Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Sunderland

Arsenal have travelled from one disastrous pitch to another this week – losing two centre-backs in the process, albeit to entirely different injuries – and are now back at the scene of that inspirational win last Saturday that has been washed away from most Gooner minds by the midweek mayhem in Milan.

Will the performance at the Stadium of Light reignite Arsenal’s season? Somehow I doubt it. Not just because one demoralizing performance is usually followed by another, or the number of defeats that we have already seen this season in games that follow Champions League encounters; it’s just hard to define what reignite would mean in the context of the current situation that Arsenal find themselves in.

I have strongly maintained the club needs to drop out of one or both the Cups in order to put in a strong challenge for fourth. That opinion hasn’t changed and, to an extent, the result at Milan was a positive in that regard. Regular readers know I am not a fan of the artificial pressure that is created by the no trophies for X years mantra. Right now it’s more important for Arsenal to secure Champions League football in order to retain the best current players and also to attract the quality ones that Wenger could be interested in.

It must be noted that, when I say dropping out of the Cups could help the push for fourth in the League, it does not mean just throwing the games away. Only that Arsene should not risk key players or those on the edge in such games. Give the fringe players a chance, adapt tactics to their qualities, and make them give their best for a result. Be prepared for a disappointment but don’t play for one.

Now, while I don’t think getting to the next round of the FA Cup will be that big a positive, it’s impossible to deny the impact of two successive losses in Cup games. Last season has already provided a chilling example of the kind of slump the Gunners can fall into after such defeats. A repeat of that will make the dreadful start to this season look like a dream run.

It’s not an easy choice for the manager then. When is it ever!? But he will have to find a way to ensure his players don’t suffer from the exertions of this tie and that the club doesn’t have to endure two horrific efforts within a few days.

Team selection will not be straightforward but I would like to see a few players rested. Up front, Gervinho should come back into the side on the left with Oxlade-Chamberlain moving to the right. Chamakh should get a game because Van Persie can do with a break, especially on such a pitch.

At the back the choices are limited. Sagna, Djourou, and Vermaelen will have to start. Gibbs could again get an hour’s playing time if he hasn’t suffered from his efforts at Milan.

In the midfield I’d like to see Coquelin get a game alongside Arteta. In front of them it would be better to have Benayoun or Ramsey for the work rate.

Preferred starting eleven

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Coquelin, Benayoun, Arteta – AOC, Chamakh, Gervinho.

This side might not have enough creativity to open up a dogged and well-organized Sunderland side but they should be able to keep things tight. If Benayoun can make some interesting runs in attacking areas or the Ox and Gibbs can land a few good crosses for Chamakh, Arsenal can nick a goal or two.

Van Persie or Arshavin can come on late in the game if the Gunners need some extra bite.

That said, I don’t expect Arsene to make that many changes. He did confirm in his interview that he will refresh the side but it’s always difficult to be sure about Wenger’s intentions. Gervinho will most likely come back into the side but I’ll be surprised if there are other changes. At most one more. Wenger will probably go with the same midfield he’d played at Sunderland last Saturday.

Tactically, this game won’t be very different from the League game. Sunderland will be compact in defence and will rely on counter-attacks and set-pieces. They could get some ideas about attacking Arsenal on the break if they study Milan’s tactics but whether they have the players to execute those moves remains to be seen.

Le Boss thinks the hosts will be more aggressive with their tactics in this game. That could work in favour of Arsenal as it could open space up in the Sunderland half. But if a relatively weaker side is selected, they’ll have to demonstrate the technical prowess needed for handling the pressure that O’Neill’s side is likely to put on them.

For Arsenal, the key will be in winning the aerial duels, closing down the runners on the flanks that are chasing the long balls, ensuring the defenders aren’t exposed to a 1-v-1 or a 2-v-2 on the break, and avoiding basic errors at the back.

