Three goals conceded in thirty-two minutes and Arsenal were dead.
A three goal deficit is a game state that Arsenal had managed to comeback from and avoid defeat only twice in the Premier League. First in 2017 against Bournemouth and yesterday against West Ham United.
West Ham’s dominance in the first twenty minutes was helped by Arsenal’s sterility in attack. It wasn’t until Arsenal’s change in attacking approach that the resurrection rituals began.
Initially, Arsenal’s attacking structure had three players dropping deep to present themselves as passing options. Bukayo Saka, Alexandre Lacazette and Martin Odegaard. That left only Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang as an attacking threat in the front-line, waiting to make an inside run from his initial right wing position.
It wasn’t working for Arsenal as West Ham’s midfield narrowed down on them, congesting the midfield area and leaving Aubameyang isolated on an island by the far touchline.
The three central players meant more players in midfield for Arsenal, but the overload worked against them as it meant less spaces for them and a more crowded central area for West Ham, without the threat of an Arsenal run in behind to stretch them.
After conceding two goals and a lack of any attacking presence, Mikel Arteta had to change something. Moving away from the approach of using three players dropping to call for the ball, to only two. Lacazette and Odegaard. That also meant returning Aubameyang to his more favorite role on the left hand side, while Saka occupied the right wing. The two wide players, Saka and Aubameyang created more spaces for Lacazette and Odegaard centrally because the threat of an outside to inside run pinned West Ham’s defensive line, and with Saka moving wide there was more space for Lacazette and Odegaard to roam around.
The pseudo 4–2–2–2 saw Lacazette and Odegaard, constantly calling for passes in between West Ham’s midfield and defensive lines.
The threat of Saka and Aubameyang also meant that West Ham’s defensive line couldn’t move up in fear of a ball in behind for any of the speedsters. That offered Lacazette more time on the ball before the center-back pairing of Craig Dawson and Issa Diop moved up to him.
The space and time Lacazette had because of Arsenal’s newer approach meant that he can play balls like this one, in behind West Ham’s defence for Arsenal’s wide forwards who were making an outside to inside run.
When any of the centerbacks decided to move up and stick to Lacazette…
….that only created more space for Arsenal’s wide forward to attack. In this example it was Saka, but Lacazette’s pass was slightly overhit unlike the previous example.
Lacazette and Odegaard were constantly free in this position in between the lines, waiting for the progressive pass from Granit Xhaka or Thomas Partey.
And once that happened they were waiting for Aubameyang and Saka’s inside runs.
In this attack, Lacazette found Aubameyang but Dawson managed to close down on the Arsenal forward, depriving him from a shot on goal.
Another example shows Diop moving out once David Luiz plays the pass into Lacazette who is free in-between the lines.
The Frenchman’s trickery bamboozled Diop and Tomas Soucek, meanwhile Saka’s inside run dragged Aaron Cresswell inside creating space for Odegaard to attack. Weirdly, Odegaard wanted the ball to his feet rather than attacking the vacant space. Which meant that he miss-understood the pass and handed possession back to West Ham.
Saka — and Nicolas Pepe later on — dragging Cresswell inside was the common theme throughout Arsenal’s sixty minutes of dominance. The constant outside-to-inside runs dragged Cresswell inside, creating space for Calum Chambers to attack. Arsenal’s first goal is a good example, Saka moves inside dragging Cresswell with him as Chambers overlaps….
….before finding Lacazette in the box who makes it 3–1.
In the second half the pattern commenced, and the inside runs of Saka allowed Odegaard to find Chambers out wide in huge areas of space. This example resulted in Arsenal’s second goal after Saka’s inside run moved Cresswell inside….
…..while Odegaard found Chambers out wide with a sublime reverse pass before Dawson put Chambers’ cross into his own net.
This move kept happening on repeat, and it all stemmed from Arsenal’s change in attacking approach. Saka’s inside runs dragged Cresswell inside…
….providing Chambers with the space to attack and the time to cross the ball. The right-back’s crosses were always in-between West Ham’s goalkeeper and the defensive line, but Arsenal’s other attackers weren’t present to attack the excellent crosses.
Arsenal’s equalizer illustrated parts of how their altered attacking approach was successful. The ball reached Odegaard in the right channel due to the aforementioned explanation of how the wide players pinned the defensive line and created more space for the Norwegian and Lacazette centrally.
Then had Pepe made an inside run, it would have created space for Chambers to cross. Pepe didn’t, but it was his own right-footed cross that found Lacazette to make it 3–3.
It was the potential winner though that painted the full picture of Arsenal’s attacking approach. Odegaard was in position to receive Partey’s pass as Pepe was initially wide.
Then once Odegaard received the ball, Pepe moved inside dragging Cresswell with him and more importantly creating space for Chambers out wide.
Odegaard found Chambers who put in the same type of cross that he did throughout the second half…..
….but it was Lukasz Fabianski who saved West Ham and denied Gabriel Martinelli from scoring Arsenal’s fourth of the day.
The game could have gone both ways as West Ham also had chances to win one of the most exciting Premier League games this season. Eventually, it ended in a draw.
Chambers, Odegaard and Lacazette’s ethereal performances brought Arsenal back from the dead. They acted as the necessary tools in Arteta’s resurrection ritual.