Mikel Arteta has an Arsenal problem all of his own making ahead of derby day against Tottenham
“And Arsenal have done it again, victims of their own downfall,” the BT Sport commentator declared after Olympiacos equalised on Thursday night.
To those who have watched Arsenal this year, it was no surprise that this was the second instance of a silly goal which stemmed from playing out from the back in the last week.
Both Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos committed cardinal sins, their turnovers leading directly to goals against Burnley and Olympiacos respectively.
Thanks to a stooping Gabriel Magalhaes header and Mohamed Elneny thunderbolt, the latter’s error likely won’t matter, with Arsenal holding a 3-1 lead over Olympiacos ahead of next week’s second leg.
But Xhaka’s error cost the Gunners two precious points in the Premier League and his blunder continued a run of poor goals conceded because of individual mistakes.
Mikel Arteta has made it clear that he will continue to play in this manner. He wants Arsenal to play out from the back, and in surveying the successful teams in world football over the past decade, it is clear that very few are incapable of dealing with the ball under pressure in their own defensive third.
From Bayern Munich to Barcelona, Manchester City to Liverpool, all build out from the back capably, even when put under pressure.
For those reasons, Arteta’s insistence in playing this way is vindicated, but it’s clear that the players are struggling to execute as required. A concern with Tottenham on the horizon this Sunday and Jose Mourinho no doubt acutely aware of such issues.
Or is it Ceballos and Xhaka, who are the ones ultimately responsible for losing the ball?
We analysed the footage to find out.
Let’s start with Chris Wood’s inadvertent hip finish last weekend. It starts with the following situation:
As you can see from the figure above, Leno receives the ball with only two realistic options: clear the ball long or pass the ball into Xhaka, who smartly makes a run deep into his penalty area to provide a viable option for Leno to pass to.
Leno chooses to play the ball into Xhaka – but notice the way in which the pass is played.
Instead of passing the ball to Xhaka’s left side, closer to where Wood is standing, he plays it slowly and slightly to Xhaka’s right side.
The pass often tells the receiver what to do with the ball, and that is the case here: Leno is telling Xhaka to play the pass first-time with his right foot, passing the ball past Wood and to one of the three Arsenal players in space at the top of the picture.
You can see the pass that Xhaka should play below:
Xhaka, though, takes a touch. He is notoriously left-foot dominant and, from his approach to the ball, he looks hesitant, lacking the confidence to play the ball first-time, a more difficult skill than controlling the ball first.
Xhaka knows that he must find David Luiz – and that is the pass that he eventually plays – but the touch to control the ball allows Wood to re-position, close off the passing lane, intercept and score.