While Gooners disagree on many issues, I think our weakness of conceding counter-attacks, often from good attacking positions, is something many agree on.
Since this international break is boring the life out of me, I thought it will be worthwhile discussing why we are so vulnerable to the counter. The Chelsea game threw up some interesting situations and I’ll follow my usual approach of using snapshots for the analysis as I feel that makes it easy to follow the narrative.
In the first instalment of this series let’s take the fifteenth minute of the game. Arsenal had just won a throw on the right touchline. It was taken quickly and Wilshere spread the ball to the left with a good cross-field ball (something I want to see a lot more of but that’s a topic for another day).
In the first image we see Clichy controlling the pass. Most of the Chelsea players are on their left flank or central. Arshavin is fairly central but leaning towards the left. Wilshere can be seen at the bottom left of the image and Song is somewhere behind him.
From the next image we can infer that Clichy takes the ball forward and plays a one-two with Arshavin. Chelsea have men behind, look at the three man wall in front of Arshavin, and Diaby has made a run into the box. It’s interesting to note that while Chelsea were playing a 4-3-3, all their three midfielders are close to the defence and very well organized. Also note the huge space behind Essien and Mikel as neither Song, nor Wilshere has moved forward. We can’t see Chamakh in the centre of the box being marked by Terry or Nasri on the edge of the box with Cole.
Next we see that Terry intercepts the cross easily without any pressure from Chamakh and rolls it to Mikel.
Chamakh tries to close him down but the Nigerian has enough time to turn and play the ball forward to Essien who is already running into space. Arshavin is admiring the movement.
Essien has acres of space to run into and that forces Wilshere to rush forward. The youngster comes forward at high speed and dives in. The Ghanaian hard-man beats him with a simple flick to the side. Wilshere commits a foul but Essien stumbles and regains control of the ball. Jack is on the ground and can’t get back in time.
Song is quite a distance away in no man’s land and Essien has a lot of time to pick the right ball forward.
Drogba had moved to our left touchline at the halfway point. Essien put a lovely ball between Drogba and the defenders. Our central defenders are backtracking and one of them is forced to come towards the ball.
Drogba then rolls it into the path of Anelka who has made a run to the left side of our penalty box. Squillaci is in close attendance while Koscielny is tracking back.
Anelka then tries to roll it back into the path of the onrushing Drogba but doesn’t get his angles right. Squillaci does a good job of pressurising him and Sagna does well to sprint back and hoof it for a corner, a good safety first approach.
While the articles looks long and takes time to read, those with a keen eye would have noted that only 20 seconds had passed from the time Clichy controlled the ball till the time Sagna hoofs it out. If you look from the time Terry intercepted the ball, Chelsea took 13 seconds and roughly 4-5 passes to reach a threatening position.
All credit to the defenders for dealing with the situation but this sequence of play does highlight some of our weaknesses.
- The cross was easy to intercept
- There was no pressure on Terry from Chamakh
- Chelsea players had about 25 yards of free space in front of their box with no pressure from an Arsenal midfielder
- Wilshere dived in instead of staying on his feet and forcing Essien into a quick and difficult pass
- Song was in no man’s land
In itself, each of these issues is not that big a deal. But put them all together and we go from an attacking position to one of danger within seconds. Unfortunately, we tend to repeat these mistakes quite often, especially against the bigger teams.
Our defenders do a good job most of the times but when they’re put under pressure time and again, an odd mistake is bound to occur. Inevitably, that leads to a goal and further pressure.
In the coming days I’ll repeat this analysis covering different situations and other mistakes that lead to counter attacks against us.