Arsenal changed tactics yesterday and it didn’t work. But why did they do it?

By Bulldog Drummond

Having at least five players missing from the team through covid, and one who, while no longer suffering, is not yet back to full fitness, is enough to rip the heart out of quite a few teams.   But for a team that had already suffered a defeat in the opening game, and which has getting on for half a team’s worth of new signings, it is bound to be more than a bit disruptive.   How many others are out “not feeling quite right” we don’t know.

Meanwhile, racist abuse was hurled at some of our players from the Chelsea fans’ enclosure.  Not from all Chelsea fans of course, not from the vast majority, but from a minority, and clearly players who approached that quadrant could hear it, most certainly, just as the Arsenal fans in the tier above club level reported they could hear it.

The process these days is to film and audio record the away support, identify the abusers (who rather helpfully are standing and thus easier to identify), and then check the purchaser of the ticket.  If the film images match the person who answers the front door when the police pop round for a little chat, he (rarely she) is told there is film evidence of racial abuse by that person and that one more incident means an arrest and prosecution for hate crime and it goes straight to the CPS.  If the person attending is not the person shown as buying the ticket, the club (Chelsea in this case) is required to remove the individual from membership.

All of which is fine, except that it doesn’t stop racists abuse in the match itself.  But that is the price we pay for the “no police on site” arrangements that the Premier League came to with the police.

At the moment that deal is not working, since racist abuse continues as some people heard very clearly at the sunday game.  Maybe prosecution for the first offence could be introduced.

As for the game, the only explanation I have is the covid situation.  Having set up an approach to football which worked so well in the last two thirds of last season we abandoned it yesterday because…. well, I guess because we were struggling for players.  

We had a referee Paul Tierney who last season was at the mid range of the spectrum for handing out fouls against us (an average of 8 per game) and yellow cards (an average of 1 per game) – so not among the extremists.

And in our opening match we had kept our tackles right down to the new low level of nine tackles and as a result eight fouls given against us.   Chelsea in their opening match were tackling and getting away with it a bit more, and using the technique to cower the opposition into retreat: 21 tackles and 15 fouls.

Now we know that the reduction in tackling and thus fouls last season was the key to the way we performed in the last part of the season, taking us up the league and stopping those yellow cards mounting up.

So what did we do?   Somehow it seems we forgot all that, and went back to the old ways of a couple of seasons ago.  Our tackling rate more than doubled, and we were lucky to see the fouls rate only increase slightly to 10.  Could it have been the racist abuse?  Possibly.  Maybe it is time to close the away section of the ground for games against Chelsea.

But – whereas in the first game we picked up no yellow cards, this time we got three – which totally disrupted the players as they pulled back from their tactics.

What it shows is that no matter what the justification, going from being a very low tackling club, to a high tackling club from one game to the next is not a clever idea.  Chelsea just cut their tackling right down and let Arsenal get on with it – and the referee dutifully responded against us.

Thus we had 10 fouls given against us to Chelsea’s four.  We got three yellow cards to Chelsea’s nil.   Why did we throw away all the learning from last season?  Was it just because of the loss last weekend?  Was it the racist abuse?  I don’t know.

As an interesting extra point, Planet Football put up a video of James’ trip on Saka in the penalty area but immediately had it blocked.  Ah well; we’re not even allowed to see the ref’s mistakes these days.

But no matter what, to more than double the number of tackles in a game against Chelsea of all teams just seems strange and the three yellow cards that resulted were just fundamentally annoying, since it was the obvious result that was going to emerge.

No matter what the reason, a sudden change of tactics after all that hard work last season getting the new system up and running so successfully seems just weird, even if half our team are out with covid.

32 Replies to “Arsenal changed tactics yesterday and it didn’t work. But why did they do it?”

  1. It seems like ‘open season’ on Arteta at the moment. There are several senior players out, both at the front and the back, there are a load of youngsters and second teamers, and there has been very difficult opposition. Chelsea was never going to be easy, and they will beat better teams than the Arsenal.

