Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Schalke 04

It’s just been a couple of weeks since the Gunners were outclassed at home by the Germans. We saw their many strengths and their form isn’t going to change that much in a fortnight despite the fact that they’re coming into this fixture on the back of a disappointing defeat in the Bundesliga.

We can again expect excellent technical and tactical qualities from the Royal Blues. Arsenal have to find a way to cut the supply to their competent forwards. In order to do that the Gunners will have to man the flanks with better positional/structural discipline. At the Emirates, the visitors found it rather easy to break forward down the wings, particularly their right.

There have been many calls for replacing Santos with Vermaelen or one of the two right backs. It remains to be seen whether Wenger sees the need for a such a measure, which can be construed as a tad drastic. It’d be difficult to explain to a regular full-back why his place was being given to a central defender who isn’t particularly efficient on the flank or to one of his opposite numbers who’ll be naturally disadvantaged by the move. Not only does this create an inefficient solution at best, there is a good chance that Santos loses confidence leaving Wenger in an even tighter spot from a squad depth point of view.

The return of Gibbs would be the best possible situation for the players and the manager but he shouldn’t be rushed into action. The only other option with some long term value, at least for this season, is to find a way to get the best out of Santos by adapting the team’s style of play. He’s not a player who can bomb up and down the pitch all day long but the Brazilian is competent on the ball and can help circulate it. Wenger could look at giving him a static role on the left, just like he did with Jenkinson earlier in the season on the other flank, while the attacks are built up on the right or through the middle with carefully chosen bursts on the left kept as a surprise option.

That way there will be less space behind the full back and he will have more time to concentrate on his positioning or reading the runs of his winger, possibly Farfan. The Brazilian can also be very effective in attack if he charges forward only when there’s a quick change of flank. Go back to his goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge last season and this point might make sense.

Even with Vermaelen or one of the right backs in place of Santos, the Gunners will have to sacrifice certain attacking qualities. Why not do the same while helping a squad player get his confidence back. The key point to remember here is that the Brazilian isn’t terrible at everything he does. Indeed, the guy has certain strengths that could help the team.

Wenger also has a choice to make on the right flank in attack. Ramsey, Gervinho, and Oxlade-Chamberlain seem unavailable due to injuries. Walcott’s fitness could also be a question mark. Arshavin isn’t that effective on that side of the pitch.

One option for Arsene is to move Cazorla to the right while pushing Wilshere up the pitch. Coquelin can come into the midfield to provide extra defensive cover. The youngster hasn’t established himself at this level and will weaken the midfield but Cazorla’s ability to drift in should compensate for that.

In the other two attacking positions, Arsene could go with Podolski and Giroud in a combination that hasn’t really clicked or he could bring Arshavin in on the left with either one of the two strikers taking the central role. I’d prefer Podolski.

Preferred line-up,

Mannone – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Coquelin, Wilshere, Arteta – Cazorla, Podolski, Arshavin.

In that starting eleven, both the wide players will show a tendency to drift inside so the two deep-lying midfielders will have many options to pass between the lines. The Russian can also hug the touchline if the need arises or he could swap positions with Podolski to create different angles. This should also give Poldi more chances to get into goalscoring positions while the team has greater creative threat.

Sagna can provide width on the right with Arshavin, Podolski, and Wilshere taking turns on the other side supplemented by an occasional burst by Santos. Arteta would have to provide cover behind the full back.

Of course, if Walcott is fit he should be in the starting line-up. In that case Coquelin could move back to the bench with Wilshere dropping deeper.

Irrespective of the team selection, the Gunners have to raise their game as a unit. The first team has lost three out of the last four and in all the three losses they were rather impotent in attack with hardly any shots on target till the last five minutes or later. They need to move the ball faster but that is directly dependent on the movement off-the-ball and the understanding between individuals. I have a feeling certain vulnerabilities in defence also force the attacking players to take a more conservative approach to protect the ball, which in turn gives the opponents greater confidence.

At the very least the players have to fight for each other and avoid sloppy mistakes. Unfortunately, that’s linked to the confidence of the players and it’s easy to get sucked into a negative cycle. Tactical alterations can make a small difference but it’s tough to create a failsafe against elementary errors in extremely dangerous zones.

