When a smaller club plays a bigger club, it isn’t rare to see the smaller club play outstanding soccer for about 10 minutes before being beaten back by the better side. This was the case when Arsenal played West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, but the Baggies could have kept on pressing and it could have led to them beating the Gunners.
Criticizing managers is something that is really hard to do, because these guys know their players better than any of us. They have been around the game more than someone sitting at home watching on their laptop or TV, and they are at training every day. But that doesn’t mean we can’t question what they’re doing.
Alan Irvine’s West Brom has been one of the most well-organized teams all season. The Baggies lineup in a 4-4-2 that is very compact, rigid, and easy to define. One of the tweaks to the system is that the two wide midfielders tuck in when the team attacks, as the full backs get forward. Stephane Sessegnon drops behind Saido Berahino when the team attacks, but analyzing them from a defensive point of view, this team plays 4-4-2.
As strategy in games against the likes of Chelsea and Liverpool, they try to sit back and defend in a low block hoping to spring on the break to get a goal or take advantage of a set-piece opportunity. This strategy will probably be enough for West Brom to stay up this year. Irvine’s team is very reliant on Berahino for goals (the forward has eight, and seven other players on the team have netted one), though, so it’s compact defense will have to be able to keep it in games.
But that doesn’t mean the team can’t be more proactive in defense as opposed to being reactive. West Brom pressed Arsenal in the first 10 minutes of its match at the weekend, before it sat back and let the Gunners boss the game.
In the early going, the team is excited and the forwards are working hard and the midfield is pushing up. In the above GIF, this forces Arsenal to play a long ball and the Baggies win the ball in the opposition’s half.
While they don’t do it in that first GIF, when West Brom won the ball they were able to keep it too. In the first 10 minutes of the match, they out-pass their opponents and have the run of play in their favor.