Analysis Of Some Interesting Situations From The West Brom Game – Part I

I have been away from football and the news for the last few days but yesterday I got the chance to watch the West Brom game once again. I wanted a relook as I’d noticed some moments while watching live that seemed worth analyzing. This article is a quick discussion based on one of these observations.

In the image below we can see Arsenal get into a very exciting position just before the hour mark.

Click on the image to see a bigger version

Wilshere is on the ball. Arsenal have three players on the edge of the box and Van Persie in a good position just outside. Clichy is hugging the far touchline and is completely unmarked. The full-back has his left arm up but Wilshere doesn’t see it or sees it but decides that a pass down the middle is a better option.

The lines I have drawn represent what I was hoping to see. The thick line would be a bent run from Clichy as he comes into the box unseen and unmarked. The thinner line would have been a chipped pass from Wilshere, something he excels at. Such a pass would have allowed Chamakh and Bendtner to get into extremely dangerous positions at the near and back post. Arshavin could have made a run to the centre of the box while RvP could have positioned himself on the edge of the D for a cut-back. West Brom would have been scrambling to tackle Clichy and defend against four attackers in the box. As we can see the hosts had four or five players on their left side and would have struggled to get enough bodies back. We’ve seen Barca create and exploit such situations quite regularly.

Now this is just a single instance and the pass down the middle wasn’t a bad option in itself. So I don’t want to criticize any player based on this. But it does give us a few points to ponder.

Why don’t Arsenal create such situations more often? Do the Gunners prefer shorter passes and attacks down the middle? Is this an issue with the philosophy of the manager and the training routines? Is the longer pass over the top much more difficult to execute?

These questions don’t have straightforward answers. For instance, we’d all like to see Arsenal attack in numbers, stretch the play, get bodies into the box, and ultimately score a lot of goals, but it’s pretty obvious that the above situation leaves the defence completely exposed as both full-backs are really high up the field and there isn’t a defensive minded midfielder on the pitch.

Another point could be that such an instance can only arise if the opponents are not alert to the man on the wing. Once the Gunners start using this tactic, the other team will learn to cover for it. Of course, it can still be done but it’s so difficult that only one team in the world is able to pull it off consistently.

However, I do feel that Arsenal should try to use this tactic a lot more often and it has to come from the training pitches.

If you watch this particular play on video, you’ll notice that Clichy barely moves on the touchline. That tells me he is not alert to the possibility of making a run in behind and into the box but is looking for a pass out wide. As an extension, I’d think that his instructions are to hug that touchline and offer width. A decent approach no doubt but one that can be tweaked to make better use of such moments.

If the Frenchman had made the run, even if the ball had been played exactly as it was to Arshavin, the Russian would have had better options.

Click on the image to see a bigger version

As we can see in the snapshot above, there is a great deal of space behind the West Brom right-back. Clichy’s run – if he’d bent it and stayed onside – could have distracted the defender, it could have created more space for Arshavin, and the Russian might have been in a position to play Clichy in on goal.

Don’t be fooled into believing that Clichy isn’t good enough to make that run. Running into such a space would be a piece of cake for the Frenchman. He does many more difficult things on the pitch. In fact, that is another reason I feel it’s something the Gunners aren’t doing enough in training.

One could argue that it is up to the players to make such choices but I find it difficult to believe the manager and coaches don’t have a big say in it. Arsenal have had some trouble getting the balance right in the full-back areas since the change to the 4-3-3 formation. I’m sure a lot of work goes into studying their positions and instructing them on their movements.

I do agree that the long pass over the top is not an easy one to execute. But with the likes of Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, and now Ramsey in midfield, Arsenal have plenty of players who can make it work.

I don’t wish to imply that Wenger doesn’t train his players well but it seems to me that Le Boss either doesn’t like this trick much or hasn’t been able to mix it well enough into an undoubtedly arduous training regime.

When the first eleven is fit and firing this might not be needed but when we have the likes of Chamakh and Bendtner on the pitch I’d feel this is a better tactic than playing it down the middle so often. Hopefully, we will see more incisive use of such moments in the near future. Such subtle issues can be the difference between one point or three.

In the coming days I’ll discuss some other moments from the game.

31 Responses to Analysis Of Some Interesting Situations From The West Brom Game – Part I

  1. dy says:

    great point, I’ve sen a lot of this successful tactic employed by Barca with Villa on the sideline cutting in for the delivery and ‘kill’, it needs tremendous vision from our midfielders and accurate overhead ball and pace from whoever in on the left or right flanks. Practice makes perfect, no doubt.

  2. Phv says:

    Somebody has to tell Wenger about this. He is not going to read this article.

  3. diablo says:

    good article but the team don’t work for each other thats holding them back wenger is to blind to see that in order to become a better team they need to work for each other and thats were leadership coming in .

  4. ikl says:

    barcelona use it all the time.

    • critic says:

      absolutely, and one more thing about barca is that player in the middle(xavi, or who ever) don’t even look up while doing this. It’s as if they know where alves is gonna be.

      That sort of passing game and tactics only come through practice and desily speaking “rattabazi”.

