Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against West Brom

West Brom have been a bit of a surprise this season. Studying their macro-level stats does not give the impression that this is a team competing for the top four places after 15 games of the season. Steve Clarke’s side are 4th from bottom in terms of possession with an average of 43.5 percent. They’re 13th in pass accuracy, which is less than 80 percent. The Baggies are 14th in shots per game with 12.7 and concede 15.7 shots per game which is worse than 14 other teams. 13 teams make more tackles than West Brom while 17 make more interceptions.

Even if we dig deep into these numbers, there isn’t much that says West Brom are competing at the level of the bigger teams. But the simple and most important fact is that they have 26 points after 15 games and are 5th in the table only on goal difference as they’re level on points with Chelsea and Spurs. That too after two successive defeats in the last two weeks.

Clarke and his players are doing something right for sure. The simplest way to explain their game, although this doesn’t do them complete justice, is to say that they’re an efficient team that works hard in defence and controls the quality of chances they concede while being effective with their limited attacking forays.

Steve Clarke has worked under Mourinho and the influence is clearly visible. The Baggies often look extremely comfortable without the ball as their organization is impeccable. The way they maintain the spacing between the players; the off-the-ball decision making of individuals i.e. when to close an opponent down, when to hold, etc.; manner of protecting the vital central areas by denying time and space to opponents; and other such details point to meticulous planning and diligent training.

However, their tactics make the players chase the ball a lot and as a result they seem to tire towards the end of games. This stat is telling – If games lasted 80 minutes in the Premier League, West Brom would be second.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Gunners approach this game. Ideally, one would want to see them come out aggressively and play higher up the pitch with consistent pressure on the ball. But pressing high up the pitch has just not clicked this season and that invariably leaves the defence vulnerable. That in turn has led to the defenders and midfield dropping back deeper inside the Arsenal half, which has given the opponents more time and space to build their attacks. The Gunners have generally defended well when they drop back but there has been a noticeable effect on the attack as effective transitions from deep have been rare.

Arsenal’s build-up play has also been laborious at times as the midfield does not have the right balance. The load on Arteta has been high as we’ve discussed in earlier posts. West Brom could exploit this by having someone like Morrison marking the Spaniard. By doing that, many teams have been able to control the Gunners in the central third of the pitch.

Having said that, I doubt West Brom will push higher up the pitch unless they’re chasing the game. The visitors will try to minimize the space behind their defenders and in the central areas in front of goal. Once again, Arsenal will have to find some creative moments from the flanks. In many games, the full-backs or even the wide players have gotten into useful attacking positions but their final ball hasn’t been very good. This has to improve or it could be a comfortable day for the Baggies.

At the back, Arsenal will have to watch out for quick transitions, particularly down the flanks. West Brom also have a good aerial threat and many players who can shoot from distance. Not only will the Gunners be tested from set-pieces, they’ll have to quickly close down shooting opportunities after the first ball has been cleared. Long’s energetic running can cause concerns if the defenders have one of those unfortunate slips when in possession.

I’m not sure what the injury situation is. Team News says Podolski and Walcott are out while Sagna and Koscielny are not back. But the German and the French full-back can be seen in the pictures from the training session. I’m assuming they were just involved in some light work and will not be risked.

That means Wenger basically has to decide between Gervinho, Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Ramsey. All three have their strengths and weaknesses but none of them have done enough to justify automatic selection.

Rosicky’s fitness will have an impact on team selection. Hopefully, he’ll be fit enough to start even if he isn’t ready to finish the game. His ability to thread balls through will bring the direct player on the flank into the game in a purposeful manner. The Czech star will also be able to provide meaningful service to Giroud. The alternate option is to have him on the bench in case the game is close late on but I’d prefer a start as Arsenal have to impose themselves on the game from the beginning.

If Little Mozart is fit, I’d be tempted to push Cazorla to the left, Rosicky up the pitch centrally, and Gervinho on the right. But I’ve a feeling that Arsene will play TR7 on the flank if he’s deemed fit enough to start.

Possible line-up,

Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Wilshere, Cazorla – Gervinho, Giroud, Rosicky.

With that starting eleven, bulk of the creativity would have to come from the left and central areas. Gervinho should look to make runs in behind on the right or diagonally across the box depending on the availability of space.

One would expect Rosicky and Cazorla to switch places occasionally, and even Wilshere could also join in to make it a very fluid midfield, but they’ll have to ensure the defence isn’t left open. The problem has been one of balance. Keep an eye on the tussle between Mulumbu and Wilshere.

