Analyzing The Real Problems Afflicting Arsenal’s Football – Part I

I want to start off by acknowledging the response to the previous article. Thank you. And I am sorry I wasn’t able to respond to the many considered opinions that were shared. Right now I am really struggling for time, which is also forcing me into compressing two or three articles worth of content in one.

In this piece I want to focus on a key systemic issue at Arsenal. Regular readers know that I have been talking about weaknesses in the system for a long time and have covered some in the past.

I believe the system of play is a team’s single biggest strength. This comes from the manager and the way he thinks about football. It could also be a philosophy of the club as is the case of Barcelona. Often the two are interlinked.

In order to understand this ask yourself the following questions – How can Wenger keep Arsenal in the top four even while fielding the likes of Almunia, Eboue, Denilson and Diaby in the starting line-up on a regular basis while other managers like O’Neill, or those at Tottenham, spent a lot more money on supposedly established stars but failed to dislodge the Gunners? Why didn’t Manchester United struggle after losing and not replacing the likes of Tevez and Ronaldo? Why was Ibrahimovic a flop at Barcelona, even when the club was successful? Why is the same Ibra a success in Italy?

None of these questions have straightforward answers and they lead us back to the quality of the managers and the systems they use. Ibrahimovic didn’t fit into the Barcelona style. Ferguson and Wenger have much stronger systems than their counterparts at other clubs. This allows them to get more out of their players and they can dominate other teams that spend a lot more money.

A system, in my opinion, is not limited to the numerical formation. A 4-3-3 system deployed by two managers can be as different as sugar and salt. Take a look at the two World Cup finalists as a case in point.

Wenger has often said that the system he plays is based on the players he has. It’s not as simple as 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. A lot of details go into making a distinctive style and as Vermaelen was quoted on the official website today, it’s the little details that make a difference.

I want to look at a few snapshots from the 3-3 draw with the Tiny Totts towards the end of last season. This example is from the 88th minute. I would suggest that you not focus on the instance per se but more on the conceptual discussion.

In the first image we see that Song has just played a pass to Cesc who is running towards the opposition box. Wilshere is next to him and moving in the same direction. Sagna and Bendtner can be seen on the flank. Arshavin, who is supposed to be the left sided attacker, is on the edge of the box.

Click on the image to view a larger version

The Russian and Cesc were able to pass the ball in a tight space which created half a shooting chance for Fabregas. It is interesting to note that only Van Persie is in the box. Bendtner can hardly contribute from his wide position.

Click on the image to view a larger version

The shot is blocked and it falls to Wilshere. Note the two Spurs players just outside their box. These players are free and can counter attack if an opportunity arises.

Click on the image to view a larger version

Eventually, Wilshere chooses to cross with only the Dutchman as the target. The ball floats harmlessly over as he is well marshalled by the two central defenders.

Click on the image to view a larger version

In the final image, it is important to note the positions of Bendtner, Wilshere, Arshavin, Cesc, Sagna, and Song. If the ball had been headed out or intercepted, Spurs would have had a break on as the six players above and Van Persie would have been out of the game because of their positions and the way they are facing.

Song would have to compete for the ball and the two players on the edge of the box could easily play a one two around him to get into yards of space with only two central defenders and perhaps Clichy in front of them. This could easily lead to a three-on-three or a four-on-three situation.

In this case it did not happen but just ask yourself how many times have you seen the ball move from the attacking third to Arsenal’s defensive third in less than 10 seconds?

Here is an excellent video of a similar situation, although there are some differences it shows how easy it can be for a team to transition from attack to defence against Arsenal. The replay around the 17 second mark is from an excellent angle.

At the same time it is important to note that more often than not the defenders do make a block, tackle, interception, or clearance. Otherwise the Gunners would concede a dozen goals in each game. Defenders, when put in such situations regularly, can look like chumps but that’s not the right way to judge them.

The problem is that such transitions lead to a number of free-kicks, corners, and throw-ins in dangerous territories. This increases the chances for the opposition to score and puts pressure on Arsenal.

It also affects the confidence of both sides. The opponents know they will always get some chances. Wenger’s men are always wary of making a mistake.

Overall this affects the balance of play and reduces the impact that Arsenal can have with all their possession. That is the reason teams might consider facing Barcelona, United, or Chelsea (in their pomp) a monumental task but they’d always fancy their chances against Arsenal.

These situations are also linked to the decision making by players which in turn is related to their confidence and mentality at the given moment.

When the team is on a roll players tend to make better judgment calls and the whole unit looks a lot more compact and threatening. When they are down, small errors creep in. Someone might cross the ball when teammates are out of position, another might not be ready to chase back, a tackle might be mistimed, and so on. These are the little details that make a world of difference.

In general, when a football team is attacking, it must also be prepared to defend at a moment’s notice. Barcelona do this by having a large number of players in a small space that leads to their suffocating pressing. Most teams rarely get past this but as Arsenal showed, once you do that, the chances of scoring against the Catalans increase manifold. More importantly, Barcelona rarely play a risky pass when many of their players are out of position or on the wings.

Take another look at the last image above and ask yourself, would a Barcelona player ever cross the ball in such a situation? The odds of success are too low and the risk of a counter-attack is high. They just don’t do it. This comes from an instinctive understanding of the game and only when the players have been in a system for a long time. That is one of the reasons it is important to keep the squad together to the extent possible.

