Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Leicester City

August 31, 2014

It’s always hard to gauge just how a promoted team will play. They sometimes come up with a style that was successful in the Championship and discover that it just doesn’t work in the Premier League. A team that becomes used to winning and topping the table suddenly has to deal with defeats and a scrap at the wrong end. Adjustments have to be made and are not always successful. On the other hand, some promoted teams do really well and produce a fair few surprise results. Often mentioned as favourites for relegation, these sides can hit mid-table heights, even reaching the top half.

Leicester came up with an impressive record. Only two teams have been promoted with more points than their tally of a 102 since the formation of the Premier League. Reading managed a whopping 106 points in 2005/06. They followed it up with an impressive effort in the Premiership as they finished 8th. Sunderland clocked 105 in 1998/99 to gain promotion, and they too got into the top half with a 7th place finish the following season in the top flight. Leicester haven’t played enough games for us to judge just where they will finish but they’ve done enough, with a draw against Everton and a narrow defeat at Stamford Bridge, to show they’re not out of place in the big money league.

Their style of play doesn’t seem too complicated. Reliance on hard work, organization, discipline, and concentration can pay dividends. They’ve the second lowest possession (37%) and the fourth lowest pass completion rate (74.3%). The season is just two games old but I don’t expect them to change these stats drastically. Arsenal controlling the ball and the hosts trying to control vital spaces in the central areas of their half should be the norm on Sunday.

It that sense this game should be similar to the one against Palace, but just a little harder as this is away from home. Arsenal will again have to break a deep seated defence while protecting themselves from transitions and set-pieces.

Fast passing, runs in behind, combination play, clinical finishing…I think we’ve covered such topics often enough over the last few years as this is a typical Premier League game against a fighting opponent from the lower half of the table.

Defensive issues are well known too. Palace scored with their first shot on target. Everton did the same. Wenger’s side have conceded 3 goals from 5 shots on target in two League games. Gifting opponents goal scoring opportunities has long been the bane of Arsenal.

Leicester have some pace and trickery on the wings and play with two forwards who possess useful physical qualities, so they can be a threat on counter-attacks, from long balls, and set-pieces. Absolutely nothing new. It’s going to boil down to number of mistakes made and the degree of luck Arsenal have.

Wenger has quite a few options with his team selection. I’d really like to see something like,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Flamini, Özil, Ramsey – Wilshere, Alexis, AOC.

Wilshere produced some interesting performances when he played on the right flank last season. He can be more influential when cutting in because the body shape and angle would help him pick a wider range of passes. Such a role would also keep him closer to the dangerous attacking areas with fewer defensive responsibilities. Özil back in his best role obviously helps the team. Oxlade-Chamberlain should have more shooting opportunities when cutting in from the left onto his right foot. He also has a decent enough left foot to go on the outside and deliver balls into the box. Sanchez could move into the wider areas on the right when Wilshere cuts in and he can constantly look to get in behind with two or three players in good positions to pick passes. It seems to me this system can get the best out of a lot of players.

That said, I won’t be surprised if Wenger stays with Wilshere and Ramsey in the middle, particularly if he sees that as a combination for the long term that needs to be given time to gel. This would most probably put Özil back on the left. It might be worthwhile swapping the German and AOC even if Wenger wants to play Jack and Aaron through the centre.

Arsenal have been playing every three days and rotating players can help. Chambers for one of the defenders and Rosicky for one of the midfielders are definitely worth considering.

Last season Arsenal had a very good away record against teams in the bottom half as they picked up 28 points out of a possible 30. The only draw came away to West Brom relatively early in the season. Gaining points in the big games will only matter if the Gunners can replicate this dominance over the weaker sides. Anything less than three points will be a significant setback.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Besiktas

August 27, 2014

The second leg of the Champions League qualifier could be Arsenal’s biggest game of the season. Barring the case of winning either the Premier League or the Champions League, both in the realm of possibility but not the most likely of events, the huge financial boost received from entering the group phase of Europe’s elite competition could be the Gunners’ most valuable achievement this season. That income as well as the knowledge of Champions League involvement might also affect some business that Wenger might be able to do before the transfer window closes.