That said, there is more quality in the side than we’ve seen in the last few games. With a natural risk taker like Arshavin in the starting line-up, if Arsenal have a strong opening period where the defence looks comfortable, they could grow into this game and get a positive result. But don’t bet your house on that…

22 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Schalke 04

  1. amahgfur says:

    I like your line-up with Arshavin on the left. Though Arshavin also has tendency to drift inside, I think he’s more decisive about his movement than Poldi. Arshavin also likes to take on the fullback, which gives another variety to our attack.

    Having said that, playing Arshavin also poses greater risk for Santos as Arshavin is not well known for his defensive contribution. Tactically speaking, playing both Coquelin and Arteta will help reduce that risk.

  2. Mwaf says:

    I feel moving Varmalene to the left full back will give the team some solidity, it will also be a plus for Podolski as he will not have to track back as mus as he does. I would also leave the midfield unchanged with Arteta and Wilshere deep with Carzola the most advanced. I would then use Santos on the right flank. His ability to hold the ball, circulate the ball and dribble coould best be utilised. I thought He did well there during the preseason.

  3. Danny says:

    Let me be frank with you, there is something Arsenal fans and Wenger are not seeing. Per is one of our problems, these team will not have an excellent game with him, he plays the role of Arsenal second goal keeper, but does nothing in ball distribution.

    He is the Jonah in the boat.

    • femzo says:

      And let me be frank with you fans like you are Arsenal’s biggest problem ,absolutely clueless .i bet you didn’t say that when kos let Torres on a cheap goal then followed it with an own goal or Verm giving a nightmare special .Am just tired of fans hero-worshipers ,look what your last hero come traitor did to us. give credit where its due . we all love to love Koss & Verm and hate on Mets no matter what he does .Well guess who our most consistent CB so far this season ,am not even going to bother ,you still won’t get it ,stuck in there ways

      • Gunner ken says:

        So let me get this right Danny your saying are best defender and most consistent player this season is the problem. Stick to just watching football don’t try speaking it coz your comments on here are like you dumb and not needed

    • Dhruv says:

      Danny, I will give you a thumbs up if you promise not to write/comment here ever again.

  4. AP says:

    so when we have santos and podolski, we compromise the attacker coz santos isnt up to scratch…then on the right we have sagna whos a much better fullback, but we put ramsey ahead of him and kill the width…and hence end up with 2 half-cocked wings…cant see how thats our no. 1 strategy option or where thats supposed to lead to…

  5. dw says:

    Jenkinson mertesacker vermalin sagna

    Arteta. Wilshere

    Walcatt. Ashavin

  6. Finnish Hit says:

    I like the

  7. Finnish Hit says:

    (Sorry for the runaway message above, desi, please delete if bothered.)

    I liked your view on having Santos playing a more static role. That could be a decent solution, like you mentioned was done with Jenkinson earlier to “steady his ship” with great results. Also, Vermaelen has been erratic, after his mistakes rewarding him a left-back position doesn’t make sense. Although Koscielny should get a start.

    Up front, I’ve long been toying with Cazorla on the wing. And Arshavin has shown glimpses.I think Podolski needs a rest instead of Giroud, but playing Germans in Germany would make sense.

    If Walcott is fit and Santi plays in midfield, Coquelin as left back is a possibility for me.

  8. Ryan says:

    No way santos should start after his horrible performance against Man Utd

  9. Red Arse says:

    Hi Desi,

    A really interesting and well expressed Post. Thank you! 🙂

    I came to look you up after reading a comment you left on the Bergkampesque or AA site, where you expressed cogent comments regarding the wide spread access available on the internet to many fans regardless of their knowledge or lack thereof.

    I totally agree with your view.

    It is no bad thing for fans to have an outlet to let off steam or express an opinion, what is objectionable is other Arsenal fans using insulting or pejorative rebuttals to show their disagreement with a particular point of view. It is unnecessary!