United have a different approach. They are a predominantly defence focussed side i.e. they go out with the intention of not conceding before they think of scoring. They also do this by focussing on the shape of the team. Even when they are camped in the opposition half you will never see two of their central midfielders out wide on a wing at the same time along with their wide player and fullback. They get into a shape so that two or three players are available in the box, someone is covering the opposite flank, and at least two players are present between the opposition box and their central defenders. Such a functional approach limits their ability to attack (still it is better than most) and is found out when the opposition is top class but it works for them in most games as they lose very few.

Arsenal are somewhere in between. In some games, especially away ones, we saw more focus on defending and maintaining the shape last season. And we saw the results in the form of the best away record in the League. In other matches, the team tried to dominate the ball and played an attacking, possession based style. Those games had mixed results.

Based on these observations, I believe Wenger will have to work really hard on improving the shape of the team during moments of transition i.e when Arsenal have to move from attack to defence. This is not an easy task but if you look closely enough it’s clear that they are working hard. The away games last season and some of those against the big teams showed the impact of the work being done to improve in this area. But a lot more needs to be done. The pre-season games, while friendly in nature and intended for fitness and development purposes, have shown that the team shape is not at the level needed and the opponents are able to move from their defensive third to the attacking third within seconds.

One big change could come in the form of limiting the number of players who have the freedom to roam. In the above example, we could see that Arshavin was a long way from his designated areas, Cesc naturally had a free role, and Wilshere too was overlapping Fabregas. In the pre-season games so far, Wilshere has shown the tendency to move forward with the ball. It looks good when he can drop the shoulder and beat a man or two but it affects the team. Nasri and Arshavin didn’t get on the ball often enough and eventually got crowded out.

Keeping Wilshere in deeper positions and having him pull the strings while having a broader view of the pitch can make a big difference. He has the talent to switch the flanks effectively, put in telling balls over the top when the defence is reorganizing, and also chase/tackle when the opposition gets the ball.

This might not be the only solution or a comprehensive one but it should make a difference.

If the players have to have the freedom, a lot more emphasis is needed on retaining possession – no obvious passes than can easily be intercepted, lesser number of crosses, etc. – when they are out of position and exposing the defence. The positioning of the fullbacks can also be altered to provide better cover down the middle.

Similar analysis can be done for transitions from defence to attack but I’ll leave it for another day. Then there are issues with defending set-pieces and some others that I want to cover if I get the chance.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not supposed to be a definitive opinion. Fans and students of the game cannot come up with those as we know very little. I doubt even managers like Redknapp, O’Neill, Hughes, et al. can come up with truly authoritative problem definitions and solutions as far as the Gunners are concerned. If they could, they’d have created teams better than the Arsenal by now!

I realize many people like clear cut answers. Media hacks, pundits, and some bloggers provide that. Unfortunately, nothing worthwhile works that way.

Fans have to acknowledge the complicated nature of issues involved and an honest effort is needed to understand them before one can comment on finding solutions. This is just a step in that direction. With your help I will try to go further down this road during the season.


49 Responses to Analyzing The Real Problems Afflicting Arsenal’s Football – Part I

  1. TT says:

    The flaw in your argument is that Arsenal were best in the league at defending from open play.

    You may be right though, because Song and other midfielders also pick up a lot of bookings/fouls “killing” breaks and give away more corners in desperate clearances.

    It would be interesting to see how many set-plays Arsenal faced for their worst-in-league goals against record. If Arsenal faced significantly more set-plays than other teams, it might be that their record defending set-plays might not be the issue, but this one instead.

    • Davi says:

      We did concede a lot of penalties (most of them bullshit of course), which will probably happen more frequently when you leave yourself open on the counter.
      Our defence *looked* weak (and was) from set plays, but we didn’t actually concede *that* many goals from them. Bolton conceded far more, and a greater proportion of their overall goals conceded were from corners or set pieces.

    • AdeGooner says:

      Brilliant analytical piece as usual, DesiG.

      As per the comment about Arsenal being the best in the league at defending from open play. I still struggle to understand that. The only reason we have the good stats of conceding less goal from open play is because we have the greater share of ball possession in most games. But its obvious to see how frail our defense looks when the opponents are with the ball…and one of the key issues is the one analyzed here by DesiG.

    • desigunner says:

      @TT

      Fair point about Arsenal having the best defence from open play. But as you also pointed out, that would be one side of the story.

      We have to consider the number of red and yellow cards, penalties (legit or otherwise), corners, free-kicks, and throws that resulted from such breaks.

      Just looking at the Spurs game at home – Their first goal came from a quick break, second and third came from set-pieces that resulted from quick transitions.

      Another factor to consider is the confidence issue that I mentioned. Teams are not that afraid of Arsenal anymore because they always feel there is hope for them to score.

      Anyway as I said in the previous post, Arsenal are in the 90-95 zone so most things are being done right. When we focus on weaknesses it seems like a big deal but it is far from a disaster. I didn’t wish to imply Arsenal were terrible but this is a big issue that can push the Gunners that much closer to perfection.