In attack, the Gunners will have to rely on better and more intricate combinations. It should not be about a winger running with the ball and looking for Van Persie or a wide player crossing it for De Kapitein. Other players have to be involved and the tactical approach must suit the strengths of the Gunners who are on the pitch. For instance, if Chamakh starts, there should be a greater emphasis on crosses and layoffs. If Benayoun plays, others should be alert to his dribbles, movement, and sudden threaded passes. Coquelin, if he gets a chance, and Arteta should also try their luck from distance. And so on.

The state of the pitch could also have an impact on the tactics that Wenger chooses. If it’s not conducive to running with the ball or for playing measured through-balls, Arsene might try to add an extra midfielder on the wings as he did against Milan. That didn’t work out very well but tricky players aren’t always effective on a dodgy surface anyway so there is no reason to assume playing fleet-footed wingers is the better choice. This is one of those decisions where a manager’s choice is hailed or criticized not on its merits but based on the final result.

I do expect a higher intensity from the hosts as this is a Cup tie and they will be coming into the game without having played an energy-sapping midweek fixture. That could be the big difference as, in the final minutes of the previous tie, Arsenal benefitted from a similar rest.

I don’t have a particularly positive feeling about this game but, to be honest, I am rather indifferent about the result. As long as the players selected do their best and there aren’t any further injuries I’ll be happy. One should not get the feeling Sunderland went through just by appearing on the pitch. If they play well and get through all credit to them.

38 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Sunderland

  1. JJ Pittman says:

    Don’t believe at all in “no silver for X seasons”, but still would do as much as we can to win tomorrow. All squad players should play 6 March in return against Milan. Forecast for tomorrow in Sunderland is rain, so pitch can only be worse. Hoping for no injuries, and no replay, win or lose, no draw. Would like to think that Chamakh and Gervinho are match fit and would start them, protect RvP, try a well rested Arshavin to carve open a parked bus from the start, Benayoun ready, and wouldn’t hurt us. Few options in the back. Will be watching quietly and very pessimistically, but still hoping for some sign we haven’t quit totally. Worst I have felt in almost 50 years as a Gooner.

    • Alex says:

      i felt worse after the 8-2 loss to be honest. It really did look like we had no hope.

      Not all is lost, we are still more likely to finish top 4 above the likes of Liverpool Chelsea and Newcastle, and IF we win tonight we have every chance of going on to win the FA cup.

      I believe that Arsene Wenger is set to embark on an extensive overhaul this summer as it looks increasingly likely that not only Bendtner, Vela and Denilson but also Squillaci, Almunia, Arshavin, Chamakh, Park and perhaps even Diaby and Rosicky could leave.

      • Frosty Gooner says:

        Park? Never heard of him.

      • jeff says:

        I don’t think we should let diaby n rosicky leave.. Diaby adds an extra dimension in our game.. And obviously we still need Tomas Rosicky in arsenal.. His creativity n vision is still important for arsenal.. Ramsey’s struggeling n doesn’t looks promising.. Also, wilshere’s injured n might need some time to get to his best.. There’s no many players who can play on that AMC position which is maybe the most difficult role.. So far,rosicky does better than the others.. And I believe benayoun can play over there as well.. Thus for me,rosicky n benayoun should stay..

      • santori says:

        After all the money we spent on bleeding Diaby fixing him up, we bloody nigh well keep him for another season at least!!! he does add a different capbility but he should also be on a short leash and made abundantly certain that if he sin’t performing within the year that there are others waiting to take his spot (Frimpong in particular but Toral not far down the line).

        Rosicky is a tough one. I think he should be let go provided we get Jack back (which we should).

  2. Chinke Chikezie says:

    Well, well, well, the champions league match has come and gone and i don’t want to believe this is one of does situations were Arsenal goes out in two cup ties at the same period. Having that in mind i will like to point out that resting players because of the fear of injuries and playing the supposed regulars for league games does not still guaranty fourth spot. I believe that some players need to come in for the FA cup game, not because Arsenal need to rest some players, but because of the kind of pitch they will be playing will be better managed by such players. I strongly believe Arsenal should play the best players for the conditions they find themselves in. Focusing on fourth spot and playing weaker teams for other competitions could affect Arsenal’s season negatively in the long run. I believe the team should develop a winning mentality, as loosing out in competitions could affect the morale of the team and at the end of the day loose out in all situations.

