Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactical Aspects Of The Six Pointer

This one is a day early but until this game is out of the way I really can’t think about anything else. With due respect to the previous opponents, this is the biggest game of the season so far and I’ve a feeling many of us are anxious to see how we perform.

Honestly speaking, I think anything is possible in this game, from a massive win to a disheartening loss. Those with a slightly negative slant will point to the recent results between the sides, something I don’t have to repeat, and will predict a similar outcome. The optimistic ones will hope for a repeat from the 08-09 season.

I’m not sure what to expect and that is the reason I can’t wait for this game. It will tell us so much about the team and the season ahead. I’m not hinting that a win means we will be champions or a loss would imply a disastrous season. As regular readers know, I’m more interested in the details of what happens on the pitch.

Have we ironed out the mistakes from the past? Can we prevent a team from ripping us apart on a counter attack? Can we defend set-pieces and crosses better? Can the new look defence contain Drogba? Will we have enough incisiveness to open up one of the best organized defences in Europe? Will we be clinical enough to take our chances? Will Arshavin turn up? Can Chamakh rise to the challenge? Will we make any more suicidal and stupid individual errors? Will Chelsea miss Lampard? Can we exploit the physical weakness of Ramirez?

I can go on and on but that should probably give you a good idea of why I can’t think of anything else. There are just too many possibilities and my mind is full of questions, the answers to which will only come on Sunday. I can however, write some thoughts on what might happen. On the whole my outlook is not very positive.

Firstly, I’m not convinced we’ve ironed out the problems with our system which leaves a great deal of space for the opposition to exploit. Against smaller teams we can get away with it, but when a team has as much quality as Chelsea – they can score on a quick counter, score from set-pieces, and score from distance – these weaknesses are exposed.

I expect us to struggle on the wings. Sagna and Clichy will have to play something like the best game of their lives for us to negate their threat down the flanks. Malouda and Cole form a potent partnership on the left and while Anelka or Drogba aren’t exactly wingers, they can trouble Clichy with their physical presence and speed. Ivanovic showed last year that he can be a fantastic right back and Arshavin will have a challenge at both ends.

More than anything else I’m concerned about the speed at which Chelsea move the ball from defence to attack or from one flank to the other. It’s not that our players can’t cope with their players. The issue is that often we aren’t alert enough to this quick movement and once a player is out of position it can lead to a chain reaction that sucks others out or leaves us short at the back, eventually leading to a goal scoring opportunity.

My second concern is the number of injuries we have. I know this isn’t a valid excuse but that doesn’t change the facts. I’d say the loss of Fabregas is cancelled out by that of Lampard but Walcott and Van Persie will be missed. In Nov 08 when we last won against Chelsea, interestingly at the Bridge, RvP scored two wonderful goals. Can Chamakh, who has been impressive in his own way, replicate that? Walcott would also have given us another dimension and some potency in the attack. We will miss him as much as Chelsea would have missed Malouda if he’d been injured.

Given the injury list, Arsene doesn’t have many choices for the starting eleven or many real threats on the bench. We’ll need a big effort from the eleven who go out on the pitch. If even one has an off day, it could turn a difficult game into a nightmarish one.

Finally, I’m a little worried by the mental aspect of this game. Chelsea are on a high whereas Arsenal are having to prove themselves over and over. We do a lot of good work each season but a few moments of madness put us back on square one. There was a swagger about the earlier Arsenal sides and one can see that in this Chelsea team. In contrast, the present bunch we have doesn’t look that confident.

The new defensive signings have made us much stronger at the back but there is still an air of nervousness when we are under pressure. It hasn’t been helped by the insipid performances against West Brom. The isolated defence did really well against Sunderland but if we leave the back five exposed in this game the result will be very different.

In the absence of natural leaders like Cesc and Van Persie, we’ll need someone else who can command respect and guide the team through. It will be all the more important if we concede an early goal or make a couple of silly mistakes. We’ve seen the team crumble in the past and Stamford Bridge is not a place for a visiting side that is mentally shaky.

Having dwelt on the issues that concern me, it’s only fair that I talk about some positives.

Firstly, the new central defensive pairing seems much better than what we’ve had in the recent past. Both Squillaci and Koscielny read the game well and are really composed. They also attack the balls in the box much better. They’ll have to be at their best if we are to negate Chelsea’s threat from the wings and on set-pieces. Undoubtedly, this is the biggest test for the duo. If they pass this we can look forward to the other big games with a lot more confidence.

