Lack of width sees Arsenal West Ham stalemate

Well that was rather dull.

When the West Ham fans voted Adrian as man of the Match, I had to chuckle – he only had 3 saves to make. And that summed up the match. A dull 0-0 in the cold where now one came out with any credit.

The response by West Ham fans at the final whistle was odd. They celebrated a 0-0 draw at home against a London rival which left them 2nd bottom in the league like it was actually a good result for them. The reality is the result was poor for both teams.

The change of formation from Arsenal was a good move. In yesterday mornings blog, I spoke about how we needed to change to 4 at the back, with my preference being the Christmas tree formation. My issues were granted as Arsenal lined up 4321. But it did not work.

The first surprise was that Nacho Monreal was at centreback. Whilst he has played very well in a back 3, arguably our player of the season so far, playing in a 2 is very different. And his lack of height is a cause of concern.

It is a surprise that Andy Carroll saw no game time.

Crosses from the West Ham left to the far post would have put Nacho Monreal under immense pressure. The fact that he never came on shows that they were happy with the bore draw. They were not interested in attacking.

With Monreal at centre back and Sead Kolasinac dropped /rested to the bench, in came Ainsley Maitland-Niles – a 20 year old right footed winger who has found himself at left wing back in the cup squad.

Like in 3521, 4321 relies on your full backs to give you the width. I wondered at the time if playing a right footed full back on the wrong side would restrict our ability to get the ball in, and it did.

Maitland-Niles had a good game. One of the only players who could come out of it with his head held high. He defended well against a quick and strong Michail Antonio, and did offer something going forward. The only downside was that a couple if attacks did lose momentum as he tried to get the ball back on his right foot. But this was not his fault.

Width was a massive problem for Arsenal. We had none.

West Ham lined up with 3 at the back, then with wing backs. This often ended up with them having 5 at the back, dropping in narrow to the width of the box. Mark Noble and Pedro Obiang barely crossed their own half way line, sitting close in front of their defence.

This meant that on the edge of the box, Arsenal were boxed in. It was claustrophobic. There was not much space to work on the inside as West Ham had a solid 5 camped on the edge of the box.

This meant that there was plenty of space outside to put balls in, but Arsenal failed to utilise this.

When there was space out wide, Arsenal were too slow to react to it, the first thought was to come inside every time. By the time players had got their heads up and seen the space, West Ham has closed it down.

When the ball did get out wide, it was the full backs who were supposed to be providing the width. Hector Bellerin was reluctant to get forward (hw put in 4 cross compared with Maitlan-Niles 9) and when he did his crossing was poor, whilst Maitland-Niles had the aforementioned problem of being unable to whip in an early ball.

Olivier Giroud is a brilliant player, but he relies on service from out wide. He is not going to be on the edge of the box, and spin off a defender to slot one in. He wants the ball coming from wide where he can then bully defenders to put the ball in the back of the net.

If Arsenal are not getting the ball outwide, Giroud is then starved of that service, and becomes the lamppost that many people cruelly label him. Yesterday was one of those occasions where all that was happening was the ball was going into him, hitting him, and going straight to a West Ham player.

There is not point playing Giroud if you do not have the wide men to support him.

Another problem was Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.

In the Christmas tree formation, they were playing narrow – in the same way they have done when we play 3 at the back.

They play on opposite sides to their foot. Ozil on the right, Sanchez on the left.

This means that when they did find themselves in the wide positions, both of their first thoughts was to cut back in onto their stronger foot and drive into the middle.

The congested middle where West Ham had 7 players.

Due to this, where were often times when on the edge of the box, you had West Ham’s defensive 7, plus Giroud, Sanchez, Ozil, Wilshere and Iwobi. There was simply no space to operate.

Playing Sanchez and Ozil on their opposite sides was clearly not working.

Arsene Wenger relies on his players own intelligence and game management to make slight tactical changes during a game. This group of players do not seem to be able to do that. He should have noticed that Ozil and Sanchez were adding to the congestion in the middle and swapped them over.

They should have at least tried it. 10 minutes of Ozil on the left, Sanchez on the right, help out the full backs and get some good crosses into the box for Giroud. But the side did not change it, they did not change anything. And it contributed to a poor performance.

When Wenger did try and change things, his substitutions also did not work.

Danny Welbeck came on for the ineffective Alex Iwobi (where Iwobi fits in to Arsenal’s future has to be questioned). He did hug the right hand side a bit more, but as a striker, his first thought is still to get the ball and drive inside towards goal, not put a cross in.

In Welbeck’s 20 minute cameo, he did not attempt a single cross.

Taking off Sanchez was also a bold move, but a correct one. Sanchez had once again had a poor game.

Alexandre Lacazette came on. The £50m man. He then gets shoved out on the left wing.

What is the point of having a clinical striker with a record like Lacazette and then playing him left wing? I do not think he had a single touch in West Ham’s box.

In fact, looking at the statistics, Lacazette had ZERO SHOTS and put in ZERO CROSSES. Hre contributed nothing.

This was not his fault, however, as he was put on but outwide. A better substitution would have perhaps been Kolasinac who might have at least put in a couple of dangerous crosses. And then take Ozil off for Lacazette and go 442, with the two French strikers being able to feed off each other.

West Ham showed that teams know how to play against us. The fact that we are unable to mix it up. There were several times last night where we did get the ball 2 on 2 or 3 on 3, and as soon as we got into the final 3rd, those players cut inside and lost any space they had. Within seconds West Ham were all back behind the ball and we passed it around with out a clue of what to do with it.

Too many players stood around, flat footed.

The only positives last night was Jack Wilshere had a decent game, and that we had 3 local lads on the pitch.

On to the next one.


2 thoughts on “Lack of width sees Arsenal West Ham stalemate

  1. David Philippe

    You’re absolutely right. No width all night. Last season the best combination of play was between Sanchez and Monreal down the left with Monreal getting to the byline and putting in crosses. This season Monreal has been playing in the back 3 but still at times tries to venture forward. That actually scares me. Other sides that play with a back 3 hardly do they cross the halfway line.
    Cause they know their primary role if to defend.
    David NZ



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