Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Fulham

Despite conceding two goals in the defeat at Old Trafford last weekend, the Gunners still have the best defensive record in the Premier League. Fulham come into this game with the third best goals scored tally. I don’t think many would have anticipated either situation at the start of the season, nor the fact that both teams will be tied on 15 points after 10 games.

Arsenal started the season with a strong defence which seemed to come at the cost of offensive bite. In the last week or so we’ve seen a slight improvement in the attacking efforts but the Gunners are no longer protecting their goal as well as they did earlier. The issue has always been about balance and starting with this game against the Cottagers, we’ll have to see how that evolves.

The visitors have similar issues of their own. After starting the season with a 5-0 win over Norwich, the Cottagers have sustained their attacking impetus and have put 21 goals, in total, past their various League opponents. But they’ve also conceded 16. Only the bottom three and Norwich have let in more. Only Southampton, currently propping the League table, have conceded more goals in away games (18) than Fulham’s 12.

Balance – such a simple word, such a elusive quality to attain and sustain. Put simply, the team that shows better balance will return with the desired result.

Martin Jol has created an excellent ball-playing side that likes to go forward. Berbatov – one of the players that I’ve wished Arsene would sign during the last couple of seasons – has settled in effortlessly and makes the entire attack tick. His movement will a be a constant cause of concern for the Arsenal defenders. Allowing him to get into pockets of space and turning on the ball will be an open invitation to trouble.

Fulham have players who can score from set-pieces or shots from distance if the marking or closing down is lax.

The visitors also have excellent quality on the flanks and they have the players who are comfortable in circulating the ball in search of an opening. The Gunners’ tendency to back off and defend deeper could help the visitors as they can use the width of the pitch to stretch the defence.

In that regard, the midfield battle will be crucial. Arsenal look the most secure at the back when they can dominate possession and push teams deep into their own half. Arteta and Cazorla can play their part but the choice of the third midfielder could be decisive. Arsene doesn’t have many choices with Diaby injured and Wilshere suspended.

At the back, I think Fulham are somewhat fragile but not through the middle. Walcott against Riise and Podolski against Riether could be vital battles. Wenger will have to ensure his players don’t drift into a congested centre where Fulham’s organization and quality will neutralize their threat. That doesn’t mean the wide players should simply stick to their flanks, just that their movement has to be opportunistic and shrewd.

Giroud’s aerial strength might not be that useful against Hangeland and Co. but clever movement can catch the slow-ish defence off guard. The Frenchman has to prove he can be a quality all-round striker and this game should offer a good benchmark at the other end. Berbatov has completed a whopping 81.7 percent of his passes this season while Giroud is below 60 percent. The Bulgarian succeeds with over 78 percent in the opposition half while the Arsenal man barely crosses 50 percent. The Fulham striker also has more than double the passes/minute ratio, which shows he’s more involved and able to influence the game. 22 recoveries – which I assume is some form of regaining possession – by Berbatov compared to 11 by Giroud, despite the Gunner playing a lot more minutes, further illustrates the difference in overall impact. The most telling and tangible difference is in the goals and assists figures. Berbatov has 3 goals and 2 assists or 1 G+A every 99 minutes. Giroud has 1 goal and 1 assist in the League or 1 G+A every 311 minutes. All this despite the former United man’s image as a lazy, often disinterested, player.

The Frenchman’s contribution can make or mar the Gunners’ quest for balance, not just in this game but over the course of the entire season. Of course, it’s his first season in the Premiership and we must not expect overnight miracles but a steady improvement and visible effort (not just hopeful running) will be reassuring. In the Arsenal system, it’s imperative that the striker not only contribute through goals and assists, but also help improve the contribution of his teammates through anticipation, link play in attacking and central third, and by creating and utilizing space.

As far as the starting line-up goes, there are two positions which seem up for grabs. Vermaelen played at left-back against Schalke but I’m not convinced he’ll offer sufficient attacking quality that the Gunners will need in the wide areas against Fulham. Santos could be a weapon in the opposition half but will his positioning leave the team vulnerable in the defensive areas?

