Tactical Observations From Goals Against Blackburn

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.

Arsenal's second goal against Blackburn

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.

Arsenal's 6th goal against Blackburn

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.

18 Responses to Tactical Observations From Goals Against Blackburn

  1. GbG says:

    The second goal was the kind of direct football Arsenal have been missing. Knew it was a quick counter but hadn’t realized ten Gunners passed the ball. Who was the odd man out?

    The sixth goal was classy. It’s not often a side can sustain possession for nearly a minute. It was all Arsenal at that time in the game so it was easy to miss. Good catch there.

    Discovered this blog recently and I must say it’s quite informative. Keep up the good work.

  2. Steve says:

    We need a way to break down parked buses. The sixth goal is one way to do that but will it always work? Would prefer some midfield runs into the box when the ball goes wide. Hard to explain why we don’t see more of that. Rosicky and others tend to make runs on the outside and behind the winger but they should also arrive into the box. Interesting point about Van Persie’s movement and ability to find space. The midfield, AM to be specific, should also have the ability to get into open spaces in the box. Won’t always work but we need the effort. It might open things up for others.

    Not taking anything away from these goals, just want to see more. City and United would have scored tons of goals against parked buses and on the counter.

  3. wale says:

    Dnt care if we use 100 or 20 passes as far we win sunderland on sat

  4. wivbox says:

    I think with our full-backs coming back into the first team equation it’s a fair assumption that they’ll start to provide the width on the overlap that we’ve been lacking for quite sometime. Coquelin at least to me seems to deserve an extended run in the side and in his favoured position as a holding midfielder. Personally I’d like to see Wenger play Arteta as our creative playmaker and Song to fulfil Arteta’s role and play Coquelin as the holding midfielder. Arteta certainly has the experience and talent to play as our playmaker and unlike Ramsey knows when to twist and when to stick.
    Dessi Gunner keep up the good work

    • cupsui says:

      why move him from where he has excelled so well? it is definitely possible but a risk at disturbing the ship. I think perhaps even try le coq in the more attacking role…he looks like he can get forward and beat players…? and the midfielders should move back and forwards, sort of exchanging position, playing the triangles anyway.
      But i agree Ramsey needs to improve if we are to persevere with him.
      Le coq looks like a really special player, his versatility is priceless

  5. Dacqri says:

    After watching Ox last game, I really am starting to believe he should play midfielder (the position he says he wants to play). I can just see it with him occasionally flipping in and out with both Gervinho and Walcott on top of Walcott and Gervinho switching sides. Not to mention he is defensively responsible. Now all they would need is a premier passing midfielder and we are set.
    And of course Ramsey loses out!!!!

  6. Dhruv says:

    Desi, good analysis of the goals. However, I feel in this case the opposition also was willing to allow us to play our playing style. The team needs to show some intricate play against pressure and against better opposition.

    Also I wanted to point out that Coq looks a very good utility player who can play down either flanks, not only as DM. Coq can contribute more to attack.

  7. abachaGhana says:

    i just love it when our widemen sprint and rosicky is the one on the ball, swift turns to unsettle defenders, very quicker than rambo.. We are real arsenal of all people and all time when he starts our attcking play.. We did not slow any passing to make the blkburn defenders gain shape, chambo was movin them out of positions, mozart was turning to creat spaces, wallcot was dusting their defence and rvp taking the chances… TR7 anyday 4 me

    • Tom says:

      One of the reason why Rosicky’s been playing very well is due to the fact Wenger gives him that central playmaker role.. Last season,Wenger played him on the flank which didn’t suit him.. and to me that AMC position does indeed affect the way we want to play… The arsenal way suits players like Rosicky,Yossi,Arteta,Jack and some others (Typical Arsenal Player).. you can’t say we’re gonna play the same way with Diaby or AR16 on that position as they like to dribble or to hold on the ball for quite some time before releasing it.. at times being,Tomas Rosicky suits that AMC position best.. well.. having said that,I often miss Diaby ability to dribble.. but i must honestly admit AR16 doesnt fit that position.. probably,Arteta or Song position is better for Ramsey..?

      • Toye says:

        Does anybody have news on Diaby.If he can be fit,we will have a more direct player and that will help greatly.if you watch Diaby is the typical box to box type but the problem is that he has not really been able to settle into any midfield

  8. spurs_idiot says:

    i wouldn’t read in too much in the blackburn game…after all they were down to 10 men and has the worst defensive side in the premier league at the moment….. Wouldn’t surprise me if we struggled for goals against sunderland….but here’s hoping for more games like this one !!!!!!

