Arsenal threw away a two-goal advantage against West Ham on Saturday to draw 3-3, with Andy Carroll’s hat-trick proving to be the Gunners’ undoing. TheHardTackle analyses the tactical battle between two sides aiming for a top four finish.
West Ham and Arsenal could not afford to drop any more points going into the game, with the Hammers dreaming of a top four finish while the Gunners chased an unlikely title. With this in mind, both teams lined up cautiously with two out-and-out defensive midfielders. Though Arsenal had a fluid front four ahead of them, West Ham boss Slaven Bilic opted to reinforce the back line and lined up in an unusual 5-2-3 (or a 3-4-2-1) formation.
Michail Antonio, a right winger by trade, was asked to slot in at wing back. James Tomkins, after uncomfortable spells at right back before his injury, returned to the starting lineup alongside Angelo Ogbonna and Winston Reid to form a three-man back line.
A formation which was aimed at strengthening the Hammers’ leaky backline backfired terribly as the West Ham players — especially Tomkins and Antonio — struggled to get their positioning right in one of the most difficult formations in world football. Arsenal took advantage of this and went two up, only to throw away their advantage as they could not cope with the aerial prowess of Andy Carroll.
West Ham vs Arsenal formations
What went wrong with West Ham’s 3 man backline?
With only three players upfield, the Hammers failed to conjure any kind of attacking threat — especially down the right hand side. Apart from a wrongly disallowed offside goal, West Ham struggled to move the ball up the field effectively.
Antonio, who is inexperienced in the wing-back position, struggled to decide when to stay back and when to bomb forward. Aaron Cresswell on the opposite flank proved to be more reliable and combined with Dimitri Payet brilliantly to pose a potent attacking threat. It was the right flank that was the cause for concern for West Ham.
Arsenal’s wingers, upon realising that West Ham were uncomfortable with the back three, kept cutting inside and interchanged positions frequently in the first half. With Mark Noble and Cheikhou Kouyate concentrating on the effervescent Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi kept drifting inside — almost unnoticed.
There were times when both Tomkins and Antonio went in for the same ball, leaving an Arsenal attacker unmarked. Iwobi also managed to receive more passes centrally than out wide, wrecking havoc through the West Ham spine, resulting in the Gunners taking the lead twice. Bilic realised his mistake and reverted to a traditional back four in the second half. This was, however, after Andy Carroll had put the Hammers back into the game with a show of power and aerial prowess.
Alex Iwobi received passes in central areas
Antonio caught out of position for first goal
The Andy Carroll show
Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have been blamed for being too naive over the past few years in a tactical sense and the match against the Hammers just served to reinforce those claims. The Frenchman continued to stick with Gabriel instead of the more experienced Per Mertesacker in the heart of defence. Despite getting their tactics horribly wrong in the first half, West Ham were allowed to get back in the game with goals reminiscent of football’s bygone years — a towering centre forward bulldozing through the opposition defence.
Cresswell delivered a simple cross which Carroll dispatched with aplomb for West Ham’s first. The former Newcastle United striker was frequently peeling off Arsenal’s centre-backs to the far post where he most likely had to deal with either Hector Bellerin or Nacho Monreal — two battles skewed significantly in his favour.
Gabriel and Laurent Koscielny failed to deal with this on numerous occasions, even prior to the first goal. The Brazilian was directly at fault for Carroll’s second as he left the big forward completely unmarked in the penalty area.
Antonio went to right-back at the beginning of the second half as Bilic switched to a back four. Accustomed to playing the right-back role due to West Ham’s injury crisis in that position, Antonio’s confidence and decision making was restored as he delivered an inch perfect cross to Carroll, who had again peeled off from Arsenal’s centre-backs to put West Ham in front for the first time in the game.
Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin were to blame for the West Ham goals as much as the Arsenal centre-backs, as they failed to control the midfield despite Arsenal taking the lead twice.
Koscielny got an equaliser in the 70th minute to restore parity, but it was definitely two points lost rather than one point gained for the Gunners, who will now have to put their title ambitions aside for another season. The Hammers, meanwhile, will take pride from their performance and will be heading in to the FA Cup replay against Manchester United brimming with confidence.