How Arsenal attack down the right still needs to improve under Mikel Arteta.
When the Spaniard arrived in December, his attacking structure became noticeable very quickly. There was a heavy reliance on the left flank with Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all crucial to the patterns that were run.
Similar phases of play haven’t been replicated down the right wing with the same impact but set movements have been made to try and grease the wheels which can be seen throughout matches.
Rather than having the right-back, right winger and right-sided midfielder working in tandem to unlock defences, Arteta has tried a different combination. The winger and near-sided central midfielder are still involved but instead of using the right-back for a symmetrical approach, Mesut Ozil – the No.10. – is the player that joins the build-up play.
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Against West Ham – when Ozil made his first open play assist since February 2019 in the Premier League – the 31-year-old was constantly looking to partner up with Pepe and get these patterns working.
This was especially the case in the first half but his heatmap shows that the right wing was an area he took up for large stretches of the game.
Mesut Ozil’s heatmap from the 1-0 win over West Ham
When Ozil drifts out to the right his main job will be to help set Pepe free. Not only does he act as an extra body but the space he takes up will stretch defences, therefore creating more room inside for his teammate.
Although this works in theory, it does not always have the desired effect when put into practice. The West Ham game was an almost perfect example of why this dynamic doesn’t always work.
The key being the angles each player is attacking the ball from.
Where the Mesut Ozil-Nicolas Pepe dynamic doesn’t work
Early in the first half Dani Ceballos – who stood out throughout the game – looks to spread the play. Pepe has started to drift infield which leaves the space for Ozil to run into on the outside. Ceballos sees this developing as slides the ball into Ozil’s path.
This is where the move breaks down for Arsenal. Pepe has taken up a great position in between the left-back and centre-back but choosing to make a run from the inside channel to the outside channel.
Ozil expects him to hold his position and plays the ball to feet as Pepe makes his run and the Hammers sweep the ball up.
It was early in the game so the pair not being on the exact same page can somewhat be accepted. What was concerning, however, was that for this stage of the move the same runs were made despite them not baring any fruit.
In this frame, Pepe initially wanted to receive the ball from Ceballos centrally. The Spaniard clipped the ball out to Ozil instead…