    People need to give it 10 matches or so. They will probably lose to City as well, but the hope is they start demonstrating some tactical consistency and resilience.

  2. Is it just me who thinks that Lukaku did compete in the rowing olympics ?
    On the first goal, I really thought I saw him throw down the defender next to him just as he was entering the box and on and on I could see how is outstretched arm was not just there for balance’s sake but to grab an Arsenal player.

    Then again I may be wrong and I was not at the game…

    And frankly, at 0-2 I thought we were in for a 0-5 or so…which means that the players did not fold, did not give up and I definitely rate this as a positive.

    As for the situation, I’ll be happy the Citeh game is over and we can start and enjoy a little a normal football season with less drama levels off the field. By then we will have been buried and relegated, reduced to a useless faire-valoir team of the PL, owners sent packing to the US, so pressure will subside and the hatred may turn on to the next victim.

  3. @Brad,

    thank you so much for your enlightning, well argumented and intelligent comment. This is what football is in such dire need of : highly skilled and communicative specialists like you.

    Next time your son or daughter replies to you this way accross the dinner table…be proud s/he has such a talented teacher.

  4. Arsenal had 65% possession in their first match, they had 35% possession yesterday. Of course they tackled more yesterday. This shouldn’t take much thought to figure out. If you’re trailing, you’re going to take more chances to win the ball back, as you need the ball to get anything out of the match. Those risks are going to increase as you get down by more than one goal, and they’re going to increase as the situation becomes more dire later in the match. Despite losing against Brentford, we dominated possession even if we mostly settled for low quality chances. You don’t tackle to win the ball back when you’ve already got the ball. Against Chelsea, we didn’t see much of the ball, and always looked a step behind them when they started to attack.

  5. And all of that said, making any judgement on this Arsenal side based on yesterday is foolish. We were always going to lose that match, barring a miracle. Chelsea are undoubtedly one of the best teams in the world at the moment, and were close to full strength. We were missing 5-6 players that will probably be regular starters. White’s sudden absence probably changed us from a back 3 to a traditional 4-man defense. Anyone faulting Arteta for this is out of their mind. We did not play well, but we ran out a squad that would probably struggle to finish in the top half of the table if that was our core 11 all season.

  6. You’re slightly obsessed with this tackling issue . We were being overrun in midfield and therefore you have to tackle . We needed three ( or effectively five ) at the back to prevent the overloads . It seems White’s absence forced a change of formation from Arteta . It was a poor decision . Note Southgate made a change in the Germany game to match the opposition up. We can’t expect to impose our game with a weakened team against the European champions .
    The most depressing news in pre-season was that we are burdened with several more seasons of the awful Xhaka . Lokonga had a fine game and looks a real prospect . We need a bit of patience but yesterday’s defeat was not in any way down to referee bias or dirty play that went unpenalised . We were beaten by a better team. Most other teams will be beaten too by Chelsea

  7. @Bertie Mee,

    I fully agree. As of yesterday, I think they are top contender to win th PL and at least this game is done and we won’t face them again until second half of the season. Not Arsenal. As you’ve pointed out, they did not have many changes in the squad and you could see that all wheels were clicking.

    Any other team losing to them will be probably labelled : courageous, gallant, did their best, tomorrow is another day, no chance against this team.

    As for Arsenal, well as Tony and you pointed out. Losing so many starters wreaks havoc in any team and that’s it. Had Mr Wenger been coach, you’d have headlines questioning his capacity to implement Covid regulations….so at least, so far, we’ve been spared that line of crap ;=)

  8. Chris,

    I echo your question about Lukaku. The commentary kept referring to his strength, but ignored the questionable way in which he used it at times. Having seen the way that Tierney the referee penalised some Arsenal challenges in Chelsea’s penalty area, I have no doubt that he would have called a foul if a similar off-the-ball challenge to Lukaku on Xhaka leading to the first goal had been made by an Arsenal player. Also, there were 2 possible offside queries in the lead up to that goal. I am not saying that there actually was an offside, but the situation seemed like one in which a second look via VAR would normally have been called for.

