Leeds vs. Arsenal: A Tactical Review of the Match at the Emirates

Amogha Sahu@@sahuthegoonerCorrespondent IIIJanuary 10, 2012

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 09:  Thierry Henry of Arsenal celebrates scoring during the FA Cup Third Round match between Arsenal and Leeds United at the Emirates Stadium on January 9, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
Clive Mason/Getty Images

Starting Lineups: Arsenal started with their usual formation this game with a fluid midfield of Song, Ramsey and Arteta in the centre. Song and Arteta played a triple pivot with Ramsey, meaning that two of Ramsey, Song and Arteta dropped back to let one player go forward, creating the 4-2-3-1.

Coquelin and Ignasi Miquel started the game as full-backs. Miquel stayed closer to his centre-back (Koscielny) than did Coquelin to his (Squillaci), although Coquelin ventured forward many times.

The starting front three made sense in a way; Chamakh was obviously meant to hold the ball up for Arshavin or Chamberlain to run on.

Leeds  began with a hybrid of 4-1-4-1 and 4-2-3-1. The hybrid nature of the formation generally stemmed from the midfield three rotating to match Arsenal's fluidity. It generally meant that Clayton shuttled between a defensive role and a more attacking one, switching the midfield from a 2-1 to a 1-2. This shuttling occured whenever Leeds began attacking or defending (as in, lost or won the ball). 

Surprisingly, it was when Leeds defended that Clayton went up with Varynen, creating a sort of four with the wingers Townsend and Nunez. Th Leeds wingers were very keen to defend, and they sat on Oxlade-Chamberlain for the first half and much of the second.


First Half:  As I have written earlier, Leeds set out to frustrate Arsenal in defence by setting in a 4-1-4-1, with the midfield sitting deep. The important thing about  the Leeds formation was that the midfielders always had someone to mark in the defensive philosophy of Leeds. You can see it in the diagram: Varynen on Song, Clayton on Arteta and Thompson on Ramsey.  

The 4-1-4-1 defensive formation meant that the Leeds players matched up with the Arsenal midfield. On the attack, Clayton came deeper and Varynen, Nunez and Townsend formed a three behind Becchio.

The first half was relatively uneventful, with Arsenal getting a couple of chances from the flanks with Arshavin at the centre of every good move. The fact was, since Chamakh was not doing his job, Arsenal got stalled everytime they came near the final third.

Without the forward linking up, Ramsey was forced to make runs forward, with Nunez sitting on Chamberlain. This was unsuccessful, and the first half passed almost without event.

Second Half:  The second half was more eventful that the first with chances coming down the left flank for Arsenal, with Danny Pugh defending atrociously.

Behold the value of putting a left winger at left back. This way, Arsenal got Arshavin in space swapping wings to help create. The problem was, Miquel wasn't providing support for Arshavin (giving him width as Arshavin cuts inside). That lack of support made him more isolated, but he created nonetheless.

This sort of stinted stalemate continued until Theo Walcott and Thierry Henry came on, finally providing the necessary linkup to let Arsenal's play work. Henry was the key player, getting into great positions and playing well as part of a two.

He dropped deep, confusing the Leeds players. He was wide left for the last goal, showing his old positional skills were not completely lost on us. At the end of the game, Arshavin was so deep that Walcott and Henry played as part of a two rather than a three, suggesting a possible strike pairing in future.



The game will be remembered for one glorious moment, but its significance lies deeper than that. It seems that more and more teams are still keeping a new, more direct Arsenal at bay by packing the midfield and sitting deep in banks of four.

Some more fresh midfield creativity is needed to break these teams down.