Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Fulham

May 21, 2011

Don’t know about you but I am glad that this season is ending. It’s hard to see a turnaround in the way this current side is playing without a proper break. The summer will be an agonizing period for all of us addicted to the beautiful game and the Arsenal, even more so for those who hate waking up to nonsensical transfer rumours, but it is a necessary evil at this stage. As I think about that I have to salute the fans that will be travelling to Craven Cottage. That kind of support deserves better accolades than anything I can imagine.

I guess some of you must have realized I don’t really have any hopes from this game. Fulham has been a tough place to visit of late and I don’t see that changing on Sunday.

The key battle against Fulham is always in midfield. At the Emirates this season they started off with a conservative approach and held back. This allowed Arsenal to dominate. But once the Gunners scored, Fulham pushed forward and pressed us really well in midfield. Coupled with a simple tactic of hoofing the ball over the top of the central defenders, this was an effective approach to bring the game back to 1-1. Only some magical footwork and finishing from Nasri saved the day for Arsenal.

I expect the hosts to play with an aggressive approach right from the start. On the positive side, that will inevitably leave space behind their defence, something that Arsenal crave for but rarely find. However, in the past the Gunners have struggled to use this space effectively, especially when Cesc has been missing. Theo can be unstoppable in this game if the midfielders show they can hold of pressure and find the right through balls.

Fulham’s attack, like almost all our opponents, will be completely predictable but that hasn’t stopped other teams from scoring and I don’t expect to see a clean sheet from the Gunners in this game either. Long balls around the Left-Back and over the top of the central defenders will lead to goals either from open play or from set-pieces. Won’t it be ironical if Senderos turns out to be the big centre-back who scores against us!

I have said this quite often in the recent past but will repeat it again. Song and Wilshere have to play a lot deeper than they have been playing. In all probability, Fulham will come out to play higher up the pitch but if they don’t then Arsenal have to lure them out. We must not play the sideways passing game in front of the Fulham box.

I also believe Wilshere will need better support from the left sided attacker because he is completely exhausted. Playing Arshavin will be a huge risk as we have seen in the last few games.

The attacking job must be left to RvP, Theo and Ramsey. Wilshere must pull the string from deep. Song should provide cover on the right while a defensive minded player supports the left. If Nasri is fit he would do the job in front of Clichy or Gibbs.

This game can lead to a goal-fest if Arsenal score early, but it could also be a tough midfield battle if Fulham get one in.

The starting line-up is difficult to predict as there are many players who will be undergoing a fitness test.

Szczesny – Sagna, ?, Vermaelen, Gibbs/Clichy – Song, Ramsey, Wilshere/Diaby – Walcott, RvP, Nasri/Arshavin/Bendtner.

It will be nice to finish on a high but I also believe that having expectations in such cases is an open invitation to misery.


Arsenal 2 – 1 Fulham: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

December 4, 2010

Samir Nasri take a bow. Whaddaplaya!

I normally don’t go hyper over one player after a game but this match belongs to Nasri. More on this in the course of the write-up.

Top of the League. And a goal that deserves to be first. I almost had three heart attacks in this game but I’m loving it!

I felt in the build up to this weekend that Chelsea had more chances of dropping points at home than Arsenal had against Fulham. Clairvoyant, eh! 😉

Yesterday I was talking about the need for the midfield to dominate this game. If they could get it to the forward players we will create plenty of chances. In the first half hour they did just that. Song, Wilshere, and Rosicky all had good touches and brought Arshavin into play pretty frequently. The Russian was very close to his best and created a hatful of chances in the opening 30 minutes.

The first one fell to Arshavin when Squillaci got a head to a set-piece and the ball fell to the Russian who was unmarked around the six yard box. He had to take the volley first time and Schwarzer did a good job of closing him down.