    As for the foul on Saka, it was notable that the ref dismissed it as a possible penalty almost before Saka hit the ground. If there was a VAR check it was over in record time. No surprise that the Sky “experts” dismissed it, using phrases like “not enough in it for me” and “just a coming-together” Indeed it was, – James leg coming together with Saka’s and causing him to fall.

  9. I have mentioned in a few previous articles that I have penned for Untold Arsenal, that I have been watching and following Arsenal for over 65 years, occasionally offering criticism of a number of derogatory opinions aimed at the club, emanating through horrendous attitudes that some National media pundits and reporters feel that they can use.

    Information communication and available social media technology now allow for the immediate transfer of viewpoints and beliefs, whether truthful or fake, to a wider audience from many more reporters other than those employed through National Media organisations.

    History has recorded that Arsenal commentators have shown a preponderance of negative comment throughout the existence of the club, for whatever reasons. However, opinion and beliefs that are not supported by evidence can be very dangerous and very hurtful to a number of people, both inside and outside of the Arsenal establishment.

    As I penned in an earlier article,
    “expecting Arsenal to succeed by using negative opinions and viewpoints, may facilitate the notion of free speech, but it is tantamount to failure, which will only facilitate further prejudicial and biased anger.”

    Two games on into a new season and so it returns and continues, both in the National media and on social media………

    Two games played….no points won… goals scored….four goals given away poorly…… coaching tactic are a disgrace………sack the manager….Arsenal players bullied so sack this deadwood…get rid of them all now….transfer policy useless and has been for years…..sack the director of football…..bring in Mr X or Mr Y now…….Covid? It’s only flu, no problem for other teams……Arsenal now the worst team ever….goalkeepers are too well protected, bring back the 70’s and 80’s………never a penalty……….etc, etc.

    Yes, we Arsenal supporters are disappointed at the start of the season because Arsenal is our club and we want it to succeed yet, as I have commented in the past, there is evidence in abundance of corruption within football worldwide, be it in the UK through the make up and behaviour of the Football Association and its officials; the Premier League and its officials; the PGMOL and its officials; football club owners and their officials; or through FIFA and its officials; and through social and national media organisations and their officials and representatives.

    These are some of the major issues in football, but who actually cares? When do we get to object to and comment on such issues? When do the UK National media organisations undertake any research journalism with regards to such issues? But perhaps the real answer is “he who pays the piper plays the tune”

    Untold Arsenal allows for serious debate concerning football matters and world issues underpinning football matters. Perhaps some Arsenal supporters could vent some of their anger towards these organisations rather than towards Arsenal employees, be it team players or other workers within the club.

  10. Get the City game out of the way and examine the outline of the team Arteta has laid out. Lakonga – Smith-Rowe – Saka – Partey – Odegaard. That’s a core.

    36 games to play. The team plays itself into resilience.

    The graveyard shift want Arsenal buried.
    The Guardian lead the lynch mob because in every other sphere of their coverage they are bound by their readership and politics to stand on reason and reflection but now, because it’s Arsenal, it’s red meat.
    Testosterone unbound. Diffident men snap their chains. Reason, reflection, even getting out their chairs and getting out into the open air and scouring North London for the reason why Auba & Lacazette did not start against Brentford is beyond them.

    Nor should their readers get an explanation.
    Write an opinion. Arteta out.

    How do you select a team in the age of Covid? Arteta out!

    Get the Citeh game out of the way and look at the season.

  11. The issue of obsession that Bertie Mee raises is interesting. It seems these days that if one tries to develop a coherent argument over a few articles one is often told one is obsessed.
    But the fact is that some things are not obvious to the eye or to immediate insight – they take some working out.
    In fact, when it comes down to it, telling someone they are obsessed about a topic, is as good a bit of gaslighting as there is.

