Thoughts On The Tactical And Technical Aspects Of The Bolton Game

I must confess I was a bit premature in the praise for Owen Coyle and an improved Bolton. To be fair to him, it won’t be easy to change the habits of players who have spent their lifetimes training for a combination of “kick them off the park” and “hoof and chase” football.

Coyle could have shown the right intent with a stronger midfield but the moment I saw his starting line up it was clear that we are in for another defensive aerial battle and for some brute force on the ground. Bolton didn’t have any control on the midfield right through the game and their approach was to simply bypass it. As we can see from the following chart comparing the passing styles of the two teams, the visitors launched it long at every given opportunity.

Created Using Guardian Chalkboards

Arsene was diplomatic with his post match comments when he mentioned that Bolton used their strengths well. The truth is the visitors were no match for Arsenal and when Fabregas is in the kind of mood that he was, even the best teams would struggle.

I was also impressed by the fact that we got in behind on so many occasions. Most of the times Arshavin is either waiting on the left or drifts inwards, this time he made some really good runs and the players on the ball (Cesc and Rosicky) were on the same wavelength. To me that looked like a tactical decision and something that we had worked on in training. With players like Arshavin, Walcott, and Vela in the squad we should really punish teams like Bolton and Blackburn when they push so far forward.

I’m not particularly worried that we didn’t take our chances in this game. If this really is something we are working on, it can be a really big weapon and most of the smaller teams will be ripped apart if they push forward. It will have a direct impact on the number of men they can have in attack and will reduce the threat from long balls even further.

It’s something our full-backs should also do more often. When play is squeezed at one end, we have enough space on the other flank for a full-back to get in behind. Gibbs tried making a couple of runs but he wasn’t spotted as well as Arshavin was. Once again it’s something that needs to be perfected in training. Given the fact that we haven’t completely sorted out our defensive issues I can see this as a lower priority task.

The second noteworthy aspect was that this game was another big test for Wilshere. In order to understand this we should see his passing stats for the three games he’s played in. Against Blackpool he made 58 passes in the whole game. That comes to around one pass every 1.55 min. Against Bolton he made 27 passes in 59 minutes at one pass every 2.14 min. In terms of accuracy, against Blackpool Wilshere had 93% and in this game he had 85.

None of these stats are bad by any stretch nor do they reflect poorly on the youngster. Given his age they are exceptional. But they do show that he had a tougher time against Bolton. This is also seen from the fact that he lost 3 of his 4 tackles on Saturday, whereas he won 4 out of 5 against Blackpool. His stats against Bolton were similar to his stats against Liverpool where he made one pass every 2.14 min (88%) and lost 4 of his 6 tackles.

I don’t wish to be critical of the youngster in anyway but in my opinion he was our weak link. Fabregas often came deep to allow him to run into space so that it was easier for him to receive and make passes. The technical quality of Rosicky also made a big difference as he came inside quite often in the central third to act as an additional midfielder. While Walcott played only 66 min (and they were 66 scintillating minutes) against Blackpool he largely remained on the right and was involved much less as can be seen from the following comparison.

Created Using Guardian Chalkboards

I think Jack is learning and such games are the best possible education. He will have seen how Fabregas moves on the pitch, how he uses his body to shrug off physical challenges, the decisions he makes, and how he creates space and time for himself. This will help him fine tune his own game which is already at a very high level. Once he develops (in a couple of years) we can be sure he will be on the ball more often and his overall involvement will be a lot more significant. This is why giving chances to youngsters is so important.

Looking at the passing chart for Rosicky and the fact that Arshavin played so high up and more centrally, I thought we were not playing a 4-3-3 but a variant of the 4-4-1-1. I’m not sure if this was a conscious tactical decision. It seemed more like a natural result of the freedom given to players and real time decision making by intelligent players who could read the game and be in the right spot.

