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.