Thoughts On Starting Eleven And Tactics Against Chelsea

Arsenal can go up. Arsenal can go flat. Arsenal can go down. It’s that time of the season and the League table is set up nicely. Come April and May we won’t have five teams so close to each other at the top. One or two of the top teams are now going to push on, some will carry on with a stop-start season, and one or two will lag behind.

I don’t have to remind you of the awful recent record that Arsenal have against Chelsea or the horrendous run the visitors are on at the moment.  In many ways the next game will be indicative of the way Arsenal are going to go and the same can be said about Chelsea who are trying to arrest a free fall.

One of my complaints against Arsene has been the tactical inflexibility while playing Chelsea (or United). We did see a little change in the visit to Stamford Bridge and it was followed up by a similar change at Old Trafford. In both those games Arsenal defended better than they’ve done previously due to better defensive support from the midfield. It hasn’t been enough and after conceding a freakish first goal, the story – opposition defending, playing on the counter, arsenal struggling to break them down – has been repeated.

I don’t expect anything different in this game. The opening exchanges will be tight. The team that wants the ball more and wins the 50-50’s will shade it. An early goal, if it comes, will be from an individual mistake or a moment of brilliance. If neither team scores early we will have a cat and mouse game till someone gets a goal. I really hope Arsenal can get to half-time without conceding. Of course, going into the break with a lead will be fantastic but I’d say not conceding should be the priority.

I’m not advocating a defensive strategy, just a more balanced one. I’d also like to see a change to the system that Arsenal have been using. Most of Arsenal’s problems against the big teams have come while playing a variant of the 4-3-3. It just hasn’t worked. There are many reasons that complicate the matter but one of the key aspects is Arsenal’s failure to find the right balance between attack and defence.

At times, too many Gunners push forward and leave the defence exposed against teams set up to defend and play on the break. On some other occasions like the first half at Old Trafford, Arsenal are pinned back and can’t really create anything on the break. In both cases chances of conceding are higher than those of scoring.

In this game I’d like to see Arsenal play with a 4-3-3 when in possession of the ball and reverting to a 4-4-1-1 when defending. The starting line-up I’d have is,

Fabianski – Sagna, Squillaci, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Diaby – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.

With that formation, I’d like to see bulk of the short passing play on the left and centre with attempts to create space for Theo. RvP has the ability to produce a special moment in the box and Arsenal will need it at some stage.

The midfield should play closer to the defence and invite Chelsea out to create some space in behind. If Arsenal push forward in numbers they’ll inevitably give Drogba some chances and the Ivorian is sure to convert one or two. That strategy will also reduce space in the attacking third and make it difficult for the attackers.

When Arsenal lose the ball I’d like to see a 4 man midfield in front of the defence. Song should cover the right side, Cesc and Diaby in the centre with the Frenchman staying close to Drogba, and Nasri dropping back to provide support to Clichy.

I’d like to see Theo get a free role to make runs down the middle or on either flanks based on where Arsenal win the ball back. RvP to play on the shoulder of the last defender or even deeper in an offside position so he can keep up when Walcott gets a chance to run into space.

This can only be successfully implemented if RvP is back in the form we saw in the early part of last season, Diaby has the match fitness to perform in this game, Fabregas plays like the Captain, Walcott knows the runs he has to make and his teammates are prepared to find those runs, and everyone puts in a solid shift without any lapses in concentration.

Having said all that, I don’t honestly expect Arsene to make these changes. I have a feeling he will continue with the same system with Arshavin on the left that leaves Clichy exposed, although Diaby for Wilshere might make the left a little stronger. In that case, Arsenal’s best hope will come from a moment of magic by one of the big Guns. Thankfully, Arsenal will be very close to a full strength team.

All-in-all I feel Arsenal have a good chance in this game but I don’t want to keep my expectations high. This game is just as big for Chelsea as it is for Arsenal and they’ll no doubt have spent the two weeks working on making their defence impregnable. As always, I’ll be more interested in the performance on the pitch and rather than the result.


