Three lefts, no right, and all too predictable; the problem with Arsenal’s attack

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: Granit Xhaka of Arsenal looks dejected following the Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Arsenal at Amex Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)
BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - MARCH 04: Granit Xhaka of Arsenal looks dejected following the Premier League match between Brighton and Hove Albion and Arsenal at Amex Stadium on March 4, 2018 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images) /

Three lefts, no right, and all too predictable. As Arsenal toiled their fourth successive loss, the first time in 16 years that has happened, to their attack stumbled and stuttered. Here, I discuss why.

Of all the typical struggles Arsenal endured on Sunday, there were two facets to their attack that I found particularly frustrating. First, their curious aversion to crossing the ball; second, how the all left-footed center-midfield seemingly forgot about an entire side of the pitch.

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Crossing, or lack thereof

I understand the argument against the traditional cross — by that, I mean a lofted ball into the box. Arsenal do not have a strong aerial presence to compete with the characteristic Premier League center-half. But, when you look at the success a team like Manchester City has had with low, driven crosses and undersized attackers, it’s hard to argue against the value of such tactics.

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Yet, when Arsenal get the ball high and wide, they often cycle the ball back into the middle and around, forever looking for the perfect seam to dissect the heart of the opponent’s back line. A better option would be to use the mobile and versatile center midfielders or attackers to create an overload in these areas and get in behind the back line and cross.

More to this point, does anyone else think Sead Kolasinac looks timid in possession? This was a guy that was flying down the left flank when he first arrived. Kolasinac was a constant attacking threat, driving forward with and without the ball. But now, it seems as if he’s being restricted in his play, with Arsene Wenger’s voice in his head saying ‘slow down; play safe’.

Arsenal’s lone goal on Sunday originated from a Kolasinac cross. It was a great example of forcing defenders to run at their own goal, whipping the ball into a dangerous area, and capitalizing off of poor clearances. With this occurring two minutes before half-time, one could hope the team talk might include some instruction to the likes of ‘more of that’. This didn’t seem to be the case. Instead, the second half brought more of the same: cycling, probing, stagnating attack, with no emphasis on the one bit of tactical approach that worked: crossing.

Three lefts don’t make a right

The three primary central players against Brighton were Jack Wilshere, Granit Xhaka, and Mesut Ozil. All three are left-foot dominant players; all three are touted as technically strong players with good distribution and vision. Yet, during Sunday’s game, it appeared those traits only applied to the left side of the field.

Here is the passing diagram for the three of them:

And here are the heat maps for both teams. Arsenal’s is on the left. Notice a pattern?

From a tactical standpoint, this could’ve been pre-planned. Perhaps Arsenal identified a weakness along Brighton’s right side or perhaps they didn’t trust Calum Chambers to attack or perhaps neither Henrikh Mkhitaryan or Alex Iwobi offered enough width on that side. I’m willing to entertain all of these ideas, but I’d also like to point out the way the three central midfielders play.

In an attempt to retain possession, they’ll receive and keep the ball on the foot furthest from the defender. Because of their propensity to receive, carry, and pass with their left foot, they most often turn their right hip forward to protect the ball, shifting it to their left side. For those of you trying at home, you’ll now realize you’re facing the left side of the room. This is what happened all too often during the game.

I found myself shouting at the television to switch the play, only to come to the realization they couldn’t possibly execute a switch fast enough because of their positioning with the ball. Even with Hector Bellerin’s substitution, the team still played primarily down the left. While Bellerin’s had his struggles, do we really not fancy his 1 v 1 chances over a Brighton defender?

Next: Arsenal Vs Brighton: 5 things we learned

In the end, I simply chalk it up to another incomprehensible performance. The tactical approach of this football team is increasingly irrational. The question of ‘why’ is not one that I care to fathom, because the answer probably doesn’t exist.