I think It’s important that we use systems that work best with the players on the pitch. For instance, with Rosicky on the right it would be unfair, even stupid, to think that he will hug the touchline and play as a winger. And if he plays as a Right midfielder rather than a winger the others would automatically have to adapt seamlessly converting a three man midfield into a four man one. There are many such intricacies in a game and they develop only after the players get a chance to play together for a while. That’s also the reason why keeping the squad together is vital.

I feel it’s important that we have this flexibility. In games when we don’t do well one gets the feeling that the players have run out of ideas. The movement and understanding is not at the highest level and most players seem stuck to their positions. On the other hand when we do play well it’s very difficult to describe out football with one formation.

The final aspect I want to discuss is the goal we conceded. It is clear that our defenders are still working on an understanding and are learning to deal with the long balls. On the whole we’ve not done too badly so far even though we’ve conceded three goals, all due to collective failures in defence.

Once again we got caught out from a long ball. I’m not using the snapshots for this analysis as it would make the post unbearably long (and I’m a bit short on time) but if you’ve seen the goal repeatedly (painful as it was) you’ll see what I mean.

Squillaci loses the first header, which is acceptable. Koscielny’s positioning is good as he provides cover. However, he tries a difficult header and doesn’t get it right. But the real problem was that no one was tracking the run of Lee. Since he normally plays on the right we cannot expect a midfielder to track it. Should Gibbs have done better in tracking that run? It’s difficult to say as it was straight down the middle.

To me the biggest culprit was Eboue. He could clearly see that Lee was making a run and that he was not being tracked. The Ivorian should’ve sprinted alongside Lee and we would never have been in trouble. There is an argument that the ball might have been headed towards Eboue and he was waiting for it but that doesn’t cut it. Eboue should be reading the danger better and even if the ball had been headed his way he would anyway have been nearer the ball than Lee even if he was tracking the run of the Bolton winger.

Even after Lee got the ball Almunia did well to force him wide. If Eboue had woken up and dashed back in support, Lee would not have had so much time to pick his man. Finally, Elmander was the only striker in the box. We had three defenders but all of them were like headless chickens. If any one of them had decided that “I’m just marking this lone striker”, he could have put in a better challenge to put Elmander off.  No guarantees that it would have worked but it would be worth a try. I think Gibbs was the one who made an effort but it wasn’t good enough.

Once again this is something that we have to work on in training. Most of the times when teams punt it long they won’t have too many players in the box. If our defenders know their roles clearly, and don’t switch off, chances are that we will deal with these threats relatively easily.

I also wanted to discuss the cameo by Denilson and the phenomenal shift put in by Chamakh but this is getting  too long so will leave it for some other time. Overall, I’m pleased with the way we played and it’s set up the next 20 days perfectly.

39 Responses to Thoughts On The Tactical And Technical Aspects Of The Bolton Game

  1. GF60 says:

    Thanks Desi. Added a new dimension. Well worth the read.

  2. La Shiz says:

    Nice article.

    You’re spot on about the goal we conceded. Whenever a mistake like that is made, we seem to really take our time gathering our wits. That goal just goes to show that our defensive problems aren’t quite fully sorted out yet.

    Amazing performance be Cesc, once again. He really turned it on in this game. Its good to see young Jack growing up playing alongside him. Denilson had a cracker of a cameo, he would’ve completed over 9000 passes really, had he played the full game.

    • La Shiz says:

      I have to say, Chamakh is one of the best natural headers of the ball I have ever seen. His timing for the jump is milisecond-perfect so he meets the ball at just the right height and can direct it anywhere he wants, which was also perfect when he scored, right in the corner.

    • desigunner says:

      That’s very true. Chamakh has an excellent standing jump, which means he doesn’t need a run like Bendtner seems to need. He also has that rare ability of hanging in the air. And as you mentioned his timing is quite amazing.

      The defence has a long way to go no doubt, but the improvements have been very positive and more importantly, in the right direction.