The second chance came within minutes when Clichy did excellent work on the left and played it through to Arshavin. AA23’s backheel, or was it a dummy, allowed the ball to roll to Chamakh on the edge of the box. The Moroccan held it up and laid it into the path of the onrushing Rosicky. I guess it was lack of confidence, not having scored in 34 games, that forced Little Mozart into playing it back towards Chamakh who wasn’t expecting it.

Soon after Arshavin again collected the ball just inside the Fulham half and got a chance to turn and run at the defence. Nasri made a beautiful diagonal run and the Russian magician found him with an inch perfect pass. The Frenchman could only toe-poke it wide.

By this time we knew Arsenal were in the mood and this was going to be an exciting game. So far it had been all Arshavin and there was more to come from him.

Before the 15 minutes were up the Russian was at it again pouncing on a poor touch by Hughes and running at the defence. He lost his balance as he reached the edge of the box but had enough composure to find another perfectly timed run by Nasri.

The Frenchman was within 10 yards of goal but Hangeland was sliding in to make the block. Nasri knew it and beat him with a dummy. Then he took Hughes out with another dummy and created a couple of yards for himself before blasting it past the hapless Schwarzer. The intelligence, awareness, composure and technique of the Frenchman were exceptional.

Arsenal could have run away with the game before the half hour mark. After the goal Chamakh was clean through having been picked out by another pinpoint ball dinked by Arshavin. Unbelievably, the Moroccan turned his back on goal and looked for a midfield run. He did find Wilshere but even the youngster was not prepared to shoot and the chance was squandered.

Rosicky created another gilt edged chance this time for Song. Songinho tried a side-foot volley but put it just wide of the post with Schwarzer stranded.

Just as the half hour mark arrived, Squillaci and Koscielny went for the same ball. Koscielny picked up a knock but tried to stay on his feet. Song went to ground in a dangerous area but Dempsey had the composure to keep the ball. By then Koscielny had collapsed and Kamara was free. The American played him in and the striker slotted it past Fabianski. I’m not completely convinced that Kamara was onside but never got to see the replay from the side. Seemingly out of nowhere the visitors were back in the game.

The old cliché ‘goals change games’ came true. Fulham developed a sense they could compete and Arsenal could see the spectres of recent disasters looming.

In the final 15 minutes of the half, Fulham pressed Arsenal much higher up and with greater organization and desire. The Arsenal midfield failed to bring the ball out as consistently and comfortably as before and the chances dried up. The visitors were in the ascendancy while Arsenal were uncertain and lacked confidence.

It could have changed just before half time when Sagna delivered a fantastic cross that landed bang on the head of Chamakh. His header was powerful but straight at Schwarzer.

I’m sure half time was an anxious period for many of us. Surely Arsene had to do something, say something to get the players back to how the game started.

Fulham did well at the start of the second half. They continued their pressing game and made it difficult for our midfield. The only real chance I can recall was the one where Arshavin got his shot away after seeing off a couple of challenges. The Fulham Keeper was up to the task.

Just after the hour mark Arsene introduced RvP for Rosicky. I was a bit surprised by this because we were losing the battle in midfield and bringing on a striker, who is still finding his feet after recovering from injury, for a midfielder didn’t make that much sense.

For the next fifteen minutes or so this fear was justified as Fulham created more chances, albeit most were cross and hope types, than Arsenal. In the 74th minute we saw Theo come on for Wilshere. This substitution did the trick even though Theo had nothing to do with the goal.

Nasri moved into midfield and was involved in a big contender for goal of the season. I think it started with Clichy controlling a loose ball. He played it square to the Frenchman on the halfway line. Nasri moved a few yards forward before finding an unmarked Arshavin in an inside right position. Arshavin played it forward to RvP who was on the shoulder of the last defender. The Dutchman came inside on his left foot and prepared to shoot. Instead of pulling the trigger he found the run of Nasri who’d bursted forward.