    For a match of this nature, having the pitch in mind i believe our starting eleven should be; Szcsesny – Sagna, Vermaelen, Djourou, Gibbs – Song, Ramsey, Benayoun – Gervinho, Chamakh and AOC, while the bench should be RVP, Arteta, Rosicky, Yennaris, Coquelin, Arshavin and Fabianski. on a 4-3-3 system were Ramsey and Benayoun plays as attacking mid-fielders. The style as usual should be closing the opponents down always, short passing with more emphasis to the wings and the players should play close to themselves. They should all be attack minded.

    Have a great weekend.

    • Dhruv says:

      I think Szcseny should be rested, he looks out of sorts.

      • santori says:

        Keepers need the least amount of rest. What sort of running do they do?

        If anything it will be best not to tinker with the man at the back. The backline (which has been through numerous varied combinations of players over recent months) could well benefit from the stability of knowing what the keeper will do behind them.

        Don’t change keepers. This is not the Carling Cup.

  3. Frosty Gooner says:

    Nice analysis as usual Desi, however I’m afraid I have to disagree with your suggestion of Benayoun in the attacking midfield role. I recall we tried that before (Carling Cup maybe? My mind is a puddle of mush, sorry) this season and it backfired as he just is not suited to that role, and I believe you even said so yourself in the analysis of that match, but please correct me if I’m mistaken.

    Frankly I’ve been incredibly impressed with Rosicky’s work rate this season, and wouldn’t mind seeing either him or Rambo start, with the other on the bench as an option to come on later.

    I do like the idea of giving Le Coq a chance in his favoured position though, that kid shows bags of promise.

    Chamahk up front is an interesting idea, but he would require exceptional service from the wings which was not easily provided last Saturday at the stadium of light, at least until Arshavin came on, and I can’t really seem to be able to dig up any memories of any sumptuous crosses into the box from Gervinho since he arrived this summer…

    • VanTheManPersie says:

      Gervinho doesnt have the technique needed to lift the ball more than 5 feet above the ground. I remember the same happening to me when i was 15 and how the coach used to fume after repeated efforts to teach me:)

    • santori says:

      I like Song rested but for some inexplicable reason, I have rather more confidence playing Song at the back in concert with Vermaelen at the moment than Djourou.

  4. Frosty Gooner says:

    Forgot to add, if the boss doesnt start RVP and we lose, it will just give more ammunition to the “Arsene’s lost the plot” brigade, but then again, he could take the most genius tactical approach to the game, but the quality of the pitch, available players etc. may still let him down. I suppose what I’m trying to say is:

    “I have absolutely no idea what’s going to happen tomorrow”


    • santori says:

      Forget the wingers, we’ll have a couple of tunnel rats hired to operate out wide.

      • santori says:

        Hopefully MOaNer won’t mine the pitch. I will personally be handing out hand grenades to decimate any unlucky Black Cats that even dare come near our centrebacks. After all, the Big German (typical) snuffed it through their blade of grass.

  5. VanTheManPersie says:

    To be honest, although the performance was below par and the side was much stronger, I till felt worse after the 8-2 defeat, because thre were a lot of other concerns lik transfers, etc etc hanging around and everyone was baying for gunner blood. This arsenal team would not have gone all the way and it would be the sam,e story as last season, where we try to hard in all competitions and falter and end up with nothing. This year is about rebuilding and i would be ok if we went out the FA cup too. The most important thing is to retain Van persie’s services and that can only happen if we finish fourth.
    Yes, the performance was not arsenal worthy, but ever since the likes of denilson came into our first team, i’ve gotten used to such perfromances over the years.
    I would love to see wenger chage tactics and play chamakh and try and get balls into the box, but i doubt that will happen. I remember a few years ago when eh revered to 4-5-1 for away games and adebayor scorigna few headers or gallas scoring from a set piece with arsenal winning narrowly. Would love to see a perfromance liek that with some change in tactics,even if we end up losing. Love to see a 1-0 win but that is unlikely with djourou, so would settle for a 2-1 win or defeat. But where will the second goal come from? maybe from the bench?. No replays please

