Analysis Of Some Interesting Situations From The West Brom Game – Part I

March 27, 2011

I have been away from football and the news for the last few days but yesterday I got the chance to watch the West Brom game once again. I wanted a relook as I’d noticed some moments while watching live that seemed worth analyzing. This article is a quick discussion based on one of these observations.

In the image below we can see Arsenal get into a very exciting position just before the hour mark.

Click on the image to see a bigger version

Wilshere is on the ball. Arsenal have three players on the edge of the box and Van Persie in a good position just outside. Clichy is hugging the far touchline and is completely unmarked. The full-back has his left arm up but Wilshere doesn’t see it or sees it but decides that a pass down the middle is a better option.

The lines I have drawn represent what I was hoping to see. The thick line would be a bent run from Clichy as he comes into the box unseen and unmarked. The thinner line would have been a chipped pass from Wilshere, something he excels at. Such a pass would have allowed Chamakh and Bendtner to get into extremely dangerous positions at the near and back post. Arshavin could have made a run to the centre of the box while RvP could have positioned himself on the edge of the D for a cut-back. West Brom would have been scrambling to tackle Clichy and defend against four attackers in the box. As we can see the hosts had four or five players on their left side and would have struggled to get enough bodies back. We’ve seen Barca create and exploit such situations quite regularly.

Now this is just a single instance and the pass down the middle wasn’t a bad option in itself. So I don’t want to criticize any player based on this. But it does give us a few points to ponder.

Why don’t Arsenal create such situations more often? Do the Gunners prefer shorter passes and attacks down the middle? Is this an issue with the philosophy of the manager and the training routines? Is the longer pass over the top much more difficult to execute?

These questions don’t have straightforward answers. For instance, we’d all like to see Arsenal attack in numbers, stretch the play, get bodies into the box, and ultimately score a lot of goals, but it’s pretty obvious that the above situation leaves the defence completely exposed as both full-backs are really high up the field and there isn’t a defensive minded midfielder on the pitch.

Another point could be that such an instance can only arise if the opponents are not alert to the man on the wing. Once the Gunners start using this tactic, the other team will learn to cover for it. Of course, it can still be done but it’s so difficult that only one team in the world is able to pull it off consistently.

However, I do feel that Arsenal should try to use this tactic a lot more often and it has to come from the training pitches.

If you watch this particular play on video, you’ll notice that Clichy barely moves on the touchline. That tells me he is not alert to the possibility of making a run in behind and into the box but is looking for a pass out wide. As an extension, I’d think that his instructions are to hug that touchline and offer width. A decent approach no doubt but one that can be tweaked to make better use of such moments.

If the Frenchman had made the run, even if the ball had been played exactly as it was to Arshavin, the Russian would have had better options.

Click on the image to see a bigger version

As we can see in the snapshot above, there is a great deal of space behind the West Brom right-back. Clichy’s run – if he’d bent it and stayed onside – could have distracted the defender, it could have created more space for Arshavin, and the Russian might have been in a position to play Clichy in on goal.

Don’t be fooled into believing that Clichy isn’t good enough to make that run. Running into such a space would be a piece of cake for the Frenchman. He does many more difficult things on the pitch. In fact, that is another reason I feel it’s something the Gunners aren’t doing enough in training.

One could argue that it is up to the players to make such choices but I find it difficult to believe the manager and coaches don’t have a big say in it. Arsenal have had some trouble getting the balance right in the full-back areas since the change to the 4-3-3 formation. I’m sure a lot of work goes into studying their positions and instructing them on their movements.

I do agree that the long pass over the top is not an easy one to execute. But with the likes of Cesc, Wilshere, Nasri, and now Ramsey in midfield, Arsenal have plenty of players who can make it work.

I don’t wish to imply that Wenger doesn’t train his players well but it seems to me that Le Boss either doesn’t like this trick much or hasn’t been able to mix it well enough into an undoubtedly arduous training regime.

When the first eleven is fit and firing this might not be needed but when we have the likes of Chamakh and Bendtner on the pitch I’d feel this is a better tactic than playing it down the middle so often. Hopefully, we will see more incisive use of such moments in the near future. Such subtle issues can be the difference between one point or three.

In the coming days I’ll discuss some other moments from the game.

Arshavin Explains His Lack Of Form

January 27, 2011

Against Ipswich, Arshavin picked up two assists. Here is what he said of his own performance,

It wasn’t a supermatch for me. But I’m satisfied with the result. I’m glad that I was useful to the squad.