Arsenal’s recent home record has been disappointing. W3 D4 L3 does not make for pleasant reading. It is understandable that many fans will be cautiously optimistic at best. Right now it’s more about hope than genuine belief. It’s up to the players to change that with their performances.

13 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against West Brom

  1. Redcore says:

    If Cazorla and Rosicky click then sitting deep wont help West Brom. I would however like to see TR7 in the middle as Santi spent most of his Malaga career on the wings. The line up looks very good on paper. Hopefully they can produce on the pitch too.

    I know you don’t do transfer speculation but do you think adding an out and out DM like Wayanama / M’VIlla will make this midfield more balanced?

    • Winner says:

      We have missed Diaby terribly. Adding an out and out DM is not an option but an imperative if the season is to be rescued. We need two quick and preferably early goals to calm everyone’s nerves. We also need to impose ourselves in the middle of the pitch and the we will be home and dry.

  2. Vishal Snb says:

    The only Arsenal Blog worth its salt, and worth your reading time. Rest of them are all cribbing moaning types. Thank Desi!

  3. Malam isa says:

    Arsenal today line up 1.szysny.2. jakinson.6. vermalin.5. matersaker.3. gibs.4 arteta.10.wilshere.8.rosicky.9.girud.7.gervinho/walcott.11.carzola

  4. santori says:

    No disrespect Desi but these starting line up posts are getting somewhat fruitless.

    Yet again, I fail to see why we would be considering certain players over Arsharvin whom to me is an under utilised asset.

    Also with the players available, there may be reason for us to do something slightly different in adopting say a 4-1-4-1

    Personally, I’d like to see Arsharvin accommodated in concert with Santi.


    I simply don’t see why we can’t play Santi wide in certain cases and Arsharvin left to give better incisive passing to Giroud (particularly with both Rosicky and Jack available)

    We need a bit of invention and technicality going forward where Santi, Rosikcy and AA can give us that added creativity.

    Jack can also drop next to Arteta to move back to our more traditional 4-3-3 if need be. Simply put, we are not creative enough tactically to get the very best out of the team.

    We can complain all we want about lack of assets but considering who we haven’t used and the fact that Swansea and West Brom have much thinner/more frugal squads than us, frankly that sounds slightly lame.

    My own fruitless two bits worth.

    • santori says:

      BTW suggestion to go 4-1-4-1 is to be slightly more aggressive higher up the pitch, particularly since we have sufficient sppedy cover with Gibbs back @LB.

      We sit too deep at times defending and seem to have adopted a somewhat passive/zonal approach where as we ought really to be prosecuting an active defense hunting in packs and high up.

    • Arsenal says:

      Completely agree with the sure fact that Arshavin is under-used. Its a very good plan to have a strong midfielding 3 in Arshavin, Wilshire and Rosiscky. Giving Arteta another rest would be wise as West Brom, as the article stated, would surely try to put that to their advantage.
      Play Wilshire in Artetas role and have Arshavin and Rosiscky at the front line supplying Giroud. Have Cazorla and Gervinho on the sides as well to provide quick plays to the CAM’s.

      Good article though but I surely think that a different formation should be adopted for this into and Arshavin MUST be used

  5. ozarsenal says:

    Well thought out game plan and agree with your sumup what we really need is a battle hardened defence midfielder big and strong with a no surrunder mind set,Arteta does a job but he does not intemadate anyone

  6. realjay says:

    I agree wit u arsenal ar nt creativ enough. Dats d price to pay for sellin song. We just need to be more creativ nd hardworkin in and off d pitch

  7. DIVINE WARRI says:

    IS wenger BLinD?can’t he cee dat arshavin is far better than rambo nd blindvinor?

  8. YY says:

    Cazorla badly needs rest – so does Arteta: leave them both on the bench and if things are not going according to plan, use them as subs from 60th min on. Start with Coq in Arteta’s position, pair him with the Ox in the middle, use TR, AA and JW in a fluid midfield, with Giroud holding up in front. Stop giving chances to Gervinho and Ramsey. Why not try Eisfeld instead?

  9. Nick from Portugal says:

    Agree with Santori on selection, Arshavin is quite simply a different class to the alternatives, a misfiring and inexperienced Ox, a slower Ramsey and an eccentric unpredictable Gervinho. But le Prof seems reluctant to use him, must be something going on we don’t know about. I think they had him sold over the summer but Arshavin told them he wanted to stay so he is being frozen out? Hypothesis. No way we go into this one without the Spaniards. I was under the impression that 7 days without a game is a rest?

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