  9. Chinke Chikezie says:

    Nice blog Desigunner, i did not realise all those statistics for the goals, its quite an interesting piece. keep it up!

    I just hope Arsenal maintains the same structure against Sunderland and also play with confidence, then we will all realise that Blackburn game was not a fluke. It all boils down to focus and determination, including fast short passing, always pressing the opponents and the wing players running flat behind the opponents defenders while avoiding the offside trap. These will do Arsenal a lot of good. I wish them the best.

  10. NAIJAGREAT says:

    Good job Desi! I think the key to such mves was the absense of ramsey. anyway I want to see how they play against sunderland and Ac milan, then we can deduce an informed conclusions. ox is the bomb.

  11. Toye says:

    The difference between Arsenal and Man U is the utilisation of opportunities.I wish somebody will tell Theo to be cool headed when he has acres of space and not just cross the ball into the box especially when the likelyhood of it getting to n Arsenal player is very slim. It happened a couple of times against Blackburn. I also think Ramsey not being involved improved our transition time greatly.

  12. santori says:


    Good point on faster movement of the ball to the flanks.

    I think that in itself is a key factor in helping us take better advantage of our opponents when they are a little off balance.

    Too many times have we seen our play slowed down by ponderous short passes between players packed to closely.

    This game may have opened up for us later with Blackburn down to 10 but I thought we did equally well when they had 11 on the field. Our passing was sharper and more incisive but we also spread the play out more affording mor room in the middle (particularly for RVP to drop off the centrehalfs)

    The other as I mentioned ealire is the pivotal role a player like Le Coq afforded us in affording Walcott the room to cut in by supporting him effectively on the flank when going forward.

    We have missed this service somewhat in recent weeks with fullback crisis so hopefully, normal service will resume again and it will improve our game in coming weeks.

    I have to say that Le Coq has impressed with his technical skills and ability to stick to task assigned. IMO, he is probably ahead of Jenkinson at the moment as a alternate RB to Sagna. He offers so much going forward. Where as Jenkinson’s crosses are a little “hail Mary”, Le Coq’s are incisive and thoughtful. That assist to RVP for the 6th was very well worked and efficient in as much as his pass to Walcott was visionary in setting up the first.

    Good to see Song stepping up. I think he is crucial for us still (even with the emergence of Le Coq). His game had languered somewhat of late but against Blackburn, he showed us just how much he has improved his overall game going forward (providing incisive through balls) as he has with his defensive strength.

    Abit of shooting form the edge of the box as well is nice to see. Hope Arteta continues to prowl the area in front of the D in coming matches for opportunities to put in one of his pile drivers.

  13. Chinke Chikezie says:

    Well right now i’m more interested in the game against Sunderland, it’s time for Arsenal to prove that the game against Blackburn was not a fluke, which i believe was not. If they can maintain the structure, the style (fast short passes, players playing close to each other, wing players running behind defenders often and always pressing the opponents), confidence and concentration level, i will beat my heart there will not be much difference between Blackburn and Sunderland – a sure victory.

    I pray that Arsenal can learn from their past mistakes of leading in a game and at the end of the day loose the game or even draw the game after so much pressure as in the case of Swansea, Fulham or even New Castle last season. That attitude has to stop. I’m a strong believer of attacking football. If you are better than a team, no matter the situation, you should always show that you are better and should be in control, thats what makes Barcelona thick. I don’t believe a man down is an excuse to loose a game or even draw it, if by all standard you are a better team. Take for a example the 4-4 draw against New castle, every finger pointed to Diaby’s red card. That’s a cheap excuse for a flop. That same game, after the equaliser, Arsenal immediately took the game to New castle and scored a goal by RVP which was judged to be an offside. Whether a wrong judgement or not the issue is that they had the ability to score goals even with a man down, but they chose to sit back and soak the pressure which back fired. That was not the case when a ten man Man. U coming from behind beat a full strenght Arsenal side in Highbury 4 – 2 on 1st February 2005 – now thats character.
    That is what i expect from Arsenal, confidence, concentration, believe, discipline and purpose – thats what makes CHARACTER.

    I wish the team the best of luck.

  14. […] in case you haven’t seen it already, you might want to check out my previous blog post analyzing a couple of Arsenal’s goals against Blackburn. One that was scored in 21 seconds […]

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