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.