In midfield, Arsene will probably have to decide between Coquelin and Ramsey. The Welshman is likely to start if fit but Coquelin might get a game if he doesn’t pass the fitness test.

Possible line-up,

Mannone – Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Santos – Arteta, Cazorla, Ramsey/Coquelin – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.

I understand the argument in favour of Vermaelen starting at left-back. But at home Arsenal have to take the initiative and need greater offensive threat from all possible avenues. And frankly, if Santos is not deemed fit to start against Fulham at home then it’s difficult to see a meaningful future for the Brazilian at the Emirates. I think he can be a useful squad player as long as his role is well-defined and clear to him.

At this point, both teams seem to have a fair shot at winning this game. The result will go in favour of the side that is able to dictate the patterns of play to its liking. As always, the presence or absence of unforced, elementary errors will also be decisive.

20 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Fulham

  1. Rodger says:

    If Berbatov ever gets to prove a threat to the Arsenal defence then i’ll concede fully that we’ve lost it! Despite his qualities as have been described here, he’s a player whose game plays right into the strengths of our defence; we can easily beat him for pace and limit his ball projection abilities by near pressing. Concerning Giroud’s seemingly average show (basing on the stats) in his defence, i’d say we’ve hardly played as a unit upfront for the past 1month or so, more than often you see Giroud all by himself in a sea of opposition players with little to no help from colleagues to provide alternatives for him. Shame

  2. Dan says:

    Berb? lol. Giroud’s accuracy is off mostly(not always) because he is heading it, which is obviously less accurate. Seriously saying that berb is going to be diff. & their wings high quality is bullshit. OH AND SAYING BOTH TEAMS HAVE FAIR SHOT, WHO’S YOUR TEAM? LAST TIME I READ THIS CRAP. CAN I HAVE MY 2 MINUTES BACK?

    • Redcore says:

      Hmmn.. understand your passion for Arsenal but you need to calm down. We lost against Norwich and the team has not found balance yet, This team has not gelled yet and believe it or not are more than capable of losing against Fulham.

      Good luck trying to find better blogs than this for arsenal analysis!!

      • 9jagunnerdoc says:

        If you know Desigunner enough, you’ll really wonder if he’s a fan. Hardly predicts a positve result for us. He’d rather sit on the fence.

        Look forward to reading his posts always, though.

    • Dan says:

      decent with your stats tho

  3. 'koye says:

    Brilliant analysis once again Desi.

    Talking about Santos and our need to take the offensive initiative at home, I understand your point. Santos could do more going forward than Vermaelen but again we have to look at what goes on around santos with his team-mates when he gets to play. Podolski becomes ineffectual when we start with Santos. His body language seems to suggest his dissatisfaction playing with the brazilian and his willingness to track back and help the left-back has been somewhat reduced ever since the injury to kieran gibbs.

    Vermaelen seems to make more errors and appear more unsettled when Santos starts too. I fear that Santos starting will make this game a bit more difficult than it ought to be and we may capitulate, once again, to school boy errors in defence. I think its better for us to start with Verm at left back and see how it goes first. I would also love to see some changes elsewhere. I think Coquelin should start instead of Ramsey so Arteta could push forward a bit more; Arteta can contribute more to attack than Ramsey can. And perhaps we can start Podolski as a CF and play Oxlade or Arshavin down on the left. I sincerely feel Arshavin deserves a game as he’s still a talent and valuable to the squad.

    Mannone, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Coquelin, Arteta, Cazorla, Walcott, Giroud/Podolski, Arshavin/Ox

  4. Aussie Jack says:

    Hi Desi…I see you have included the two dreaded names Ramsey and Santos. May the God`s be with you.
    I have a foot in both camps having played at Fulham in the late 1950`s and been an Arsenal supporter since 1947. Naval service intervened. So I`m going to sit on the fence and say 2-2 draw.

  5. Cupsui says:

    again desi i think you are a bit harsh of giroud. Stats are one thing but if you look at his missed passed especially in the final third most are from headers. He wins a lot of headers against defenders but no one gives him support on the knock downs and his headers turn over possession…so if you simply go on stats it would be better if he simply didn’t contest the balls and let the opposition have it unchallenged, but this is silly.