  5. Dark Prince says:

    I think i’ve too talked about this issue about using our flanks more, especially when we have the best heading strikers all playing together. Also while attacking thru the flanks its better to have one full back at a time rather than both full backs together. That would give more protection behind. Plus having Bendtner, Chamakh and Van Persie playing together would mean no Arshavin and no Song, but i’d rather take of Wilshere and bring Arshavin to the Attacking Midfielder role simply bcoz he’s a better passer and better shooter of the ball than Wilshere. He could easily shoot or make a killer pass with the loose 2nd ball from an unsuccessful attack from the flanks. Plus Arshavin’s shots are powerful enough to force the opposition goalkeeper to make a fumble and hence create tap in opportunities for our 3 strikers.

  6. g0on3r says:

    i think an older wilshere will spot that pass. fabregas definitely would have play long ball to clichy.

  7. Waleed says:

    I think the arrows you’ve drawn are a bit too optimistic. No way would Clichy have entered the box with a ball over the top. There are other defenders much closer to that area than he is.

    If Wilshere had played that ball, it would have gone out to the wing and Clichy would have had a clear cross.

    Not a bad option but the reason we don’t “use our flanks” more is because we don’t like to cross the ball a lot. Crosses are an inefficient way of creating chances and we’d much rather play short, accurate passes than fling hopeful crosses into the box.

    With Bendtner and Chamakh both playing it certainly should be used more, but I don’t think that that ball should be played too often.

    Barcelona can pull it off more because they can afford to leave their fullbacks will run really high up. At Arsenal they usually stay farther back in line with the midfield. Barca’s tend to be even more adventurous. And they can do that because they usually have so much of the ball.
    And then there is Dani Alves who can run up and down the wing all day.

    • Metalhead says:

      Yeah good point you make about Barca and how they can afford to leave their full backs high up. I think their formation is one a kind. The ball hardly goes out of the oppositions half hence the full back is pretty much a winger. But at Arsenal we are a lot more susceptible to counter attacks. ManUre exploit it all the time. Should Clichy or Sagna get caught too high up the pitch and with the kind of defense that we have, God save us 🙂

      However, if we work on getting some cover for the full backs when the go forward, it’s an option worth utilizing. Also, when the ball is on the wing there should not be any hard and fast rule that a cross (in the air) should be the only channel to pass the ball. If we have a decent dribbler we can push the defenders back by dribbling laterally and then passing it on the deck.

    • desigunner says:

      The snapshots never tell the full story. Wilshere actually took three touches before playing a pass. Clichy had enough time to make the run. The advantage for him was that no one was paying any attention to him. I can’t see any defender getting close enough to cover except the right back, which would have left Arshavin free.

    • Kushagra India says:

      Crosses are by no means an inefficient option especially when u have time to cross and lumps in between to target ..infact it can be devastating Manure have won many titles by doing just that ….I am not saying we should change it wholesomely but need a little variation especially when we know Chamakh is a brilliant header of the ball…

  8. SgtWilGunner says:

    The reason we had failed to break Westbrom in that first half was because we could not switch flanks quite fast enough as we had Denilson in there. In the second half Wenger put the Left footed Wilshere on the right side of the midfield, and Nasri on the left. That was meant to create many more scenarios as one above where a quick switch of the flanks would catch Westbrom off guard.
    I believe if we are ever going to win games against these defensive teams, we only have one way to do it, and that is the Barcelona way. Go for all out attack straight from the start. Bombard the opponents with so many attacks that they are 2 busy to attack us. As Dark Prince said, we need to have one wing back forward at a time so that we can maintain a 3man defense all the time.

  9. critic says:

    Desi, this is the reason perhaps why we often come across phrase like ” passing the ball into net”.

    Well i bet not even a pundit knows the real reason behind it, and u explained it quite nicely.

  10. GunnerX says:

    Good in-depth analysis, Barc employ similar tactics in that they always have there full backs very far forward looking to make the overlapping runs, which is why Walcott was such a big miss for us, as he is always looking to exploit the space that the overlapping full back invariably leave behind. We need to get that balance right as we always look vulnerable when we push up that far forward.

  11. Archimedes says:

    A chipped pass from that distance is too slow, you also asking the shortest player to see and make an accurate pass over the heads of several WBA players. It is the fallacy of bird eye, armchair analysis replaying his recorded game. Next u go to a match and watch it from the sidelines and call the move as the game flows! Messi ballkeeping ability superb and once he draws 2-3 pressing opponents, which itself creates acres of space for his team mates, THEN he passes.

  12. Kushagra India says:

    Desi enjoyin the cricket world cup eh….

  13. Claver says:

    Excellent observation Desi. I hope Wilshere is studying Arsenal playing tactics, in particular studying teammates whom he is likely to give an assist oropen up defences.

    I’d hoped he’d have the theory by now.

    It doesn’t seem to come naturally to Wilshere but he can learn. I remember Song playing a couple of those passes that you mention Desi.

    By the way, the pass you are suggesting is very possible. All Wilshere has to do is to place the ball behind the right-back, not behind the central defenders.

    But if you look at Wilshere, his body is not in a stable position with respect to the ground. So pulling off such a pass would be more difficult for him.

