Formation Change Spins The Game On It’s Head

It was a strange game wasn’t it. I don’t think anybody could have predicted this one would turn out the way it did. Who could have thought the mugsmashers will play us off the park? Granted that we haven’t done too well against the big teams in the recent past, but never have we been outplayed the way we were in the first half. I don’t think even Arsene would have found an excuse if Liverpool had taken a three goal lead by half time.

After seeing the team look disjointed and dispirited in the first half, only the most loyal supporters would really have believed in a turn around. How many would have predicted that the hosts will fail to get a single shot on target in the second half given their dominance in the first period? The only thing the believers amongst us could have predicted in this match was that Arshavin will have a moment or two of individual brilliance.

There has been enough media coverage about the half time team talk. I am assuming that you have, by now, read what Arsene said and how the players reacted. I think more than the team talk, Wenger’s tactical change made a big difference. Most people are calling it a swap of wings for Theo and Nasri. I think it was a change of formation. We changed to a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1.

In the first half we were too narrow in the middle and the wide men were caught out of position while attacking or defending due to constant pressing from Liverpool. Whenever we got the ball they closed us down in numbers and then switched the play to the other flank, where they always had a man free and a full back running in support. In case you hadn’t noticed, just check again how many times Liverpool switched the play with cross field balls.

I thought Arsene changed to four in the midfield and Nasri and Denilson did a good job of staying wide on the flanks to counter their threat. The scousers don’t really have a team that can move the ball as well as we do. They do have a team that can close down and tackle. They also thrive on finding wide players in free areas. By closing this avenue for their attack, we limited their options and they couldn’t get any attack flowing. Just see how many of their cross field balls in the second half were intercepted.

The other advantage was that it spread the play for us and allowed us more room to pass making Liverpool cover a much larger area. This opened the game up a little and negated their advantage of pressing in numbers. Suddenly it wasn’t so easy for them to get the ball and create a fast attack from the flanks.

The third advantage was that Agger and Carragher had another striker to deal with and it allowed Arshavin a chance to drop deep at times, giving us a man in the hole when needed. The Russian also had more freedom to move as there was a target man available even though Theo didn’t get many touches.

We also saw Nasri move to the right and he was able to focus more on attacking. In the first half he had to spend a lot of time tracking back to cover Johnson. Theo was having a poor time on the right and our flanks had been rendered useless. Nasri, with his better first touch, helped us keep the ball and create a few half chances.

Finally, Denilson was able to do a much better job of stopping the hosts from creating much from their right wing. I am not a big fan of the Brazilian but he does put in a decent shift and does what is asked of him rather efficiently. We didn’t create much from the left but that was acceptable.

In the past I have been critical of Wenger for his tactical decisions but this one was a masterstroke. I am happy that no one talked about the tactical decisions after the match although top managers will certainly have seen the change.  It will be interesting to see if Wenger changes tack more often.

There were many talking points in the game. Torres showed he was rusty with a poor finish when through on goal. Gerrard got payback for his diving in the past. Incidentally, Rooney was booked for a blatant dive against Villa on Saturday. Is this weekend ominous or what!?

Almunia had a bad time in goal. He looked really short of confidence just like the whole team.  But a goalkeeper’s mistakes are generally more costly. If he doesn’t get his act together, I can see a recurrence of his chest infection in the near future.

Our first goal showed the advantage of drilling a low cross across the opposition penalty box. We don’t have the height, at the moment, to compete with high balls in the box. It’s imperative that we put more balls between the defence and the keeper. Whenever defenders have to clear low crosses while facing their own goal, there is always a chance of a mistake or indecision.

Arshavin once again showed the importance of class. We have suffered in the past when the likes of Drogba or Ronaldo have taken their half chances. It’s important to have someone who can give it back just as good. The Russian will always be dangerous in and around the penalty box. A central role suits him in that sense and does not burden him with tracking back to the defensive third. Arsene should seriously consider tactics that give Arshavin more freedom, particularly in the big games.