Bilic knows all the pressure is on Arsenal. His side have nothing to lose. This could liberate them to play as aggressively as they did in Turkey last week. The intensity of their play will be the key to their chances. Arsenal have quite a few players missing and the visitors will want to make it hard for the hosts to establish their style of play. Sitting back and inviting pressure would be counter-productive for them. Pushing up and chasing every ball would be the best approach. Try and force mistakes in the middle of the pitch, and utilize the individual qualities they have in their attacking players who can dribble, run, combine, and finish, particularly when they have space in the attacking areas. In the Croat’s boots, I’d want my team to try and isolate the wingers against the Arsenal full-backs or Demba Ba against/behind the central defenders. The performances of some of the German teams at the Emirates should provide the template.

They do need to be careful with the physical play and ensure their players don’t pick up early bookings. Avoiding errors seems like a very obvious thing to do but is often not that easy when the game is played at a frantic pace.

Wenger has to do the opposite. He has to preach control. Arsenal have, in the recent past, dismantled a couple of Italian teams by playing at a very high tempo. I’m not convinced the players at the manager’s disposal, given the limited understanding they have at the moment, can reproduce that tempo. This means a vertical battle could be detrimental to the home side’s cause. They don’t want to leave a slow-ish defence exposed with big gaps between the lines. Arsenal have to establish midfield superiority and push the opponents back. Besiktas are a good side but they aren’t exactly experts at parking the bus. As we saw in the first leg, if the Gunners get to the attacking third they will see some openings. Of course, the finishing and the final ball will have to be much better.

With Arteta and Giroud injured and Ramsey suspended, the choices for the starting line-up are somewhat limited. Playing the German twice in a short period would be a risk but it’s one that I think Wenger will take.

We might see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Metesacker, Monreal – Flamini, Özil, Wilshere – AOC, Alexis, Cazorla

That’s not exactly the strongest midfield but I can’t think of a better combination based on availability. Özil and Cazorla have  to take extra responsibility and make sure they don’t lose the ball carelessly.

Sanchez as a striker didn’t quite work in the game against Everton but he should surely get more time there. At the moment, I’d go with the Chilean if Sanogo is the only other realistic option. Changes can always be made at half time. Then again, that argument works for starting the French youngster too.

Rosicky hasn’t seen much game time and that has been a surprise. I don’t know what to expect. Campbell is another player who will be hoping for a better chance to show what he can do. Will this be the game? Doubtful.

Is Koscielny injured? I didn’t see him in the training pictures on the Arsenal website.

From the players available, the individuals in the line-up above have played the most minutes. It’d seem best to go with these guys and expect them to show better understanding in the attacking areas. Arsenal will have a very good chance of qualifying as long as they can keep the goal protected. Set-pieces have been a problem area and the team have been troubled by pace. Space on the right side was a problem area against Everton and in the first leg of this tie. Sorting those issues out could prove vital in the first must-win game of the season.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Everton

August 23, 2014

In many ways, this season is going to be a bigger test for Roberto Martinez than last year. He did well in taking Everton to 72 points, their highest tally during the Premier League era. But now he has to show he can do it again or even better it. This won’t be easy because a lot of other teams now know how his side play and will be better prepared.

Speaking of being better prepared, we’ll have to see just how well Wenger has readied his side. While Arsenal had three very different results against the Toffees last season, they were all very tough encounters.

In their win in the corresponding fixture last year, Everton found a lot of joy down their left flank and capitalized on numerous errors by the Arsenal midfield and defence. Baines and Pienaar have developed a very good understanding, while others who sometimes play there, like Mirallas, also combine well. The movements of their striker and the player on the right synchronizes well with attacks building down the left.

Given that Debuchy has been taking up very aggressive positions, this area could again be the key attacking zone for the hosts. Arsenal will have to keep it in control by – 1) Debuchy picking his moments carefully, 2) Central defender on the right side being more aware to the threat, 3) One of the midfielders scooting over to provide cover consistently. Not losing the ball carelessly in the first place, and avoiding half-hearted pressing in the Everton half will also make a big difference.

Lukaku against Monreal could be another difficult battle from an Arsenal perspective. Some people might prefer to see the Belgian centrally but given his obvious advantage against the full back, it’ll be very strange if Martinez indeed made that choice. If he does, I’d expect Lukaku to drift into the channel and towards the left. Otherwise he’ll look to cut across from the left and bend his runs before going in behind.

During the course of the game I expect both of the wide players that Wenger picks will have to put in some defensive tracking. Any laxity there could make life for the defensive players much tougher.

