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August 2021

Tactics review – Swansea away

This article continues our occasional review of the tactics employed by Arsenal this season.

By Arvind

This is the game against Swansea at the Liberty. A super interesting game when I watched it slowly. It’s a classic template of how we’re doing what teams used to do to us a few years ago. It’s just soaking up an immense amount of pressure and pretty much playing on the counter. If I may suggest it.. it’s actually a variation of how Mourinho’s 2005-06 teams used to play…a more offensive variation. Note that this isn’t against every team – just teams that can keep the ball better or as well as us.


There were many interesting things I noticed this game. Mertesacker is winning many many more headers offensively, in the opposition D. That means we are improving on set piece delivery and box positioning – a very useful skill to develop, specially in big games.

Ramsey hits a number of reverse passes, more than the normal ones. Teams are going to catch on to them, and he’s going to have to mix it up more. I’m looking forward to it with great excitement – his continued development.

Our offence in the first half was extremely poor. The Swansea keeper played the ball with his feet the first time after 19 minutes. That just means that:

–          Our pressing was extremely bad

–          We were pinned back in our own half

Plus it means that Ozil’s not in the game coz he just floats around like a butterfly to try and sting like a bee (Sorry ; )).

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Wilshere on the left wing was completely anonymous offensively and Aaron had a number of bad passes offensively. In short the first half – the offence was very poor.

The second half was distinctly better – we pressed much better and much higher up the pitch. Still though, we were giving the ball away and running back to cover much more than we should need to. Doing this in big games in the CL means we will run out of gas after 75 minutes and Bayern will pick us off for a 2-0 win.

The attack wasn’t going through Jack at all, again. It’s not the first time I’m seeing that. It’s a combination of him playing in the wide positions, his form and Ramsey’s exceptional form which means more is going through him all the time. He’s in the same phase as Ramsey was last season – exactly the same. Next year, he will be better..and by the time Mikel and Flamini move on when their legs go…it’ll be Jack and Aaron back there in the center.

Gnabry had a good game – more defensively but he was a bright spark offensively – popping up everywhere. Probably the best of all our attacking play went through him.

There was one period of play when Ramsey was playing in the CF position, Giroud dropped off, Kos started playing very high up..and Szcz was playing sweeper. The moment Ramsey dropped deeper..Chico Flores, the Swansea CB came with him – that points to Swansea playing a zonal marking system.

The first goal? Ramsey drove forward..played another reverse ball, Giroud got lucky with a bounce in between but Serge Gnabry with a calm drive into the far corner took it well. The kid’s good and he’s a strong boy too. Let’s hope he develops more. I’d hoped Eisfeld would make it too – but he’s still playing with the U21 .. let’s see.

The second goal… It all started with Kos staying on his feet and forcing Dyer to shoot. Szcz got the ball, released it upfield. Ozil got it wide – played the Hleb pre-assist (I loved the guy really.. sad he left)… Wilshere won a fantastic challenge in midfield, Giroud’s flicks came off (I’m starting to think they’re not flukes and he practices them) played a few one twos…and Ramsey smashed it in and did the rest really.

The rest of the game..again..we did nothing and reverted to playing like the first half after Swansea’s goal. In short a pretty poor game for our offence but we got the 3 points.


Szcz got a huge number of touches in the first few minutes. Means Swansea were pressing really high. His kicking has improved though, so nothing happened. Ozil wasn’t sitting on Jonjo Shelvey enough who was spraying balls around like Xavi or Pirlo – he really bossed the game from midfield that first half. Gnaby was very good defensively that day and tracked back a lot. We played so defensively that day that we were firing backpasses to Szcz again and again – it was just awful to watch.

I watched a Swansea counter attack with interest and thought – ah we should break more like that. The speed they turned defence into attack was such that before I knew it the ball was on the half way line with runners streaming forward. That’s one reason where Theo hurts teams so badly – he can burst from inside his half and one reason why we have to play a different way if he’s not there. This game.. our counter attacking too was sporadic.

We seemed solid defensively though – for all of Swansea’s possession they couldn’t get too much on target at all, even in the first half. They started getting in behind only very late in the game and even then we seemed in control.

The goal was a poor one to concede really. It was a hopeful diagonal ball to the LB who kept running at Bac who didn’t do anything, foul him, tackle him or block the run or show him on the outside. The LB ran straight into the D… nearly 50 yards maybe, played a one-two which came off (fantastic little flick and I’m not sure its repeatable) and everyone stood and admired it..letting the LB continue to run and score. Bac mainly to blame here but the CBs didn’t cover themselves in glory by ball watching and not heading the flick away.

Really though, it was more a moment of magic that opened us up ..and that can happen. Every other time a Swansea player was on the ball near our final third, there were at least 5 yellow shirts around him in a circle. That can only be good for the future.

Overall not a great game to watch – but we were very very efficient. Maintained an excellent defensive shape and were rewarded with a win in Wales.

Arsenal anniversaries on 27 December…

6 comments to Tactics review – Swansea away

  • nicky

    Sorry to be a wet blanket but having totally forgotten the Swansea game, your no doubt excellent précis was way beyond my memory.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    @ Arvnid – nice analysis and comments – thanks .

  • Arvind

    Thanks Nicky, Brickfields. I do understand really is very late to do a Swansea review..but I haven’t managed to get the time to do such indepth reviews of all games : (. Maybe in the future…

  • Yassin

    Am loving your analysis, but I cant remember the match as good as then. So i would propose you leave the analysis of other matches and get to the last or before last one, this would be helpful, cause I believe among all blogs, you write the best tactical analysis of Arsenal. then this can lead into a great series of tactical articles, just what untold are missing.

  • Arvind

    Thank You Yassin. Yes, I was hoping to do all games this season but due to work and my own laziness : ( I was not able to. I will take only our big games or ones we dropped points in from now on.

    Thank You for your suggestion. It makes sense : )

  • Gord

    Thank you Arvind.

    I too am pressed for time, since Mike Dean decided I need to look at all public records (goals, cards, penalties) since the EPL began.

    Wilshere on the wing, I had read quite a while ago, is a deliberate proposition by Wenger to have Jack learn outside skills. Ramsey went through that before. You can put any player in “strange” positions as much as you want in paractice, it doesn’t help much. You need experience there.

    Which brings up a former Arsenal Youth, who was also England U21. Midfielder who ended up in goal, because he had played goal at times for Arsenal Youth? Maybe just in practice?

    I think Total Football was a good idea, being able to play every position (except goal). Getting central players experience in wide positions is not a problem, except if you lose and then the AAA come out.

    But it is nice to read reviews of games I haven’t seen, as I am still working on thing and all I get is the BBC commentary and reviews.