The big win over Blackburn was immensely enjoyable and has lifted the mood in the Gooner camp to a great extent after an eminently forgettable January. A lot has already been said about the match and I don’t want to revisit it in detail but there were two goals in that game that caught my eye.
Both the goals started from the back but were scored in a markedly different manner, each a delight in its own way.
The second goal that Arsenal scored was probably the most crucial one in the whole game as it stopped a resurgent Blackburn side in its tracks, . The move started from the back when an attempted pass for Modeste was overplayed. Koscielny chased back while the striker had given up. Between the moment the Frenchman kicked the ball back to Szczesny to the time the ball hit the back of the net, 10 Arsenal players touched the ball a total of 15 times, including 10 passes, in approximately 21 seconds.
The following image created using the Guardian Chalkboards provides an excellent graphical representation of the move.
Most of the Passes were one touch. Some Blackburn players were pressing high up but as a team they didn’t have any cohesion in their tactics at that moment. This left a big gap between the forward players and the defence, something we often see from Arsenal as well! The Gunners utilized the vast open spaces ruthlessly.
First it was Arteta who played an angled wall-pass towards Coquelin. The youngster was able to charge up the pitch (making the most touches, 3, in the process), He then played it central towards Song and continued his forward run, which made it easy for Theo to move into the inside channel.
A triangle of one-touch passes involving Song, Rosicky, and Vermaelen (interestingly in a midfield position near the centre circle) took the chasing midfielders away and created space for Song, who took a touch/pause to see the opening and pinged it through for Theo. We have seen this pass and the rest often enough.
This wasn’t a typical counter-attack against a side that had pushed 8-9 men in the Arsenal half. It was more of an intricate, direct attack against an opponent that temporarily lost its shape. What I loved most was that so many players were involved in the move in a seemingly effortless manner. It all seems so easy and natural but upon reflection one cannot help but appreciate how each player read the situation and performed his task in the move.
In my pre-match write-up I’d mentioned the need for better combination play from the Gunners. The need for moves involving more than two or three players. This was a classic. The assist in itself seems like a straightforward square pass and the goal just a tap-in. But the move, well, it was a breathtaking waltz that was made to look as easy as a walk in the park!
The fun doesn’t stop here. The sixth goal, another square pass from the Right and a clinical, one-touch finish from Van Persie, was in many ways the antithesis of the second one. Here’s the graphical representation of the move, again thanks to the Guardian Chalkboards.
If the earlier one was like a quick and lethal arrow, this was more of the slow death variety.
This too started with an over hit through-ball that Modeste couldn’t reach. Szczesny collected it easily and rolled it wide to Coquelin. The visitors were not keen on attacking anymore and were sitting back in a very good defensive shape.
Arsenal played the ball around. The move last around 50 seconds, with 9 players taking approximately 38 touches (not sure about the correct way to count the gather and throw from Szczesny, and couldn’t clearly see the number of times Coquelin touched the ball before he beat the defender) while making 15 passes in the process, as the ball was patiently moved from side to side in search of an opening. It’s interesting to note that the total time was nearly two and half times the previous move and the number of touches was almost double but only 5 extra passes were played and one less player was involved.
The players had time on the ball and they were probing away, looking for an opening. There were a number of one-touch passes in this move as well but the Gunners weren’t rushing it. The decision making of the players was vital as any hasty attempt to penetrate would have resulted in a loss of possession. This approach helped Arsenal gain territory, as can be seen from the way the square passes moved deeper into the Blackburn half, and pinned the visitors back.
Also interesting to note is the number of longer passes when switching flanks. At times, Arsenal are too slow in moving the ball from one wing to another. This allows the defenders ample time to double up on the wide attackers. In this case, the Gunners were able to isolate Coquelin against Hoilett and the youngster went past the winger with ease.
Of course, the second goal came against ten men at a time when they were completely out of the game. It clearly wasn’t as crucial in the context of the game as the second one was. But this is the kind of defensive situation the Gunners face more often as teams pull 8 or 9 men between the ball and their goal.
Arsenal need to find such solutions more often and hopefully this goal will serve as an example of what they can achieve. There was no need to run into crowded areas, no need for tricky flicks that rarely come off, no need for hopeful crosses without sufficient bodies in the box, and no need for shots from distance that are borne out of frustration more than anything else.
Keep it simple, keep moving, pass the ball with speed, pounce on the opening when it presents itself.
Furthermore, the importance of having Van Persie in the box is noteworthy. If you observe his movement, he is always looking to get into a position when the man on the ball can find him. As the ball is moved around, RvP keeps looking for spaces where he could move into to make it easier for his teammate to make the pass. Coquelin just created half a yard for himself, no more. It was a split-second advantage. But De Kapitein moved into the perfect space for the cut-back. Again it was made to look very simple but few strikers have the instincts that Van Persie has in his movement and finishing.
If you haven’t already done it, I strongly recommend watching both the moves from start to finish. These were two great goals, one vertical and the other horizontal; one like a Cobra going for the jugular, the other akin to a Python’s crushing grip. There is just so much to appreciate, and, consequently, even more to look forward to.Follow @goonerdesi