The battle in the centre of midfield will also be very interesting. Without Arteta, the Gunners could struggle with the build-up play if pressed diligently and coherently. This could lead to very threatening transitions.

On the other hand, Everton have had a winless preseason and were held to a draw by Leicester on the opening day. So far their players haven’t quite found the groove again. The Gunners have a chance to capitalize on their rustiness. Since Arsenal aren’t quite firing on all cylinders either, this could be a relatively low quality game decided by mistakes.

When in form, the Toffees defended the central areas very well. Barry and McCarthy formed a very effective central midfield partnership even though neither is physically imposing or fast. Direct passes into the central areas could be ineffective and the Gunners might have to work their way into the threatening zones by combining in the wider areas. Leicester got some joy on set-pieces and Stones wasn’t always in a good position at right back. I wonder if Coleman will be brought back to the right back spot for this game. Irrespective of who starts or the hosts, getting a chance to run at either of their full backs in a one-v-one could lead to very promising moments in attack for the visitors.

Patience could be a handy virtue and the first goal could be absolutely vital again. Arsenal scored first in 24 out of their 38 games and recorded league best 2.79 PPG in these fixtures. They conceded first in 12 ties and only managed 0.83 PPG. The corresponding PPG numbers for Everton are 2.63 from 22 leads and 0.83 from 12 leads conceded.

While the Gunners did turn the game around against Crystal Palace, I don’t think it’d be wise to expect too many such reversals.

Wenger has a few options in team selection with the return of the Germans. However, I’d be very surprised if he started any of them because they haven’t had any match practice (Not sure if any behind the doors friendlies have been arranged, but even those have limited utility).

He’ll have to substitute them around the hour mark if the Germans start or he risks overextending them right at the start of the season. While there is always a chance that he could take a gamble and get away with it, I’m not sure it would be a clever choice. Of the three, if really needed, Mertesacker could be the one to start because central defence requires less physical intensity than a role that Özil would play. Anyway, it’s hard to judge because each player could have different preparation levels.

In midfield, Flamini for Arteta seems like the safest option. Some might suggest Chambers, given the current wave of hype, but I would find such a choice extremely risky. Passing the ball when there is limited pressure at the back is one thing, playing in midfield when there is constantly someone snapping at your heals quite another. It would be best to try him in that role in one of the relatively easier home games where the opponent is more likely to sit back.

Cazorla hasn’t produced the output we know he can so a strong argument exists for dropping him from the side. At the same time, Ramsey and Wilshere in central midfield don’t really make the team performance better. I’d be tempted to leave Wilshere out and bring Cazorla into the attacking midfield role while switching Ramsey to the left of centre and Flamini to right to cover behind Debuchy.

However, since the manager believes so strongly in the young Englishman, and has talked about his performance improving with a run of games, it’s very unlikely that Wilshere will be left out.

Chamberlain for Cazorla would be a popular change. If Chamberlain plays on the right, it’ll be interesting to see his understanding with Debuchy. The best solution would be for the full back to stay deeper for majority of the game and let the youngster hug the touch line. Things could get complicated if both start getting into the same areas out wide.

We might see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere – AOC, Giroud, Alexis.

Chambers might start ahead of Mertesacker if the German is not ready.

Alexis through the middle and Chamberlain for Giroud is another option. I’m sure some fans will also like to see Campbell get a start. These don’t seem like the kind of choices Wenger would make though.

It’s hard to predict the result between two teams that are still some ways away from their best. Everton could have a slight edge because they didn’t play in the middle of the week and are at home. Arsenal have a chance to show they can do better than last season.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Besiktas

August 19, 2014

For the second year running Arsenal have drawn a Turkish opponent in the final round of Champions League qualifying. Last season the Gunners made light work of a tricky game against Fenerbahce so they are favourites to go through at the expense of a team that finished the season 12 points behind the winners of the Super Lig.

I have only seen parts of their impressive preseason that includes wins over Chelsea and Fenerbahce, as well as an aggregate 5-2 victory over Feyenoord in the previous qualifying round. Slavan Bilic’s side come into this game high on confidence and with a strong defensive record. Their main strengths will be their organization, physicality, and hard work. Counter-attacks and set-pieces will be the main offensive weapons.

This could be the kind of game which suits their recently acquired striker as Demba Ba thrives in games where he gets space in the central attacking areas. Karin Frei, Gokhan Tore, and Olcay Sahan are quick, skilful players who can run at defenders and make a decisive contribution in attack. Ozyakup, the youngster who spent a few years with the Arsenal academy, is another talented attacking option at the manager’s disposal.