    • Dhruv says:

      I still cant figure out. We were on a recovery path in October and November and then suddenly things became bad. Maybe it was the injuries to full backs. December was horrible, could not get enough goals. Arsene erred in Jan by not buying a CAM and also a FB. Now if Gibbs crocs again, we do not have anybody on the left because even Per is out of the game.

      Crazy decision making!

      • santori says:

        Problem with tinkering with tactics and formations this late in the season is that every game is ‘crucial’ and we have no leeway to go abouts experimenting. This sort of thing should have been done during the Carling Cup or early rounds of the FA Cup.

        It’s easy to send out a message and de-prioritise the FA Cup in favour of a strong run in for the 4th spot (or one hopes better)

        BUT to me that will simply send out the wrong message.

        We should have enough in our locker to both complete the job for 4th spot and compete in at least one cup, and if I might add a prestidgious one (unlike the Carling which Wenger erroneously over emphasised last season)

        Coming off the back of such a damaging defeat, I think we should at least play the “first team” first half to show our seriousness in competing.

        Yes, rest is a priority particlarly for RVP but we simply can’t afford to unravel at this juncture and a loss in the FA will have a severe knock on effect down the line.

        We need to grit the teeth and simply get on with it.

        If you want to rest the first team, I say do it in the reverse fixture against Milan.

      • Winner says:

        I really believe that Arsene has put together a winning side. And the recovery was well on course until we lost Santos to injury. I know many fans were not happy with his defending but I feel it was still decent. However, Santos made such a big difference to the attacking side of the team and his departure blunted the attack and also upset the balance of the team. We have really struggled without him in all games except Blackburn of course.
        The other reason that unhinged our recovery was actually tactical. I feel Wenger’s preference of Ramsey over Rosicky did not help matters. The team has not struggled defensively; although we missed the regular full backs. The stand in full backs did not really lose us many points. We lost because we lacked creativity and killer punch.
        I love winning; I really get sick and depressed when Arsenal lose. I have no excuses for the Milan disaster; but I can’t run away from the fact that the circumstances have been specially conspiring against the team. Per’s reading of the game was sorely missed in Milan. The Milan game illustrated to me how important Per and Santos are to the team.

  6. Dhruv says:

    Desi a bold post but eventually a wise one. Arsenal should be trying for 4th, if can win the FA cup that is a bonus. About team selection: If the pitch is not good, why play Gervinho? A fit Gervinho can be a more potent force against Spuds at home. Let Yossi start on the wings along with AOC. Ramsey or Arshavin in the middle. Rosicky looks the most creative mid currently but I would rest him, dont want him to get injured due to overplaying. I would even say rest Sagna and bring on Yennaris. Looking forward to see Coq in action, he is anything but dull.

    • santori says:

      Don’t agree.

      Simply finishing 4th will not convince RVP to put pen to paper.

      As is, our chances of him signing a contract extension are on a thin thread IMO.

      We need to :

      1)finish 4th (or better)
      2) Strong run in the one remaining cup (semis at least), or win it
      3) Put money into a top top signing in the summer to show intent.

      We have failed for the ost part to deliver our ambition on the pitch. We will need to do the unsual and bring in a “Hazard class” player in the summer to demonstrate our continued intent (proviso we secure the 4th place.

      Simply discounting the FA cup in favour of 4th place will send out a pathetic signal that we are now only good for 4th. And (god forbid) if we fall short of 4th, where does that leave us? The pickings for new players in in the summer will be of a different calibre.