      • Phil23 says:

        In reply to Adegooner, I disagree completely that the reason we have the least goals conceded from open play is because we have more possession. When you consider what Desi said about how often we get stuck in 4 on 3 situations at the back it is obvious that we should be conceding a lot of goals. In fact, I would go as far as to say that almost every team this season had enough clear cut counters to win the game. Very rarely did we not concede counter attacks.
        The real reason we didn’t concede from open play was because we had the best back line in open play in the Prem. Clichy came up with a huge number of interceptions as did Koscielny. Djourou became something of a block specialist and we also had the quickest back line in the Prem. People completely underrate our defence and seem to give very little blame to the midfield. For example look at Squillaci, he was a decent defender until he came to Arsenal, where he looks like an amateur. Clichy will look twice the player at Defence City. Desi is completely right about Wilshere needing to stay deep but this also creates problems in that Wilshere is a top dribbler of the ball and this skill will be wasted somewhat. We also have a rotating midfield which is great on attack yet perilous on defence. For me I would keep the rotating midfield accept instead of having two forward and one back I would much prefer one forward and two back.
        Finally, I believe that we would concede many less counter attacking opportunities if the players were taught to shoot at the right time. For example, Arsenal often see moves break down with no option but to hold onto the ball and risk being tackled or to put in a lame cross. My theory is that if the players shoot in such a situation, they will give the rest of there team enough time to drop off whether the keeper saves the shot or if it goes out for a goal kick. This in itself is enough of a reason to shoot at such times even without factoring in the possibility of a corner or even a goal.

      • santori says:

        @phil23

        Good point about our defenders not being the only ones culpable.

        I think an issue which we have in midfield is that we are very much Song dependent. Without him, we tend to be porous in front of the defense.

        Diaby has been better defensively this season 9for the few games he played for us) but he is not a naturally defensive minded player.

        That said, when he played gainast Newcastle (before his melt down), we were solid.

        However Song is still key and one issue I do have with him is he is slow. He compensates for it well with his positioning but without a quicker pair of feet like Jack on hand (or Sagna, Clichy), he can be caught out with a counter.

        The other point you made with regards shooting is also very valid.

        We get ourselves into great positions to have a go but too often succumb to a bout of Arsenalitis and overcomplicate ourselves with extra passing.

        It is therefore refreshing to see pre-season :

        1) Gervinho who is more instinctively direct.

        2) Ramsey, Chamakh, Arsharvin, Rosicky have all had a go at goal from fair distance (outside the box)

        Lets hope they continue. The more threat we pose to the backline of the opposition, the less likely they will risk pouring forward in numbers. This threat has to come with occasional reminder that we will also punish from distance.

        if anything, it will also help open up deep sitting defenses al little allowing us to run into the box if need be.

        The last thing we do want of course is to continue being too predictable with over passing and simply get marshalled from flank to flank because the defenders know we will much rather pass the ball into the net.

      • AdeGooner says:

        Good points, Phil23. I see what you’re saying and I would have agreed totally with you…but then I watched the game against Benfica yesterday and I still struggle to understand how that defense can be the best in the league from open play. The defense to me is doesn’t just consist of the back four, we don’t play defense convincingly enough as a unit.

  2. ruby044 says:

    Good analysis. The major problem with Arsenal, that became very obvious with the 2010 Barcelona home game, for a number of years now has been how the team reacts off of the ball. Wenger at heart is an individualist, he likes players to express themselves etc. However, to be effective off of the ball, and to win it back, there must be a system of play, of thought, greater in detail than the philosophy we currently have. I applaud Arsenal’s philosophy; you pointed out the difference between Arsenal and Manchester United. The major difference is that Arsenal are proactive in their play and Manchester United are reactive, generally speaking. To be a genuinely proactive side you have to have the ball and be able to win it back quickly when you don’t have it. Arsenal are not capable of the latter in the same way that Barcelona are – their players are subservient to a system. Arsenal lack system. They neither have a definite shape to fall back on when needed nor the nous to press teams into submission a la Barcelona. In short, I agree with you!

    PS I don’t believe we can cure our deficiencies with individuals, buying Samba/Cahill/Jagielka alone will not solve our problems

    • Davi says:

      “PS I don’t believe we can cure our deficiencies with individuals, buying Samba/Cahill/Jagielka alone will not solve our problems”

      I agree. A change in system needs to be implemented. I was hoping (not expecting) we would sell fabregas and buy vidal, switch back to 4-4-2, and play with two more defensive central midfielders like we used to.

    • santori says:

      We fall short of Barca in terms of collective defense but we are iles ahead of many teams in terms of pressing high and defending in packs IF we want to.

      The problem is, we rarely keep it up through the entire game. Somewhere around 60+mins, we inevitably seem to loose our focus.

      It does not help that we have yet to formulate a recipe to reinforce ourselves with the right players when ahead and create an ability to protect the lead. Whilst our first team are fine, a slight change in balance/personnel for us seems often to effect the tempo of our pressing/defending. ( I cite the Redbull game whereby when Gervinho, RVP came off, we immediately started to allow the opposition more time on the ball)

      • George Washington Plunkitt says:

        And Wenger always seems to wait 10 min too long before making substitutions!

