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.
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.
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.