Braga 2-0 Arsenal: Braga press, then win it late

November 24, 2010

The starting line-ups

A classic Arsenal defeat – dominance of possession followed by slack defending.

Braga played a shape that was 4-2-3-1 when they attacked and 4-1-4-1 when they were defending, with Vandinho playing the holding role in front of the defence. They were unchanged from their weekend defeat to Vitoria de Guimaraes.

Arsenal also went with 4-2-3-1. Cesc Fabregas was risked despite an injury concern, Nicklas Bendtner played upfront alone, whilst Kieran Gibbs and Emmanuel Eboue played at full-back, with Johan Djourou returning to the back four.

Braga sat back early on – despite being the home side they seemed happy enough to concede dominance in terms of possession and territory to Arsenal.

Pressing

What Braga did do well, however, was pressing in midfield. Their plan was to let Arsenal’s centre-backs have time on the ball, and instead to get nine men back between Arsenal’s midfielders and the Braga goalkeeper, with the midfield three all harrying the man in possession.

The key to this was good communication and understanding between the midfield trio, because they often followed their individual players and found themselves drawn out of shape. Vandinho was supposed to be the deepest midfielder, but sometimes tracked Fabregas into deep positions, which meant that Leandro Salino would then drop in, and track the forward runs of Jack Wilshere.

It was notable that Denilson dropped between the centre-backs a couple of times to receive the ball from Lukasz Fabianski, since he was having to move this deep to pick up the ball without any pressure. Another factor was Braga’s ill-discipline – their heavy pressing (perhaps combined with an approach to get physical with Arsenal) was luring them into conceding free-kicks and picking up cheap bookings.

The one area Arsenal were doing well in was their left – Tomas Rosicky was moving inside and Gibbs was pushing back Alan into defensive positions.

Bendtner drifts across pitch

Arsenal's shooting was poor

Bendtner was playing the lone striking role for Arsenal, a difficult job considering Arsenal were finding it so difficult to create anything in the midfield zone. Probably as a result of this, Bendtner spent much of his time drifting into deep and wide positions in order to receive the ball and help build up possession.

In theory there is nothing wrong with this, but Arsenal’s problem was that they had no-one looking to exploit the space created by Bendtner’s movement – Fabregas spent much of the game in relatively deep midfield positions rather than playing high up the pitch – and so Arsenal were simply playing in front of Braga. A couple of times Theo Walcott put in decent crosses, but Bendtner was on his heels on the edge of the box.

Bendtner’s reluctance to stay in goalscoring positions contributed to Arsenal’s awful shooting Chalkboard – not once did they test Felipe from open play – the only time he had to make a save was from a tame Fabregas free-kick in the first half.

One caveat – Arsenal should have had the opportunity to take the lead when substitute Carlos Vela was hacked down in the second half inside the penalty area by Alberto Rodriguez, but the referee chose to book Vela for diving.

Arsenal concede soft goals

Braga threatened very little until late on, when they scored two very simple goals that yet again raise questions about Arsenal’s defending.

Both were scored by Matheus after simple, straight balls down the centre of the pitch. Granted, Arsenal were down to ten men after Emmanuel Eboue’s injury, but for both goals they were more than well-stocked in defence. For the first goal, Matheus managed to meet a ball over the top in acres of space despite the presence of three Arsenal defenders, for the second he had to run with the ball by himself from the halfway line but again, there were three Arsenal defenders who failed to stop him.

Conclusion

Arsenal played poorly but Braga deserve credit. Their gameplan worked brilliantly – to press in midfield, sit back and then hit Arsenal on counter-attack late on. It was a common strategy of theirs last season, when they were masters of the late 1-0 win, and the tactics were perfect here against an Arsenal side who barely tested their goalkeeper, and who were vulnerable to direct attacks when high up the pitch late on.

Braga 2-0 Arsenal: Braga press, then win it late

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