  3. max says:

    Great! article… Thats the point I also want to say…. Barca hold the ball and doesnt give risky pass whether arsenal got the ball and going for a attack and plays a risky pass or cross… Thats the differnt… Barca have strong and tall defender and plays pressing…. Arsenal have the def who can turn and give a quick pass,not strong or tall…thats the thing arsenal should improve…

  4. lankylorde says:

    Good analysis. Hopin our players have learnt a lot from last season. I still believe we’ll do well this season jst with a little attention to some details like tv5 said

  5. nicky says:

    I fear that our biggest problem affecting defence is purely and simply inadequate coaching. There must be something wrong with a top class side when our defence is so guilty of failing to combat set-pieces.
    I do not share the view that the cause is solely down to player quality although I accept that some of the defence on some occasions have faltered.
    Even the signing of new faces in the back four will not solve the problem.
    The answer can only be specialist coaching in such a way that will result in total confidence and cohesion.
    There may have to be a period when defenders refrain from joining in the attack but so what?
    I only hope that during the pre-season training much time has been spent on creating a near watertight
    defence.

    • Steve says:

      Agree with you about the need for better coaching or a better coach, perhaps both.

    • santori says:

      Not half wrong Nicky.

      It was intersting listening to Keown (for whatever it was worth) during half time against NYRBulls.

      he remarked that whilst we adopted the correct zonal marking to defend the corner, that our players were standing too far off the opponents.

      I do feel we could do with better coaching. If anything, a specialist defense coach should be brought in to iron out details and correct our common mistakes.

      At the same time, there is no harm bringing in someone for the attack to sharpen us further still. Particularly,w e should be working on our Plan B against tightly pack defeses sitting back and waiting for the counter.

      If anything, Wenger should see this as benefitial for the future. Aside from bringing focus to our problem areas, it will also afford him the opportunity of grooming possible successors from within.

      (Sevral old boys come to mind as possible candidates. Pat Rice has been a good servent but he is simply too close to be able to offer IMO a proper alternative to the gaffer)

  6. TT says:

    nicky,

    The facts would not bear out your hypothisis. It is far more likely it is a matter of confidence, which is sadly not going to be helped by the negative fanbase we now seem to have.

    At one point around Xmas we had the best defence in the league. Something happenned and we collapsed. Djourou went from being statistically the best defender in the league, to merely average.

    • santori says:

      Djourou came back from his injury when the team was already rocky. It didn’t help that he let his game go a little either.

      But the real weak link at the back IMO is Squillaci. I’m not denegrating him for being the main culprit but he is not good enough as our senior player.

      Wenger has IMO applied a quick fix band aid for the last several seasons in Silvestre and then Squillaci to no avail,.

      What we need is a senior player to add experience BUT we also need this player to come with quality.

      Moving for someone like Alex (Chelsea) is the right thing to do as it affords us the leadership we can depend on if need be when chips are down but at the same time affords our promising younger defenders (Koscielny, Djourou, Bartley) a chance to continue playing/improving.

      Alex is reputed to possibly be available for 6m quid. Grit and experience aplenty, good at set pieces and a thunderous shot (useful for our now famously tame free kicks), I would think he is well worth a punt.

  7. chengiskhan says:

    Excellent article, Desi. One thing I have noticed as well is that when I watch ManU and Barca play, they seem to often have at least 2 or 3 guys attacking the goal when the ball is sent in or when a player is taking a defender 1-on-1. We, on the other hand, seem to often have only 1 guy anywhere near the goal when a cross is sent in, which is well depicted in the last still photo you provided. We also never seem to take defenders 1-on-1, which would cause other defenders to move out of position, although I am hopeful that with Gervinho and possibly Miyaichi, that will start to change. I find Nasri disappointing in that respect. Also, it is pretty frightening how many people we have in the attacking third in those photos, with only 1 player anywhere near the goal. This is an open invitation to a counter attack!

    • santori says:

      United also employ a more direct route to goal and are not afriad (in fact utilise to great effect) the cross ball which switches their counters very quickly from one flank to the next.

      We must learn to adpat some different tactics and mix it up a little.

      I believe we were handicap somewhat last season because (apart from Walcott), we did not have enough outlets that could get the ball past the last defenders.

      We now have 2 new tools in Miyaichi and more importantly Gervinho.

      In particular, Gervinho affords us the opportunity to beat the last two defenders with pace thereby 9as Desi mentioned) transitioning us quicker from defense to attack.

      Where as in the past we would punt the ball to RVP or CHamakh and they would more often than not play a back pass, we now have a quick pair of feet that can take it pass the last man and head directly down at goal.

      Invariably, this threat would also mean that the opponents will be wary of commiting men forward thereby affording less pressure on our backline.

      It comes as no surprise therefore that when Gervinho (and RVP) were on the pitch against redbulls, the Americans hardly threatened. The moment they came off, we started to see the opposite team becoming more adventurous and sullying forward (did not help that wenger decided to play eboue for whatever reason instead of Sagna…puzzling that, isn’t Eboue due for a stint as Gunnersaurus?)