  3. Evan says:

    Great read, and yeah! I thought it was more of a 4-4-1-1 too. Sunderland away’s gonna be tough, hope no-one goes out injured from the Champions League game!


  4. TCP_13 says:

    Nice post desi, as usual…

    I was waiting for you to discuss more about the role of the only player you left in this post actually, the ever reliable Song.

    He seemed to be everywhere, at the back, midfield and also making runs to the opposition’s area proven by his carlitos-esque chip.

    Anyway, I’m waiting for the denilson’s cameo…until then, cheers…

    • desigunner says:

      Song had a good game but honestly speaking I’d have preferred if he had been more closer to the defence on some occasions. I thought he started going forward too soon and that affected our balance a bit. Like Vermaelen acknowledge that scoring is not his primary responsibility clean sheets are, I hope Song also recognizes that scoring goals is not something we need from him.

  5. Davie says:

    Your analisis was good i enjoyed it . It was my first time.I bookmarked it for future … Thanks

  6. geald says:

    why dont u ever talk about the wasted master class of Carols vela who grantees his club the required finishing skill.

  7. amolecule says:

    Hi! Desi been reading your blogs for quite some time now…and have been a huge fan of the tactical analysis!
    One point – Question actually- According to me the 4-3-3 formation is more of a fluid system … and allows us more of breathing space in terms of personnel when we have injuries! and allows us to convert our full back to wingers when teams try to narrow us down in the middle of the park.
    Now correct me If i am wrong.. but I have seen arshavin play this season a lil higher up the pitch … which is not allowing him to be t his usual self… he like to run at defenders and create runs for himself and others ! now would it be wise to put him in the center and we could have smething like this …

    Nasri Csec Wilshere/Rosicky
    Defence as usual

    this also allows us to get in persie instead of one of the wide players ..

    • desigunner says:

      I’m not sure I fully understand your point. Whenever we push teams deep into their own half Arshavin will end up playing really high. On other occasions he normally stays around the half way line or just inside our half.

      Now it seems to me that we are using that to get him in behind, which can be extremely valuable in terms of goals as well as pushing the opposition back.

      Playing Arshavin in a second striker role, which I think is what you’re suggesting, is also a possibility. But I’m not sure that will get the best out of Cesc. In any case, I think Wenger gives the big players a great deal of freedom to move wherever they please. So from an attack point of view the formation we use doesn’t really matter that much. I’m happy as long as it’s not rigid because a rigid attack is easy to defend against.

  8. metalhead says:

    Yes, the tactics used by Wenger were quite different.
    I’ve never seen Arshavin being fed the ball so many times while player in the left midfield. Arshavin is usually marked tightly by most teams but due to the change in tactics he lost his marker several times. He needs to work on his finishing though. Also, Song seemed to have been given a license to venture forward. Not something that happens often. Cesc showed how important a player he is for Arsenal in that CM position and he is currently irreplaceable. For all those people who though Nasri can slot in to replace Fabregas in that position should think again. Frankly speaking Nasri is appalling as a creative midfielder and should never be played in that role. Rosicky is a far better replacement.

    • desigunner says:

      I hope Song just took some liberties in this game and will not make it his regular approach. It’s not a very good idea for him to be bombing forward so often.

      I agree that Nasri is not a direct replacement for Cesc but that is more because Fabregas is on a completely different planet compared to most other players.

      Nasri is quite good in his own right but he has been playing within himself. He doesn’t take that many liberties and hasn’t played in that role often enough.

  9. Brightwub says:

    Superb analysis again Desi. (though I am not sure wgdtgdpDesi is a name or a place in India).I was impressed by the way arshavin was playing as I THINK chamakh is not a kind of striker who will make such breath taking runs as Arshavin did nor he seems a killer striker who takes on defenders (and keepers, When necesssary ) now and then to score goals but he is an amazing team player & terrific header which I like much. .

