Deep in the thick of the international break and with no top flight club football on this weekend, a look back at Arsenal’s 3-1 victory over West Ham last weekend seems to be the only logical thing to discuss. In a new sub-section called Technically Talking, we’ll look to dissect goals from both a technical and tactical angle.
Down a goal and away from home, Arsenal needed a goal before halftime to reassert themselves and their control at Upton Park. In the 41st minute, they did just that. The Gunners this season have shown just how dangerous they can be at any point in the match, turning defense into attack incredibly quickly. Arteta’s pressure in midfield led to Diame’s poor touch and cheap turnover. With West Ham’s momentum moving forward and the ball now moving towards their own goal, their defense had to adjust and think fast. The anticipation from Arsenal’s attacking presence was brilliant. The moment Arteta looked to have dispossessed Diame, Grioud, Gervinho, Cazorla, and Podolski all reacted with positive movements. West Ham’s back four, spread wide across the back because of their retention of the ball moments prior, left gaps everywhere for Arsenal’s runners to work with.
Instead of looking to continue his run and get in behind, Giroud recognizes the physical battle Arteta and Diame are in and drops off to maintain possession.
His first touch shows just how aware he is by taking the ball across Diame’s path. A bit of strength helps keep the Senegalese international at bay. Now with the ball at his feet, he sees Gervinho pulling off to his right, Cazorla running alongside him in the middle and Podolski providing great width on the left hand side. Giroud opts to take advantage of Podolski’s isolation on the wing.
Though he makes the pass look easy, the weight of the ball, the angle of the ball, and the timing of the pass are all fantastic. Podolski doesn’t need to break stride and now his technique has to be perfect. His first touch allows him to either take on West Ham’s right back or put a cross in. He isn’t closed down quickly enough and plays a sublime ball into the box.
The ball is a perfect example of the intricacies of the top level. Podolski curls the ball in behind James Collins but is sure to give Jussi Jaaskelainen a decision to make: Go for it and be completely left in no-man’s land, or stay put and force himself to make a save. West Ham’s goalkeeper opts to stay on his line and use the trajectory of the ball to guess where he thinks the cross will end up. By the time he dives, however, it’s far too late as Giroud has continued his run into the perfect position in the box.
We must note what happens off the ball now as the movement is exceptional as the play builds up. After playing Podolski in on the flank, Giroud continues his angled run to the near post. Cazorla, aware of Giroud’s powerful run towards the post, slows down and changes the direction of his run towards the penalty spot. Gervinho, who has been occupying the weaker right side of the play the entire time, cuts his run short and pulls off back towards the top of the box. These movements, though not directly influencing the pass and the final strike on goal, play huge roles in freeing up space for Giroud to operate in. West Ham’s back four know the quality Arsenal’s attacking players possess and any man left unmarked in the box is a massive threat. When players pull off, defenders must go. When defenders go, holes begin to appear and attacking players have much more room to work with.
The timing of the play is superb, and Giroud’s run, just behind Collins, is textbook. Collins is caught square with the cross and lacks that little bit of awareness to recognize Giroud coming in behind him.
Finally, when the ball does arrive, Giroud does as well and uses his gifted left foot to redirect the cross into the back of the net. The play actually just takes 8 seconds from when Arteta dispossesses Diame in the midfield to when the ball hits the back of the net, and the manner in which everyone has to think, react, and execute is fantastic.
Through great movement off the ball, technique on the ball, and well timed execution, Arsenal were able to turn defense into attack efficiently and lethally to bring things level before pushing on to win the game.