How Arsenal’s constant movement created the spaces to beat Bournemouth

If we break down the offensive side of football to its simplest forms, one of the solutions that multiple teams use is creating space one way and exploiting it in another.

The methods vary according to a team’s principles, tactics and the profiles of their players. It could be by using quick-passing combinations and rotations to catch out the opposition, moving a player to overload different areas of the pitch or focusing on blocks and dummy runs to create space at set pieces.

Arsenal’s right-sided combinations between Ben White, Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard have proven to be effective for another season, and the overloads from new signing Kai Havertz or the No 6 has only added to its strength. The Germany international’s varying positioning when he operates as their most advanced player has also helped Arsenal exploit spaces in central areas and drag defenders out of position. As for set pieces, their mastery of dead-ball situations speaks for itself.

In the first half of Saturday’s 3-0 home win against Bournemouth, it was all of the above, with a sprinkle of fluidity added to the mix.

Arsenal’s movements constantly created space inside Bournemouth’s defensive block, and Mikel Arteta’s players were alert enough to exploit it.

In this first example, Odegaard is dropping to help Arsenal advance the ball upfield — which has been a feature of their play since December — with Declan Rice moving forward on the other side of the pitch, where Takehiro Tomiyasu has moved infield from left-back to occupy a narrow position.

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The interesting part isn’t the positioning of the Arsenal players, but how their movement allows them to play through Bournemouth’s midfield.

Tomiyasu’s dash inside presents a passing option to Thomas Partey, and Rice’s forward movement forces Bournemouth right-winger Antoine Semenyo to hold his position, which means it’s his nearest team-mate, Ryan Christie, who has to move up towards the Japan international.

Meanwhile, Odegaard takes up a more central position…

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…which allows him to receive the ball from Tomiyasu in space after Christie moves to press the latter, because Semenyo is pinned by Rice’s movement.

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The result is Arsenal being in a four-versus-four scenario when Odegaard finds Rice.

It leads to nothing on this occasion because the Bournemouth players drop in time, but it’s an early signal of what’s coming.

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The fluidity of Arsenal’s movement didn’t only come in the build-up phase, but also in the final third.

Here, Havertz roams towards the right wing to present himself as a passing option for Saka. The Germany forward’s movement drags Marcos Senesi wider and creates a gap between him and centre-back partner Illia Zabarnyi, which Leandro Trossard looks to attack.

Initially, the Belgian is tracked by Christie…

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…but Zabarnyi signals to the Scot that he is going to pick up Trossard as Arsenal circulate the ball down the right side.

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To help his defence, Lewis Cook drops to mark Havertz in the half-space and Christie keeps his deep positioning to support Bournemouth’s right-back, Adam Smith, against Rice.

At this moment, Christie’s decision makes sense, because a cross towards the back-post zone from this situation is one of Arsenal’s solutions in the attacking third and Rice’s aerial ability makes it more threatening.

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With Bournemouth’s double pivot being this deep to defend Rice and Havertz, Odegaard has space in front of their penalty area.

First, White tries to attack the gap between Senesi and Cook, and despite Saka not finding his right-back’s run…

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… the latter’s movement allows Saka to move inside the pitch and pass to Odegaard in space. Due to Christie’s positioning, the Arsenal captain has an extra moment on the ball…

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…and it’s Senesi who blocks his pass to Trossard.

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In another example, Havertz and Saka exchange positions, but the key movement comes from Trossard who drops behind the penalty spot after attacking the space the German vacated.

Again, Christie’s focus on defending Rice at the back post and Cook being occupied by Arsenal’s right side leave space in front of the defence, which is where Trossard positions himself.

Christie and Zabarnyi signal that he is free…

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… but Semenyo isn’t close enough to Trossard when Havertz finds White’s overlap down the Arsenal right.

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In this position, Bournemouth’s centre-backs and Christie have to drop to defend the space between themselves and goalkeeper Mark Travers, which creates a bigger space for Trossard.

White smartly plays the cutback…

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… but the Belgian’s shot is blocked, again by Senesi.

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The dynamic movement of Arsenal’s players came from everywhere — even William Saliba joined the action. Here, Havertz and Odegaard are marked by Senesi and Cook when the French centre-back is in possession.

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In two movements, Arsenal create a gap in the visitors’ defence.

First, Havertz drops, dragging Senesi out with him…

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… before Odegaard attacks the space those movements vacated, and accordingly also moves Cook, which all makes a hole in Bournemouth’s defence as Saliba plays wide to Saka.

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The centre-back attacks that gap and Saka finds him in space, with Cook and Senesi merely reacting to the situation after being moved out of position…

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… but Saliba’s eventual shot is saved.

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Eventually, Arsenal’s dynamic movement broke down Bournemouth.

In the lead-up to the penalty through which Saka opened the scoring just before half-time, Odegaard roams inside the pitch to attack the space behind Christie, who is moving up to press Rice.

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As Rice searches for the best passing option and plays the ball to the advancing Gabriel, Odegaard continues his movement to overload the Arsenal left…

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… which is enabled by off-the-ball movement from Tomiyasu and Trossard pinning Bournemouth’s right-winger and right-back and creating bigger space for the Norwegian to attack. Gabriel then plays a pass into the path of Odegaard…

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… who finds Havertz’s run behind the defence before the forward wins the penalty.

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As simple as it looks, being fluid in possession isn’t easy in a league that has been high on transitions this season, because you need the right balance between having a dynamic attack and being in the correct positions to counter-press effectively.

That’s the balance Arsenal have achieved under Arteta.

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