Arsenal's matchweek 10 scouting report: Sunderland

Arsenal travel to the Stadium of Light Saturday to take on Sunderland in the early lunchtime kickoff. David Moyes’s side are firmly rooted to the bottom of the table with just two points from their opening nine fixtures. They’ve become the first top flight club since Bury in 1906 to fail to win any of their opening nine league fixtures in consecutive seasons.

It’s been a disastrous start for the Black Cats in every phase of the game. They’ve conceded the third most goals in the league, scored the fewest and have the second worst goal difference behind only Hull City (who have conceded a whopping 15 in their last five league matches).

Having said all that, last week was one of the rare occasions I was fully confident of an Arsenal win and I honestly believe my overconfidence was the sole reason for the defeat. This is a match we should of course win but the home crowd will be loud and Sunderland will likely defend deep, just as Boro did last weekend.

Moyes will have noted how much we struggled against a Boro side defending deep with a flat midfield bank of five and will likely replicate that formation. Against West Ham last weekend Wahbi Khazri started on the right wing in attack but would press higher up the pitch when West Ham were in possession. Behind him Sunderland defended in roughly two banks of four. Who defended where in midfield seemed to change throughout the 90 minutes and it was difficult to determine exactly what Moyes’s instructions were.

Jack Rodwell played mostly as the deepest of a midfield three with Didier Ndong to his right and Steven Pienaar to his left but would often man mark Manuel Lanzini wherever he went, something we don’t often see in modern football. My guess is this time Moyes will go with a much more rigid 4-5-1 with the right winger dropping in to defend Monreal, the left midfielder dropping in to defend Bellerin and a compact central midfield three. Rodwell will likely sit in the space between his two center backs and Ndong and Pienaar to deny Ozil space between the lines.

I said in my preview to the Middlesbrough match the only way I saw them troubling us was if they started Adama Traore and looked to counter into him in the space behind our fullbacks. Their central midfielders I thought were functional and too uncreative to cause us any real problems when they tried to build up play with possession from back to front. Traore did end up causing us issues on the break for which Boro manager Aitor Karanka deserves credit. He also deserved credit for adding an additional center midfielder in Adam Forshaw and moving Gaston Ramirez from his usual #10 role to wide on the left, in effect switching from 4-4-1-1 to 4-5-1. That move made them more solid in the middle and meant they had two talented attackers in the channels to counter through.

Similarly to Boro, Sunderland have a very functional set of central midfielders. Against West Ham they used Pienaar, who is now 34, Rodwell, once a promising prospect but now mostly known for Sunderland having never won a game he’s started in, and Ndong, Sunderland’s only center midfielder that seems to be able to consistently complete a pass. Against West Ham Rodwell completed just 68.6% of his passes (24 of 35), a shocking total for a deep lying center midfielder. Pienaar was only slightly better completing just 72% of his passes (26 of 36). Rodwell has completed just 77.9% of his total pass attempts this season, Pienaar just 79.5%. Both of those are lower than Jermain Defoe’s 79.8%. Strikers tend to have the lowest pass completion rates other than keepers because they’re making pass attempts less likely to come off in areas high up the pitch.  By contrast, our two deep llying midfielders likely to start, Coquelin and Elneny, have completed 89.3% and 92% of their passes respectively.

Ndong is unlikely to unlock a defense with a brilliant forward pass but he does complete 90% of his attempts, by far the highest of any player on the team. In other words Sunderland aren’t going to pose much of a threat building play patiently from the back and moving the ball up the pitch with nice combination play. They simply don’t have the midfield personnel for that style of play.

Unlike Boro however, Sunderland also don’t have a really pacey option who can run past defenders in the channels and make that transition from defense to attack all on his own in the way Traore did against us. Their wide options are Duncan Watmore, Wahbi Khazri and possibly Pienaar if he doesn’t play through the middle. Fabio Borini has been out since the end of August with a groin injury. Moyes suggested last week Adnan Januzaj was ahead of schedule recovering from an ankle injury but didn’t offer up a time frame of when he would return and it doesn’t appear he’ll be available this weekend.