    He has shown when he does get good service he can be efficient and its the crossing that really needs to improve, lately we have been scoring a few from crosses so hopefully this can keep going up and goals will come for both arsenal and giroud…

    He has good feet and strength but the midfield hasn’t been giving him the support to benefit from his touches.

    stats aren’t everything!!

  6. Fulham may have started the season in good form and scored as many as 21 goals, but, make no mistake, a team like Fulham cannot have the same share in terms of winning this game. They have never beaten Arsenal at home in any competition, never! Even the last time they threatened to get all three points, it was courtesy of a Thomas Vermaelen own goal, but they conceded an equalizer with five minutes remaining.

    The game against Schalke provided some attacking verve that we had missed for most part of October, and given that we are likely to have Chamberlain back, I don’t see us struggling that much to create openings in a Fulham defense that has proved porous enough to concede 16 in ten games.

    In fact, for me, being at home, I would go for a midfield of Arteta, Cazorla and Chamberlain, and bring on Ramsey and/or Coquelin to protect the lead if need be, other than starting the ponderous Ramsey, only to slow the team down and take the attacking bite out of it. The front three would not change from the Schalke game, while at the back I would also not change anything from the midweek game because, even though Vermaelen isn’t a classical left-back and offers much less going forward, he’s by far a better defender than Santos, and given that the set-up of the team would be attack-minded, it would silly to open the back up by playing Santos. Santos is a joke, Wenger made a massive mistake to sign him, and for me,a left-back must be one of the top priorities in the January transfer window, because even the solid Gibbs has a terrible injury record and can’t be relied upon by a side vying for trophies, can he?

    Wenger MUST stop gambling with the team and sign better players quality and health-wise other than relying on the likes of Diaby, Gibbs, Rosicky, Chamakh, etc who cannot stand up for the team when most needed.

    • 'koye says:

      Spot on.

      Wenger, in the nearest windows, has to be decisive about some important squad members who are mostly out injured. Rosicky and Diaby have to be disposed. As much as it hurts to say, its what needs to be done. The team has suffered from the absence of Diaby who we all felt, alongside Wilshere, would replace Alex Song in the 11. That hasn’t happened and its been 9 weeks since he hobbled off injured against Chelsea. From the latest projections of the manager, the Diaby we all felt or hoped had recovered from his injury woes will be back after 12 weeks since the Chelsea game.

      In a team that had 4-5 starters different from what it was last year, its unfortunate Rosicky has been out for this long AGAIN. Its a relief seeing him in the latest training pictures but I’m not holding my breath.

      We need replacements for these guys. Santos was a mistake. A huge one. We paid 6.7m on a fullback that isn’t much better than Armand Traore. We have to live with it until we can do something about it. We simply use Vermaelen, Sagna, Jenkinson or even Meade till Gibbs returns.

  7. Kunle says:

    Sorry to say,my fellow arsenal fans,u all are nt gettin d picture is nt d players,it is wenger formation of 4-2-3-1 dat is nt working 4 d players and d continous wrong selection wenger keepins making.for instance d reading game in d 2nd half showed how deadly we can be 4 d entire season if we use 4-4-2 formation.when giroud was in montp,he was paired wit another striker,also podoski was paired wit a striker at koln dat was why both were able to score 20 and 22 goals for there clubs last season.Another problem i see in wenger is playin players out of position hopin they will adapt to d position,dat is why it is nt going well at arsenal due to dis reasons.for instances-podoski recently voiced out dat he is nt a classical winger like valencia dat he will prefer cf position bt wenger replied by sayin it is culture shock disturbing podoski,for godsake have u ever seen valencia play cf 4 manu or carrick play right wing 4 manu.girouds case is similar to podoski,he able to bang in goals wit a striker playin along wit him in d attack.wenger now plays him as a lone striker dat his been watched by d central do u want him to out muscle d central backs 4 makes d central backs look like they are on holidays bt playin him along wit podoski or walcot or chamak at d attack will threat d central backs.