50 Responses to Thoughts On Starting Eleven And Tactics Against Chelsea

  1. niles says:

    Where’s everybody? Boxing?

  2. w12mcee says:

    i dont think theo should start and chamakh should really be left out. maybe rvp should play in a.a’s position. a.a and theo r good impact subs if needed

    • desigunner says:

      One reason for picking Theo that I forgot to mention was that this could be a surprise for Chelsea and they might be forced into changing their approach.

      He could struggle if Chelsea play really deep that’s the reason it’s important for others to create space for him.

  3. w12mcee says:

    meant chamakh souldNT be left out whoops!

    • desigunner says:

      I’m not sure this team is tactically ready to have Chamakh and RvP on the pitch together. But if they’ve worked on it during the two week break we might see a change. RvP will be wasted on the wings and won’t offer much in terms of defensive support.

  4. w12mcee says:

    also what about djourou?

    • desigunner says:

      Djourou could be a good option but I’ve a feeling Arsene prefers Koscielny and Squillaci. I’m open to any two of those three, not much to choose from between them. Each has some positives and some weaknesses.

  5. WengerOut says:

    It is going to be another humiliating episode in this chapter of our history, the one entitled: ‘Wenger: Arsenal’s 21st Century Nero’

  6. niles says:

    @ WO
    A ball has not been kicked.

  7. Tommy says:

    Desi I strongly agree with you that Diaby should start this game. I also doubt if Prof will rest AA23 and start with Theo. Starting with Theo means we’ll be chasing for an early goal and that’s exactly what we want. I like Chamakh’s aerial presence but i don’t want us to risk again with him and Rvp in the same pitch-we are always exposed in the midfield. Diaby wants to prove tommorow that we really missed him! ARSHAVIN should start ahead of walcott we all know this will happen! Nasri should pull something from the sky. El Captain to rule the midfield and Song to weaken lamps. We must win this one… Good work Desi.

    • desigunner says:

      I guess the only doubt about Diaby would be his match fitness. He hasn’t played any practice matches as far as I know and has been out for a long time.

      • Zgunner says:

        As a football player that has had injury spells, I find that sometimes that works in my favor because of the hunger to play. First games are a special occasion.

    • Messi's dad says:

      Hi Desi, I’m also not too keen on Diaby starting, as it seems to me that he’s always required several games to play into form after each of his frequent injury layoffs.

      My theoretical “best midfield” combination of 4 out of Arshavin, Nasri, Cesc, Wilshere & Rosicky + Song/Denilson (best combo for retaining possession) hasn’t seemed to have worked well at all recently, so i guess i would make a similar tweak and include Theo (instead of Rosicky or Arshavin perhaps), with a specific mandate to roam upfront and also put pressure on the fullbacks/wingers, if Chelsea play deep, or play upfront in the unlikely event (imho) that they play a high line.

      Also, RvP just about edges out Chamakh for me, as Chamakh prolly needs a break and i have the impression RvP anticipates/handles cutbacks from the flanks (esp. from Theo) better.

      As you say balance is a key element, especially against well organised (and motivated) teams like Chelsea and Man U (see how they quickly got numbers back whenever they lost possession). Against Man U, the team seemed to have been to wary of being caught on the counter, as there were periods especially in the 2nd half where i thought there was a hesitancy in the midfield in getting forward to support attacks, perhaps due to fears of getting caught on the counterattacks.

      Dream prediction:

      Theo to cutback, RvP to dummy, and Arshavin/Nasri to finish the early first goal! Nasri to score on quick counterattack, assist by RvP.

      Drogba of course to score get mandatory goal (toe poke from an innocuous corner), but too little too late.

  8. Dark Prince says:

    Nice tactics desi!! i’d sure love Wenger to use them. Keep up the good work!!

  9. niles says:

    Whatever the tactics, we need to win this.