    • La Shiz says:

      Desi is indian slang for ‘Indian’. So, desi-gunner is similar to Indian-gunner, just sounds cooler 🙂

    • desigunner says:

      What La Shiz says is correct.

      It’s colloquial usage that describes Non Resident Indians and, if I’m not mistaken, Pakistanis as well.

      It comes from the Hindi/Sanskrit word Des or Desh which means country or motherland.

  10. Brightwub says:

    Correction: (. . . whether Desi is. . . )

  11. lee says:

    i think chamakh is brilliant and i think we will see more of theo staright down the middle as chamakh goes everywhere and is willing to provide the assist rather than gredybayor. watch out for walcott this season. chamakh himself is a fantastic player,not too fancy but always seems to score if given enough time. he is the morinho sort of player as morinho is a one-nil merchant. all the same grateful to have him. i just want to say song is the most underrated arsenal player. to me he is the man. him and cesc. good to see him venturing foward at last. and fabregas needs to be selfish and aim for goal himself sometimes. good to see denilson back! the long range shot specialist

  12. brian says:

    Analise it as much as you like but the basic point is that nothing much has changed over the last couple of years.Of course we are going to beat teams like Bolton and attract lots of praise in so doing.We did it against Blackpool and will presumably do it against West Brom but equally the same weaknesses will exist when we are in a real game against the top teams.The over the top reaction to the win at Blackburn seems to forget that we won there by scoring 4 goals a couple of seasons ago{admittedly not an Allardyce team then)so lets sit back,wait and hope for something,somewhere to make us stronger.

  13. LondonGunner says:

    Spot again Desi, only one think to add, what we missed last year is provided by Chamakh this year, he is awesome I was at the game and he was everywhere, not a single selfish bone in his body. Power house he got fouled, straightaway he got up and had a word with the ref for stopping the play. Cahill had a nightmare marking him, glad we have signed him. No flash player but effective.

    • desigunner says:

      You’re completely right about Chamakh. That’s why I wanted to discuss it in detail and not give him a mention in passing. Will try and write a piece on him in the next international break.

  14. LondonGunner says:

    @Brian I totally disagree we did not lose the league because we lost to Manu and Chelski, we lost it because we lost points in small matches, we actually wasted:

    2 points to west ham
    3 points to Sunderland
    3 points to Blackburn
    3 points to wigan
    2 point to Everton at home
    2 point to Burnley
    3 points to Spuds
    2 points to Villa away
    That s 20 points, you don need to beat the big teams to win the league, you need to win when you are supposed to win. There are 2 bigger teams in the league, and 18 others that we can beat. 36 games give you 108 points.

    Finally I think we have improved from last year, Manu and Chelski may beat us, but one thing for sure they won’t have an easy ride this year.

    • AnonymousGun says:

      2 + 18 + us brings the numbers up to 21 😡

    • desigunner says:

      Didn’t we have the best record in the top 4 fixtures in the season before last? Not much has changed, we just had a bad time last year. I think if we cut out silly mistakes there is no reason we can’t get results against the big teams as well.

      Good point about the points lost to smaller teams btw.

  15. Robinski Arsenal Scotland says:

    Good Monday eve to Desi, I am not sure if you have access to Arsenal TV Online but if you do, I draw your attention to 2nd half (49/50 mins) where I believe our captain to have been punched in the face by one F Muamba??? please have a look & let me know your thoughts

    • desigunner says:

      I just saw that. It seems Muamba had an incident with Cesc just before that when the Bolton player almost clashed heads with Fabregas while making the tackle. I think Cesc was trying to explain this to him and raised his hand in a peaceful way. Muamba brushed it off rather violently. Not sure if he touched Cesc but his intent was there.

      I’d missed it completely while watching live, although I do remember seeing the ref talking to them both a minute or so later. Great spot.

      I don’t think it was a punch to the face. Cesc and other players would not have accepted it so easily.