  8. Gerry Lennon says:

    I agree with much of what you say, and yet it may be partly because they commit so many forward that they scored so many goals?
    I think the real truth lies also in the personel, in so far as we have too many players who are not playing to their full potential, because there is a limit for those places where they can?
    Alphabetically:
    Arshavin – probably better suited behind the striker(s)
    Fabregas – he plays in HIS position.
    Nasri – again, better suited around the edges of the striker(s)
    Ramsey – Not yet of Cesc’s calibre, but that central position.
    Song – Although seen as the ‘holding’ midfielder, personally I like to see him in and around the edge of the box.
    Wilshere – a deeper lying version of Song, but effective where ever across the centre of midfield.
    Add to these; Walcott, and (talking 2010/11 here) Bendner out on the right wing, it is obvious that RVP will be the only one in the box a lot of the time?
    Enter Gervinho into the equation, and you make the current role of both Arshavin and Nasri redundant?
    Perhaps a 5-3-2 defence, and a 3-5-2 attack might help, with one of the 6 names above playing just behind the strikers.
    I am aware that little of the above addresses our vulnerability at the back … except to point out, buying replacements of a similar type – should anybody be leaving – could be unnecessary? For example;
    One Fabregas = 1 CB + DM
    One Nasri = 1 Striker + 1LB

    • santori says:

      I see the team currently split into groups of two :

      1) Strikers : RVP, Chamakh (Gervinho)

      2)LW : Arsharvin, Miyaichi (Gervinho, Nasri)
      3) RW : Walcott, (Gervinho, Nasri)

      4) AM : Fabregas, Ramsey (Arsharvin)
      5) CM : Jack, Diaby
      6) DM : Song, Frimpong

      7) LB : Traore, GIbbs
      8)RB : Sagna, Jenkinson
      9) CB : TV, Koscielny, (New Man), Djourou

      10) Keepers Szsc, Fabianski, Mannone

      Gervinho is an intersting case because we can play him in many different positons. He can play LW, RW, Striker (particularly if we do develop an ability to go 4-4-1-1 with RVP in the hole, against teams that have conceded midfield and sit deep)

      • Gerry Lennon says:

        I like your are definitions as it highlights where we are weakest in case of injury. Also, what players you have got for a Plan B when you bring on subs. This is why I mention the possibility of adding another striker, as you do not list Bendtner either, and Chamakh needs someone just in case.
        Out and out wingers are Walcott and Myachi(permit granted), but whether you start with one or both I think may depend on the opposition. However, we do have very good over-lapping backs in Gibbs and Sagna(Jenkinson), which mean we still have width without the wingers? The reason I would add a left back is to tighten the defence when we are holding a 2 goal lead – someone like Royston Drenthe? He would not cost a lot and has plenty of experience. Bad boy image apart, it may be more a question of character in the squad whether he figures in Arsene’s thinking?
        Similarly, your plan highlights the area of weakness in the centre of midfield, if you include Diaby in the squad?. At the moment we have a very fluid midfield trio in Wilshire, Ramsey, and Song -during the absence of Fabregas at least – which is good on the eye, but why I think a good solid DM is required, and we rotate the others according to need and injury. Frimpong will develop into that role as the season progresses, and again, by withdrawing one of the attacking midfielders you can shut up shop better with Frimpong alongside the new addition. (Position that may be filled shortly??).
        The defence I have addressed above in part, but by adding a recognised LB you can have a proper back four? I mean no disservice to Gibbs, but I see him developing into a great left-sided midfielder in the future. Traore is a useful back up, but defensively not quite the real thing?
        A new CB is a given.

  9. 037 says:

    great analysis as usual!

    this piece clearly shows how having “a lump” (like samba) is not the answer to arsenal’s defensive problems (as pointed out millions of times by many blogs).

    another thing i agree with is how arsenal is usually very wasteful when they try to force in crosses, because there is hardly anyone in the box.
    i don’t know why this happens. surely wenger realises that when sagna is forced to cross the ball, it is rarely productive.

    i would also recommend arsenal shooting more from distance (even possession-based teams like barca do this), because although this is a lower-probability attacking option compared to a “tap-in”, it seems like this would be much better than the “crossing” attacking option.
    i think that shooting more from distance would somewhat force the defence to come out, rather than camp just in and around the box.
    it is a real problem when we have 10 players from the opposition camped in the final quarter of the field, and we only try to create tap-in chances.

    • chengiskhan says:

      Yes, I agree that in the final third we often find ourselves in a “half-court offense” (basketball comparison), with the ball moving around, but without much impetus or threat. Many times as our solution for breaking the stalemate, we send in a cross to a single person in the box with 2 or 3 defenders around him. In addition to our problem of defensive organization (note, I did not say that our defenders were the problem, as I agree with Desi), we seem to have a problem creating clear chances when we have possession against an organized and defensively-shaped team. It seems that our movement off the ball is a little sluggish and indecisive, and we also don’t have that Messi or Nani type who can be direct by taking on defenders, getting the ball to the byline, and dragging defenders out of position for a killer pass. In basketball, the term is “dribble, drive, and dish”. We just don’t do it enough. I don’t know how many times I have seen Nasri, Vela, Sagna, et al pull up from a dribble when the positive move would have been to drive to the byline and cut the ball back. In this sense, Theo is good to have on in the side, especially when the pace of the game is a little quicker, although he too is not the most effective when the defense is tight. Arshavin tries on occasion, but I would love to see it more. I’m not trying to claim that any of this is easy, but I think we lack a certain directness, speed, and variation in our attack, especially when the pace of play is slow. I am hopeful that Gervinho will add that extra dimension for us, and eventually Miyaichi too.

      • santori says:

        It points to the fact that we have not perfected our offensive game.

        We don’t have a proper set up 9alternative at least) against teams sitting deep and tend to struggle (Just think of the lower quality opposition which we suffered a string of draws to thereby surrendering our title hopes)

        I am of the opinion that we are not fully utilising Chamakh.