  10. niles says:

    Apparently, today was not so great from an arsenal point of view. They all won.

  11. Khimz says:

    Agree desi! But how about denilson for diaby.rem’ how he dominated agaist them? Also diaby is right back frm injury.

  12. Wilsheres dad says:

    Because Chelsea put in a half decent performance in their last game (against Spurs) the talk is that they’ve halted their decline & are back to their best….which is clearly not true. Make no bones about it, they’ll be deeply worried about this game & will be desperate to win.They arrive at the Emirates this time not from their usual commanding position.
    We have nothing to fear!!!!

  13. Desi…always enjoyed ur tactical analysis. But do you think it’s wise to play fabregas, Diaby and Van Persie given that none is truly match fit yet? I believe that’s giving physical advantage to Chelsea and trust Essien to have a field day!

    Diaby is a big game man especially against Chelsea but I’ll put my money on Wilshere making a more positive impact. Fabregas MUST risk everything including another injury if that’s all that is needed to beat Chelsea. I think RVP will be ready for this one. I love your surprise package about Walcott. TW14 is the most clinlical finisher in our ranks this season. Wenger should once give him a free role upfront. I’d bet all the naira in my account he’d make Chelsea utterely uncomfortable.

    Whatever happens, Arsenal MUST beat Chelsea tomorrow, even if we end up not winning the title.

    • bjohnson says:


  14. T2T says:

    Wilsheres Dad, Chelsea have all their players back – as do we. Chelsea will be back to their best which is VERY good. This game will come down to individual mistakes/brilliance and the managers’ tactical astuteness.

    I actually disagree with Wenger; this isn’t a “MUST WIN GAME” for Arsenal, it’s a “MUST NOT LOSE”.

    Szczesny/Fabianski (not much separates those two)
    Sagna, Squillaci/Koscielny/Djourou (2 of 3), Clichy
    Song, Diaby
    Rosicky, Chamakh, Nasri

    Rosicky has the experience and has played well when given the chance this season, Nasri has been marvelous and Chamakh – well, he does offer something different. He may have been struggling lately but it’s been 2 weeks without a game and he should be OK again. Let’s sit back for the first hour and avoid conceding. It’s going to be very difficult to beat Chelsea if they score first, then they’ll park the bus like they always do against us and try and hit us on the break. Get Walcott and RvP on around 60 min for Rosicky and Chamakh. If we have the lead come 60 min and they will start to play more advanced, think what a fresh Theo can do with a little bit of space. Seeing Theo coming on will anyhow force Chelsea to think twice about committing too much forward. RvP can turn anyone inside out and the 2 of them is a handful. On 75 min, take Diaby off and switch Nasri back with Arshavin on as RW. The magic and creativity of Fabregas, Nasri, RvP and Arshavin is unmatched in EPL. AW may want to take off Diaby, depending on his fitness, before Chamakh and wait with Chamakh/RvP switch.

  15. nikkogunners says:

    I keep asking Myself. How come we keep struggling yet we have the greatest rate of goal creation. How come we suffer from to many spoiled chances. I think we need to reorganize our striking, How come we do not have 30 goal strikers? I suspect We need a really good run in the second half of the season to half the cups we need. My remedy is we can cash in on RvP and Bendtner, promote Walcott to central striking role (he is getting the goals, isn’t he?)and get two guys from the list below

    Here is my quick search for strikers in Bundesliga to show that cheap but effective 20-30 goal strikers do exist

    Theofanis Gekas

    With Panathinaikos, Gekas scored 23 goals in 41 appearances. In the season 2005–06 Gekas made his debut in the UEFA Champions League and came second in the Greek top goalscorers list.

    On 19 May 2010, it was confirmed that Gekas signed a 2 year contract with the German club Eintracht Frankfurt. Gekas has thus far scored 14 goals in 17 appearances to lead the Bundesliga scoring charts.