  14. darren says:

    defensive teams like west brom,
    you guys make us all laugh, if they are so defensive why manage to put 5 goals past you lot, and take 4 points while you take only 1 point lol.
    you are not in the same class as Barca, so do not expect to be able to play like them,
    as I like to say BOING BOING

  15. […] Analysis Of Some Interesting Situations From The West Brom Game – Part I I have been away from football and the news for the last few days but yesterday I got the chance to watch the West Brom […] […]

  16. Gennie says:

    Desi and everybody,

    I really do not believe that you have not seen this tactic beeing used by Arsenal. I personally have seen Clichy himself spraying long passes to the opposite flank behind the defense. Cesc is the master of such passes – this so cold over the top pass behind the defense. Really its nothing new to Arsenal. I wish I had a specific example to show you. In your analysis Desi, the pass that JW19 made was actually the best because as you point out it left a lot of space behind for a fullback to run into as the defender closes in on Arshan. Only that Clichy did not use it because it is Clichy. Had it been on the other side with Sagna, you would have seen him zoom into that space and perhaps score a goal. Otherwise good analysis.

  17. jahan arun says:

    Le Boss prefers tatics which have high probability of getting the job done.

    Overhead passes have 50-50 possibility for being won, but short passes are mostly 100% sure of reaching intended target. Even if defender intercept, his momentum will ususally deflect it back to us. So we will be having possession.

    It’s clear that Le Boss prefers possession football, trying to disorganise the defence and score goals. And short pass is the greatest tool to disorganise any defence.

    But I feel, we need small improvements in the speed of passing in the second-thrid of opposition half.

  18. Claver says:

    If one is to be honest, there are at least 8 passes that Wilshere could have played with at least 4 having a possible territorial advantage and or goal-scoring opportunity.

    Wilshere’s body position and tendency to play with his left foot mean that at least 3 of the 4 become high risk – the reverse pass to Sagna, over the top to Bendtner and the pass to Clichy.

    Which leaves him with only 1 lower risk pass to RvP or Arshavin. Which is far more predictable. His body tells the eperienced defenders where he is going to pass the ball.

    What Wilshere needs to learn is how to take a hit, not run from it. If he is to play in the middle for Arsenal and be effective he needs to learn to ‘take a tackle’ as they say in rugby.

    If he is to keep the ball at his feet, which is necessary for the best players, he needs to learn to have a stable body position so that he is ready to pass the ball with either feet. Something Ramsey does brilliantly.

    I think he is not learning from Fabregas/Nasri/Denilson/Ramsey, which he ought to. He has the raw ability, but he needs comoposure on and off the pitch.

    It would do him great harm to think he has attained.

  19. Kushagra India says:

    Desi very true Xavi excels in making these sort of passes and they create helluva lot of goals through Alves in this fashion ……

  20. Bercy says:


    I am french and we here in france know that Wenger has given the best he could to Arsenal. Wenger is no longer capable of creating anything new. If Arsenal believes that with Wenger they will win trophies or become like Barcelona, they are in for a big disappointment.

    The tactical innovations you are considering are not the kind of stuff Wenger pays attention to. I have been privileged to attend various training sessionswith Wenger himself officiating. He does not work on tactics or on anything else. He barely speaks to the players.

    Before games there is not one single update about the team Arsenal is going to confront. Nothing about their strengths and weaknesses. Ask Manu Petit, Wiltord, Pires, Cigan. They will all tell you the same story and I saw it when I visited.

    The best of Wenger has come and is now gone. As long as he remains at the helm of Arsenal, I am sure you will have countless debates such as this one. Why?

    Well, simple. He will never change. He is not interested in changing. He is perfectly happy as long as Arsenal qualifies for the CL.

    • Jeannot says:

      I normally don’t intervene in web discussions although I read most of them. But I feel I have to say something since, for some time now, the subject of Wenger’s capacity to lift Arsenal to new heights has been on the table.

      I love the way Wenger has worked with the team. I am not one of those who will ever denigrate him. I have but gratitude for his genius.

      But it is clear that he is becoming a problem and in the eyes of a very substantial section of the fans, he is the major obstacle to Arsenal’s progress. I have seen some vitriolic remarks made against him and despicable insults hurled at him as a person and as a tactician. This is very disturbing.

      I think the time has come for a radical change at Arsenal. I am not sure Wenger is the person to drive these changes. The rumour is that at the end of the season, we will see many players leave. Some are fed up that no credible reinforcement is coming. The saga with Jens Lehmen is pathetic in that regard.

      There is a lot of anger out there and its tide seems to be more and more pointing towards Wenger himself.

  21. Nikk says:

    Wenger a stubborn idealist, I am afraid tactically is clueless. I honestly wish he would read blog like yours desi and get some much needed constructive tactical feed back.

    Next season lets hope Pat Rice goes and is replaced by a innovative tactical No 2 coach.

  22. Claver says:

    Wenger is tactically astute and immensely valuable to the Arsenal. There isn’t a better coach than him in all of Europe.

    I do agree that Pat Rice needs to go, his contributions to Wenger’s weaponry is marginal and diminished by his distractions.

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