Over on Arseblog, Lewis Ambrose has put together an excellent tactical look at Thursday night’s Europa League opposition, Slavia Prague. Check it out here.
To give us even more perspective on the challenge that lies ahead, we have the thoughts of Franz, an Arsenal fan in Prague who supports Slavia.
Thanks to him for this insight.
Slavia sit comfortably at the top of the Czech league table, 14 points ahead of Sparta Prague (who have two games in hand), heading for a third league title in a row. This weekend they also set a new Czech record by prolonging their unbeaten run to 37 league games without a loss, drawing 0-0 against weak side Brno, but having to play almost 70 minutes with 10 men.
Style of play
Slavia like to play what their coach Jindrich Trpisovsky described as “Total football” when he was appointed back in 2017. It means high octane football where every player defends and every player attacks, with relentless running for the whole match. They covered the most distance in the Champions League group stages last season. I think their style is very comparable to that of Leeds in the Premier League. They are very physical and have a lot of tall and strong players in their ranks. They also commit high numbers of light and smart fouls, especially in the attacking third. You just hate to play against them.
They love to press high to force turnovers at the entire width of oppositions half. They usually play a very high defensive line trying to squeeze the opponents as much as possible and force them to play through the lines. They are a very compact side and always try to have what the coach describes as “small pitch” (defensive and attacking lines close to each other).
They always try to build from the back and play down the lines, with overlapping, very attacking minded fullbacks, often trying to cut back for second runners from midfield to finish. They are also quite dangerous on set-pieces, with Romanian playmaker Nicolae Stanciu very capable of scoring from free kicks (look at his goal against Rangers).
Pressing, compactness, team spirit, self-belief, physicality, tactical preparation.
Playing such a high defensive line, the central defenders are often left exposed to play 1v1 at the back. This can be exploited by Arsenal, especially if Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe are available.
Another weakness in comparison to Arsenal is technical inferiority. Arsenal definitely has much better technicians than Slavia and if they are able to beat Slavia’s pressing, then the Gunners can hurt them in the final third.
The biggest star of Slavia is their coach. He was able to create the strongest Slavia team in living memory and is called the Czech Klopp! The players love him and always follow his instructions to the smallest detail. They are able to execute his tactical plan to perfection and he is really good at exposing oppositions weaknesses (So expect Xhaka to be under huge pressure after he receives the ball from defenders). Most of the players just get better and better under this coach- just look at what Soucek and Coufal, both from Slavia, did with West Ham this season.
I think the biggest weakness of Czech sides in Europe was what I call the ‘Big team intimidation’. Any time we played a big team we were scared and unable to show what we were capable of. But it has changed with this guy, and right now Slavia are truly fearless, full of self belief and looking to hurt any opponent without any respect.
CB – Kudela (missing)
At the moment Slavia has 3 of their 4 CBs on the sidelines, with the only fit being a 20 year old guy, playing his first full professional season.
GK – Kolar (most likely missing)
This is a terrible loss for Slavia, as Kolar is absolutely integral to their style of play, not just in build-up, but he also plays the Neuerisque sweeper style behind the high defensive line. Slavia’s reserve keeper is also injured, so there will probably be an 18yr old guy, who will make just his 3rd professional appearance.
This guy made a huge progress in the last 12 months, and right now I would say he would make the starting 11 in Arsenal’s midfield). Very quick, very strong, can shoot with both legs and is technically very secure.(and he just scored against Belgium in the WC qualifiers)
Wingers: Olayinka and Sima- both African wingers are very dangerous, Olayinka for his pressing and ball carrying skills, Sima for his great finishing.
If Arsenal can enforce their style of play and demonstrate their technical superiority they will be on track to the semis. It would be smart to press high, because Slavia will be sorely missing their 1st choice goalkeeper and center-backs.
But there is a big task ahead for Arsenal – they can’t switch off for a second, they mustn’t commit any of their stupid mistakes and they have to play the full 180 minutes – otherwise Slavia will take advantage.
I think the odds would be 65 to 35 for Arsenal, but if Saka, ESR and Xhaka wont make it, then it’s more like 60 to 40. Arsenal are clear favourites in this encounter, but they have to hide the self destruct button and, hopefully, not touch it at all!