  12. @Zedsaunt,

    absolutely. Just look at the conract situation. All these youngsters are in for the long haul. For stability. For the future. This is what is called investing. Funny that no one has thought to mention for how much Chelsea let Lukaku go and how much he costs them now a few years later. Imagine Arsenal getting Willock or Gnabry back in 3 years for 70 millions because he is so much better ? They’d get clobbered.
    Same for the situation with De Bruyne….remember how the idiots were going after Mr Wenger week in week out with Wilshere and Ramsey ? No one dares to say a thing to Guardiola, and he does not have the excuse of referees enabling daylight assault on any Arsenal player.

    They’ll always look for and find an angle because of Arsenal’s following, history and past successes – with a french coach who was so much more intelligent then all those so called reporters.

    I’m just looking forward to seing these young guns, to which you need to add White, Holding, Chambers, Tierney, Balogun, Martinelli, and others flourish, to see Auba come back from his health issues, same for Lacazette.

    No one talks about the massive investment in the team, in making it younger, in building the next generation. Other clubs have one guy coming from youth ranks and they are labelled genius clubs. How many do we have ? And how many ‘english’ players ?

    I just hope the owners sit tight and just shrug it off this time.

  13. Kemix I have no idea: perhaps you read that about “sure starters” on another site. But to help you out
    Thomas Partey, Gabriel Magalhaes, and Eddie Nketiah plus Aubameyang was not fit to play the whole game, Lacazette, Ben White. Is that six? Probably some others, but really, surely you can work it out can’t you.

  14. Kemix
    As well as the players Tony mentions you could add Bellerin who is still with us but injured at the moment, and of course Saka and Martinelli who have had very little if any rest and pre season since returning from the Euros and Olympics respectively.
    That is almost a full team.
    I take it you are not an Arsenal supporter as if you were you would surely know all this?

  15. @Tony, Steve-o said that and a number of commenters have suggested similar, read the comments. I wouldn’t call Nketiah, Laca or Gabriel as sure starters. I believe our first choice front 3 last season was Saka, Auba and Pepe. Ben White would probably be a sure starter based on his fee, though after the Brentford game, his name shouldn’t be used in the same sentence as sure starter. Partey would probably start too. Gabriel is 50-50, we have enough centre backs trusted to start by the coach.
    Chelsea on the other hand didn’t start with the likes of Chillwell, Thiago Silva, Kante, Pulisic, Zouma, Ziyech, Werner. I think we shouldn’t always have to belittle the players on the pitch just to make excuses for the performance of the team

  16. I think Kemix thought he was being clever, funny or both.

    Always nice when someone puts a Smart Alec back in his box. Nice one lads.

  17. Forgive me for sounding more than a little woke here, but I find it both interesting and distressing that a common theme in the football media is that Arsenal have been bullied – and that Lukaku is going to/has bullied them. Since when has opinion been for the bully rather than the victim? Does bullying not imply a going against the rules, of ganging up, of using unfair force?
    That the UK’s favourite pundits delight in this term signals all too clearly the corruption and bias endemic in the Premier League.

  18. Tim Head

    On a similar theme I had an interesting conversation with a Brentford fan the other day regarding the 2nd goal. It was following Klopps comments about it being “a clear foul on the goalkeeper” and that Real football people know this”

    It went something like this:

    Me: Did you see what Klopp said?

    Guy: No.

    Me: I Quoted Klopp as above.

    Guy: No way was it a foul. It was lenos fault for letting him stand in front of him.

    Me: But he had hold of his arm.

    Guy: That’s lenos fault for letting him do it.

    Me: Leno tried to push him away.

    Guy: But he cant do that, that’s a foul. (I kid you not)

    Me: So what’s he supposed to do.

    Guy: Leno should of gone to the near post.

    Me: But that’s out of position and anyway the player would still of stood on his toes.

    Guy: That’s Lenos problem, he needs to be stronger.

    At this point I gave up.