    He is retired from International football and thus no problems of International break injuries. He is not Cup tied.
    Pounds 3-5Million

    Pappis Cisse, 25 year Old Senegal has 13 goals in the Bundersliga and his team SC Freiburg are placed 6th in the league. He is not Cup tied and would love to play for Gunners. Has been in the Gunners radar before.
    Estimate Pounds 10Million

    Srđan Lakić (born 2 October 1983 in Dubrovnik) is a Croatian football striker who currently plays for FC Kaiserslautern in the German Bundesliga. He has 11 goals and his side is 12th in the league.
    Pounds 4 Million

    Edin Dzeko needs no introduction and has ten Goals in the Bundasliga for Wolfburg. He is damn expensive and may be cup tied.
    Valuation Pounds 26 Million

    André Schürrle (born 6 November 1990) is a German footballer who plays as a forward for Mainz in the Bundesliga. The German U21 international was born in Ludwigshafen. Has 9 goals in the Bundersliga and is not cup tied. Mainz are placed second and looking forward to champion league next season.
    Pounds 8 Million

    Hugo Miguel Pereira de Almeida (born 23 May 1984) is a Portuguese footballer who plays for SV Werder Bremen in the German Bundesliga, as a centre forward.
    After failing to establish himself at F.C. Porto, being loaned various times during his contract, he made a name for himself in Germany with Werder Bremen. Making his debut for the Portuguese national team in 2004, aged 20, he appeared at Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup.
    He is 6’3 and an added aerial threat
    Valuation Pounds 17Millon

    Lucas Ramón Barrios Cáceres (born 13 November 1984 in San Fernando, Buenos Aires) is an Argentine-born Paraguayan footballer. He currently plays as a striker for Borussia Dortmund in the German Bundesliga. Barrios is known for his effectiveness in the target area. This earned him his nickname, La Pantera which means The Panther.
    Barrios’ mother is Paraguayan, which made him eligible to receive Paraguay nationality at birth. He received his Paraguay nationality in March 2010.[1] (and renounce Argentine nationality as the nation did not recognize dual nationality).
    He is 6’2 and aerial opportunities can be taken advantage off.
    Valuation Pounds 12Million (Could be much more expensive as Borussia Dortmund are preparing for Champions league next season)

    Klaas-Jan Huntelaar born 12 August 1983 in Voor-Drempt, Gelderland), nicknamed The Hunter,[1] is a Dutch professional footballer who currently plays as a striker for Schalke 04 and internationally for the Dutch national team. Huntelaar is a prolific striker[2] with technique and athleticism[3] and has been compared in style to players such as Marco van Basten[4] and Ruud van Nistelrooy.[5]
    He has 13 appearances for Schalke and has scored 7 goals.
    Valuation Pounds 12Milion

    • SomeRandomGunner says:

      Hmm.. Huntelaar, is a sub for RVP isn’t he ? Sell RVP and get his sub Huntelaar ?

      • nikkogunners says:

        look at their statistics. Huntelaar has more goals in for Holland.Being Sub for someone could be a coach idea…He is not injury prone too

  16. Tee Song says:

    If Diaby were match fit I’d agree with you lineup but he hasn’t played in over two months. It seems a little too much to ask to play his first competitive match vs Chelski. I’d replace him with Denilson because of his ability to retain possession and discipline to protect the back. With the weather enforced winter break and with competitive minutes under their belt, Cesc and RvP will hopefully be getting close to 100% but if their not, they shouldn’t play either. Also, for me Djourou has played really well and deserves a start.

    Arshavin needs to be dropped. Wenger can point to his assists and goal all day but his defensive contribution is abysmal. Clichy needs help, full stop. Fergie’s handling of Berbatov is illustrative. He’s the Prem’s leading goal scorer but he was dropped against us to provide defensive solidity. Arshavin can play against the lesser teams but if he wants the big games, he needs to defend. We can’t be carrying passengers against teams like Chelski. Nasri has basically become the player we hoped we were buying in Arshavin and Theo’s finishing has improved immeasurably this season. All Theo has to do is make good runs and find decent positions and the likes of Cesc, Nasri, and RvP can find him.