        Whilst he now seems admitedly to suffer from low confidence, I thought he has struggled with the 4-3-3 against deep lying opponents because :

        1) He drifts out, leaving us no one in the box
        2) He is over crowded (ditto RVP, although his movement is better)

        what I think we need to do is to be able to switch to a 4-4-1-1 and be able to support Chamakh either with the quick Gervinho playing off of him or with RVP drifting.

        This in particular as these teams we seem to draw aganst have already surrendered midfield so why the extra man in midfield for us (or wait till the 70+min to over load up top?)

        (Note : I am cognisant Chamakh played well 4-3-3 before Dec and when he was at bordeaux but I would suggest that we were not as leg laggered in the first half osf season before fixtures started to take their toll and that France is a much slower ligue where Chamakh’s lack of speed was not quite as apparent)

  10. GeorgeY says:

    Your analysis would have been more sound if you had included the sides Arsenal aims to emulate i.e. what are MUFC doing right, and similarly what did Lille-Dortmund-Milan-Porto do right that made them win championships. Barcelona are not the be all and end all.

    Lille had Mavuba to sweep ahead of his defence, they had an aerial monster in Rami, which Marseille exploited last week now he’s left. Dortmund employed 1 energetic & disciplined holder, Bender, in front of a clean pair of defenders, Subotic to mark, Hummels to sweep up. Milan had 3 holding players leaving 3 ahead to win the matches but also ensuring Nesta swept up behind all the good work Silva did. Porto had 1 holder in front of a disciplined defence.

    See a pattern???

    Arsenal don’t do any of these. Song is not disciplined, he won’t harry players or funnel them to another player, our defenders don’t have clearly defined roles i.e. marker & cover.

    As we saw, RvP scored 18 goals in the league, how many did we win? He could score 30 and we may not win many because defence is neglected, a clear strategy in defending.

    Arsenal think they have enough firepower up front to not place so much emphasis on defending, only RvP scored more than 10 in the league for us, we must wake up & see defence = titles.

    • desigunner says:

      Did you watch Milan V Tottenham? What were their three holding players, Nesta, Silva, et al doing? They weren’t winning the match for sure.

      I don’t see any point in comparing Arsenal with teams from weaker leagues. Let’s see what Dortmund, Lille, and Porto do over the next five years.

      Do you realize even Squillaci has won titles like the ones you are considering?

      • GeorgeY says:

        Great!!

        Milan, a team that has won more European Cups than anyone else bar Madrid, glad to know you think we have nothing to learn from them.

        Dortmund, a club that has also won the European Cup more times than Arsenal & Chelsea put together & supplies a healthy number to the German side, glad you think we have nothing to learn from them.

        Porto who won the Europa League last term & had their coach transferred to Chelsea, wow, inferior leagues have nothing for sure.

        That is a very arrogant stance to take, and symptomatic of your analysis, where is the respect these sides need?

        I’m also staggered you bring up an individual, in Squilacci, when he has won titles in a collective construct, the key is collective stability & finding the balance, something Lyon had then, something teams from weaker leagues & small time names like Milan-Porto-Dortmund have found.

      • desigunner says:

        Were we comparing club histories here? Sorry I must have been confused. Perhaps I should also look at the tactics Uruguay used to win the World Cups.

    • Steve says:

      George,

      Do you think the continental teams that you have mentioned can beat the likes of Barcelona, United, Chelsea, and City? I don’t think any of them can.

      Desi,

      Good point about Tottenham. Clearly, the 5th placed team in England is better than the winner of Serie A. Spurs will probably beat Dortmund, Lille, and Porto as well. Sometimes I wish Arsenal get to play in another league for a season just to get the “no title for X years” monkey of our backs.

      • GeorgeY says:

        Who cares if you can beat Barcelona but not win a title? Inter played Barcelona 4 times the season they won the Champions League, and only won 1 match out of 4, losing twice & 1 draw, still think beating Barcelona is so important, the context is always key.

        It is very arrogant to say Spurs can beat Milan. You must realise teams build their squads for the environment they are in, Milan are very sturdy & rigid to combat the tactical rigours of that league. We have not constructed a squad for our environment, FACT.

      • Phil23 says:

        Firstly, wtf are you doing on this sight calling Desi arrogant? Secondly, we spank all of the teams you mentioned regularly with little fuss. Thirdly, why is it arrogant to state a fact? Did Tottenham not destroy Milan? Finally, Song is a better player than any of the defensive midfielders you have mentioned. Not only that but he scored 5 vital goals for us as well as being a leader in Cescs absence. If you honestly think any of the teams you mention match up with Arsenal you are delusional. Why would we try to emulate United? If you bothered reading the article properly you would have seen that United won the title using a defensive style. each time they versed us they came out with no intention of playing the beautiful game some of us love. I personally prefer beautiful football to trophies, and the day we achieve a trophy playing beautiful football will be a great day in my life. I am willing to wait but if your not i’m sure there are plenty of other “winning” clubs out there who would love to have you as a fan. I’ve heard that Rangers win every year. So I guess that makes them better than Arsenal. They even managed to steal our best player with all there pulling power. Kyle Bartley. All the things an Englishman wants in a Centre back AND playing in a winning team. You must be jizzing your pants!

      • GeorgeY says:

        Phil23, do you seriously think Song is a better player than Mavuba? That Song is a better player than Fernando? That Song is a better player than Van Bommel? If so, then I must question your abilities of assessing a player.

        Why would you need a DM to score unless the strikers up front are failing to deliver the goods?

