Arsenal V Fulham: Analysis Using Chalkboards

I was hoping, based on his excellent first attempt, that Stuart Robson will provide interesting insights into the Fulham game in his tactical analysis on ATVO. This time it seems to me that the former Arsenal man got his observations right but his analysis wasn’t at the expected level. Still I’d say the show is a fantastic addition to the ATVO subscription service and adds a bit more value for the money.

One accurate observation that Robson made was that for the first twenty minutes all the play was in the Fulham half. I thought that was the case for the first half hour or so. I’d say this was the case because of two factors; Fulham were staying deeper in their half because they knew Arsenal could rip them apart and Arsenal players were confident from the start and looking to press higher up the pitch and attack all the time.

After Arsenal scored Fulham had to be more adventurous because they had everything to gain and very little to lose. But they didn’t look very threatening as Arsenal continued to press higher up the pitch. Fulham were like a one trick pony with a long ball for the striker to run in behind.

Unfortunately for Arsenal and luckily for them, Squillaci chased a ball he should have left for Koscielny and ended up knocking his defensive partner in the head. The visitors got a lucky break and scored. From this point on Arsenal were a little uncertain and hesitant because of the recent results. The players stopped pressing higher up and Fulham, who’d gained some confidence from the goal, pushed further forward. The game became a battle in the middle third and Arsenal had to grind out a result.

In the following image created using Guardian Chalkboards (link in the links and resources page) we can see the tackles made by the two sides in the first half-hour and the subsequent 60 minutes.

Both teams were tackling at a rate of one tackle every two minutes in the opening 30 minutes. For the rest of the game both teams doubled this rate. Clearly the game got more physical as the visitors pushed forward and put the home defence and midfield under pressure. It’s easy to see that the number of tackles in the middle third increased drastically.

As I’d said in the post match analysis, after Mark Hughes’ side equalized it was much more difficult for the Arsenal midfield to take the ball forward and bring the attackers into play. Wenger’s front six were being marked tightly, and most of the time the passes available to the players were safe ones going sideways or backwards.

Now let’s look at the unsuccessful passes by Arsenal in the same periods.

In the first period under consideration, Arsenal missed 31 out of 185 passes for a failure rate of 16.7 percent. Most of the missed passes were short ones in the opposition half. This again tells us that the visitors’ half was crowded and Arsenal missed passes mostly when players couldn’t find space in attacking moves.

In contrast, after the equalizer, Arsenal were forced back. We can see from the number of long balls from the Arsenal defensive third that most players were being marked and it was difficult to bring the ball out. The central defenders were forced into passing it back to the Keeper on a number of occasions and Fabianski had to hoof it under pressure. The hosts missed 108 of the 375 passes attempted for a failure rate of 28.8 percent.

It must be noted that the rate of attempted passes didn’t change significantly from just over 6 per minute. This tells us that Arsenal kept passing the ball as much as they do but the area on the pitch where they were passing changed.

To me this was not a surprise. In fact, the only surprise was that it took Fulham half an hour to do this. We’ve seen in the Sunderland and Shakhtar games that the opposition can really trouble Arsenal if they can get their pressing right. Of course it’s not easy as Blackpool, Braga, Bolton, and Shakhtar themselves discovered at the Emirates. Most teams do this at home rather than away at the Emirates. But this time Fulham were helped by the hesitation and uncertainty in the Arsenal players’ mind because of the recent trend of conceding soft goals and losing leads.

In such a game Arsenal really miss Fabregas. Nasri is phenomenal with his close control and speed in the attacking areas but he is not going to take charge of the midfield when the opposition is putting the team under pressure. I’d have liked to see Rosicky take control, and he does have the technique to make a difference, but Little Mozart doesn’t seem to have the confidence right now.