I must say I am surprised Liverpool didn’t show any desire in the second half. In some ways it was similar to our disheartened efforts against Chelsea. Hopefully they will still beat our rivals when they visit Anfield.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Very low on confidence, needs to see a sports psychologist.

Sagna: Worked hard and showed he is the best right back in the league at the moment.

Gallas: Looked nervous and made a few indiscreet tackles. I still think we need a better center back.

Vermaelen: Had a great game. He has set a high benchmark and such performances are expected from him. He shields Gallas’ weaknesses to some extent.

Traore: Had a difficult time. Was decent in the defensive third but looked lost while moving forward. Can’t complain too much about a third choice left back.

Song: Did a great job of breaking play. Should have released the ball faster in the first half.

Denilson: Got lost in the crowd in the first half. Was solid in the second.

Cesc: Had to drop deep in the first half and didn’t have anyone ahead of him. Got more room to express himself after the change of formation.

Walcott: Clearly out of touch! Was a mistake to start with him. He is not a natural footballer and will always take time to get his touch right after any long break.

Nasri: Was stifled in the first half. Came into his own in the second. I think he can still do better but he has been moved all over the pitch and it must be difficult to adapt so quickly. Given the way he adapts, he can be a real star in the coming years.

Arshavin: Was taken out of the game by Liverpool’s center backs in the first half. Class is class at the end of the day.

Subs: Diaby lacked focus but wasn’t fatal. Silvestre and Rambo hardly got time.

I didn’t want to put a random number against each player as I can never make up my mind about that. Feel free to leave your ratings.

Now, we have to build on this foundation.

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18 Responses to Formation Change Spins The Game On It’s Head

  1. 0.9 Calibre says:

    Hear hear! the formation change had even more profound implications and we were treated to a revelation of sorts.. by moving Nasri to the right the boss not only switched flanks but also moved him up a bit.. Nasri had the freedom to roam about the centre of the field.. the guy is a natural shadow striker and an attacking midfielder and i think he was a class act in the second half.. Denilson had a very good game imo.. played with a lot of heart and displayed some quickfooted maneuvers. Have we found an Essien in Song? the guy just seems to get better game after game.. he has taken a huge burden off cescs shoulders and has allowed the skipper to roam more and fulfil the attacking duties.. Wrt Almunia “Lack of confidence” is an understatement.. we have been a bit too patient with this guy.. i am not blaming him but thats his quality.. he can do no better.. we seriously need to ponder about the keeping options in the club by the time jan arrives… I say give fabianski a game or two.. i thought he had a marvelous game against olympiakos! Traore was satisfactory.. Sagna was reliable at the back as usual but he needs to sort out his crossing issues.. He crosses on first instinct.. instead he can use his pace to cut in and trouble the centre halves a bit.. We dont have the height in any case to handle lofted crosses.. there needs to be some training in that area alone.. Now i have always advocated the use of a second creator in midfield alongside Cesc.. Denilson is a solid player but doesnt create much. So when Cesc gets snubbed like he was today by the Argentine “Captain (Lol!)” it just slows down our entire attacking movement, we need an alternative outlet in midfield.. Now that Rosicky is out i think the time has come to give young Aaron a few starts and see how our attacking play in the final third transforms!! This result was like Whipped cream on a Hot chocolate of a weekend!!

    • desigunner says:

      Song will get better and better. I think he can start shooting from distance as well.

      Almunia needs a break. I am not sure about temporary or permanent. But our defending on set pieces will make any keeper nervous.

      Agree about a second creative midfielder. We need a more balanced midfielder rather than a defensive one or an attacking one. That is the reason I like Nasri in that role. Denilson has some creativity but he seems to carry a burden of defending.

      • 0.9 Calibre says:

        A balanced central midfielder.. exactly.. I feel Ramsey has the ability to break up play, hold the midfield and create at the same time.. he may not yet be as prolific a creator as cesc but he is getting there!