        Spurs did beat Milan, but lets not forget Milan won the CL twice between 2000 – 2010 featuring in 3 Finals too so to write them off as a nothing team is very arrogant to their achievements.

        Many in Milan/Lille/Oporto/Dortmund and even Manchester will attest they love their football, which was attacking,indeed MUFC scored more than us.

        Part of being a fan is to be critical of our failings, we have strikers that cannot decide games and score tons, there is no logic to have defenders and DM’s scoring but you not winning.

  11. Greg Timothy says:

    For the last six years ,Arsenal have a less than reliable gk and a dodgy defence. If these two problem areas had been addressd,the gunners could have won than two to four trophies. At any other club such a manager would have been sacked.
    Indeed this season ,I firmly believe if Arsenal fail to challenge and are dumped out of the ko stage of cl,Wenger will finally have to pay the price. That is if he still thinks his team doesn’t need any addition.

    • santori says:

      Why do you think he is of the opinion that the team does not need additions?

      He has bought thus far 2 layers for around 16m combined. United have bought 3 for 50m+. Not that far off in terms of numbers but the gap in ‘spending’ is apparent and the higher price may not necessarily guarantee better players.

      For starters, Phil JOnes (whilst benefiting from PL experience is about the same level as jenkinson.

      The uni-role and more expensive YOung does not compare to Gervinho who can play 3 positions at very least.

      For that reason alone (buying acumen) I would suggest Wenger does not deserve the sack. Nor the fact that we have at very least qualified for 14 consecutive CLs and have an excellent academy to boot (Just look at Liverpool). With the promise of youth, there will always be something to look forward to at Arsenal regarless of near misses with regards trophies.

      Of course, if you like ready made success, then Arsenal is not the team for you.

  12. Raj says:

    The analysis shows that The Players are getting in others way, and leaving the midfield open for counter-attack.
    Secondly, the short passing is not as good as Barcelona’s, as they can penetrate teams, by timeing of the pass and working in pairs. Arsenal do a lot of work moving the ball in the oppositions’ half but allow defenders to get around them as they don’t pace the game correctly. Intially it should be slow easy passing getting the opposition to chase the ball, then a burst of speed activity, pulling defenders away, and creating the space for the pass and shot.

    • Phil23 says:

      I think Arsene has addressed our attacking deficiencies with the Gervinho and Miyaichi buys. Both of them are about as direct as Theo with almost as much pace. I have a feeling Miyaichi will get a permit as he just oozes class and imo is the definition of a “special talent”. All we need now is a DM/CB to cover for our depleted midfield (Denilson on loan, Diaby injury problems) and to make sure Squillaci sees few minutes on the pitch. Then its down to replacing who leaves out of Cesc/Nasri. My hope is that Nasri leaves (Letting him go on a free to our rivals is much worse than for 22m imo, not to mention I’d rather he underperformed at City than went to United) and is replaced by Hazard.

      • santori says:

        I agree with regard Miyaichi and Gervinho. They are the tools we need up front to go more direct.

        With regards Nasri, tricky. I think we should cash in but I would prefer NOT to sell him to a PL peer threat.

        OTOH, he is replaceable and Hazard would be great although I doubt Lille will sell us another of their crown jewels.

        A better buy IMO would be Bastos who can cover LB and play on either wing.

        or (if Miyaichi does get his permit), then maybe reinforce the centre (in view of an eventual Fabregas move down the line) with a MOntolivo (last year of contract at fiorentina who want to bring in Aquilani). He can bring better balance to our middle as he can play both as a deep lying playmaker and as a DM. It could allow us to go 4-4-1-1 against deeper lying teams.

      • Phil23 says:

        Another “Montolivo” type player is Ever Banega. He has probably been my favourite non Arsenal player for the last few years but I have never held hope in us signing him unless he runs his contract down. The things this guy does are truly beautiful to watch!

  13. Waleed says:

    I agree with some and disagree with some.
    Arsenal’s opponents usually get a lot of chances with the limited possession they have. Most of their possession is counter attacks, in fact.
    And this is true for Barcelona as well.
    In fact most teams that go out there and play proactive, attacking football are vulnerable to counter attacks. There’s no going around it.
    The fact that we did not conceded too many from open play shows that we dominate games to a large extent and don’t give teams many chances from open play.

    There are three problems as I see it.

    1. Set piece defending. The problem isn’t that we give away too many FKs (7amkickoff did an analysis of this based on opta stats), the problem is indeed that we concede too many per set piece (excluding penalties of course).
    So that needs to improve and clearly steps have been taken in that area.

    2. Pressing. We improved our pressing considerably last season, particularly in the second half, but still we can’t maintain the intensity for 90 minutes and sometimes we are too slow to react. It is harder to press in the EPL than in La Liga because of the success of long ball football (defenders can hack it anywhere and some big forward will win it or win a throw in). But I want to see further improvement on that.

    3. Attacking. This is probably our biggest problem. As you showed we are a little too careless with possession at times. And all too often last season we didn’t trust our passing game and just started crossing blindly and pumping the ball into the box. Not our style of play. And the counter attacking needs to improve, there needs to be some more pace in the team besides Walcott.
    too many times last season teams couldn’t get a chance to score against us but still earned a draw because despite dominating we couldn’t score. Man City, Liverpool, Sunderland, Blackburn all managed draws against us despite chasing shadows for 90 minutes. If our opponents are simply gifting us possession we should be making it count.