    My point in going through all this is to show just how far, how illogical, how ridiculous, people will go, to defend the indefensible.

    Much like how that Talk Sport reporter in his desperation to justify the foul on Leno said he wanted refereeing to go back to how it was in the 70’s and 80’s.

    Much like how fouling Arsenal is OK on the basis we are just being bullied, NOT fouled you understand.

  19. I doubt it is going to make much difference to anyone but posting a comment which involves the same word written something like 40 times in succession is not likely to be published. And although we’ve been fairly lax about calling someone obsessed, really that is just so pointless, I’ll think that will have to be stopped too.
    Argue against the point by all means, but name calling? It’s what the kids used to do in the playground in infant school.

  20. Tim

    “Bully” in English slang actually means good.

    Fred won the lottery.

    Wow bully for him

    Although to be fair Neville I am pretty sure didn’t mean it in that context


    Just about every football person who I have listened to wanted the refs to change their approach and again near enough to a man/ woman wanted PGMO to adopt the approach that officials adopted in the Euros

    So far only two managers or coaches have questioned that approach Kloop and OGS. Kloop was trying to influence the ref prior to their game against Burnley and OGS because he felt that Southampton had fouled in the build up to the Saints goal.

    Was Leno fouled in the build up ? Yes did he in turn, just like every keeper attempt to push the Brentford player away yes.

    Yesterday I didn’t rarely see that Tierney got a lot wrong. The Saka one would have possibly been given but I of course didn’t see it as a foul.

    Of course the absentees for Arsenal impacted but their replacements are from the squad who should be able to perform to a decent level but even the most positive on here surely can detect or sense that something isn’t right in terms of how you set up or should I say how easy it was to play the ball in to Lukaku and I don’t need from wide positions I mean straight from our defenders to Lukaku s feet. Mari and Holding for me showed their naivety in getting to tight to Lukaku

    As for a couple of your youngsters ESR was a shining light . Saka and Martinelli and to a lesser degree Tierney intrigue me because Martinelli now looks a different player to last season and clearly his injury problems haven’t gone away in away Tierney too looks as if he is going to suffer injury after injury
    The real odd one is Saka he looks drained and at this time yes even this early in the season looks in need of a rest.

    Hey it’s very early days yet and the WBA looks far more daunting for you than it should be they will make Brentford look like a nursery team they will play everything in the air and like Brentford they have a long throw expert.

  21. Nitram
    Watching W Ham v Leicester the commentator notes that Antonio has “muscled out” Soyonco in challenges during the first half.
    I am sure if it had been Arsenal defenders the word bullied rather than muscled would have been used.
    Different terminology for different teams, designed to create the desired impression ie soft, weak Arsenal.

  22. mick shelley


    I hadn’t read your comment above, but have been half watching the game on the interweb thingy.

    I came back here to say almost verbatim what you’ve just said.

    I was going ask exactly that, are they going to say Antonio’s bullied Leicester ? By what you’ve said the answers no.

    And people may ask, what does it matter, but it does ?. It matters because there’s a whole different connotation to being ‘bullied’ than being ‘Muscled out’.

    Being bullied insinuates some kind of blame on your part. You are culpable in your own demise because you’ve somehow allowed yourself to be bullied. It is you that are soft. It is your fault.

    Where as being ‘out muscled’ is just an unfortunate quirk of nature. It’s not your fault the other guys too strong for you. Oh no, you’ve just been ‘out muscled’ by a bigger guy. It happens.

    It’s all part of a constant media narrative to paint absolutely everything we do in a bad light.

    Bullied. No leaders. Shambles. Will they say that about Leicester City?

    If they do you’ll have to tell me because I certainly wont be listening to their post match drivel.

  23. @Kemix…Auba, Partey, White, Odegaard, Gabriel, and pick your non-Cedric RB. At worst, 4 of those guys start pretty much every match if healthy. Chelsea were missing Kante, which obviously hurts, but they’ve got a heck of a lot more experienced depth to cover for that injury than we do (and he’d have probably started if it was a must win match).