    The key to me will be Song. Drogba may be the finisher, but quite a few of Chelski’s goals are created down their left via Cole making well timed runs and putting in very dangerous crosses. Malouda and Cole are a very formidable partnership. Walcott will need to help but with him playing high up the pitch, Song as the R sided midfielder, will have to support Sagna especially when Chelski look to counter on that side. Drogba has scored a hatful of goals directly off assists from Cole and we need to cut off that supply line.

  17. Manama nigeria says:

    Dnt kno hw efficient nasri’l b on d left.i’d prefer him on d right n aa on d left,esp as der may nt b 2 much space 4 TW 2 run.we cud as an insurance crowd(play more 4rm) d left side of our midfield.otherwise i agree wt ur submision.gud wuk desi,truly hav ”arsenal dna”.

  18. bjohnson says:

    Sagna Koscielny Djourou Clichy

    Arshavin Fabregas Song Rosicky

    Van Persie Nasri

    Subs: Fabianski,Chamakh, Squillaci, Eboue, Vela, Wilshire.

    Yes – There is No Theo, that is because with everyone available he is NOT good enough to get into our team.

  19. sparky gooner says:

    this game will be won or lost in the tunnel before kickoff, watch the Arsenal players as they line up, if they look over at the Chelsea players they’ll lose, but if they focus straight ahead then good things will happen. as a note watch John Terry as the players line up, eyes straight ahead focused. it’s all in arsenals head!

  20. christian says:

    please, i dont want to see charmak in emirate stadium on monday with chelsea.please and please again. thank you.

  21. ARSENAL LEGEND says:

    i do not mind who plays.

    as long as that Rubbish DENILSON don’t play.


  22. […] Thoughts On Starting Eleven And Tactics Against Chelsea Arsenal can go up. Arsenal can go flat. Arsenal can go down. It’s that time of the season and the League table is set […] […]

  23. geoff reid says:

    arsenal legend I agree with you absolutely.

  24. ARSENAL LEGEND says:

    Thanks Geoff,

    Finally someone can see the truth.

    its time to bring in Physical players who can defend.

    Why can you all NOT see that???????

    Do you want to watch someone weak like DENILSON????

    Hello!!! wake up mugs.

  25. gman says:

    why does everyone think chamahk and vanp cant play 2gether..?? vanp is most effective cutting onto his left from the right wing..

    midfield shud be song deepest the fabregas and nasri both are very mobile and as we seen last game against manU u donthave to be good tacklers to win the midfield just gotta close down the space and options.
    attack line shud be arsh on the left comin slightly deeper cham in the middle and vanp on the right sitting very high pinning back cole. if we get hold of the ball in the middle and defend with it sucking out the chels midfields a quick change of tempo with a pass from cesc which he does so well to release either nasri or ash behind the chels midfield letting the run at the backline. the ball shud then be hit to cham for him to tee up vanp with that left foot…!!

  26. waleed says:

    Some of your tactical changes are easier said than done.
    For example, going from 4-3-3 to 4-4-1-1 when in defence. Our wingers get a lot of stick for not doing enough defensively but the thing is their roles prevent them from being effective in tracking back. Nasri and Arshavin cut inside often and make a lot of runs in behind the defence, even centrally (like you said Walcott should do and which he does as well). The problem then is that you’re asking a player who’s in a center forward position to run all the way back and help his full back.
    Sometimes they can, but a lot of times they just aren’t in a position to track back. Too far up and too central to be able to do that.

    When we played them at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea went out to attack us and tried to assert themselves on the game. However, we were better than them and pegged them back into their own half. Missed chances cost us the game that time.

