It was an eventful 2014 for Arsenal, with an FA Cup triumph, a couple of major signings and some memorable performances. Tactically, it was also a varied and intriguing year - here are five matches which were interesting in a strategic sense…
February 2: Arsenal 2-0 Crystal Palace
This wasn’t Arsenal’s most crucial victory of 2014, but tactically it was extremely interesting because of the identity of the matchwinner. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain grabbed both goals in the second half, but he had been playing as a conventional central midfielder, rather than out wide.
That didn’t curb his attacking instincts, though, and Oxlade-Chamberlain sprinted forward with typical determination for both goals, first running past ex-Arsenal striker Marouane Chamakh and into a goalscoring position for the opener, then combining well with Olivier Giroud to seal the game in the 73rd minute.
Oxlade-Chamberlain interpreted his unusual role intelligently, adapting effortlessly in a positional sense, but continuing to showcase his unique, direct qualities on the ball. It’s now far from unusual to see him playing centrally, a valuable tactical option for Arsene Wenger.
March 16: Tottenham Hotspur 0-1 Arsenal
A north London derby victory is always memorable - especially when the winner is scored in such spectacular fashion, with Tomas Rosicky’s stunning second-minute drive the difference between the sides.
In truth, however, this was one of the most atypical Arsenal victories under Wenger, because the approach wasn’t about ball retention and passing triangles inside the opposition half. Instead it was about defending extremely deep on the edge of the box, concentrating on remaining solid and compact, and only sporadically counter-attacking.
“We absorbed a lot of pressure from Tottenham, they gave everything and we needed a special resilience and good defensive performance,” said Wenger afterwards. He recognised the unusual nature of the performance, but Arsenal showed they were able to win ugly.
May 17: Arsenal 3-2 Hull City
Arsenal were triumphant at full time, but it’s worth remembering their horrendous start to the FA Cup final as Hull City went 2-0 up after just eight minutes.
Santi Cazorla started the comeback with a bullet free-kick, but Arsenal completed the turnaround mainly thanks to Wenger’s substitutions. First, he introduced Yaya Sanogo in place of Lukas Podolski and switched to 4-4-2, which allowed Sanogo and Olivier Giroud to work the space on the outside of Hull’s three-man defence. Sanogo and Giroud combined to win the corner for Laurent Koscielny’s equaliser.
Then, midway through extra time, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky replaced Cazorla and Mesut Ozil, and increased the tempo of the game. Aaron Ramsey’s finish is fondly remembered, but the quick passing move in the build-up was also extremely impressive, and probably wouldn’t have happened had Wilshere and Rosicky not been introduced.
September 20: Aston Villa 0-3 Arsenal
In terms of winning the game efficiently and professionally, this might be Arsenal’s best performance of 2014.
There were two notable things about the victory. First, it hinted at a brilliant partnership between Ozil and Danny Welbeck. Both have been used in wide positions at various points in their careers, but both prefer playing centrally, and this is why: both are excellent at storming through the centre on the counter-attack, making intelligent, quick decisions. Welbeck assisted Ozil for the opener, then Ozil returned the favour for the second. An Aly Cisshoko own goal completed the scoring before half-time, the three goals coming in 192 seconds.
Equally interesting was what happened after half-time - almost nothing. The game’s final shot on target came in the 52nd minute, as Arsenal shut down the game incredibly effectively. The away side had 71 per cent of possession, yet barely bothered trying to extend the lead. There was ever any danger of a late collapse.
November 29: West Bromwich Albion 0-1 Arsenal
Arsenal have a wealth of options up front this season, and the victory at The Hawthorns was a taste of things to come with three outright forwards deployed across the pitch. Alexis Sanchez and Welbeck started either side of Olivier Giroud, and the Gunners' attacking firepower was quite extraordinary.
Arsenal played a particularly direct style of football. Cazorla was the link between midfield and the front three, and he attempted to supply the forwards as quickly as possible. At times it was an onslaught, with West Brom unable to get out of their own half, and their full-backs pegged back by the visitors' wide forwards. Welbeck’s powerful second-half header was the difference between the sides, but it should probably have been a bigger victory.
With Rosicky, Joel Campbell, Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench, plus Ozil, Theo Walcott and Sanogo not involved at all, it was a great demonstration of Arsenal’s range of attacking options.
Copyright 2023 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source.