  24. Steve

    Chelseas starting 11 were missing Kante, Silva, Chillwell from the team that started the CL final and probably would all have played had they not been late returning from the Copa or Euros.

    Chelsea too had absentees through COVID . Pulisic and Ruben Loftus Cheek

    Squad depth is crucial and irrespective for what reason Arsenal do seem to suffer far more muscle injuries than most .The story about Cesc suffering continual injuries was something that haunted him in his last 4 seasons at Arsenal where he had 11 separate injuries and was missed through those injuries some 68 games. In his 4 full seasons at Chelsea he was missing on 5 separate occasions ( one wasn’t an injury and missed 15 games. The story was that he personal training plan at Arsenal hadn’t fully addressed a muscle weakness something that Barca identified and rectified

    Arteta has made a conscious choice to bring down the age of the squad and with that you loose a significant amount of experience. That experience will be crucial if the younger players aren’t to loose confidence and whilst I doubt the game on Sunday or indeed the game against City will be crucial in terms of deflating that confidence the WBA game is a must win as is the Norwich game.

  25. There is a correlation between Arsenal’s injuries and the way in which referees allow other teams to foul our players.

    The evidence for this has been well documented by contributors to this site.

    Partey is a recent example – injured by a tackle from behind by a Chelsea player in the pre-season fixture.

  26. If we want more police in the ground perhaps we should invite the metropolitan police band back again . Unfortunately i believe that PC Alex Morgan is no longer with us.

    We need to understand that even with the whole first team squad to pick from it would still have been a daunting task against Chelsea. They have better players in a better squad with a better chequebook.

    Next up in the league we have more of the same . We go in as underdogs , no-one seriously expects us to get too much out of it , so lets change tack again and defend for our lives and make things as difficult as we can for them as we should have done against Chelsea.

  27. porter

    “so lets change tack again and defend for our lives and make things as difficult as we can for them as we should have done against Chelsea.”

    That is a fair point, if only we would get away with it.

    You say, “as we should of done against Chelsea”, so obviously you don’t think we made things difficult enough for them, and yet even so we received 3 bookings. And that’s the problem. As tony has shown, the more ‘we get stuck in’ or tackle as some people call it, the more fouls we get called for (more per tackle than anyone else), the more fouls we get called for, the more we get carded (more per foul than anyone else).

    If we really got stuck in, or ‘in their faces’ as it’s called when we’re being kicked off the park, we’d be lucky to finish with half a team.

    That’s the problem.

  28. Making things difficult doesn’t haver to equate to boookings . our defensive play was parlous , for their first Tierney was sucked inside and no-one covered for James overlapping and Kovacic was in space and had all the time in the world to pick him out . The second was similar in that once Xhaka had made the tackle Saka should have been covering for the full back that had again come inside .
    If the midfield doesn’t cover it’s full backs then they get left 2 on 1 .
    Making things difficult means working as a unit and seeing and shutting things down before they happen.

  29. Porter

    Fair enough. Getting the tactics right is obviously crucial, as is actually putting them in to practice.

    My point stands though, as any attempt at ‘getting in their faces’ and trying to make it difficult on a physical level won’t end well for us.

  30. Well don’t do it then ,, You don’t have to steam in to close down gaps you just move as an orchestrated unit . You become aware of the position of your own players and you read the movement of the opposition and yoou work together as a team.
    For Chelsea’s first game Kovacic is in oceans of space before he switches the ball to James . Xhaka is not marking any one Tierney has come inside and there is no cover for the fullback from midfield .
    This is virtually repeated in the second only again Tierney hashad to come inside but as James shoots Saka is standing just over the halfway line .
    For the first 15 minutes we looked good but we were going forward but when we go back that requires work .
    We always look good when we have the ball but it’s when we don’t that we get caught out . How many times have we dominated the possession stats but get caught out on the break ?
    We don’t pay enough attention to defending.

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