In order to keep them in check, and to counter the passionate and vociferous home crowd, the Gunners will have to control the ball and play with confidence. Any sloppiness/hesitancy in possession or errors at the start can completely change the dynamic of this game. In a way, this challenge is not very different from playing some of the mid-level Premier League sides except that the Turks have better final third quality and slightly better technical/tactical skills.

Once again, patience in attack, set-piece defending, and sharp tempo could be the key to winning the game. Wenger’s side don’t really need three points from the away leg but a good result here will help them generate some momentum before a tough test at Goodison Park.

It’ll be interesting to see if the manager goes for some changes to his starting eleven. Given the personnel he has, the entire front six could be different from those that started the League opener.

For instance, Wenger could go with – Flamini, Rosicky, Coquelin – Campbell, Giroud, Ox. Still looks pretty strong.

However, I don’t think wholesale changes are needed or advisable. Two or three changes are sufficient to maintain freshness without sacrificing continuity. The Arsenal manager has learnt from previous seasons that a strong line up in away games is the better choice. More changes can be made at home, particularly in a two-legged encounter in which the Gunners hold the advantage after the first game.

Giroud will most probably start as Sanogo has not travelled with the squad. Monreal will be another forced change. Both did well as substitutes in the previous game. One more change may come in the form of Chamberlain starting in place of Wilshere or Cazorla.

I’d like to see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey – Chamberlain, Giroud, Alexis.

Some might say Santi has not been in the best of form and should be left out. Many fans might prefer to start Campbell in the attacking trio. Ox or Rosicky can also be considered for a central midfield role.

The defence remains the only real area of concern from a depth point of view. Hopefully, we won’t see any injuries.

Wenger has many options and there isn’t one outstanding choice. You can form four or five starting elevens that can do the job and the bench should also hold a couple of quality players in every case. In that sense, it’s more down to the players to perform on the pitch rather than choices of the manager.

P.S. If you’re interested, Youtube has full match videos of their home game against Feyenoord as well as friendlies against Chelsea and Fenerbahce through this beIN Sport Channel.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Crystal Palace

August 16, 2014

I want to start by saying many thanks to everyone who took the time to share their feedback, and such an overwhelmingly positive one at that, on my article about defending being significantly easier than attacking. Such articles get notably fewer visitors but as long as I know so many people find it useful, I remain motivated to develop the series. Since we’re all back in the mood for Arsenal and the football we love, I’ll hold off on the other articles in that series till the next international break. For now it’s Crystal Palace at Emirates and the buzz is palpable.

The visitors are coming into this game on the back of some turmoil with the departure of their manager Tony Pulis. Their concentration levels during the game could be affected if the players are distracted but we won’t know for sure till we see the performance.

Talking of performance, I won’t be surprised if we again see a very basic system with two banks of four. Keith Millen might even go with 5 across the midfield as he did last October in a similar instance when he was the caretaker.

The idea is pretty simple. Protect the areas most threatening to the goal, i.e. the penalty box and the central areas in front of it. This is done by letting the opponents have the ball in their own half or around the centre line but passes into centre of the pitch are contested and/or discouraged by the presence of the defensive players. Marking in these areas is tight and can get physical. Spaces in wider areas are more readily available for a pass. It’s pretty standard and we see a lot of sideways and backward passing from the side in possession, which is not a bad thing in itself.

One team will defend with the ball while trying to open up spaces through their pass-and-move combinations. The other will defend without the ball but look to rapidly break forward using quick and tricky wingers and/or a strong central striker who can hold up and link play.

The decisive moments for the possession side usually come when the combinations force a mistake or a defensive player switches off. Things are easier if the opponents are a little disjointed and leave more spaces between the lines while being a tad tardy with their tracking. They’ll always have multiple layers of security in front of their goal so breaking through could require patience.

It is vital for the attacking side to make as many runs behind the defence as possible. This can be done in many ways. A through-ball from the central areas, combination play in the wide areas with a delicate ball slid in-behind, and late runs into the box with chipped passes can all lead to promising attacking situations. One-twos are always handy but move involving three or more players are better.

Arsenal don’t always have players who make such runs and that can slow things down. In the pre-season, Alexis Sanchez came central and to the ball more often than he made darts in behind. Hopefully, this will change in this game, although his movement to the centre can open up space for Debuchy who times such runs well.

