We’ve scored 15 goals more than last season. Considering that and the fact that we were without our main striker for over 5 months and the first choice backup for over 4 months there would be a case that our attack was good and there aren’t many problems or weaknesses.
However, I feel our attack could have been much better and in some ways could have helped our defence a lot more. It’s not easy to see how a good attack can help the defence as there isn’t a direct connection but for teams like Arsenal the two are closely interlinked because we don’t have a squad that can sit back and defend in a conventional manner.
If our attacking play gels together then we get the following,
- Roughly two thirds possession. If the opposition don’t have the ball they can’t score! It’s the best form of defence, really.
- Opponents are pushed back into their own half so their attacking options limited to one or two players on the counter. As long as our defenders are alert we can snuff out such chances in most cases.
- If the play is in the opposition half most of the time we don’t concede too many set-pieces.
- The opposition cannot sustain any kind of an attacking impetus. The importance of this can be seen from the draw at West Ham and the loss at Wigan. They looked harmless in both games when they were limited to infrequent attacks but we panicked and conceded soft goals once they were able to sustain the pressure.
I can’t really limit this discussion to the front three if I talk about our attack in general. The midfield plays a significant role in this and I tried to cover that in the last post. What I’ll try is to identify areas of improvement in the front three that can lead to an incisive attack and a stronger defence.
The first observation is that we don’t always get enough men into the box. The best example of this is the lack of a man at the back post when a cross comes in. I’ve never understood how we can claim to play a 4-3-3 formation and not have a wide player attacking the far post every time.
I know our crosses aren’t always perfect but on most occasions the man on the ball has a solitary target and he is heavily marked. The intriguing bit is that attacking the back post doesn’t need any special talent. Almost all other top teams have a wide player or full back attacking the back post or at the very least recovering the ball on the other flank. Arsenal on the other hand lose possession most of the times a cross goes deep!
I’m sure our full backs and players like Walcott will automatically look much better if we get more men into the box. It puts pressure on the defenders and the chances of an error increase. We also get a better chance of attacking a loose ball or a rebound. United are masters at this and it’s not a surprise that “own goals” are their joint second best scorer. Once they get more players rushing in the defenders are under a lot of pressure and it’s much harder to clear the ball.
It also reduces the chances of a counter attack because the opposition is pushed farther back into their own penalty area instead of playing on the edge as often happens against us when we keep shuffling the ball from one flank to another.
Whenever Cesc is on the pitch he makes enough runs into the box but none of our other midfielders or wide players has done this on a consistent basis. Arshavin obviously gets in quite often but most of it has been centrally rather than on the back post.
In fact, Arshavin has been the biggest disappointment of the season as far as our attack goes. He has 10 goals and 2 assists at 188 mins per goal/assist. That is less than one in two games. In contrast Eduardo, who has been criticized by many, has 4 goals and 6 assists at 112 mins per goal/assist.
I know Arshavin didn’t play in his best position but for someone who has pretentions of being a world class player this should not be a big deal. We don’t see the likes of Rooney, Messi or Ronaldo complain about their position on the pitch. It’s not that the Russian made any great contribution to defence which would explain his lack of attacking involvement.
We’ve all seen him miss some absolute sitters but the bigger problem is his lack of effort. I’d love to know the work rate statistics for the Russian and I’m willing to bet he’s amongst the three worst outfield players at the club, probably the worst. For a supposedly proven player and a big money signing his return is unacceptable and we will need much more from him next season.
Another issue with the attack is that we don’t move the ball fast enough. In the early weeks this was not a problem and you could see that most of the team was on the same wavelength. Then as injuries started taking their toll our tempo went down and passing became more predictable. A lot of it is connected with the runs of the front three and I think our attackers didn’t move around enough, especially when Fabregas was missing. This limits the passing options for the midfielders and reduces the pressure on the opposing defenders. The forwards have to keep moving even if their runs are not noticed or they don’t get the ball. Just the movement can make a big difference.
Apart from Van Persie, Walcott is our best attacker in terms of making runs. I think his running is very well timed and he varies his movement quite well. Straight from the top of my head I remember three occasions when he made a brilliant run and was completely free in front of goal but the man on the ball didn’t square it to him.
Finally, I think our attackers need to press the defenders better. We were quite good at this in the early part of the season but as the weeks went by the opposition found it easier to come out against us. If we press the ball high up we force the defence into a quick pass and chances of recovering the ball are much higher. Not only does it help us launch a quick attack, it also helps ease the pressure on our own defence.
As I’ve said in the previous articles, these aren’t massive problems in themselves. That is the reason it’s easy to overlook these issues or to underestimate their importance. I’m convinced working on these issues can add 5-6 points to our season and could help us save 5-6 points defensively as well. Arshavin alone is worth an extra 10 points if we can get the best out of him! Once again I’m hoping Arsene can sort some of these issues in pre-season and then sustain the performance all through the season.