The simple tactic Arsenal and Man C use to defeat the opposition time and again



by Tony Attwood

Today I stumbled across an article with the headline A misguided pre-season tour, tactical muddles and transfer failings have left Jurgen Klopp with serious questions to answer at Anfield...   In the past it would have been written about Arsenal now it is written about Liverpool.   So the club that is in a muddle has changed, but the muddles remain the same.

Meanwhile, there has been talk about Tottenham being the best team of the second half.  “The numbers that show why Tottenham are more dangerous in the second half.   Antonio Conte’s side has become second-half specialists”

As ever it is necessary to check if these thoughts are really based on reality.  And even if it is true that Tottenham “are more dangerous in the second half” I am always suspicious of articles that single out one club and one attribute and don’t give us the full picture.   Could it be that all clubs are more dangerous in the second half?

And I wondered if this were really true – not least because the article does that thing that so many articles do these days.  It produces a view, backed up with a very limited number of statistics – in this case only statistics about Tottenham.   Those stats make them look like masters of the second half – but it leaves open the notion that all teams score more in the second half.

So here is a table that helps us judge, and a fascinating one it is…  The figures are derived from data provided by the wonderful Soccer Stats site

In the tables below we show the Big Seven as we are calling them this season, showing the number of goals scored in each half and the number of goals against.   The third and sixth column show the improvement in the second half, or in the cases of Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool the decline in the second half.

1st half goals for 2nd half  goals for 2nd half gain % 1st half goals against 2nd half goals against 2nd half gain %
Arsenal 14 16 14% 3 8 167%
Newcastle Utd 12 12 0 2 10 400%
Manchester City 18 19 6% 4 7 75%
Tottenham 9 17 89% 8 8 0%
Manchester Utd 6 11 83% 11 5 -65%
Chelsea 6 11 83% 8 7 -14%
Liverpool 9 14 56% 9 6 -33%


The first result that we note is that all clubs except Newcastle score more in the second half.  Arsenal and Manchester City however are only slightly up in the second half.

So we might ask, do Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City have anything in common apart from having little or no “second half gain” in terms of scoring goals?   The answer is that they are first, second and fourth in the league.

Now let’s look at goals against.  Three clubs let in fewer goals in the second half than in the first half.  Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool.  So they tighten up in the second half, but that is not enough to take them to the top of the league. 

Three clubs let in more in the second half than they do in the first half: Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City. It doesn’t seem to be doing them much harm.

What can we conclude?

Arsenal and Newcastle maybe need to tighten up the defence in the second half, but it is really not much of a problem – Arsenal for example are top of the league.

They could make an improvement maybe by bringing on fresh legs or it could be by having new defenders come on at halftime, or by increasing the level of fitness of the defenders who play the full 90 minutes so they don’t lose focus near the end.  But what they are doing is working: the club is top of the league.

Tottenham, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool need to score more goals in the first half if they are seriously going to compete at the top of the league.  And they really do need that because they are currently, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 9th in the league.

Put another way, three clubs need a better defence in the second half and four clubs maybe need a better attack in the first half, but it is not that essential.

So here’s the conclusion.  If the clubs not at the very top want to improve they need to score more first-half goals.  Leaving it to the second half is the tactic of teams further down the league.  This is the tactic Arsenal and Manchester City are getting right.

3 Replies to “The simple tactic Arsenal and Man C use to defeat the opposition time and again”

  1. Whether these tactics will continue to reap rewards as the season progresses, we will have to see, but in my eyes there certainly seems to be some logic to it.

    Logic suggests that getting the opposition ‘chasing’ the game has to be to your advantage. Yes, they may get back into the match, but they are just as likely to concede again as they leave themselves short at the back. Also having the lead enables you to reinforce your defensive structure as the match draws on.

    ‘Something to hold on to’, or the converse, ‘chasing the game’, are just two well-worn phrases that suggest getting a lead early is the preferred tactic in any arena.

  2. Guys,

    I don’t see any tactic here.

    Arsenal and City are just better, so they score at whatever minute of the game and their defences are better and take in less goals.

    Being better is not a tactic but a fact.

    These deadwood journalists need to make believe that they have found the answer to everything which everybody knows is 42 anyway….

  3. Chris

    I tend to agree that it may not be a tactic per se, but I certainly believe that starting well, coming out of the traps fast, getting ahead early, however it’s put, gives you an advantage.

    But as you suggest, the reason Arsenal and City, and Newcastle, keep doing it is that they are just better than everyone else. It’s perfectly possible that all the top teams would like to, and indeed do try to take first half leads, but they are just not good enough to do it.

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