When Cesc is on the pitch he can come deeper to receive the ball from the back five. The opposition pressing just cannot stop him from receiving the ball, turning with it, and moving it forward. El Capitan also has the ability to open the defences from deep so it’s a risk for them to push high up when Cesc is on the pitch. In this game Rosicky failed to do that and I don’t see Song or Wilshere having the ability to hold off pressure and split defences in one smooth move from deep in the Arsenal half. Jack will probably be able to do this after a couple of years but right now he is not at that level.

Koscielny and Vermaelen have the ability to play accurate long passes but it seems to me that Arsenal have not worked enough to develop this. We don’t see enough runs from the attacking players when the central defenders have the ball.

Another aspect that Arsenal need to develop is that of defensive possession. The back five and the holding midfielders need to move the ball amongst themselves for a longer period without the need for rushing it forward. This is especially useful when the team wants to hold on to a lead and can wait to open the opposition defence. The main problem here is that in the Premiership one might lose the ball due to a foul but play might go on. Holding possession for too long in the defensive areas exposes the team to this risk and it would be difficult to recover from a mistake in possession at the back because the defence would be stretched.

It’s not difficult to see, if your imagination is not limited to the Football Manager version of the game, that these are complex issues. A lot of work has to go in training on a daily basis to get it right. Arsenal also need a consistent partnership at the back. Right now it seems Arsene is not sure what his best pairing is. Injuries and suspensions aren’t helping either.

Despite everything, it was great to see the players put in a phenomenal shift. Many of them ran up and down the pitch to help in attack and defence. Arsenal’s defensive organization is a work in progress so for now I’m glad the players tried to make up for it with extra effort and commitment.

28 Responses to Arsenal V Fulham: Analysis Using Chalkboards

  1. nikkogunners says:

    great Do you think the radical shift below can work?
    I have known Wenger as a maker of decisions that need be made when the time demands it. He is one of the coaches that has taken the decision to give player new roles that they previously had not played from and they have gone on to perform in those roles. Kolo Toure was striking for Asec when he was brought in, Henry was a winger, Viera was a full back, and the list is long. I suspect this is the moment such a huge decision needs to be made. With the leaky defense and the missing general in Vermarleen and now Kosciely, and a tough December looming where we play 3 of the four top teams in the league with ourselves being the fourth, Wenger may need to think fast.
    Song’s performances in the Central Midfield have been wanting lately and he may need a long rest to refocus. He is one reason the defense is leaky. I think reorganization of the left back give us the solution we need. I have in mind Gibbs coming in for Clichy in the left back position and Clichy moving in DM position. Clichy has some Vieralistic characteristics of fighting without giving up, can win headers once in a while and can create chances. He can cover the final four. He can shoot for goals once in a while and make great passes when in the mood and still rush back when we are under pressure.
    My Favourite line up for the next a month…

    Gibbs,     Djoureu,      Scilachi,       Sagna
        Walcott (free-role)   Nasri (free -role)
    Arshavin                                              Van Persie
    Enough goal getters in the field, Walcott and Nasri can use the opportunity to rain havoc on opposition and fast breaks will be useful. Walcott will begin getting some central induction and if asked to defend as a team and attack as a team we have possibilities like never before. Creative substitutions can help ensure we can change system when needed.  Chamakh and Van Persie can try hitting it off.

    • santori says:

      We will be ripped to shreds with that formation.

      1) Gibbs is on the wrong side and therefore Sagna
      2) Clichy won’t hold. what’s wrong with Song?
      3) Free role Walcott Nasri in the middle and your Clichy will be swamped
      4)Walcott. Strictly sub at the moment. He’s back to old habits
      5) Anrsharvin is better out left. You have him on the wrong side. Cutting in merely narrows us.
      6) RVP is wasted out left.