  16. Furic says:

    Obviously Wilshere is still learning but I certainly wouldn’t call him ‘the weakest link’. There was a period in the first half, around the time he set up the first goal with a perfectly weighted pass, that he was involved in alot of positive play for Arsenal. There was also a beautiful bit of play from Wilshere where he nipped in, won the ball in midfield, then it was played through to Chamakh I think, who was clear on goal.

    As for the goal Arsenal conceded, Eboue took up a good position. He needed to drop off the attacking player as he did to give Koscielny the option of heading clear to him, which is exactly what Koscielny should of done. Once Lee got the ball, Eoue did well enough to colse him down. If someone is tracking the run of Lee it should of been a midfielder but thats always going to be hard to do when Koscielny heads the ball straight into his path when he’s through on goal.

    • desigunner says:

      Then who was the weakest link?

      I didn’t see Eboue dropping off, I saw him standing and watching. Eboue never got anywhere near Lee.

      • Furic says:

        I think it was a good performance from all players, with some players better than others. I wouldn’t describe anyones performace as earning them the title of ‘weak link’.

        However I think the players that will be a little dissapointed in their performance will be Arshavin who missed some great chances and Koscielny who was pretty much completely at fault for the goal.

        Eboue, playing a left back, wasn’t really responsible for tracking the run of Lee. Iniially he took up a good position, expecting Koscielny to head the ball wide as he should of done. Once Koscielny heads the ball into the path of a goal bound Lee, there isn’t a great deal Eboue could do. To his credit, he atleast got back into the box, goal side of Lee, where he is in a position to defend against anyone making a run into the box.

      • desigunner says:

        I feel Bolton knew they could put Wilshere under pressure and out players noticed this in the first ten minutes. After that we never gave the ball to Wilshere in an area where losing possession could be dangerous.

        As I clarified in the post, he wasn’t bad but I’m convinced Bolton felt they had a chance with him on the ball. That’s just my opinion and I can respect but not necessarily agree with a different one.

        I thought Eboue was at least 7-8 yards away from Lee when he crossed the ball. Considering the fact that Lee had to run out wide, stop the ball, turn, and pick out his man, Eboue should have been within a yard or two of him.

        If you watch the replay again you’ll see Eboue jogging while Lee is sprinting and then quite inexplicable Eboue stops going towards Lee and holds a position some 8 yards away, which was in no man’s land.

        The comment below which suggests that his movement was hampered by a knock he suffered could be an explanation.

      • Furic says:

        You’ve definitely got a point about Eboue but in his defence, I think he was also looking over his shoulder, keeping an eye on Petrov. He didnt want Petrov to be able to run in at the near post for an easy tap in.

        The other thing I think we both might of missed in Song. If he’s playing the holding role, I think he needs to drop deeper from goal kicks to help the back four. The intial problem was that Squillaci had to come so far forward to contest the header (which you rightly said was well within his rights). If Song was deeper, he could of contesed the header which would of left Squillaci covering the space that Lee ran into.

  17. MSL says:

    The goal we conceded in this match is very similar to the one conceded against Blackburn. The cross/pass comes in, all defenders panic and someone gets a free pass in the box. Why don’t they turn around for a second and check who is running into space? We do this when we attack all the time so during training this must have done over and over again to our defense. Got us twice. Eboue was bad defensively. I felt he was sulking all along and didn’t like defending.

    • desigunner says:

      It happened to us a lot last year as well. I don’t know what happens to our defenders. It’s not down to one or two players either. But this year so far we seem to have done better than last season so I believe we are working on it and things will improve over the course of the season.

  18. shakabulagooner says:

    Good analysis, Desi.
    However, on the conceded goal,your analysis that Kos failure to pull off a difficult header was the genesis and Eboue’s failure to act quickly to provide the required cover made the goal possible are spot on.
    However, if you looked carefully, Eboue was, at that time, having great difficulty in moving as a result of a recent foul on him by a Bolton player. So, Bolton’s hardtackling tactics was a major contributing factor.

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