Those players are decent enough but aren’t going to torment our defense the way Traore did bursting forward with the ball. Watmore is quick enough, works really hard and can combine well with Defoe around the box but won’t take on our fullbacks off the dribble. Januzaj clearly has talent but has sputtered since his excellent 2013-2014 campaign with Manchester United. Khazri is a decent crosser and can be a threat from set pieces but is unlikely to have the beating of Monreal or Bellerin either. His crossing ability in open play shouldn’t be much of a factor if we defend well given the 5’7” Defoe will likely be the lone striker.

I think Sunderland’s best chances are going to come from set pieces, where Lamine Kone is a threat in the air, and the individual ability of Defoe to create chances for himself. Even at 34 there are few players that can get a shot off quicker than Defoe. If he gets even half a step on a defender he’ll take the shot on and is often deadly accurate. Only Burnley average fewer shots on target per game than Sunderland’s 2.6.

Arsenal Attack

This game will hinge on our ability to create meaningful scoring chances against a packed defense. Last weekend we struggled to combine in the penalty area and find space inside the box to take on shots that had relatively high probabilities of testing the keeper. I think a significant part of that was the absence of Cazorla. His ability to offer a passing option, take a touch and play a quick pass into gaps in the opposition defense forces the defense to alter their positioning constantly and maintain high concentration levels. With Coquelin and Elneny in midfield we circulate the ball just a little bit slower. This allows the defense enough time to effectively rotate their positioning and eliminate the pockets of space where our attackers can be dangerous. It’s looking like Santi is likely to miss out again with the Achilles injury so Coquelin and Elneny will need to speed things up a bit in possession.

Final Thoughts

Getting all three points going into next weekend’s clash with Spurs is crucial. The Sunderland crowd will give the home side a boost. If we can quiet them with an early goal and force Sunderland to chase the game, more space should open up for us to exploit in the attacking third. The longer it remains 0-0, or if Sunderland go ahead, they’ll be able to maintain a deep shape and make life difficult for us.

Our squad could be a bit thin for this one. Lucas Perez is out 6 to 8 weeks with the injury he suffered midweek in the EFL Cup win over Reading. Theo, Monreal and Santi are all doubts and will undergo fitness tests today. Encouragingly Wenger announced today Aaron Ramsey will return to the squad for tomorrow and Giroud will be available as well.

Arsenal's matchweek 1 scouting report: Liverpool

For the 2016-2017 season Soccermetrica will focus solely on Arsenal. I plan on doing a weekly scouting report of the Gunners’ upcoming opponent that I’ll put out at least a day before each match day. I’ll also write a detailed tactical analysis of each fixture that I will try to put out the Sunday or Monday after a amatch.

Here is the first installment of the weekly scouting report for Arsenal’s week one opponent Liverpool. These should become more detailed with more graphics and game-specific analysis in subsequent weeks as our opponents begin playing competitive fixtures that offer more insight into how they’ll lineup and approach matches tactically.


Jurgen Klopp is enjoying his first preseason at Liverpool having replaced Brendan Rodgers last October. It’s remarkably difficult for a manager to arrive midseason and thoroughly instill a nuanced playing philosophy while also trying to prepare for matches every few days. So while their 8th place finish last season wasn’t hugely impressive (they were 10th when Klopp took over), they did appear to be developing a distinct identity and better positional organization under Klopp as the season progressed, something they were desperately lacking towards the end of the Brendan Rodgers era and will look to build on this time around.

That disappointing 8th place finish may largely be attributable to a congested fixture list brought about by impressive finals runs in both the League Cup and the Europa League. Although they lost both those matches, the fact they got there was cause for optimism in Klopp’s first partial season and offered proof that he was having an effect.

This summer’s preseason will provide invaluable time on the training pitch. Preseason will also provide Klopp’s staff the chance to control the fitness regime of the squad. Liverpool hired on Bayern Munich’s fitness and conditioning coach Andreas Kornmayer and nutritionist Mona Nemmer in May and Klopp has promised the most difficult preseason of his players’ careers.

One thing you know to expect from a Jurgen Klopp side is a tireless work rate and relentless pressing in midfield. They finished tied with Leicester in successful tackles per game last season and if the new training regiment has the desired impact we can expect an even more tenacious side off the ball.