    This time around they will not push forward much at all, unless they have space. Seeing how bad their form has been Ancelotti will be very cautious, especially since he knows the counter attacking approach has worked.
    So I don’t know how effective the deep midfield passing will be. Chelsea will not try to win the ball back early, they’ll just sit back and let us have it. A 0-0 will suit them just fine, I think. So I’m afraid we will have to force the issue a little bit.

    But I would like to see us adopt more of a possession game. If we can’t find a decent opening, just bring the ball back and let them come forward just a little bit and start over. Too often we seem content with just sending in a hopeful cross rather than trying to find a more concrete opening.

  27. Gennie says:


    Good write up but Walcot is not one to start this game because he can never go past Cole. In your team I would replace Walcot with Rosicky (if you really want defensive solidity), and van Persie for Chamack. Chamack works harder and is better defensively (at corners and dead ball situations, and is actually the best tackler among Arsenal forwards) than van Persie, plus Chamack has a terrific understanding with Nasri. So you will have Chamack, Nasri, Cesc and Rosicky that have played together for sometime this season and have a good understanding.

    Football is a sport / game of partnerships. van Persie has not played much and his understanding with Nasri or Walcot is not that good, also, Walcot really struggles to find his mates with his passes. If you want really effective attack, then Arshavin is far ahead of Walcot, even defensively when he really is up to it.

    I have no problem with Diaby starting, he has done this before i.e. starting a game when he has been laid off for quite a while. The one I remember recently is when he started against Liverpool on the first game of this season. He had not plaid all pre season, and yet he put in a very decent shift.

    So in your line up I would make changes to the front three as follows:
    (i) If I want to be solid defensively and want to retain the cleverness, sharp-shooting of van Persie (by the way he loves to score against Chelsea), then I would have Rosicky instead of Walcot; and I would have Rosicky play on the left to help out Cichy and let Nasri continue his stint on the right where he has established a good partnership with Fabregas and Sagna. The only problem with this option is that Rosicky is not sharp in attack and does not take responsibilities of shooting. I think he has lost too much confidence for scoring that he is afraid to shoot. But early second half changes could make good impact.

    (ii) If you still want a much more solid Arsenal, then together with (i) above, replace van Persie with Chamack; so you will have Nasri, Chamack and Rosicky. With the midfield you have in your line up and if everybody is up for the game, then Chelsea will struggle breaking down that line up.

    (iii) Without tinkering too much with you line up, if I really want a fearful attack, and want to keep van Persie, again just replace Walcot with Arshavin. And you will have a fearful attack of Arshavin, van Persie and Nasri. The partnership and understanding between Fabregas, Nasri and Arshavin has been fantastic so far. Plus Fabregas knows van Persie from yester-seasons.

    (iv) Lastly, why change what has been working fine so far? Retain the front three of Arshavin, Chamack and Nasri that has performed very well so far. I hope the presence of Diaby will solidify the left side.


  28. Theopapthesis says:

    Some people have said start arshavin. After a season of his crap performances, id be happy to sell him, not start him. yeah, walcott can be on/off, but at least he puts the effort in. Whereas Arshavin barely makes 5 yard passes,loses the ball and walks around the pitch for the rest of the match

  29. Joe says:

    Wow. You got the lineup spot on except for Diaby-Wilshere. Lets see how it works out now. Fingers crossed

  30. Joe says:

    Btw, you should get a twitter. I’m sure your tweets would be insightful, just like your blog.

    Just a suggestion. Hope you consider it.

    • desigunner says:

      Well I do have an account which is same as my email id but I don’t use it much. I don’t use my phone for the internet and when I’m on my laptop it’s mostly to write an article or respond to comments. Maybe in due course after I better understand what to do on twitter.

  31. Joe says:

    Take a bow, sir. You nailed it.

    3-1 to The Arsenal

  32. Honest Bill says:

    Well done lads. This is just the kick-start we needed. Hopefully it’s onwards and upwards from now on

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