I don’t think he could have said it any better even with the help of the best PR agents in the world. We all saw he didn’t have a great game. But he made a vital contribution. Both aspects are well covered with minimum words. That’s one of the things I love about Arshavin, his intelligence is not limited to on-field decision making.

More interestingly, I want to discuss this interview given by Arshavin. I couldn’t understand when, where, or to whom this interview was given but I liked the way he analysed his own game.

Speaking about his speed Arshavin said,

I do not have enough acceleration. From the very start of this season I felt that I’m fast enough only in short bursts.

I don’t know why. I still feel the same. Maybe I’m just getting old.

Furthermore he talks about his form and why it’s not working well for him,

When you are absolutely all right, you do not even think about what you are ­doing in certain situations. It all happens automatically.

But now when I get the ball, I begin to think, ‘Should I out-trick an opponent? Will I lose the ball?’ I am afraid of taking the initiative.

When such thoughts appear, your final decision as a rule turns out to be wrong and you waste a lot of opportunities.

I don’t have to explain those comments to anyone who has been following Arsenal’s games closely. And if you’ve played any sport, even at a decent amateur level, then you might have experienced this situation. I’ll be surprised if anyone can go years of playing without getting into this fix. You make one mistake, then while thinking about that you make another, soon the count rises, one loses belief, and mistrusts ones instincts. Once a doubt creeps in it can be a quick, self-propelling, negative spiral.

I guess this must have started when he missed some one-v-one opportunities in the earlier games. Over time it’s become a real form issue. Unfortunately, the fans haven’t really helped him get out of that rut.

Thankfully, Arshavin has been there and done that. He knows the way out.

I need to train and play. After a few good performances the courage and automatic decision-making are going to return.

Based on his last couple of performances we can be sure AA23 is trying hard.

I understand one complaint against Arshavin is that he is lazy or doesn’t work his socks off. That is an unfair and almost silly argument.

Different players have different physical levels and abilities. Song can run all day chasing players and making tackles. That’s his strength. He cannot score from an overhead scissors kick but the fans don’t boo him for that limitation, do they? Similarly, Theo can run at pace and terrorize defenders. That’s his skill. He cannot play keep ball when the team is under pressure. That’s not his game. We accept it.

Arshavin’s is not in the same League as Song or Sagna when it comes to fitness. That’s his weakness. Even when he was on top form he wasn’t a guy who chased back to help the full-back. But the fans accepted it because he delivered at the other end.

Now when he is having a rough time his weakness seems like a burden. In fact it is a burden. But it’s a burden that the team must, at times, carry. That’s the only way to get him back to the spectacular form that we know he is capable of.

Based on what I have seen on the pitch in the last two games the Russian has played and on those quotes above, I’m fairly certain Arshavin is trying his level best to perform. I’m also convinced that Arsene understands his situation. Le Boss must have seen all his top players go through such phases. He also knows Arshavin needs patience and support to get back to his best. We can see Wenger’s giving him that in an intelligent manner by keeping him out of the pressure games of the League and playing him against weaker teams.

I’m sure most fans who’ve been supporting the club for a long time have seen plenty of players go through such phases. Sadly, some fans tend to forget. It’s their weakness!

I think this process of getting back into form can be accelerated if the fans get behind the player. At the very least the supporters can do their part by avoiding the moans and groans. It’s up to the fans to decide whether they want a symbiotic or parasitic relationship. Arshavin is a huge talent and Arsenal will need him at his best very soon.

Arshavin’s Law: “If you do not score, you’ll concede”

December 5, 2010

Arsenal’s Andrey Arshavin has just created the First Law of Football (the ones created by FIFA don’t count, after all even  the ref’s don’t always implement them!)

When asked about Arsenal’s failure to turn the early advantage into a game winning score Arshavin said,

Yes. After that we had a few good chances. But here comes the law of football: “If you do not score, you’ll concede.” So that’s what happened to us. The Fulham players tried break through several times. They succeeded once. It’s good that we missed a goal in the first half, and not at the end of the second one …

There is more and you can see it on this link. He calls Nasri’s first goal beautiful and the second one a masterpiece.

Anyway, the purpose of this article is to officially declare (I’ll pretend I can) Arshavin’s First Law of Football – ” If you do not score, you’ll concede”.

