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Arsenal 2-1 Chelsea, FA Cup final: Tactical Analysis

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Chelsea miss out on the double as Arsenal execute a better gameplan in a much better way.

Early Arsenal possession

Chelsea started the game slowly, without any of the usual intensity they normally benefit from.

Chelsea’s deep positioning to control their own half (and not push up into Arsenal’s half immediately) kept their lines tight and allowed the backline to pressure with shorter distances on passes between the lines. Chelsea also applied pressure in wide areas.

However, Arsenal’s patience to circulate the ball outside Chelsea’s block in midfield while maintaining their distances (central defenders and Xhaka against Costa), eventually provoked Chelsea’s midfielders to move up to close down the ball. Space between the Chelsea lines would thus open for forward passes—the midfielders were too far away from the receiver of the ball to pressure his first touch, and would just end up caught in no man’s land between keeping the lines tight and pressing the ball.

Upon the forward passes, Ozil could find space on the outside or behind Hazard, where he would then look to use his excellent passing ability. Sanchez could receive the ball in similar situations on the left, where he could use his dribbling ability to draw in defenders and maintain the ball under pressure before finding passes to players in opened space. Ramsey also moved between lines; his forward movements to find space were useful, including on both Arsenal goals.

Where Chelsea did have some success in defending was when Arsenal were more aggressive in their possession and tried to play forward early on the ground, only to receive the ball under pressure. In these cases Chelsea could exploit the central space upon recovering the ball, carrying and dribbling the ball forward at speed—as Ramsey would be up, leaving Xhaka alone as the central midfielder behind the ball—Pedro’s carry in the first half (before being fouled by Monreal) being a notable example of this.

Chelsea’s aggressive approach with the ball

Unlike Arsenal’s patience to break down Chelsea in possession, Chelsea employed a much more aggressive and direct approach—with positives and negatives.

Arsenal matched numbers and pressed Chelsea’s short building to force the ball back to Courtois to play long. Chelsea had multiple issues with these long passes.

  • Courtois’s first long ball to Alonso was lost, which, along with Arsenal pressure on that side, may have lead to Courtois not using him the rest of the game.
  • When Courtois played long to the frontline in these situations, Arsenal’s back three were dominant in the air to win the first ball.
  • Chelsea were deep and prepared to build up short (Pedro in a deep position) meaning that they didn’t have support around Costa (when playing long to him in the air) to create areas of pressure for the second ball.

In addition to not being able to pressure the second ball from Courtois’s long balls in open play—in order to try push up the pitch—Chelsea’s approach to try to find Costa running behind from long free kicks was another area where they simply ended up giving the ball away when the pass was unsuccessful (though there was also some success from it, such as Pedro’s pass behind for Costa’s chance in the first half).

In contrast, when Arsenal played up to Chelsea’s backline, they could not only attempt to compete for the first ball, but, more importantly, had enough players around the ball in order to pressure the second ball, both in open play and from goal kicks. This may not have given them any direct chances, but it provided a platform from which to build and play. This (successful) emphasis on long balls and not building short from goal kicks or holding the ball deep in their own half for prolonged periods also prevented Chelsea from having any easy opportunities to move up the pitch.

Chelsea did find some success when playing long from goal kicks, when enough players were forward and around the ball to compete for the second ball. For example, the first chance Chelsea created in Arsenal’s penalty area came from a long goal kick into midfield in the first half, where they won the second ball and quickly moved forward to find Hazard in the box, before Costa’s shot was charged down and blocked by three Arsenal defenders.

David Luiz’s direct passes

Arsenal continued to match numbers when Chelsea had the ball in midfield. The pressing from Sanchez in these situations was most impressive, both in preventing Azpilicueta from carrying the ball forward to open space for others (as he usually does) as well as continuing to press the pass back inside from Azpilicueta to Luiz—forcing him to go back to Courtois.

Welbeck pressing’s from behind was also causing Chelsea’s central midfielders problems when they received passes back from the final third to midfield, where Welbeck would not allow them time on the ball, and even won the the ball from them on a couple of occasions.

Since David Luiz had few options to play short with the ball, he changed his approach when he had the ball in these situations, where he would look to play direct and long forward passes himself—up to the frontline. Early on Arsenal took advantage of this by winning the ball from an attempted long pass and countering for the chance for Ozil—cleared off the line by Cahill. These David Luiz passes were more successful when kept on the ground to Costa, with Pedro and Hazard then making movements off him to receive layoffs or draw defenders away and create space.

Chelsea higher up in the second half

Starting the second half, Arsenal took the ball deep into their own half which gave Chelsea the opportunity to press them high and recover the ball in Arsenal’s half. Thus started a period when Chelsea were able to have much more of the ball, where they could find the front three often to hold, combine or dribble with the ball. Although Arsenal’s defence remained strong to most balls into the box or behind them, Chelsea did create some opportunities for long shots—which have been successful for them this season.

When Chelsea went down to ten men, Arsenal began to play short from the back in trying to keep the ball to take advantage of the extra man. However, even with one less player on the pitch, it was a chance for Chelsea to aggressively pressure high up.

This high press of Arsenal’s short building was very successful for Chelsea, where they were able to win the ball on a few occasions while also keeping Arsenal deep and, unlike the first half, not in positions to press the second ball on long balls forward in open play. Chelsea’s goal also came from Arsenal playing short and David Luiz moving wide on the left to win the ball from Ozil. Willian made the same pass into the box as against Sunderland, where Costa’s excellent chest control allowed him to bring the ball down perfectly to score the equaliser.

But directly from the kickoff, Arsenal were back in the lead. They used the same pass as they had been using to stretch Chelsea’s backline throughout the match (Chamberlain pass behind for Welbeck’s outside run behind). This time it was slightly different, as Sanchez was the one playing the pass while Giroud made the diagonal run behind Chelsea’s defence. Giroud then put the ball into an area inside the box, where Ramsey was able to quickly attack the ball to score the winner.

Conclusion

Arsenal were able to apply themselves in a positive way throughout the game, preventing Chelsea from drawing them into positions where Chelsea are strong defensively, as well as not allowing Chelsea to move up the pitch with and without the ball. Their pressing caused problems, while they also wasted a number of the chances they created to score.

Chelsea got off to a bad start conceding the early goal. They were able to begin to cause more problems in the second half, and equalising after their red card, but going down to ten men while behind in the final is always going to be a tough task to overcome. A disappointing end to an excellent season for Chelsea.