    • santori says:

      To break tight sitting teams down, we need to have the alternative to :

      1) Be more efficient with our counters. This is being addressed with Miyaichi and Gervinho.

      2) Be able to overload up top and have a presence in the box. I’m not sure if 4-4-1-1 is the answer but I do think that we should be able to load Chamakh or RVP up top with Gervinho playing off them if we are getting no joy from 4-3-3 (with the striker being crowded out…or worse drifting out of box). I don’t see this being worked on as yet.

      3) Shoot from distance more. Since we enjoy a better turnover of the ball against a team seated deep, we should on occassion not be afraid to have a go from distance. It will at very least open up space as the defenders try to close the shooter down (affording us an opportunity to catch them with a lob over the top). Some encouraging signs pre-season with a number of players beginning to try their luck a little from distance. This MUST be encouraged.

      4) Better crosses into the middle (Utilise Chamakh’s obvious strength better). We were beginning to find our crossing range around Dec with Chamakh but that all went away when RVP became the main striker up top. Good to see Traore and Jenkinson not afraid to put in crosses. Traore in particular seems to have a decent cross.

      5) Ste pieces. we need to be better with our free kicks. They seem to have gone a little tame of late. The other issue I have is why does RVP have to take the corners? Should he not be a better asset lurking around the box. we have plenty of good quality playmakers. Why are they not taking the corners??? Baffling.

      • Waleed says:

        I agree about the set pieces, but disagree about the crossing and long range shooting.
        The latter two are things that we shouldn’t be doing much of at all.
        It’s OK to have a shot now and then and put in an early cross if the opportunity arises, but it needs to come from a GOOD chance at scoring rather than just a hopeful shot in the dark.

        Long range shooting and crossing are very inefficient ways of creating chances.
        I remember the City vs Everton game where Everton went 2-0 up early on and defended for their lives for the rest of the match. City must’ve taken 50 shots but couldn’t score. Problem was, they were shots but not good chances. And the same with crossing. You can cross but if the team is sitting deep and narrow most likely your forwards won’t get any luck in the center against big defenders.

        What we need to do is stick to our pass and move game. That’s how we create chances and that’s how we should play ALL the time, even if we are chasing the game with 15 minutes to go. It is counterintuitive but the patient passing approach works much better than more “direct” football.

        The perfect example of this and the perfect game for us to learn from was the u-21 semi final between Czech Rep. and Spain. The Czechs went ahead early and immediately set back.
        Spain’s response was a bit panicky. Lots of crosses, long balls, and long shooting. Most of it inaccurate. The Czechs looked comfortable.
        After half time and a talk with their manager, the Spanish came back calmer and more disciplined. They didn’t give away the ball cheaply. No long shots, no long balls or crosses from deep. They kept the ball on the floor and tried to create chances with their quick passing and movement.
        It took extra time but it worked in the end. Spain’s passing approach paid off.

        What is ironic about it is that our fans want us to do more of what Spain did in the first half, and the type of football they played in the second infuriates us.

  14. Steve says:

    I believe the point about opponents feeling confident against Arsenal cannot be overstated. The invincibles looked invincible on the field. They had an aura and a swagger. Teams were afraid of playing against us.

    This team is good but due to the issues mentioned in the post and in the comments, opponents don’t fear us. Can’t say how many points that is worth but it certainly makes a difference.

    • santori says:

      Confidence plays a big part too.

      Remember BTW, that the defense of the invincibles was purely put together by Wenger (Keown apart), so he is quite capable of reinforcing defense if he sets his mind to it.

      I think our problem has been that Wenger has been entrusting defense to up and coming defenders a little too early in their career + he had brought in senior defenders with poor quality (Silvestre and Squillaci)

      He needs that one good senior defender preferably with leadership ability. That will make a massive diff.

  15. santori says:

    Great post and analysis Desi.

    I think the issue is not that Wenger is a poor tactician but that the game has changed a lot since the Invincibles and gotten more technical.

    It is as such impossible for him to deal with every single detail and he invariably needs to think about restructuring his coaching staff to better concentrate on details.

  16. GunnerZim says:

    It seems the popular view is that signing new defenders will not improve anything since the defensive system is flawed. I disagree with this viewpoint.

    My view is that since the defensive system is poor, signing top players who already know how to defend will result in less goals conceded.

    The thinking being that if you cant teach defence, then why not get top defenders who already know how to do the job?

    On another note guys, am I the only one who finds the Jagielka/Cahill rumours totally baffling? Are we really after these players? Considering that we already have 4 central defenders and (as Arsene will always say) Song can also play there I simply can’t see where these two would be accomodated. I smell a rat!

  17. Yang says:

    Indeed, arsenal allow minimum amount of shots on goal so Arsenal defense is not that poor. The problem is for each conceding shot is more likely to be a goal. Mancity concede more shot on goal than Arsenal but they suffer fewer actual goal so what is difference? In my mind, Their Goalie is better and Arsenal get counter attacked therefore quality of opposition goal chance is far better.

    Arsenal main defense tool is possession of ball however long possession is not converted into goal easily in Arsenal case, in the end, get countered.

    Arsenal need better goalie and bring in or find someone who can prevent counter attack effectively not relying on foul play I mean.

  18. Dark Prince says:

    Superb Article!!!! 🙂 couldn’t agree with you more!!

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