  8. santori says:

    Fulham ….a comparatively old team…conversely, you may say they are experienced.

    Players to watch out against Berbatov, Katagoinis (he can shoot), quite obviously they will try and overload our left with say Richardson and Rodallega (further up in a 4-4-2)

    Desi has rightly identified their weaker areas being their fullbacks.

    I get the feeling that this is the sort of game we may benefit more from a Gervinho up front than Giroud being that Haangeland (and Senderos…where have we seen him before) will quite obviously be more up for the physical challenges of crosses than quick darting, elusive (sometimes self mystifying) movement.

    In his absence, a possibility may be to play Podolski up top with Walcott in close attendance when need becoming in from right channel.

    Evidently, whatever pressure we can exert on their fullbacks high up will prevent an invitation for mistakes in our own half particularly with Lback in mind.

    Personally I’d prefer to see Vermaelen (even if marginal improvement defensively over Santos) at LBack. We need to be as secure as possible considering our current state of confidence. Playing at home may sometimes have a reverse affect on team and we may come out nervous with hand brakes on not wanting to come away humiliated in our own backyard (Fulham granted)

    One consideration could be to play Santos ahead of Vermalen in the LW to help cover the onslaught that the Belgian may expect but considering the options we have out left, this may be a little negative on our part with regard opposition.

    Another option would be to play Coquelin next to Arteta biased left to help cover Vermaelen. We could benefit from the Frenchman’s fresh legs and energy out left and it will be important (as noted by his compatriot Sagna) for us to be combative in asserting our control over the game (in particular midfield).

    In this case, whilst I consider Ramsey perhaps the more creative of the two going forward (particularly behind the strikers which is his best role), given current fragility of mind, I would prefer someone solid and non compromising particularly if mistakes are made.

    That is not to say that Coquelin is not prone to slip ups (he has his fair share of not watching/tracking runners), but he does seem to be more committed when trying to win a ball back following turning over a ball.

    Mainly I think, he will be more water tight in giving Veramelen some cover whilst being able to push forward to support either of Podolski or for that matter maybe even Arsharvin out wide (though the Russian may more likely come on as a sub)

    Likely IMO :


    Albeit we could also go (switch to) :


    – whereby Coquelin can shift up field and left hen attacking leaving AA t o push in, santi to in turn shift right if need be and Walcott to double up with Poldy to assert pressure on their two cumbersome Cbacks. In essence a 4-1-4-1.


    (Coquelin/AA interchanging …ditto Santi/Walcott)

    They will likley gang up in midfield with two against Santi (Diarra/Karagounis) so some presence high up to counter this will be crucial (as is wing play)

    Santos. I’m not sure if he is enjoying the confidence of the gaffer at the moment. Probably would be brought in to protect a tentative lead out at LW with Coquelin dropping back, one of the strikers sacrificed, but you know what they say, “attack is the best defense”.

    Wherever they play, I hope we move the ball quicker and go at the defense a little. Our off ball movement against Schalke was lethargic at best second half (likely afters from the United game)

    Again as mentioned, fresh legs in AA and Coquelin may not be a bad thing.

    Hope we get a good win and shake of the hoodoos a little. Big month ahead. 9 points to cull back and not impossible if we apply ourselves appropriately, a possibility to get closer to the leader by December.

  9. Ryan says:

    For fuck sake, Ramsey and Santos start? Nice post,though.

  10. Kunle says:

    If am wenger i will drop my stubbornness,ego, pride,so dat tactical changes dat is formation and right selection 4 today-4-4-2(mannone-sagna,mert,kosn,thomas.(defence),arshavin,arteta,cazorla,ox(midfield),podoski and walcot or giroud and walcot.wenger and bould should stop zonal marking 4 cornerkicks and go back to man-marking.

  11. Dianjuh says:

    Hi Desi, am really dropping in confidence with Wenger’s tactics. We stick to one formation and try to fix fit players into it, instead of getting the fit players to play favourite positions where the formation backs their strengths. I feel for Arshavin, Walcot, Podolski, Ramsey, Arteta etc who are all being played where they are 2nd best. And we expect a top performance? Every game? Really?