Secondly, I’m quite happy with the form of Arshavin and Nasri. They’ve both been involved creatively and have scored quite a few as well. Nasri has 4 goals and an assist in 6 appearances while the Russian has 5 goals and 5 assists in 9 appearances. The Guardian says that Arshavin has created 3.33 scoring chances per game this season, the highest in the League.

Lastly, I feel Chelsea are defensively a little weaker than last year. It’s not a big difference but Cech has made more mistakes than Almunia or Fabianski, Ramirez isn’t exactly a physically dominant player, and Terry has had his shaky moments. If we don’t waste our set-pieces and crosses, we can cause them some problems.

That brings me to the starting eleven. I think the back five is pretty obvious now that Gibbs is injured again and Vermaelen nowhere close to being fit. Arshavin and Chamakh should also be easy picks.

The big decisions for Arsene are in the midfield. To me Diaby is the key. Is he physically fit and mentally ready? If we can have the Abou Diaby we saw in the middle and later half of last season, this game could become a challenge for the hosts. On the other hand if he is not fit or turns up like he did last weekend, we’ll have a handicap from the start.

Wenger will also have to take a call on Song. We cannot afford to have Song in an experimental role. If he plays then he has to stay deeper and do the simple things right without a lapse in concentration from kick-off till the final whistle.

Denilson was part of the team that won against United and Chelsea in Nov 08. He hasn’t done much wrong this season, apart from the penalty at Belgrade, so it would be tempting to give him a start. But can we have Denilson and Wilshere in the same team against a physically strong side like Chelsea? If we play them both then we have to leave either Song or Diaby out. This decision could depend on Wenger’s assessment of Diaby.

That would also mean that Nasri will play on the flank and not centrally in place of Cesc. I’d certainly prefer Nasri on the flank as his work rate will help us control the right flank. I’m not sure Rosicky can put in the same level of effort in tracking back and Eboue has been extremely disappointing.

Having said that, I must admit I can’t see Arsene switching Nasri to the flank. That will give us Arshavin on the left, Nasri central, and Chamakh up front. In that case I’d prefer Rosicky on the right with clear instructions to be aware of the threat of the traitor. The advantage of playing Little Mozart is that he adds to our creative threat and can deliver some fabulous crosses.

We are down to picking two midfielders from Song, Diaby, Denilson, and Wilshere. I’d love to see an in form Diaby alongside a motivated Wilshere. The two formed a good pair at the start of the season and I can see them doing well together in years to come. Will this game be remembered as the one where the two made a mark as a pair?

My preferred line-up is,

Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Diaby, Wilshere, Nasri – Rosciky, Chamakh, Arshavin.

That starting eleven will seriously test Diaby’s discipline. Of course, that is an attacking line-up and I wouldn’t be surprised if many of you would prefer Song and Diaby in the middle with specific directions to stay close to the defence. In that case we could have Song for Wilshere or for Rosicky. In the latter selection, Nasri could move to the flank and Wilshere could play in an advanced role.

In 08-09 we dominated the games between the top four teams but lost to the smaller teams. Last year it was the exact opposite. This season we’ve already lost to West Brom at home reminding us of the season before last. Will the result at Stamford Bridge confirm that?

37 Responses to Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactical Aspects Of The Six Pointer

  1. chengiskhan says:

    I don’t think anything less than a 100% fit Diaby will allow us to get the best out of him. Quite frankly, anything less than Diaby’s best scares the bejeezus out of me, especially on the heels of his very poor showing against West Brom.

    My preferred midfield would be Wilshere, Denilson, and Song, with Nasri moved to the right side. Not the biggest midfield, but a feisty, combative, and energetic one. From a defensive standpoint, I like having Nasri and Sagna against Cole and Malouda.

    I totally agree that Song has to sit back deeper and maintain his positional discipline. We cannot have him wandering into attacking areas and leaving wide open counter-attacking expanses behind him! Also, his passing in this game needs to be more conservative, as his completion rate has been very poor lately, certainly correlated to his recent experimentation as a creative attacking mid.

    • santori says:

      Yes. If Diaby shows no mental fibre prior to the match day, then Rosicky as Desi suggests.

    • desigunner says:

      Yeah Diaby could be a gamble and Arsene would have to be really convinced to play him. The midfield you’ve mentioned is quite good as well. It could work because Arshavin and Wilshere link up well in attacking areas.

  2. Common Sensei says:

    Personally, I think we give Chelsea too much respect; I doubt they are on that much of a high after being bettered by Newcastle in the cup in what turned out to be a proper gritty cup game.