It must be noted that this law is particularly applicable to Arsenal FC and the few other teams that play with a positive approach all the time. Well placed sources have said that the manager-who-must-not-be-named is currently reworking his laws of Anti-Football after five glaring holes were recently discovered in his theories. Till then enjoy the first law of Football from one of the game’s finest.

After Arshavin And Szczesny, Is Bendtner Being Misquoted?

November 12, 2010

In the course of my regular morning scouring of the internet for Arsenal news I came across this blog post that linked to this article in the Danish media.

The headline of that Danish post, if google translate is to be believed, is – Bendtner: I’m wasting my time at Arsenal.

It seems like an interview similar to the ones he has given earlier where he comes across as being extremely confident and deserving of a starting role. The striker seems disappointed with his lack of game time since his return from injury and that is understandable. He is the type who always believes in himself and wants to be out on the pitch. I don’t have a problem with that at all. In fact, I think that’s a fantastic attitude to have.

Only in this case, Bendtner also seems to be talking about leaving Arsenal unless the situation with his role on the bench changes.

Of course there is a line where he says his priority is, and always has been, to be at Arsenal. Again it’s something that I appreciate.

I’m not quoting anything from the interview because I don’t trust the translation to capture the tone of the conversation. If you understand Danish then it will be nice to get a first hand opinion on what has been said. Please do leave your thoughts in the comments. Until I get a first hand translation or a response on the official website, I’ll continue to believe that Bendtner wants a starting place (which is understandable), he is frustrated (which is acceptable), but his priority is to be at Arsenal (which is the most relevant point).

What I want to discuss in this post is the increasing number of translation manipulations going on and whether Arsenal can deal with them in a better way. If you’ve been reading Untold Arsenal or this blog for any length of time you’ll have seen some stories about how Arshavin has been quoted out of context or a complete hoax built around the Russian magician’s comments.

Similarly, Szczesny was recently misquoted to the extent that the Pole got annoyed and opened a twitter account to clarify. Fabregas too has suffered from translation issues.

Arsenal have top stars from around the world and for most of them English is not their first language. Obviously, whenever they give an interview in their language there will be a chance that something gets lost or worse, cooked up in translation.

One way of dealing with this is for fans to trust only a limited number of sources that provide accurate, reliable information. Clearly a sensible approach. The problem however, is that there are far too many writers in the media and the blogosphere who just need a chance to create a negative story about Arsenal or one of the players. Once these stories are repeated by others they get an air of credibility in the eyes of many readers.

If, like me, you don’t get conned by the media that easily anymore then you might say it’s up to the fans to know right from wrong and reliable from unreliable. That’s a valid point of view but not a comprehensive one. I can see the other side of this coin. Fans have plenty to deal with in their lives. If they see a report with quotes, and trust me these little symbols ” ” make a big difference, the majority are likely to believe it.

The clarifications might come a day or two later but many fans who have read something like Bendtner saying “I’m wasting my time at Arsenal” will have some sort of a negative slant towards the player at the back of their minds. And these things build up over time. It’s not right and one could blame the fans but it happens and we should not be in denial.

I’m convinced many who have a go at Arshavin these days have some of his quotes at the back of their minds without clearly knowing which ones were accurate and which were fabrications or taken out of context.

I feel there is a better, proactive approach that the club can take. All players’ contracts should have a clause that if they give an interview to a third party, a transcript of that interview should be made available to Arsenal before that is published or Arsenal should be informed beforehand if it’s a live interview.

This is not a complicated thing to execute and should allow the club to be prepared for any kind of translation issues that might occur. That way the official website can print any clarifications at a short notice before the quotes can snowball into controversies.

I remember Cesc used to come out with an official statement on whenever an incorrect report involving him appeared in the media. I used to really appreciate the quick response from El Capitan and the club. For some reason they’ve stopped this and haven’t done it with other players.

I hope they start this again and do it for all the players.

Arshavin, Walcott, Rosicky, Nasri – Who should start?

November 8, 2010

Based on the comments left on the match analysis after the last game, I’m guessing many gooners were unhappy with the choice of Nasri on the left. They’d have preferred Arshavin. Based on the Russian’s cameo in the final half hour and the Frenchman’s hard working yet uninspiring initial display, obviously with the benefit of hindsight, this seems like a valid point.