      As we have seen with Liverpool, it is a difficult way back up and it can happen to us.

      • VanTheManPersie says:

        well the problem with that is, even if we win the FA cup, if we finish 5th, RVP wont stay. The only way to make him stay is finish fourht and make quality signings by getting rid of Denilson’s and Almunia’s early.

      • santori says:

        Which is why we need both AND the signature of someone in the “Hazard” class.

        But tommorrow is not a time for rest. Mid week against Milan is.

  7. jeff says:

    I agree.. We need to rest some of the players although they’ve playing very well.. Probably,rvp n rosicky should be rested.. Not sure whether wenger would rest arteta.. But benayoun should be given the chance in AMC position,taking over TR7 role.. If arteta is to be rested,then ramsey should be his replacement.. I would like to see ramsey in the more defensive role and certainly NOT on the playmaking role as we know sunderland is very tight n solid in their defense.. WE NEED CREATIVITY and VISION rather than WORK RATE..

    • Dhruv says:

      Benayoun is a midfielder, a second striker or winger at best. One time he did have an assist but was not playing as per Wenger’s plan and was substituted early. Believe it or not, CAM is a difficult position to play, you do need workrate. Ramsey is not the most ideal CAM but he is better than Yossi.

    • Dhruv says:

      Benayoun is not* a midfielder

    • santori says:

      Rest the players against Milan mid week.

      This is crucial.

      If we can’t even copete in the FA, where does that leave us as a club?

      I don’t think there will be much goodwill left in the market if our ambition is simply 4th.

      We are making excuses for ourselevs then before the game by a timid selection. Sorry.

  8. GbG says:

    Prediction time again – I go for a 1-1 draw. Goals for Sessegnon and Gervinho. Arsenal to score first. Sunderland to nick one late in the game and force a f*cking replay. I am tempted to throw in an injury to RvP in the prediction but hopefully he won’t play and we will be safe. Something tells me Van Persie will be injured if he plays. That something is just the pessimist in me I guess.

    • santori says:

      Think we should play Arsharvin.

      I am miffed that Wenger left him out of the Milan game.

      Over caution came back to haunt us.

      Arsharvin showed guile and craft with his 5 minutes on the pitch against the Black Cats.

      Let him play but have Chamberlain provide a different set of problems for them on the other wing.

      I have said it before that one wing impacts the corresponding other. Trouble aganst Milan is we effectivelty shut one wing off ourselves (bloody trenches). Thereby, it was always easy to castigate Walcott but not rocket science for Milan to double up on the one effective wing we had left.

      Arsharvin and Ox to start. Therefafter, load up with Walcott at 60 and Gervinho (who is just coming back in from his African trip)

      What we did not do against Milan was use our other best attacking asset in the wings. What we should do against Sunderland is use them and effectively, regardless of soggy pitch, trench or anti-tank trap.

  9. santori says:

    Play the first team.

    With exception of RVP, they need to be given clear message that it wasn’t good enough regardless of tactical Farck up by manager (excuse the french, I think that’s how they spell it on the continent).

    And we do not need to furnish them with ready made excuses with regard pitch or too many games. As mentioned, Milan at home is a good time to rest the players in the red.

    This is the FA cup. Whilst it isn’t akin to winning the League or CL, it is suitably prestidgious enough in if we win it, it will give us better leverage with RVP’s contract this summer.

    I don’t think we should be hiding behind the excuse that we are not strong enough to wrap up 4th and win the FA. We jolly well should be.

    We are barely 2 and ahalf months to May and in a critical slew of games which will include the Spur’s game.

    The time to step up is now.

    My only concern will be RVP but I have a feeling we will need him for this one in at very least the fact that he is the captain and we need is inspiration on the pitch. Keep him on till we have a lead at least and then put either of Chamakh or Park on (prefer CHmakh as we can get physical with them on their rugger pitch)

    But for goodness sakes, lets go for it.