New signings

Klopp has made six new signings this closed season. Loris Karius was brought in from Mainz to provide competition for Simon Mignolet but broke his hand in a friendly against Chelsea at the end of July. Sadio Mane will provide attacking pace in wide areas following an impressive last season at Southampton where he scored 11 league goals and provided 7 assists. Joel Matip and Ragnar Klavan will provide competition for Dejan Lovren and Mamadou Sakho at center back. Georginio Wijnaldum is a tremendously athletic midfielder capable of providing goals from midfield. He led Newcastle in goals last season and was second in assists and should compete for a spot in the first 11. Veteran goalkeeper Alex Manninger was brought in to provide additional cover for Mignolet and Karius. Additionally, the promising 20 year old midfielder Marko Grujic signed from Red Star Belgrade in January but was immediately sent back to them on loan for the remainder of the season. He’ll provide additional depth in midfield after Joe Allen’s departure for Stoke City.

How they’ll line up

At the Emirates against a midfield as technically gifted as ours I expect Klopp to opt for more of a 4-3-3 than a 4-2-3-1 so as not to get overrun in the middle of the pitch. That midfield three will likely be Emre Can flanked by two of Jordan Henderson, Georginio Wijnaldum or Adam Lallana.

If Klopp does go with the 4-3-3 we could see Mane on the right of a front three, with Coutinho on the left and either Roberto Firmino or Divock Origi at the #9 with Daniel Sturridge likely to miss out as he recovers from a hip injury. This is Anfield’s Henry Jackson predicts Firmino will get the nod after an impressive preseason and with Origi’s late arrival following his participation in the Euros with Belgium.

Like Arsenal, Liverpool are struggling with injuries in defense. They will be without Mamadou Sakho for the opening weeks of the season while it looks like Dejan Lovren will recover from a knock in time for Sunday’s kickoff. Matip is just returning from an injury of his own and apparently looked off the pace in their 4-0 defeat Sunday to Mainz. We’ll therefore likely see Lovren partner with new signing Klavan- who has impressed in preseason- in the center of defense. Nathaniel Clyne will start at right back. The Reds are rumored to be interested in Köln left back Jonas Hector but to start the season the at times erratic Alberto Moreno will retain his spot at left back.

Klopp will hope preparations this summer will result in more assuredness at the back. Despite possessing the 8th best goals against record last season, Liverpool made more defensive errors than any other side with 32 according to data from Squawka (Watford had the next most errors with 28, Arsenal had the fourth most with 25).

How Arsenal will line up

Arsenal have of course been hit with an all too predictable injury crisis that sees us without center backs Gabriel and Mertesacker for an extended period. Koscielny is likely to miss out having just arrived early this week to training after France’s run to the finals of the European Championship. These absences coupled with our baffling inability (or unwillingness) to sign an obviously needed top class center back to partner Koscielny means the situation in the center of defense looks dire for the opener. Ahead of our friendly with the MLS All Stars at the end of July, Coquelin revealed via the Arsenal snapchat that, with Koscielny on holiday and Gabriel out at the time with tonsillitis, he had been training at center back. Krystian Bielik and Rob Holding ended up partnering in the center of defense for that game but both are yet to make their Premier League debut and it’s difficult to imagine Wenger starting an 18 and 20 year old in an important league fixture. Might we then see Coquelin partnering Calum Chambers? Chambers seems the one obvious pick to start but he hasn’t exactly overwhelmed in his appearances at center back thus far at Arsenal. Wenger may opt to rush Koscielny back but has been reluctant to hurry players back at the beginning past seasons even when it has meant using a significantly weakened side. Monreal and Debuchy are also capable of deputizing in the center of defense. If Monreal were to slot inside, we wouldn’t lose much on the left with the able Kieran Gibbs slotting in at left back. Hector Bellerin at right back is the only obvious feature of the back four. What Wenger opts to do with the center backs will be partly fascinating but mostly terrifying.

At the base of midfield we should see Granit Xhaka make his Premier League debut, particularly if Coquelin does indeed start at center back. Mohamed Elneny has been fantastic in pre season showing the impressive energy levels we saw last season but combining that work rate with a range of passing and assuredness on the ball he was at times lacking following his January move from Basel. It’s difficult to see how Wenger could leave him out.

With Ozil being rested following his summer with Germany at the Euros I expect to see Ramsey in the more advanced central role. He’ll play that role differently than Ozil, collecting the ball in slightly deeper areas and looking to dribble past the midfield whereas Ozil tends to collect the ball in pockets of space between the lines. Ramsey was hugely impressive this summer with Wales and a return to his 2013-2014 form would be a massive boost, although he’ll likely operate in either a deeper midfield role or on the right when Ozil returns.