    It all comes down to 2 things:

    Who gets the first goal, and who can best survive the fina; 25 mins of the game; assuming that as usual the 90mins will over run by 5 or 6 extra added mins. So if it is 2-1 or even 1-0 we are vulnerable in that last period. Both teams are as dangerous on the counter, and have experienced recent blips of form at the back. Drogba is by far their most potent goal threat. If we can keep him quiet and hold steady in midfield this is definitely a game we can win so long as the discipline to tactics remains.

    I am not sure Arsenal will win this one, but I expect a decent performance and so long as Wenger sets out the correct tactics within the team I can’t see us coming away with less than a point.

    • desigunner says:

      In the recent past Chelsea have even lost to lower league opposition in a cup tie so I’m not sure if they’ll worry about that. It did expose their lack of depth but they’ve pretty much a full strength side for this game.

      First goal is always important in these kind of games, agree with you on that. I’m not sure we can hold out at the end but it could be a good test for the new central defenders, if we do have the lead going into the final 20 mins or so.

  3. talia says:

    We’re obviously weakened without Almunia, TV5, Cesc, Theo, and RVP, but we still have the team to do a job on the Chavs.

    The back five picks itself. Then, Song, Wilshere, Nasri, Rosicky, Chamakh, and AA23.

    But it’s HOW we play rather than WHO that’ll be the deciding factor.

    If we press them hard and play as a team then we’ll win. It really is as simple as that.

    With the international break ahead there’s no reason at all not to put in a full and proper shift.

    Chelsea have not played particularly well this season despite their stats. They really are there for the taking. And with our poor performance last Saturday to exorcise … we should be up for it.

    An Arsenal win would be a real setback for Chelsea – one they might have difficulty recovering from – whereas, for us we’ve far less to lose.

    And here I differ from Common Sensei. I’m not looking for just a good performance, I’m looking for a win and a healthy win at that. We have the manager, the personnel and the tactics – now it’s time for the result. And there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t get it.

    • desigunner says:

      We have to play our game no doubt, but we also have to cut out the mistakes at the back which make it easy for the opposition.

      It’s not easy to score against Chelsea even when we’re playing well so if we gift them goals they can just sit back and wait for counter attacking opportunities.

  4. Aussie Jack says:

    If I were coach of Arsenal I would have to take a positive stand, even if I didn`t truly believe it. As a mere fan all I can do is hope.
    As always `lady luck` will play her part lets just hope she doesn`t “blow on the other guys dice”.
    Injuries, refs errors,yellow and red cards, who knows?
    All things being equal I think we can look to a draw. Nil all will make a boring affair but we get a point whereas 2-2 would make it quite a match.

    • desigunner says:

      Well lady luck has already played a part with out key players missing out. Now if we get the rub of the green with a ref decision or balls hitting the bar, etc then it could even out. I’d be quite happy with a 2-2 and will be really surprised if it ends 0-0 🙂

  5. Furovich says:

    Desi, your article sums up my feelings very well. So many questions over the Arsenal side and this match will be a good indication to the answers to some of those questions. I’m actually excited about the prospect of Fabianski in goals because we really don’t know what were going to get from him and this is a massive oppurtunity. I think Arsenal can win the game if they go out and do what they do best by controlling possession. That’s Arsenal’s best form of defence. That will take the pressure of the back 5 and allow them to play with confidence when their services are called upon.

    I would like Nasri on the right (I’ve said he’s not the best winger but he will be able to help us control possession in this one)With Song, Denilson and Wilshere in the middle. Song to defend, Denilson to keep the tempo and Wilshere to create.

    • desigunner says:

      That’s true, if we can dominate the ball and cut out the counter attacking opportunities this game will be quite exciting. But history tells us it’s a big ‘if’ 🙂

  6. santori says:

    You know me and 4-3-3.

    I feel it leaves far too much space for the DM to cover and also opens our LB/RB to more threat than necessary as both our wide men are that much further forward.

    4-2-3-1 for me as we should have played against Chelsea, United and Barca last season.


    1) 4-2-3-1 to me will enforce some discipline to Song’s recent adventurism

    2) Wilshire (or Rosicky) next to Song. Personally, I’d start with Wilshire as the young lad tends to play without handbrakes and is adept at carrying the ball forward acting as the link man. Rosicky is probably better at closing the game down.

    3)Diaby. I’ve been a great defender of his but the performance against WBA was rubbish and he exhibited little hunger. However, I do feel (if his head is set right), he is far better in an offensive employ than deputising next to Song. Diaby would also add extra height to receive crosses coming in from Nasri.

    4) The thing about 4-2-3-1 is you can have a fluid attacking midfield with the added assurance of two screening DMs. Non of those 3 attacking mid positions are fixed and Diaby, Nasri would be encouraged to drift in field to drive at the centre of the Chelsea defense (with Wilshire in support) just as Arsharvin will have liberty to drift wide.