    Anyway, nice site — I will return! 🙂

    • desigunner says:

      Hi RA,

      Thanks for the kind words 🙂

      I agree, everyone has a right to an opinion and that of expressing it as well. In that regard, I find AA an excellent blog with diverse, well-articulated views that lead to a very civilized and meaningful discussion.


  10. santori says:

    Difficult choices for the gaffer in all honesty.

    1) LB – Santos, I agree with Desi that it is better to keep him @LB if he can work through his current problems but I don’t think we have much luxury in the matter at the moment. Maybe 10-15 minutes to see if he has improved his weak areas (and that would be overly generous). If not, I’d put Vermaelen LB.

    Which brings us to conundrum#2

    2) CB – Vermaelen for me is the player I am more concern with working through form. His likely replacement Koscielny has been equally unconvincing. Whilst he struggled (against READING), he did score a goal but that goal maybe negated by the fact that he could have cost us a player sent off (himself).

    I think all 3 of Santos, Vermaelen and Koscielny need very stern wake up calls. Of the 3, I see Santos least likely to improve any time soon.

    I would play Santos for 10-15 minutes with Vermaelen as CB. If he struggles (and if Vermalen is as well), then shunt Vermalen to LB and have Koscielny come on in the middle. At very least we have two quick Cbacks to watch our left flank.

    3) RW – Walcott for me. Use him. There is a case for shifting Santi RW but it should come with someone who can hold in the middle. I’m not sure putting Jack higher up and introducing Coqeulin at the moment is going to add offensively. That would be too many unfamiliar positions.

    4)LW – Much as I like Arsharvin’s new form, I think Podolski is still the better player out RW (particularly if Santos is starting). Also although they’ve seem to have lost a connection, we should not compromise the Santi/Podolski relationship at the moment (proviso we can make the back more secure) But Andrei should come on to make an impact at some stage.

    He could be played LW or we can also load him up in the middle with Santi then shifted to RW (in lieu of Walcott) but I would think it sensible initially to start Santi in the middle with Jack supporting in link.

    My two bits worth. I’m sure the gaffer will have a wholly different opinion. Whatever it is, let’s hope he’s spot on and wherever they play, let’s hope the players give it a proper go this time.


  11. Tee Song says:

    If you play Santos, I think you need to support him defensively and allow him to play to his strengths as an attacker. I agree with playing Coquelin as the deepest, left sided midfielder. Or changing the formation to more of an out and out 4-3-3 with Coq, Arteta and Jack left to right. Either way, Coquelin needs to be very aware of sliding out to that side when needed.

    I’d love a three man forward line of Santi, Poldi and Theo as I’d really like us to try to play this game more on the counter. The pace and finishing of Poldi and Theo up top with Santi playing between the lines would be interesting. I’d play Santi left to allow Santos to overlap (and give clear instructions to Santos to overlap to the outside and not drift central as he has been wont). If Theo is too sick (won’t signitis), then Poldi, Giroud, and Santi across the front.

    Finally, even with Kozzer’s poor recent outings, I’d drop TV5 altogether.I suppose the other option would TV5 at left back with Koz central. Whatever,TV5 has dropped some real clangers lately.

  12. Waz says:

    I’d go 442.

    Theo & Giroud up top, cazorla right, arteta & jack in the middle and go for santos on the left with a more defensive player behind, we could go for podolski on the left but a feel he’s best suited in the final third with an overlapping LB to create space for him, likewise he could replace Giroud up top.

    I think that should help us play well on the counter

  13. Nick from Portugal says:

    Post match comment:

    Good performance tonight, defence more solid, better game from Podolski, not disconnected to the fact that Mr Santos was no longer trying to play his position! Theo dangerous all night, Giroud manfully shouldering his burden, good goal but needs three chances. Wilshere MUCH BETTER than Saturday, still not the full deck but this Schalke side are VERY decent. Fulham to be dispatched on Saturday, it was the right move to shift Vermaleen, had a good game as did KOS. Mannone cannot be dropped for Woyzeck in this form.

  14. amahgfur says:

    I didn’t watch the game, so I’ll just wait for Desi review. A draw is a very good result. Let’s hope Schalke beat Olympiacos in the match day, and knock out stage is ours

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