Talking Tactics

How Arsenal's fluid front four can break down Palace

By Adrian Clarke 17 Mar 2023

Adrian Clarke analyses the awesome foursome and how their movement can unlock the Eagles' defence

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Club analysis - Arsenal

Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have the most fluid front four in the Premier League, and they may need to be at their unpredictable best to break down Crystal Palace.

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The Eagles, who dismissed Patrick Vieira on Friday, may be winless in 11 matches, but in their last 10 outings they have only once conceded more than one goal. 

This stubborn record suggests they are capable of frustrating the Gunners. 

Nonetheless, coping with Arsenal’s clever rotational movement is a serious challenge. 

The leaders’ sharp interchangeability and varied threats up top have consistently tied opponents in knots this season. 

Hard to pin down

Arteta’s side were superb in last weekend's 3-0 win at Fulham, with their second goal coming from a patient 23-pass move which highlighted how seamlessly their players switch positions. 

In the build-up phase, left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko moved into central midfield (pictured below with the top-right arrow).

Gabriel Martinelli (second arrow from left) switched places with the "false nine" Leandro Trossard, while midfielder Granit Xhaka pulled wide into space on the left (second arrow from right). 

From William Saliba’s raking pass to Xhaka, Arsenal created a 2v1 overload that led to Trossard crossing for Martinelli to score. 

Fulham v Arsenal

Whether it is Trossard, Martinelli or fit-again Gabriel Jesus who leads the line this Sunday, you can be sure the central striker will float towards the left wing. 

We have seen constant rotation throughout this season between the front man and left-sided forward down that side of the pitch. 

You can see below from their touch map at Leicester City how Trossard and Martinelli effectively job-shared the left side of Arsenal’s forward line. 

Earlier this season, Jesus and Martinelli worked together in the same way. 

Trossard & Martinelli touches v Leicester
Arsenal graphic

On the other side of the pitch, Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka combine and interchange in a similar manner. 

Here is their combined touch map from the 3-2 home win over AFC Bournemouth, with the bulk of their involvements coming down the right. 

Saka & Odegaard touches v Cherries
Saka and Odegaard touches

These two forward partnerships work well because each player is comfortable out wide or on the inside. 

They also like to mix up their movement, and by rarely playing in straight lines they create angles which are difficult to track. 

Down the right, Ben White acts as a supplementary attacker looking to forge 3v2s, while on the other flank this is primarily Xhaka’s responsibility, moving from an inside berth to a wide position. 

Arsenal’s free flowing style gives them a variety of threats. 

If one player is marked tightly, team-mates around them usually step up to fill the void. 

The Gunners have three of the Premier League’s top five players for touches in the opposition box, so they have clearly been the most penetrative side in the competition. 

Touches in opposition box 22/23
Player Touches in opp. box Starts
Mohamed Salah 201 26
Gabriel Martinelli 185 26
Bukayo Saka 177 27
Erling Haaland 176 25
Gabriel Jesus 144 14

At no stage this season have Arsenal ever been reliant on one individual to produce quality end product, and this has given them a huge advantage. 

The Gunners have four of the league’s top 10 players for combined goals and assists. 

By comparision, title rivals Manchester City have four players inside the top 30, partly because they rotate more frequently, while Manchester United have four players in the top 87 in this category. 

Goals and assists combined 22/23
Player Goals & assists PL rank
Bukayo Saka 19 4th
Martin Odegaard 16 7th
Leandro Trossard 15 9th
Gabriel Martinelli 14 10th

Arsenal also have a third of the Premier League’s top 15 players for chances created in open play, all making at least 30 key passes.

Sharing positions and responsibility, they have imaginative players dotted all over the final third.

Man City, Brighton & Hove Albion and Tottenham Hotspur each have two players who have carved out at least 30 chances.

Chances created in open play 22/23
Player Chances created PL rank
Martin Odegaard 49 3rd
Bukayo Saka 47 4th
Gabriel Martinelli 40 7th
Granit Xhaka 35 9th
Leandro Trossard 30 15th

Palace may also have to deal with the threat of Jesus this weekend, who has recovered from a long-term knee injury. 

The Brazilian looked incredibly sharp in a 20-minute cameo at Fulham, and was also outstanding in a 45-minute appearance against Sporting Lisbon in midweek. 

The Eagles have a tight defence, but keeping Arsenal’s varied attack at bay will not be easy. 

Also in this series

Part 1: Why a free role gets best out of Havertz
Part 2: How Gibbs-White has become Forest's talisman

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