I’m not completely convinced by that argument as I feel Arshavin and Walcott on the wings would have left us exposed defensively. Nonetheless, it presents an excellent topic for discussion as Wenger will have to make some tricky choices because right now we have 4 players – Arshavin, Walcott, Nasri, and Rosicky – all in good form, competing for two spots. And I’m not even considering the likes of Vela, Eboue, and JET. No disrespect to them but when the big guns are available they will always be on the fringes.

Among those four, Arshavin, when he plays, will probably be on the left. Similarly, Walcott will be on the right. I don’t see either of them being that effective on the other flank.

Yes there is an argument that Arshavin could play centrally, but we’ve seen over the last couple of seasons that Wenger doesn’t like that and I’d like to believe he’s given that some thought and discarded the option for valid reasons.

I’m sure we’d all like to see Walcott on the left/centre emulating the feats of Henry but I can’t see that happening right now. Maybe in a couple of years after Theo learns to control the ball better.

So for now I’ll go forward with the assumption that Arshavin and Walcott will play on the left and right respectively. Rosicky and Nasri, as we’ve seen time and again, are far more flexible and can do a job anywhere in midfield.

So the possibilities are – Arshavin with any one of the three on the right, Walcott with any one of the three on the left, or with Rosicky and Nasri on either flank.

The Russian and the Englishman make an explosive combination. As I said above, I feel it’d leave us defensively weak on both flanks, but I will acknowledge this pair was brilliant against Blackpool and pretty good against Blackburn. Should we take more of a gamble on them, especially in home games? Will it add the pace, directness, and urgency that we need to break teams down early on?

Then there is the choice of picking either Arshavin or Walcott. Obviously form and fitness will be an issue but considering that right now both are in equally good shape, Arsene will have a tough choice to make.

Against Newcastle Wenger went with Theo (perhaps Arshavin had still not recovered completely from the virus) but it didn’t work out. Enrique and Gutierrez did an excellent job of denying him any space.

On the other flank Nasri wasn’t able to create much either. Would Rosicky have done better? Based on what I’ve seen Arsene picks Nasri whenever the Frenchman is fit and doesn’t need a rest. This frequently leads to changes in his position.

Clearly, Wenger thinks this is not a problem and I don’t have hard evidence to argue against that but I’d certainly prefer if Nasri was given one wing and time to adapt in that position. By that logic I’d always play Nasri on the right and Rosicky on the left. One of them might have to come central when Cesc is missing or rested but that’s a different issue.

Effectively, it would be Arshaivn/Rosicky with Walcott/Nasri leading to four different combinations.

The final choice would depend on the opposition, venue, and tactics.

For instance, at home we could go with a somewhat riskier but far more attacking 23-14 combination. In the bigger games we could have the more technical and defensively stronger 7-8 pairing.

Tactical decisions could also make a difference. For example, Newcastle were clearly much stronger on their left than they were on their right, both defensively and offensively. In such a case it would be better to have a technical, hard working player like Nasri on our right with Arshavin exploiting their relatively weaker flank where he’d get more space.

In contrast, there could be other teams like Bolton or Blackburn who have a weak left back. Walcott could terrorize them all day long. We could pick Arshavin or Rosicky on the other side depending on the venue.

Then there are games like the upcoming visit to Molineux where it’s hard to say whether the hosts will be stronger on the right or the left. One could say that Jarvis provides a strong threat down the left but dealing with him will be down to Sagna and I’m confident the Frenchman will deal with the threat. The choice of the attackers would depend on the quality of the fullbacks but in the case of Wolves it’s difficult to say one is really better than the other. In such cases the best option would be to rotate so that we have a fresher/sharper attacking player in the starting line-up.

Walcott has played twice in the last week so it would be best to give him a breather and have him on the bench as an impact sub. Arshavin should start on the left and based on my reasoning mentioned above Nasri should start on the right. Of course, there is always the injury angle and that could keep the Frenchman out. In that case Wenger might have to pick Theo for his third game in a week or shift Rosicky to the right.

I just read everything I’ve said so far and realized these are far more complicated decisions than I’d initially realized. There are just too many factors involved but these choices are critical to the shape and balance of the team. As we saw against Newcastle, once they closed our attacking options on the right we looked bereft of ideas and lacked creativity.

By now you must have picked up the fact that I don’t have a definitive opinion on this issue. It can be argued in many ways and it’s really difficult to say one choice is better than the other without the benefit of hindsight.

Of course, Arsene is paid big money to make such decisions so he doesn’t have an excuse for getting it wrong but it does give us plenty to talk about. Can you make a case for the choices on the flanks?