    5) Finally I hope Wenger has drilled the boys well this week in the counter. With Chamakh holding up front, 4-2-3-1 should afford him opportunity to set up any of the on rushing mids in Arsh, Diaby or Nasri. Alternatively, we can also spread play out wide to put crosses in and go route one directly onto Chamakh or punch through the middle with Wilshere in support (much as in the Partizan game)

    IF we go 4-3-3, I think we’ll be torn apart.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      We never play a 4-3-3 , we have always played some where in between a 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1. The difference always come from the discipline of the second midfielder rather than anything else. At the start of the last year when we were playing Song and Denilson they predominantly handled one side, so that becomes a 4-2-1-3 . The discipline is the biggest problem in our side. I believe we just need 2 disciplined midfielder to keep it simple in front of the defense and will also be able to join in attack when there is an opportunity.
      With that in mind , I guess
      Denilson-Wilshere-Nasri would be our best midfield. I loved the combination and discipline also understanding between them. We could argue that they are too weak physically. Denilson was not easily pushed away this season, so he is decent fit. By the current form I also believe Denilson is much much better in winning balls than Song, both tackling (not fouls) and interception wise. If Nasri could drop a bit deeper than he has played so far it could work.
      I do not want Diaby anywhere near starting line because , he is far too inconsistent to be in this game where nobody can cover for his mistakes.
      Though i would like a Denilson-Wilshere midfield , i have a feeling that we could start with a Song-Denilson-Nasri midfield. I do not think Wilshere has too much more to offer than Denilson.
      I believe a tactically astute disciplined midfield is much much better than, two wayward 6 ft guys.

      My fav line up will be something like

      back 5
      ———– Chamakh ————————

      I could not depict my idea in the text diagram. It is our normal formation, with Nasri dropping deeper than normal allowing Arshavin to get into playmaker position from where he has been making so many goals. With Rosicky dropping deeper than Arshavin to give some solidarity in the right. Nasri and Wilshere covering Arshavin. I do not know what is the formation, but we never play a strict 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 . Most of the time we end up playing 4-2-1-3 .
      If Song does get selected he should stay back, i do not know whether he can make that switch. Even though it seems a small adjustment he was not able to do it against Sunderland and West Brom where things were not going well. Mostly i believe it will be how our midfield performs in defense and how we well we take our chances.

      • santori says:

        It’s a 4-3-3.

        Invariably we are always left with one mid player covering the defense because the forward wide men push forward.

        We need 2 men sitting deeper particularly as Song is not the quickest and can get caught out.

    • oracle says:

      I agree absolutely with you. That formation gives arsenal the best chance against chelsea given the players at the coach’s disposal. However, I would set up the team differently. I would swap Diaby and Arshavin.
      Diaby’s form is really important in this game. Diaby and Chamakh have the physical presence to harass Terry and Alex and also compete for every ball. Having watched Chelsea last season, I have noticed that their central defence buckles under sustained pressure and cannot handle very strong players.

      I would also start with Denilson in stead of Wiltshire. No disrespect to Jack but he has done much better in Europe than the premier league, and I somehow feel that a game of this magnitude and intensity comes a bit too early for him. In The Liverpool, Bolton and Sunderland games Jack was a weak link. For that reason I would start him on the bench, and blood him in later in the game depending on how things go.

      I also agree that this a game where most questions were supposed to be answered. However, the absence of so many players through injury makes a thorough assessment of the team impossible especially if we lose.
      All said and done, application and efficiency in front of goal are arsenal’s key words. If all the chances that come Arsenal’s way are brutally put away and everyone gives 110% for the whole match, there is a positive result in the offing.

      • santori says:

        But considering the way Wilshire has been combining with Arsharvin off late, would you still prefer him benched in place of Denilson?

  7. santori says:


    Why would you start Diaby and not play Song? Seems to me a fatal flaw.

    Song just needs to know his confines and keep to his special instructions.

    Without him, we will be at sea in the middle of the park.

    • desigunner says:

      I’d not mind a Diaby – Song partnership either. I just felt Wilshere seems the most hungry right now and offers a creative threat from deep, something that other three don’t.

      When it comes to picking one of Diaby, Song, or Denilson I feel Diaby is the most talented of the lot but also the most inconsistent. I’ve picked Diaby assuming he can have a big game.