      • desigunner says:

        Ramsey can certainly excel in that role but he needs more games. He should get starts against smaller teams just as you said.

  2. gooner ji says:

    Great observations Desi. You have got it spot on once again. I think it was 4-4-1-1 with Arshavin in the hole.
    I think we defended very well after taking the lead which is quite uncharacteristic of us this season. Song and Vermaelen had great games and the victory never looked in doubt in the second half.

    • desigunner says:

      Defending was so good that I can’t say whether we were really good or the scousers were hopeless. Maybe a bit of both.

  3. the pundit says:

    Good analysis. I appreciate the observation that the change of the formation was more important than the halftime speech. I’ll only add that setting up Arshavin at the top of the box seems more important than feeding low crosses and hoping to capitalize off the opponent’s mistake. I’m not opposed to winning ugly, but I do think we have to play to our strength in this current injury crisis/absence of height. Our lack of height was all too obvious in the first half as every corner and every cross from Sagna (does Traore know how to cross?) was easily absorbed. It was only when we changed formations, like you said, that we pulled strikers out of the box and played our passes right outside the box. This is where Arshavin is most effective.

    • desigunner says:

      I am sorry if I gave the impression that sending crosses is more important than feeding Arshavin. I agree that we need to play our game more often.

      In the recent games, we have sent too many high crosses in the opposition box and I feel we are better of with low ones between the keeper and defence in stead of high ones that we never can reach.

  4. venky says:

    well observed,well done for that. More than anything, barring the result ofcourse,I was extremely happy for our defence today in the second half.spectacular !!!

  5. oz_gooner says:

    best right back in the league u say? maybe… he has had more say as an attacking right back than theo on the right wing.. this is a real worry

    • desigunner says:

      Theo will take time to get his touch back. Till then the others have to create space for him to use his pace.

      I think Sagna can do much more but he is restrained at the moment as the defence isn’t confident.

  6. gooner4ever says:

    hey mate..did you have any news on arshavin?
    about his injury?

    • desigunner says:

      Sorry nothing yet. I don’t have any sources like some popular blogs have so I just get my updates from newsnow and goonernews.

  7. oz_gooner says:

    arshavin barely used his right foot during the weeks training leading to the game.. some sort of soreness which is amazing considering his first and second touches for that wonder goal..

    just pure class..

    • desigunner says:

      He hates training anyway. Natural instincts and pure class. Every manager in the league must feel like an ass for not signing him for that bargain.

  8. bobbygee says:

    In American football terms we call this making halftime adjustments. This is huge. When something isn’t working make the proper adjustments. This was huge. For even more important than this is that when the Gunners fell behind early they didn’t quit. Asrenal sucked it up and took it to Liverpool. I love this.
    You spoke about forcing Liverpool to change their attack. I like the way Asrenal took away the Reds favorite attack. This is called adjustments baby.
    The scousers quit. Why? The Gunners took their heart away. A good win. A huge win. I am happy yes. I am a Man U fan But I have a huge warm spot in my heart for Arsenal. http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

  9. hmmmm says:

    questions were…………
    can arsenal comeback from dead?
    is arsenal still a title contender??
    does they have enough character???
    can they win under pressure????
    can they ever win against big team this season?????
    does this team has character??????

    ………….answer to all those questions is a thunderous YES!!!

    • hmmmm says:

      it was about time wenger showed his angrier side, otherwise team might not take him seriously(he’s used to give same expression after defeats), it must have been a soul awakening speech,
      this game was not won by change of formation, not by walcott’s run,not by stunning finish by arshavin….

      it’s because of the speech that wenger gave at half time………

      i don’t know hw many of u watched dragonball z…but it reminded me of

      cell vs gohan, when every hope was finished, there was a distraction by vegeta(og in this match), at that point goku screamed at gohan(his son), “THIS IS UR CHANCE” and gohan finished cell once and for all…..

      Mr. arsene wenger…..hats off…

      p.s- keep that angry young man look 😉

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