    • VanTheManPersie says:

      Most of the first team will play if u look at the current state of the defense. I would just liek RVP rested and on that pitch chamakh given a go with different tactics to the tip tappy which doesnt easily come off on a below par pitch. Walcott/AOC/Gerviho/Arshavin…no mater who u pick, if we try to pass our way to scoring goals, it may not work on that pitch and i don wnt to rely on RVP every single time and we need him fresh for the rest of PL matches.

  10. Steve says:

    The dilemma for Arsene is threefold, so it’s more of a trilemma – Should he rest players now and risk the FA Cup, Should he rest against Milan and concede without a fight, Should he play his best eleven in both and risk the 4th place?

    As you’ve said in the past, glad I don’t have to make these choices.

    As far as this game goes, Gibbs is probably not in the squad (according to twitter). Will be surprised if Song is rested and equally shocked if Theo starts.

    My team – Szcz – BC, JD, TV, FC – AS, TR, MA – Ox, Gervinho, AA.

    Gervinho down the middle will surprise MON and he is definitely better than Chamakh despite his sloppy finishing. AA to provide the creativity and vision. Ox to terrorize the defence with his pace and skills.

    • santori says:

      Milan is extremely unlikely and frankly not worth the fight. We will play for pride and hope that we will surprisingly beat them 5-0.

      There is no dilehma.

      We need to demonstarte intent and not slip further behind with a loss to Sunderland thereby exiting yet another cup in quick succession.

      I frankly don’t see the problem.

      No Gervinho down the middle. Do not put the players in unfamiliar positions at this point of the season. That is our number one downfall at Milan.

  11. santori says:

    Just want to add that I prefer Rosicky in the middle distributing. He moves it along that much quicker, particularly to wide areas. Ramsey dawdles a tad longer on the ball. Benayoun is not good centrally, better out wide.

    The key to us using the wings effectively is for the mids (Advance mid in particular being quick in spreading the ball from one wing to the other to catch the oppoents off balance.

    This is something United do very very well. We should do well to learn from them at this point.

    • VanTheManPersie says:

      united winger’s have pace,control and most importantly , most of them, even nani in the last couple of years, play with their “heads up”. Sorry to say but Walcott and gervinho dont and at times AOC also runs into blind alleys.
      Also a united playrs play with lot more space for theri team mates. E.g. remember jenkinson and walcott earlier in the season. Even song,arteta and ramsey do that. too many pl make the same runs and the man with the ball doesnt have the same options that a player at united or even liverpool would have. One of the reason we dont do well on counter attacks nowdays is the movement or the lack of it from our attack minded players except RVP who’s exceptional. Henry’s final goal in PL, altho against a heartles blackburn defense epitomises this problem.

  12. Ade David, a Nigerian Gooner says:

    Desi, as usual, a very good and interesting preview. I believe we have to win this game to bring the confidence back. Your line up has no Song. I will include him in the central back with Vermalen , send Coq to the midfield and drop Djourou to the bench. Desi, incase of a draw game, what will happen? Return leg in emirate? Pls educate me.

  13. nickinportugal says:

    Rest Van Persie, he hardly got a touch last week anyway, play Chamakh and Arshavin who, unlike Walcott, does think about where he is going to put the ball. Play Oxlade Chamberlain, he only had 30 minutes against Milan. Play Coquelin (fresh legs), Ramsey, (scores goals sometimes, unlike Rosiky who will be knackered anyway) Arteta in midfield. Arshavin in the hole behind Chamakh who should plant himself on their last man, something Arsenal rarely do because VP prefers to play as a false 9, a la Messi. Play Gibbs and Sagna, Sze, Verm, and frankly I do not rate either Song (as centre back) or Djourou highly but would opt for Djourou because he is stronger in the air. Resting VP, Song and Gervinho with Koscielny injured but recovering and you have a spine of fresh legs for Spurs. Benayoun for me is a fringe player, Arshavin will create something, and can be changed for Gervino or Walcott after 60 minutes.

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