Wenger has a difficult to decision to make about who starts at striker. Alexis Sanchez played there in the friendly win over Manchester City on Sunday. He looked a bit rusty but has operated centrally with great success at times with Chile, although usually as part of a front two.

Alternatively Wenger could go with Theo Walcott. The manager views Walcott as more of a striker than a wide attacker though the 27 year old expressed a desire to return to the wing. Wenger feels his defense isn’t strong enough to consistently operate on the right but he performed excellently there in the Man City friendly, providing a first half assist for Alex Iwobi before combining well with Alexis for a one-two before deftly chipping over Joe Hart.

Wenger said in a 2012 interview with FIFA “the 4-4-2 formation is the formation best suited to the dimension of the football pitch.” In recent seasons he has ditched the 4-4-2 for either 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 because it allows for more control in midfield and the presence of Ozil more or less requires you to play 4-2-3-1 with him in the #10 role.  But with Ozil out this weekend I’d be half tempted to use a 4-4-2 with Xhaka and Elneny in the middle of midfield, Ramsey tucking inside from the right and Alex Iwobi on the left. Wenger would likely never spring for it but I do think it suits the players we have available well.

Ramsey is comfortable playing on the right and tucking inside to offer additional link up play forward. You can still defend in two banks of four out of possession- Ramsey is a tireless runner and will track the opposition fullback. In possession he tucks inside and operates more like a #10. Perhaps most importantly, I think Walcott and Alexis are better as part of a strike partnership than as lone #9’s. Their combination that resulted in the goal against City offers some proof they can combine well together. Up against a new and not particularly quick defensive partnership for Liverpool in Lovren and Klavan, I think the two could cause real problems. It’s probably a futile thought- Wenger will almost certainly operate with three in the middle of midfield- but is interesting to consider at least theoretically.

My best guess is we see Chamberlain on the right, Ramsey in the #10 role, Iwobi on the left and Alexis at striker.

Liverpool advantages

The obvious advantage for Liverpool will be their three attacking players against what will be a makeshift Arsenal center back pairing following injuries to Mertesacker and Gabriel.  I imagine we’ll look to maintain possession as much as possible to keep our inexperienced backline from being put under pressure. That means when Liverpool do win the ball back, which under Klopp they’ll do quite well, the midfield need to recover quickly. Any quick transitions forward from Liverpool that leave our center backs exposed could cause some serious troubles. In Mane, Coutinho and Firmino Liverpool have pace and trickery in abundance.

Liverpool could also cause us problems pressing high up the pitch. Chambers has a tendency to give the ball way cheaply when put under pressure and Cech isn’t always convincing when the ball is dropped back to him. If Liverpool can press high and force our center backs to play backwards to Cech, it’ll force him into hitting long hopeful clearances forward. Not only will that prevent us from developing a passing rhythm from back to front, without Giroud we don’t have anyone likely to win any of those long balls.

Arsenal advantages

Whether Wenger starts Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott or Joel Campbell on the right side of midfield, Arsenal should have an advantage down that channel where Alberto Moreno will be at left back for Liverpool. Moreno can certainly be a threat going forward but is a truly awful defender, poor both positionally and in terms of his decision-making and 1 v. 1 defending. He’ll almost certainly look to provide attacking width deep in the Arsenal half when Liverpool are in possession which should open up space down the right to counter into when we win the ball back. Whoever plays at right midfield will have to be diligent tracking Moreno’s bursts forward but should get plenty of joy in transitions. Ramsey should look to float right from his #10 role and Bellerin will get forward from right back, forcing Moreno into tricky overloads where his decision-making tends to be poor.

Elsewhere, Arsenal could cause problems to what will be a new center back partnership for Liverpool in Lovren and Klavan. lists Klavan’s weaknesses as aerial duels and tackling, two seemingly important skill sets for a Premier League center back, and Lovren can at times look clumsy and unathletic though he enjoyed a marked improvement under Klopp after a disastrous 2014-2015 season. If the Arsenal front four can get behind the Liverpool midfield and force the two center backs into defending 1 v. 1 we’ll be favored to win those battles.