    • Metalhead says:

      Clichy in the DM role? No offense but that will be simply suicidal from an Arsenal stand point. Dare I say, you accidentally interchanged Sagna and Gibbs.
      But coming back to Clichy, if you can cast your mind back to 2008 (I think), Arsene put Eboube in the same role. He was diabolical. Arsenal were in shambles. That is one experiment that will never happen.Clichy will be brushed off like he wasn’t there. Song, wasn’t all that bad you know. He made several crucial interceptions in the penalty box.
      Also, I wouldn’t play Walcott. I’ve tried holding myself back in saying this but I think he is a headless chicken. Great finisher, great sprinter but at times he lacks direction. He should be used more as an impact player. I feel for whatever reason if Vela was given the chances that Walcott was given he would have been immense for Arsenal.

  2. Spencer says:

    Absolutely fantastic reading, I really appreciate your time and effort into these, kepp it up! and spot on points about the middle players, thanks again!

    • desigunner says:

      Thanks. I enjoy writing these more than the others but based on number of readers and responses these seem to be the less popular ones.

  3. Bengali Gunner says:

    I think koscielny will be back sooner than expected and when he does, i want him to partner djourou. Squillacis ok but he doesnt have anything special e.g. JDs immense in the air, koscielneys quite fast and can read the game very well.

    My chosen line up would be

    Sagna Djourou Koscielny (Squil) Clichy
    Song Whilshere
    Van Persie. Nasri Arshavin

    • santori says:

      I’d keep Van Persie in the middle. He is the most unpredictable (which is his strength) and liable to pop into dangerous areas right across the line behind Chamakh.

      Take RVP off when we’re in the lead and move Nasri centrally then. Nasri’s pace and power will be more effective when the opponents come out to chase the game.

      Lock up with a 4-4-1-1 (Nasri behind Chamakh)..Sub options Rosicky for Andrei, Walcott with Nasri moving into the centre.

      • Chamakh is not needed. Drop him all is well. If you notice once RVP enters Chamakh has almost no role in attack all he does is defend. May be Chamakh in DM position would work 🙂 ?

        Dont think I am telling Chamakh is not good but with RVP and Cesc in , it is not worth dropping anyone for Chamakh. He is a very very good second striker.

    • desigunner says:

      You seem to have a knack for making the right predictions 🙂 Koscielny is indeed back sooner than predicted in the media and internet, although I never could figure out the source for those predictions.

  4. santori says:

    Desi, I think we need Fab next to Song bringing the ball up from deeper. It will afford us better control.

    To me, Wilshere should be pushing Fab for the same spot. When fully firring, Fab would be preffered.

    …………………Back 4…………………
    ……………Song……..Fab (Jack)………..

    • desigunner says:

      To me it seems that front four with Cesc behind would be too attacking, especially with Songinho showing no signs of slowing down.

  5. Pato says:

    The first touch,close control,passing, movement and dribbling abilities that Nasri,Iniesta, Messi,Eden Hazard,Berbatov and a few other can do look easy. I wonder why there arent many pro footballers who do it on regular basis.I look at the mid table English teams and they can barely pass the ball to each let alone dribble past a player.It would be great if all teams played like Barcelona and Villareal and Arsenal and each team had a player who could dribble past 3 players and chip the goalkeeper regularly.Football in this case will really be the beautiful game.I would be happier though if we didnt concede so many soft goals. Koscielny and Djourou should be first choice for the entire season.It is as simple as that.

  6. Moti says:

    Lets play gibs lk

    winger as he il hold nani.rem strenght of man u is wings.nasri play right wing.line up………… faby…….
    ..,,sag ., dj ..sq…clic..
    Chamk.van 2 come 65 min 4 ars or cham.ros 4 nasri 80min if we ahead.

    • desigunner says:

      I like the idea of Gibbs as a winger, especially when we need a better defensive balance but I don’t think Wenger will start with that in the big games. Perhaps in the final 10-15 minutes if we have to hold on.

  7. Ajinkya says:

    Good analysis.
    But the main concern now of course is the manu game. It is important that we do not repeat the mistakes that we did against Fulham and spurs. So far as I have seen, we get into the groove quickly, and score early. But then the shaky moments begin as the opposition heats up and begins to play. How we respond during this period makes or breaks the day. We have to work on this lapse that is somewhat characteristic of our side. Against Everton we saw this same nervy period in the end. And here the opposition thinks that they are scoring for sure. And many times they do. It isn’t that we are always to dominate through the full 90 minutes but have a big task in getting this problem fixed.

