Arsenal's Terrible Defending v Anderlecht

By Stevie Grieve

Arsenal have been notoriously bad defensively for several years, but this looked to be changing in the past 18 months, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker becoming a solid partnership at the back as both players strengths complement each other’s weaknesses. In this game v Anderlecht, recognised 2nd choice left full back Nacho Monreal played at Centre Back with Per Mertesacker, in what was always destined to be a horror pairing, and so it turned out to be.

From the 1st whistle, neither player looked comfortable with the pairing, and in the 1st half, Anderlecht could’ve easily scored 3 goals, while Arsenal tore into a 2-0 HT lead.

In the 2nd half, Arsenal made it 3 through some excellent pressure in the Anderlecht half, but no more than 3 minutes later, it was 3-1 then 3-2, before the game ended 3-3 with an 89th minute goal.

Anderlecht 1st goal; Chambers 1v1 with no cover around him leads to offside goal conversion


Calum Chambers is a decent centre back, and almost definatly a better centre back than right back. One of the reasons for this is that he is a poor 1v1 defender and lacks pace to recover when the attacker slips away from him. In this situation, Mertesacker (white rectangle) needs to drop off 1m-2m and give some cover to the expected dribble outside to cross. If this happens, the cross can be stopped or cut out before the front post.


As Mertesacker doesn’t provide cover behind Chambers, the cross is allowed to be made. Despite the goal scorer being clearly offside, the attack should have been stopped before the ball reaches that position. If VandenBorre is not in this position, I think that the ball would’ve reached the far post and been scored as Gibbs does not know where his man is.

Anderlecht cutback chance – no midfield protection


Aside from the lack of positional accuracy and organisation inside the box, the midfield didn’t give the defence much protection, and this was evident throughout the match. In this example, Flamini runs needlessly into a position between Mertesacker and Chambers, while Chambers doesn’t want to get too tight as he is liable to be eliminated.

As the winger has time on the ball, and Flamini is in a terrible position to defend against a pass, there are 2 options; cross to the far post or to cut-back to the edge of the box. If Mertesacker was in a narrower position, closer to the front zone, this would free up Gibbs to play in the far post zone, able to attack a cross into 2 players.

Anderlecht 3rd goal


In the 89th minute, when you have lost a 3 goal lead, the game needs to be closed up. The back 4 stay compact and connected, the midfield provide protection and you force the opposition to break you down or play low percentage passes into the defence where you have a high chance of a regain to stop the attack (Jose Mourinho style).

Instead, Arsenal don’t do this, they stay open, and leave spaces all over the field. Here, there is no pressure on the player in possession, no protection of the goal – you need overloads here – and the far side FB is so far away from the 2nd CB that this means the whole back 4 is disconnected, resulting in 1v1s against the CBs. Ramsey needs to be closer to Flamini to help him cover more of the space between the CB’s and to track the runner into the box. Anything loose is easier to be recovered if there are two players rather than one.


As the cross comes into the space between Mertesacker and Monreal, Mitrovic wins the header and scores as Szczesny comes off of his line – reducing his reaction time to save the header – as Monreal is nowhere near close enough to have dealt with the cross as the 1st CB as the 2nd CB deals with the attacker 1v1.

This is a common trait of Arsenal in the past few years and is largely what stops them from getting close to winning the league or progressing to the last 8 or last 4 of the Champions League.

By Stevie Grieve. (Follow on Twitter @steviegrieve)  Stevie is also the author Coaching the 4-2-3-1Coaching the 4-2-3-1 Advanced Tactics and From Futsal to Soccer

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