitrovic and Andre Schurrle. In these three, Fulham were able to pose different challenges to the Arsenal defence.
The variety in their play made in incredibly hard for Arsenal to predict where or how they’d attack. Through this, Fulham created many goalscoring opportunities in the game. This was especially the case in the first half as Arsenal started the game with a three-man defence.
That set-up massively benefitted Sessegnon, because he was playing as an inside forward off the right. It therefore became even harder for the Arsenal defence to pick him up when he found spaces behind the wing backs and in between the three centre-backs.
Here’s an example of how Sessegnon was used on the right.
Here we saw how the elusiveness of Sessegnon created problems for Arsenal. Off the right, he was able to run in behind a defence who struggled to pick up any of Fulham’s front three.
The route to Mitrovic
However, they were able to change their approach depending on their desired target. Mitrovic has been their most dangerous player this season. They didn’t struggle to give him service, as he managed to put three headers on target. On another day, he could’ve scored.
Below is an example of how straightforward the route to Mitrovic was for Fulham.
Over the course of the game, Arsenal struggled to get to grips with Fulham’s attack. This became evident again as Fulham brought on Aboubakar Kamara to chase the game.
Fulham’s and Arsenal’s switches
Arsenal had already made a switch at half time, bringing on Lucas Torreira for Shkodran Mustafi. This allowed the change to a four-man defence.
With Kamara coming on, however, it gave Fulham a new way to attack Arsenal. Kamara went up top with Mitrovic and Sessegnon went out to the left. This allowed Fulham to stretch Arsenal’s back four and eventually led to their goal.
At this point in the game, we saw how dangerous Fulham could be. Chasing the game, they could have gone on to get a result, but Unai Emery made a key change.
Bringing on Aaron Ramsey for Alexandre Lacazette was unpopular at the time. However, adding another body in midfield enabled Arsenal to somewhat numb Fulham’s attacks. Thankfully for Emery and Arsenal, Ramsey scored the all-important third goal too.
But here’s a closer examination of how Arsenal were able to create good chances.
Alex Iwobi helps Arsenal shine on the left
Alex Iwobi was one of few positives from the Liverpool mauling. At Anfield he was a threat early on, playing a great ball to assist Ainsley Maitland-Niles. He was similarly impressive against Fulham.
This came from the pressure he was able to attract and alleviate. As every Arsenal fan knows, Iwobi isn’t a traditional winger. He doesn’t fly down the wing, get to the byline and whip crosses in. However, when he’s played out wide, the spaces created ultimately help Arsenal advance. This was seen on many occasions against Fulham.
The importance of Iwobi and support runners, mostly Kolasinac, was the key to Arsenal’s win. Arsenal’s first three goals all came from the left channel. Whether it came as a result of an Iwobi cross or support runners taking advantage of space created in behind, it was a constant theme in the Arsenal attack.
Although Arsenal eventually pulled away to win, it was never as easy as the scoreline suggests. It’s clear that major work still needs to be done with the defence. Too often they look lost in whichever system is played, unable to identify when or who to pick up. This makes them incredibly weak when facing counters as we saw against Liverpool.
If Fulham were more ruthless, this game could have gone very differently. However, this game also showed that players such as Iwobi and Ramsey shouldn’t be dismissed as quickly as they have been recently. Thankfully for Arsenal, they helped steer Emery to victory.
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