    • desigunner says:

      I guess the right solution would be to play the defensive possession football but we don’t seem to know how to do it effectively.

  8. Raghugovind says:

    Brilliant Analysis Desi . Keep up the good work !!

  9. Aniruddh says:

    why the dig on Football Manager?

  10. Snir Geuli says:

    Desi, I don’t know about you but I can’t watch that show as I can’t stand Stewart Robson. He is so hypocritical… On ATVO (arsenal live) he would say Arsenal would win the league (last season) and then when broadcasting on Sky he would bombard Arsenal about everything and said we’re not good enough.

    He is making too much of an effort to show he is not biased towards Arsenal that it’s disgusting. Won’t see that show, too bad they ruined Friday on ATVO.

    • desigunner says:

      I can understand your point and initially felt the same about Robson. However, it seems to me that Robson is by nature a person who likes to criticize. He might not mean to be harsh but sounds that way. I’ve noticed this even when he’s been commentating on other teams. At ATVO I think he makes an effort to be more positive and that just exaggerates the difference.

  11. RedandDread says:

    Good analysis. The main point to realize in all of this is that we retain more possession and are more dangerous when Cesc is on the pitch. When we are under pressure he has the ability to come deep, yet still spot a defence splitting pass in his own half. As good as Rosicky has been he didn’t provide enough of this in the Fulham game and as a result we had to lump it up from the back quite often in the 2nd half. Also, once RVP came on and Tomas left our fluidity and movement through the middle of the pitch was denuded quite a bit. Wenger should resist playing RVP in the Cesc role unless absolutely required in desperation.

    I would be interested to see comparison of our possession stats with and without Cesc in the team. I can’t help but think that (a fit) Cesc allows us to dictate play and control possession so much more.

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      I believe Cesc presence kind of forces the play to go through him, it affects us in both ways. If Cesc plays Song seems to be a bit more conservative in his passing without Cesc Song seems to think he is as good as any other midfielder in attack so takes too much freedom. But with Cesc everything goes through Cesc which makes us more predictable.

  12. Desi,
    I do not think Fulham did anything great at all. They did not press much. I think it has got mostly due to the fact Song having a very poor game and his lack of safer passes causing the havoc , this has happened quite a few times this season with a slightest of pressure Song’s passing and game goes awry.

    Song made 11 unsuccessful passes out of 34 in the last 60 mins that is about 70% successful passes. I cant really think that this stats are because of Fulham’s pressing. It is quite awful stat, this may be acceptable if the pressing of Barcelona quality .

    Another astonishing fact is that Song has not passed to Jack Wilshere for the whole 74 mins they shared on the pitch.

    It all shows that Song has not adjusted to his new role yet , he is still too much offensive irrespective of the state of the match. He needs to trust the other midfielder and learn to make safer passes. If this continues we might see Man U totally dominating in the midfield , though it might be slightly better because i expect Denilson to play the match along side Song.

    We are left with two DMs one with low confidence to make the occasional forward passes, and another DM with too much of confidence who does not pass to the occasional safe passes to fellow midfielder .

    • desigunner says:

      I guess the question is did Song have many safe passes available to him? And that is where the effort of Fulham comes into the picture.

  13. critic says:

    we have to win against partizan.
    next up will be u(rina)t(e)d. I was +ve for this clash after fulham win but now i have my doubts. Our defense is paceless, both djorou and sqillaci have good positioning but none can match rooney’s pace and acceleration. Problem can be reduced by playing song in central defense, but that will create problems in midfield. Oh diaby!!arsenal is missing u.

  14. Ntopa Peter says:

    Arsenal lacks a natural finisher.Somebody to just finishing, with whatever part of the body. As I commented, and you may have observed as well, Chamakh is more of a hunter.

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