Arsenal Exploit Huddersfield’s System to Claim 5-0 Win

rsenalArsenal’s 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield was quite strange to watch. The Gunners started with a very early goal, scored by Alexandre Lacazette after some slick passing, but they quickly shifted into a holding pattern of ball retention and the occasional piece of sloppy passing. That sloppy passing looked like it could be Huddersfield’s only real chance of getting back into the match, as Arsenal were so comfortable otherwise that they appeared capable of producing the cricket score that they eventually did.

Once the Gunners regained their composure, after a slightly unimpressive opening to the second half, they finally clicked into gear. There were a few reasons for this, with incredible combination play and energetic pressing to win the ball back quickly being two of the big ones. Perhaps more than anything else, though, the Gunners’ ability to find room in between the lines was what allowed them to thrive.

For Huddersfield, this was a problem in the first half as well. The Gunners capitalised on this just three minutes in, and that situation filtered into the second period as well. The main difference was that Arsenal started to execute with more regularity after the interval, and once the North Londoners turbocharged their passing game, largely through the talents of Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey, Huddersfield were incapable of finding an answer.

Going back to Lacazette’s opener, the spaces that Arsenal would ruthlessly exploit were already opening up. The move started with Arsenal holding the ball in deeper areas, and Huddersfield were defending in a slightly risky manner even then. Their two central midfielders, Australian Aaron Mooy and Jonathan Hogg, were defending higher up than one might expect. They were aiming to cover Granit Xhaka, Arsenal’s deepest-lying central midfielder, and Ramsey, who divided his time between sitting next to Xhaka and easing into Arsenal’s attack. This meant there were always going to be pockets in between the lines, and Arsene Wenger’s men were always going to be looking to put those to good use.

Hudderfield’s strategy for stopping them involved asking their three-man central defensive unit to push into those pockets, in order to get tight to the players occupying those positions, but when Arsenal combined fast passing with slick movement in behind, it became pretty difficult to manage. For the first goal, Mooy pushed out onto Xhaka, thus clearing space between the lines, and Ozil moved a little deeper to receive a pass in that pocket. He then turned forward and played a short, sharp pass into the feet of Lacazette, and as that happened, Martin Cranie left his spot in Hudderfield’s backline to track him.

Lacazette got to the ball, shifted infield and played a pass back to Xhaka. This is where things got tough for Huddersfield, as Arsenal had thrown their defence into chaos by this point in time. Mooy and Hogg were still in advance of Arsenal’s players in between the lines, and when Xhaka played a neat ball into Ramsey, who had moved into a left-of-centre location, Arsenal were looking good. Another of Huddersfield’s centre-backs, this time Christopher Schindler, moved out of the defensive line to cover Ramsey, and Lacazette responded by running in behind him. Ramsey’s alertness allowed him to play a first-time backheel into the Frenchman’s feet, and with the first touch and finish of a genuine striker, Lacazette netted with aplomb.

Arsenal then switched off a bit for the remainder of the first half, but that goal illustrated just what they were trying to do. They aimed to capitalise upon Mooy and Hogg playing so high up the pitch, and they did this by pushing numbers in between the lines, especially Ramsey, and by retaining the threat of runs in behind. This combination enabled them to unhinge Huddersfield’s backline, and when the Terriers had the dual problem of pushing out, to deal with someone like Ramsey in between the lines, and tracking back, to cover a run like Lacazette’s in the lead-up to the opener, they struggled to do so.

There were elements of this in many of Arsenal’s chances, and for the Gunners’ fourth goal, the same thing occurred. This was a little different, as it occurred immediately after Alexis Sanchez regained possession in Arsenal’s forward half, but the positioning of Wenger’s men had all of the hallmarks of their style of play. Alexis regained the ball, after he had dropped a bit deeper, and he immediately found Ramsey in between the lines. The Welshman had filtered forward, something he loves to do, and at that point he was unmarked. He then turned towards goal, and just as Huddersfield centre-back Zanka motioned to come out to cover him, Ozil made a sharp run in behind the Danish defender. Ramsey responded with a neat through ball to tee up Ozil, and the German did the rest with a crisp finish to make it 4-0.

This, in effect, summed things up. Movement, passing and finishing. Exploitation of the opposition’s tactical approach. Slick combination play and a strong understanding in the final third. Throw in some excellent attacking fullbacks, and it’s no surprise that Arsenal currently find themselves on a roll.

Naturally enough, Wenger described Arsenal’s best football in glowing terms. “Once we scored [the second goal],” he said, “we played with freedom, with drive, with creativity and our link play became fantastic to watch in the last 20 minutes.” That’s pretty accurate, and with Arsenal facing Manchester United in their next Premier League fixture, the Frenchman will be hoping for more of the same.

After all, it’s that sort of play which has seen them win 12 league matches in a row at home, and it’s that sort of play which has seen them leap back up to fourth on the table. They’re only four points away from Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United side, and if the Gunners can keep that intricate combination game going, they not only have a chance to close that gap but also to allow Wenger to outpoint one of his fiercest managerial rivals.
That’s what the Gunners will be looking to do at the Emirates, and on a home ground that they have made a fortress, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t feel confident.