  12. Gerry Lennon says:

    Hi Desi, I am also in the camp that sees the same 11 turning out (dismally) for the last three league games would be a mistake. There is one or two possible radical alternatives, ones that AW is unlikely to try admittedly, but they do accept the reality of the situation regards injuries, etc, that are:
    Santos is not reliable at left back.
    Ramsey is neither disiplined enough, or has the pace on the right, and not quick enough in thought and deed to play in the link role in midfield. He also has an annoying habit of heading blindly backwards to our back four in defence.
    Cazorla is now being marked out of the game because he is the main creative link.
    Coquelin has looked good and bad in recent games. Bad when the midfield duties require him to be the main man at times. Good when he gains confidence from how the game is going. He is still learning, and games right now put a lot of pressure on him?
    Arteta is now suffering a similar fate to Cazorla in limiting his forward passing.
    And as a result of the above, Walcott, who is only as good as the pass to him, and is likely to go missing if his main sources are cut off?
    Podolski, as has been noted, is not the same player without Gibbs .. or similar … Meade would be a bold(or Bould) call?
    On the positive side, Having played TV at LB the team did look a bit more solid, barring errors. Having Arshavin start would give two creative midfielders for their defence to cover. Playing Santos as a left midfielder, who could occasionally nick the ball high up the pitch, which could feed the attack at the right time.
    This would require dropping Podolski to the bench, but he might get to play in the centre?
    So this team would look like this:
    Santos – Arshavin – Arteta – Cazorla
    TV/Meade – Kos – Mert – Sagna
    Subs to include Podolski,and Coquelin. Too many other possibles play in the U21’s yesterday, but SZCZ could be there?

  13. bc says:

    I think this is the sort of match screaming out for us to rest a couple of the most over used players and also play a different system. for me i would like to see us play 352

    koscielny mertesacker vermaelen
    jenkinson coquelin arteta ramsey santos
    walcott chamberlain

    Szcesney sagna djourou frimpong cazorla podolski giroud

  14. sam says:

    I fail to understand why more arsenal fans are not in arms against the owner and the board and if i may say so against wenger, there needs to be a big change and right at the top, kroenke is a businessman and a smart one at that, he does not care if arsenal win or lose for him, its a good financial model and believe me it is, but if fans stop believing and stop buying insanely high priced match day tickets then something will give, it has to, but we as arsenal fans still support wenger, the board etc., a few voice their opinion but then a few victories under the belt and its back to business again,

    I know this blog post is about analyzing the fulham game, but i just watched the game and am disgusted, giroud was probably the only bright spot,,,,
    All of wenger;s buy’s off season were good ones, but he lost rvp and that is a big hole to fill, now i think rvp is an a******* but we could have taken the hit(20 mill or so) and kept him for a year, 2 advantages to that, he has to perform otherwise for him as a player his market value goes down, so we get goals from him, secondly you never know with him in the kind of form he is in, we maybe could have won the league and who knows how that would have impacted everything, i mean we are doing the same with theo are we not!, but hey that would have never happened with rvp, cause it would have been bad business and secondly wenger is a player’s coach, if you see his history he always lets the players get their way, u need a stronger coach who tells them to buckle down, but that is not wenger,,,, sad but true!
    I hate to say it, but this is going to be another season of despair and i highly doubt if we will even qualify for the cl next season, but hey gazidis still takes home a fat pay package, so does wenger and the squad, and fans like us still continue to buy tickets and watch games!!!!

  15. Nick from Portugal says:

    Post mortem (not quite). Poor Arteta, one of our very best this year, a poor mistake, a missed penalty. Giroud perked up today, the team are at sea with Vermaleen at LB, once again Arshavin comes on and does something to change the game, the man is an experienced, clever player, so Arsene ignores him in favour of the OX who is green, runs into tunnels and has done VERY little this season. Koscielny brilliant today, Mertsacker given a bit of torture by Berbatov, now that is a player we should have thought about. Not good today, we were struggling and what Wenger had to say after the game was frankly embarrasing

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