      • Hong_gunner says:

        not starting Song will be a disaster waiting to happen. Diaby is not a natural holding mid who can sit in front of the defense and do his job in a simple way(also, we need to see the Song of last year. he needs to improve on his roles on the field). he likes to run with the ball, and if he starts, there’s no place for him other than next to Song, where he plays box to box. thats where he is at his best. but I doubt Diaby will start.

  8. aravindvr7 says:

    playing Diaby is always a gamble.
    If hes in form hes gonna be a handful for the opposition otherwise hes gonna be a big liability.

    Song any day.
    Just tht he had a few bad games doesnt mean anyother guys gonna take up his position.
    Wenger shud ask song to sit back and defend only.

    we need the best from Nasri and the fullbacks.


    Nasri shud play at the Cesc role…
    thts gonna work for us….thts his natural position…

    • desigunner says:

      Wilshere on the flank is an interesting choice. Not sure Wenger will agree with that 🙂

      • aravindvr says:

        I think Wenger had tried tht bef…may be Carling cup…was not tht effective, but still I believe Nasri shud play at centre attacking role…
        as Eboue is not up to the mark and Rosciky wud be lightweight against Chelskis…

  9. Really, really pessimistic about our chances on Sunday. I wish we had Van Persie fit.

  10. Kushagra India says:

    that will be my team we will be well covered on the wings where they mostly damage us and Rosicky is giving some delightful crosses of late

    • desigunner says:

      That’s a good line-up. I’ve often wondered why Arsene doesn’t give Arshavin a central role when cesc isn’t playing.

      • Hong_gunner says:

        might be just my opinion, but Arshavin through the centre will be a total waste of what we’ve got. Arshavin likes to drift wide to pull out the defenders, and he can do that best when he drifts in and around the left by-line. I won’t call Arshavin lazy as many people make him out to be, but to play in the hole, you need a guy who has a good work rate to help out his team mates when we’re in possession. Arshavin doesn’t provide me with that.

  11. Jazbo says:

    Ca some one please tell what JET has to do to get a mention, I think he’s got what it takes to take our team by storm stick him up front just off Chamak and watch him go, he’s got the size the speed,skill and work rate to put AA to shame.


    With Song playing just in front of the back four just slightly deeper than wilshire,it leaves us with more options as JET can drop off into midfield if required.
    This team could do some real damage to Chelski.

    • desigunner says:

      I can only speak for myself and I don’t think JET is close to starting for Arsenal in such a big game. The level of juniors and reserves is much, much below the premiership, and such a big game is definitely beyond him at the moment. I’d prefer to see him get some chances in cup ties, especially if we get home games.


    i’ll drop rosicky for vela

  13. Jazbo says:

    Actually I’d change Rosicky for Lansbury


    • santori says:

      Lansbury has many attributes but his distribution does not compare to Rosicky.

      Sorry but your selections are baffling.

    • desigunner says:

      I like the fact that you support the youngsters but I honestly can’t see them succeeding in an away game of this magnitude.

    • Hong_gunner says:

      starting Lansbury and JET will not only harm our chances of getting sth from the bridge tonight, but may very well harm their careers in the long run if things turn out to be nightmarish for them at the bridge. I’m glad you’re not managing my beloved club.

  14. Hong_gunner says:

    This game will be very very tricky. there’s no doubt most of the gunners all-where will be shaking before the kick off. Chelsea are massive favourites. and rightly so. we aren’t very very far from Chelsea, but its hard to compare the two teams like-for-like. “Strength”-wise, they are stronger than us overall. but the pivot of their team lies in players who do the dirty work all over the pitch and hence allow Malouda, Drogba and co display their flair. but our strength lies in our technique as a team. where we lack is leaders. I’d be happy to be back with a point from the bridge tomorrow, but if we keep the ball well and plug the spaces in midfield when we don’t have the ball I’m optimistic we can give a good account of ourselves. (thats where I feel we miss a real leader in our middle third). Cesc is world class, but he’s no Viera who can drive a team when things ain’t going well. he may very well not be fit to start tomorrow in the first place.)
    here’s my team:
    Back 5
    Song – Wilshere
    Rosicky – Nasri – Arshavin

    Wilshere might be a surprise inclusion, but he definitely has talent. he did have temperament issues earlier during time in the reserve team, but I think he is ready to handle the big stage. just if a few more of our players had as much desire as his to get the ball back when they loose it, we’d be topping the league by a few points.
    I predict a 1-2 win for us, with goals from Arshavin and Chamakh.

  15. […] Thoughts On The Starting Eleven And Tactical Aspects Of The Six Pointer This one is a day early but until this game is out of the way I really can’t think about anything else. With due […] […]

  16. VR says:

    arsenal are mediocre jokers

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