Wenger’s choice of centre forward could also make a difference. Sanogo will look to go in-behind a lot more than Giroud does.

The team defending without the ball has limited attacking options unless they are extremely proactive and energetic in pressing around the centre line. For the most part, they have to hope for transition opportunities where the side in possession has made some poor tactical choices (and technical mistakes) leaving the defence exposed to runners. Other than that it’s just about gaining territory through long balls and hoping for set-piece chances.

It is quite possible that Wenger will go with Ramsey and Wilshere in midfield with both having the license to go forward at times (in their so-called box-to-box roles) while Arteta offers some protection to the defence. In Millen’s position, I’d be tempted to have two very quick players on the flanks as well as a sharp centre forward instead of Chamakh. Gayle, Bolasie, and Frazier Campbell could be interesting choices that can test Arsenal’s tactical solidity, particularly with a rookie in the centre of defence and a relatively slow defensive midfielder. If they can occasionally leave Bolasie up the pitch, to take one example, when Debuchy takes up an advanced position, the visitors will give themselves a genuine chance to trouble Szczesny. Of course, in order to execute this while protecting their goal, they’ll need impeccable organization and decision making from the two defensive lines. Frustrating the Gunners through resolute defending and forcing ambitious attacking choices is also a way to gain counter-attacking opportunities.

Given their current situation, I feel the visitors will be happy with a point and anything more will be a bonus. Arsenal have not done well in opening fixtures over the last few years. Part of this could be linked to a lot of overseas tours and disrupted pre-season training. This season that training has been affected by the World Cup and it’s understandable that Wenger’s side are not quite at their best yet. Palace have a chance to cause an upset if they play with genuine desire and resolve. Aston Villa’s opening day upset last season offers them an excellent blueprint to copy.

The Gunners are the better side and even without the first choice starting line-up Wenger has enough talent at his disposal to get the three points. With Arsenal, in the recent years, there have always been two questions – Can they win? And will they win? The answer to the first is almost always in the affirmative but the second one has proved to be a stumbling block, often of their own making.

The pairing of Wilshere and Ramsey in central midfield makes me nervous because of their defensive limitations. Hopefully, Arteta will be able to run the game and one of the two will take up good positions to support him at the time of transitions. If they attack well, the need for defending might be eliminated altogether.

The central defence is also an area of concern because Mertesacker is not yet ready and there exists the possibility of Koscielny being played when giving him a rest would be better. I don’t know all the facts of the current situation but the past choices of the manager do justify the worries. Monreal in central defence could lead to problems if Chamakh starts for the visitors, or if any of their quick attackers gets a chance to run at him.

We might see,

Szczesny – Debuchy, Chambers, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere – Alexis, Sanogo, Cazorla.

It’s the starting line-up that produced an entertaining and decisive first half against City in the Community Shield and seems fairly well-balanced. I hope they start on the front foot with that pesky no-trophy-in-x-years monkey off their backs. The energetic, fast-paced game that we saw against City could be enough to secure an early goal or two, which will really get the crowd going and open the spaces up.

I know a lot of Gooners are extremely gung-ho about this season in general and this game in particular. While I can fully appreciate the reasons for such feelings, at a personal level I am still taking the cautious optimism route. There are some details that I want to see resolved. It could happen very quickly but I’m going to watch the first couple of months to see how things develop before I join the excitement bandwagon.

P.S. After reading the responses here and on twitter, I’m now completely confident that anyone who likes the pre and post match analysis on this blog will really enjoy the article linked to the first paragraph. Do take a few minutes (Pretty long and detailed) to read it if you haven’t done so already.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Hull City

May 17, 2014

The Norwich game ended up being a formality. Ramsey’s goal was immensely enjoyable and it was nice to see Diaby and Wilshere back on the pitch. Beyond that there isn’t much to talk about so I’ll come straight to the game we’ve all been waiting for eagerly.

Hull have picked up 1 point from their last five games and that was against relegated Fulham. They’ve lost 15 of their 18 games against the top 9 in the League. Arsenal topped the table when counting points taken against teams in the bottom half. The Gunners are coming into this Final on the back of five straight wins and have done the double over the Tigers scoring five unanswered goals in the process.

As far as any dictates of logic are concerned, Wenger’s side have to be the overwhelming favourites for this game with the usual caveats of the gap between teams being close and anything can happen on a given day being applicable.

