Arsenal 1-0 Udinese: Early Walcott goal gives Arsenal the advantage

August 16, 2011

The starting line-ups

Udinese constantly threatened on the counter-attack but failed to beat Wojciech Szczesny.

Arsene Wenger brought in Theo Walcott and Maroune Chamakh for Andrei Arshavin and the suspended Robin van Persie.

Francesco Guidolin ditched last season’s 3-5-1-1 for a more conventional 4-1-4-1 shape, with plenty of midfield runners trying to link up with Antonio Di Natale.

This was open and exciting, yet tense and nervous at the same time. It would have been interesting to see Udinese really go for it in the second half, but with the comfort of a second leg back in Udine, they never really committed enough men forward to overload Arsenal at the back.

Arsenal fluid

This was an extremely fluid 4-3-3 from Arsenal, with the front three rotating throughout, and the trio of  midfielders also taking it in turns to get forward. Tomas Rosicky played a deepish role, where he seems more comfortable and gets more time on the ball, whilst Aaron Ramsey was the most advanced midfielder – creating the early goal for Theo Walcott with a good forward run.

The fluidity in midfield seemed to make the game open – probably too open for Arsenal after their early lead. They often left too much space between the lines of attack and defence, and it often seemed too easy for Udinese’s midfield runners to burst through the defence – Pablo Armero should have scored a one-on-one in the first half having beaten Arsenal’s entire backline with nothing more than a quick dash after a ball played twenty metres in front of himself.

The flexibility of Arsenal’s midfield created the same effect in Udinese’s side as they tracked runners. Emmanuel Agyemang was the deepest midfielder but played the role very casually, often moving high up the pitch and jogging back when Arsenal’s midfielders broke past him.

For a side that plays a counter-attacking style, Udinese defended surprisingly high up the pitch early on, which played into the hands of Walcott – who used his pace well for the goal – as well as Gervinho. Maroune Chamakh was poor and contributed little throughout.

Second half

After the break, Udinese played Giampiero Pinzi higher up the pitch to link up more closely with Di Natale, which helped force Arsenal back and gave Udinese more possession. The home side weren’t helped by two injuries to the backline – first Kieran Gibbs departed with a hamstring injury, then his replacement Johan Djourou suffered the same fate, and Carl Jenkinson came on at left-back.

As it happened, conceding the majority of possession might have worked well for Arsenal. Udinese are slightly reliant upon playing on the break, and often look less threatening when the opposition sit deep. With Di Natale they have a forward who likes drifting to the flanks and getting on the end of balls over the top – and whilst he’s a great poacher, he’s not a huge presence in the box from crosses.

A more traditional target man might have made things difficult for Arsenal – with their front three often ending up in central positions and the Udinese full-backs consequently free to get forward, 2 v 1 situations down the flanks might have yielded rewards. Guidolin played this one reasonably cautiously, however, only replacing players because of injury and/or tiredness, and keeping the same shape.

Wenger (and his assistant Pat Rice, as Wenger was banned from contact with the team) was limited in terms of substitutions because of the injury problems. Emmanuel Frimpong replaced Rosicky to give more presence in front of the defence, and it stayed 1-0.

Conclusion

A decent game, and a result that seemed to suit both sides for much of the second half. Arsenal were content with the clean sheet, Udinese knew that at 1-0 they’ve got a decent chance back in Italy – a second Arsenal goal might have been the end of their hopes.

The main tactical interest came in the overall pattern of the game rather than specific factors: counter-attacking sides need space either between the lines or in behind the opposition defence, and when Arsenal sat deep and stayed more compact, Udinese were less of a threat in open play than in the first half.

Arsenal 1-0 Udinese: Early Walcott goal gives Arsenal the advantage

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