Arsenal face 14-time League of Ireland winners Dundalk in the #UEL group stage tomorrow. Dundalk hired current Head Coach Filippo Giovagnoli on an interim basis in August before giving him the job permanently following Dundalks #UEL play-off win over Faroese side KI. #afc
Dundalk line-up in a 2-3-5 in possession, with their wide CM's pushing into the half-spaces and their wingers keeping the width. They use the presence of the wide CM's to form triangles with the winger and full-back to maximise wide rotations in order to create space for crosses.
Dundalk's DM (likely Chris Shields) holds the centre of the pitch and the full-backs push up with him to cover the half-spaces to provide them with good cover for counter-attacks. They mainly use the centre of the pitch as an in/out area in possession as they look to go wide.
Dundalk aim to get the ball wide to their wingers, Michael Duffy (LW) and Stefan Čolović (RW), who cut in onto their stronger foot to whip in-swinging crosses into their target-man and club legend Patrick Hoban who is always joined by 2 players a CM and the opposite winger.
As shown here, Dundalk's commitment to having 3 men in the box allows them to create gaps between defenders for Čolović or Duffy to exploit with their fantastic crossing ability. The CM on the ball-side usually makes a run in behind or offers an inside passing option in order to
drag a defender away from Čolović or Duffy. Both Čolović and Duffy are comfortable crossing from deep or getting to the byline and cutting the ball back onto their stronger foot. Dundalk's playing style is clear, with the Lilywhites averaging over 20 attempted crosses a game.
Dundalk also have the option of Nathan Oduwa who mostly plays LW, with Duffy playing on the right. Oduwa is a brilliant dribbler who looks to take on his defender and curl out-swinging crosses . This provides them variety in their wide-play and an explosive option off the bench.
Čolović and Duffy are also very comfortable at crossing from deeper, providing a difficult angle for defenders as they look to exploit space behind them. They usually achieve this by rotating with wide CM's thus gaining space on the inside. Blocking this will be key for Arsenal.
Dundalk can also utilise their full-backs to change the angle of delivery. Here Čolović lays the ball off to Sean Hoare who lofts a cross towards Hoban, who flicks the ball towards Murray who runs beyond the CF to head past the keeper.
The RB (Hoare here but likely to be Gannon) can also whip crosses in from a more traditional area. Notice how the LB Leahy has shifted across to take up a better position for potential counter-attacks. Dundalk again have 3 options available for the cross.
Leahy can also do this from the left, giving Dundalk balance in how they attack and forcing defences to cover both flanks.
Central to Dundalk's possession play is the DM Chris Shields (nicknamed "the ginger Pirlo") who has the ability to play through-balls in behind if he's given space to operate. Dundalk's wide-rotations can also allow them to confuse defences and create space in behind to exploit.
Out of possession Dundalk move into a 5-4-1 with the DM joining the defensive line. Dundalk's midfield press the opposition early when possession is lost and attempt to force them to play long to their aerially dominant defenders, captain Brian Gartland and Dan Cleary.
When the opposition go long Dundalk's defence keep a line with the DM sitting just in front to collect any second balls. If the intial press can be bypassed however Dundalk leave a lot of space between the midfield and defence.
Dundalk look to push the opposition into wide areas to use the touchline as another defender and force the opposition into mistakes. If they win the ball high up the pitch they look to instantly get the ball into wide spaces and overload the box.
A massive feature of Dundalk's out-of-possession style is their narrow defensive unit. This leaves a lot of space out wide which could be exploited by quick switches when their defensive unit is set as the wingers are tasked with covering wide areas and can be beaten there.
Dundalk's set-piece's are a massive weapon for them. They use their physically dominant defenders and Hoban, coupled with the brilliant delivery of Duffy and Čolović to create havoc in opposition boxes. This routine is one they regularly use with Duffy aiming for the back-post.
Dundalk leave the opposite side of the pitch completely open however which can leave them vulnerable to fast counter-attacks. Whoever plays in goal for Arsenal can expect to be targeted at corners as Dundalk's in-swinging corners put pressure right onto the keeper.
Perhaps Dundalk's biggest weakness is their vulnerability to cut-backs. Here a simple slip from the LB Leahy lets KI in behind and Dundalk have nobody covering the man on the edge of the area due to their narrow defense and their winger dropping in to cover the wide run.
If Arsenal can exploit this they should be able to create a lot of good goalscoring opportunities.
If Arsenal can score early they should have more than enough firepower to comfortably beat Dundalk, but if the Lilywhites can stay in the game they are more than capable of causing the Arsenal defence a multitude of problems.
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