There shouldn’t be any major surprises in this game. Hull are a competitive team and the game will certainly be very close till the first goal goes in. The two biggest factors that Arsenal will have to deal with are their own nerves and the opponents desire driven physicality.

Let’s cover anxiety first. I remember the tentativeness from the opening exchanges against Birmingham in the League Cup final. Szczesny was saved by an incorrect offside flag from conceding a penalty, and maybe a red card, really early in the game after the team failed to control the ball or its shape. Nerves can affect the decision making of players, their touch, and the speed with which they react. The resulting technical or tactical errors can level the game up in terms of the quality of the two sides and, if the mistakes are in dangerous zones, it can very quickly hand the initiative to the opponent.

That said, this time around I do have higher hopes. Arsenal have cut out many of their common errors from the recent past. For instance, in that penalty incident mentioned above, Song let his runner through when the team had a high-ish line that wasn’t straight. The frequency of such errors has definitely reduced off late. Those were still the days of struggling against the long ball but that’s another area where Wenger’s side have improved noticeably. There is more experience, greater composure, and a tendency among individuals to take responsibility to keep the vital defensive areas secure. All that should keep the goal relatively better protected even if the players exhibit a degree of hesitancy in expressing their game.

We did see a little bit of this against Wigan. Arsenal’s football wasn’t at the expected level, to put it politely. And Mertesacker’s uncharacteristic error reminded us that one potentially decisive error can come at any time. Nevertheless, over the course of 90 minutes, I have to say Arsenal were a lot more secure at the back than they’d have been a few years earlier. The equalizer that took the game to extra time was also a reminder of the fact that you can always get something from the game if you keep plugging away even when you’re not at your best.

The second factor is a little more complicated. Hull are not going to come up with a novel tactical approach that completely flummoxes the Gunners or produce technical football that will outclass Wenger’s side. What they can do is fight. When I say ‘desire driven physicality’, I don’t mean they’ll get violent. Commitment is the key word here. Most English sides don’t give up. And when it’s a Cup Final we can be sure the Tigers will have some bite. They’ve nothing to lose. All they’ve to do is stay organized – a strength of Steven Bruce, challenge for every ball, throw their bodies on the line when needed, and wait for their chance. They can score from a set-piece, a long range shot, or pounce upon a bad mistake by the Gunners. It’ll become easier for them if Wenger’s side are rattled or show some anxiety induced timidity early on. They’ll also gain confidence as time goes unless the Gunners take the lead.

As ever, the first goal will be very important. Arsenal have the highest PPG ratio (2.79) in the League when games scoring first are considered. Even though Hull are 11th in that chart, their 2.21 PPG is nothing to be scoffed at. Both teams have lost only 1 League game in which they’ve scored first. If we reverse that criterion, Wenger’s team have picked up 0.83 PPG from the 12 games where they’ve conceded first including two wins. Hull have 0.18 PPG (4 points) from the 22 games where they’ve let the first one in and just one win.

This will make the initial tactics interesting. Should Arsenal go for broke? Should Hull sit back and absorb some pressure to make sure they’re safe? What happens if both teams go for it?

The answer will lie as much in the tactical choices of the managers as it will in the way the players feel and are able to express themselves on the pitch. Nerves can be contagious. Just one or two players showing signs of tentativeness can drag the whole team down and that can change the entire tactical dynamic of the game. In this regard, Hull have a slight advantage because expectations are low and they have nothing to lose. It’s already a fairy tale run for them. They can enjoy the event and express themselves without fear. The ape clinging on to Arsenal’s back will have to be tamed quickly if the Gunners are to have fun. Respective fans can make a meaningful contribution. Groans from the Arsenal faithful, for instance, can be severely counter-productive.

One thing Arsenal absolutely must avoid is quick transitions from the central third of the pitch. That means players on the ball have to make the right choices even if it means safe passing that seemingly goes nowhere. Similarly, individuals will have to be stronger in possession. The likes of Santi and Özil have shown a tendency to surrender possession when harassed. This can really fire up the opponents while also opening the route to goal.

Control the ball, ride the challenges, and push the opponents back. Openings will come if they are willing to endure the grind. That doesn’t mean sharp passing and constant movement should be abandoned, just that it’s important to shield the ball in order to control the vital territories on the pitch.

Wenger should have no complaints as far as player availability is concerned. His biggest problem might be in deciding who to leave out of the squad.

I’d like to see,

Fabianski – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Ramsey – Cazorla, Giroud, Podolski.

While the choice of goalkeeper is debatable, the rest of that line up is Wenger’s best starting eleven on current form in my opinion.

To be honest, I’m finding it very hard to see why Arsenal shouldn’t win this game. Worryingly though, far too many times in the recent past, Wenger’s side have shown me how wrong I was when thinking like that. I’m sure many other Gooners are in the same boat and it’s really up to the players to take it to shore and settle the issue once and for all.

I’m amused by the thought of just how vastly different many peoples’ season reviews will be based on the result of just this one game. It has been a good season in my opinion with the potential to become an excellent one if the Gunners perform to their ability. Or it can become a nightmare with no place to hide. Among the many reasons I’d considered for the delay in the extension of the manager’s contract, one was that Wenger wants to give Arsenal the chance to change their mind should his team fail. It’ll certainly be very bad timing for any renewal should the Gunners stumble. Then again, announcing a new deal with monkeyless backs, and the FFP slowly making its presence felt, will surely shine a bright light towards the future.

One way or the other, this could be a historic day for Arsenal.


Quick Thoughts On West Brom And Norwich

May 11, 2014

Arsenal’s fourth one-nil win of the season took the Gunners to 76 points. Only seven times in the entire Wenger era (or the Premier League period for that matter, including the first three seasons that had 42 games each) have the Gunners picked up more points. A win against Norwich will make it the fifth best points haul in the same time frame.

It is still not where it should and can be, but it’s tough to dismiss the performances or the quality of the squad as substandard. Much of the results this season have been, as obviously noted by many, built on a strong defensive foundation. The same was the case against West Brom.

After a strong start and an enjoyable, well-worked goal – once again a good set-piece variation with quality delivery, and Giroud contributing with his head while using his physical strength – the Gunners became sloppy as time went by. They had enough decent-ish chances to score the second but the cushion goal never came. Collective defending in front of two strong central defensive performances was needed to hold fort and secure the points.

I liked Özil’s movement into the wide areas and his ability to find Podolski’s runs, Cazorla’s positioning and timing in the centre, and the fact that Arsenal built quite a few attacks down their left. But it’s impossible to shake the feeling that players of this quality can do much better. Maybe they were going through the motions because the result didn’t really matter. Nevertheless, it was good to see that the sloppiness didn’t extend to the defending.

Norwich – Momentum Matters

It’s unlikely that the Canaries will stay up. It’s hard to guess how a team will play in such a situation. Each player will probably react in a different way and that might affect the overall output of the team. Or they could all buy into the idea of bowing out with a positive memory and give it their all.

Arsenal don’t have much to gain except, as discussed above, taking the points tally to their fifth best in the Premier League era. That said, there might be something in this game for the Gunners from a psychological point of view. Going into the FA Cup final on the back of five wins will probably have a favourable impact on how the team starts that game, if not the whole performance.

Norwich have the 3rd worst defence in terms of goals conceded with 60 shipped in 37 games. But you’ll be surprised if you haven’t already noticed, the Canaries have the fourth best defence at home with just 16 goals conceded in 18 games. Liverpool had to fight for a win there recently while City and Everton have dropped points at Carrow Road.

Their problem is the League’s worst attack. And because of that I’ll be extremely disappointed if the Gunners don’t keep another clean sheet, which would be their 17th of the season. Never since 2000-01 have Wenger’s side kept that many in one League campaign.

Since it’s hard to guess the patterns of play, I’m just hoping Arsenal will be professional and focussed enough to get the job done. It’ll be nice to have more memorable goals and a repeat of the reverse fixture but it’s not a necessity. More variations on set-pieces and different attacking combinations should indicate that the team and coaching staff are using the time well.

Wenger could be tempted to start some of his fringe players but I’d like to see a strong eleven getting in the groove for next Saturday. Rhythm is very important for the Gunners.

I’d like to see,

Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Özil, Ramsey – Cazorla, Giroud, Podolski.

Fabianski in place of Szczesny would be an interesting choice. That would probably complete the ideal line-up for the FA Cup final based on current form and fitness.

Of course, Ramsey should not be risked if he is not fully fit. That applies to pretty much any player at this stage and, in that regard, I was glad the Welshman didn’t feature in the final home game of the season.


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