With two or three touches, exceptional close control, and some phenomenal body movement Nasri beat two defenders and the keeper but it seemed he’d over done it as the ball was moving away from goal and to a very narrow angle. Somehow he managed to swivel and strike it in. I couldn’t believe Nasri had scored. Not only did he find the net he had the intelligence to kick it higher knowing the defender was sliding back to cover the line.

I’m not a fan of commentators but this time he wasn’t exaggerating when he said ‘Nasri showed the feet of an Angel’ and that this was “a goal that deserves to win any game’.

After the goal I was screaming for Wenger to take Arshavin off and bring Denilson on. Only after the game was over did I realize that we’d used up our substitutions. Djourou had come on for Koscielny after that clash of heads in the first half.

Al l credit to the players for concentrating up till the end and denying Fulham any clear opportunities.

Individual Performances

Fabianski: excellent. Caught well, punched when needed, made a couple of top class saves.

Sagna: his usual brilliant self. Didn’t allow the Fulham attack much room on the right. moved well on the wings, put in a couple of fantastic crosses.

Squillaci: unusually shaky in this game. got in the way of Sagna once and then went for a ball that Koscielny had covered. Knocked his partner out and that led to the goal.

Koscielny: was looking solid and doing his part but was only on the pitch for the period that Arsenal were dominating.

Djourou: played for an hour when Arsenal were not dominating as we’d expect. Won a number of headers. Looked composed on the ball. Good understanding with Squillaci after a few shaky moments initially.

Clichy: Another superb performance. Worked tireless, made good interceptions, showed amazing composure when the team was under pressure, didn’t allow too many crosses from the left although not as good as Sagna in that regard but Clichy didn’t have Song to support him.

On the whole the back five were not as good as I’d have liked even though the fullbacks and the keeper were excellent. The centre backs didn’t have a very good understanding in the first half and ‘one trick’ Fulham were able to ask some questions. Did much better in the second half even when the midfield struggled to support them.

Song: Not as good as he usually is. Went to ground unnecessarily. Wasn’t close enough to the defence in the middle half hour of the game. Very good effort in terms of work rate and desire to defend. Misplaced a few passes.

Rosicky: Did the job of bringing Arshavin into play. Should have taken more responsibility once Fulham were on the up. Needs to be more confident in the final third.

Wilshere: did well in physical challenges in the first half. did a good job of supporting the defence but also went missing on occasions. Passing was good except on one or two occasions.

The midfield should have done more once Fulham got the goal. There were patches in the game when Arsenal were just hoofing the ball up and the midfield was stuck in between, not helping the attack or the defence.

Nasri: I guess he must be the unanimous choice for MotM. I just loved is technique, speed on the pitch, speed of thought, calmness of mind, willingness to take charge, and the ability to make a difference when it was most needed. He did have a few loose moments but I don’t want to dwell on it.

Chamakh: Excellent in all aspects bar one. Perhaps the most important one – when clean through he must score. It’s a tricky balance and he’ll learn because he showed he can shoot on the turn late in the second half. Loved the fact that he was covering the left flank in the final 10 minutes when Arshavin was out of gas.

Arshavin: on another day he’d have been MotM. Exceptional in the first half hour. Good in the second 30. Lost steam in the final stretch. Certainly much better than he was a few weeks back. Looks a lot more confident and is getting his tricks right.

Subs: Van Persie didn’t get into the game as much as I would have liked but he got the vital assist. Walcott didn’t really know what to do.


Arsenal V Fulham: The Most Significant Reserves Fixture Of The Year!

May 8, 2010

Many believe Fulham will field a weakened team at the Emirates. It certainly seems logical. Arsenal anyway have less than half the first team available. In effect, this could be a battle of the reserves and, with St. Totteringhams day being contingent to the results on the last day of the season, the significance of the game cannot be overemphasized.

To be frank I don’t care about the result as long as it isn’t a loss. The only genuine benefit of getting a result in this game is that we won’t have to play a couple of stupid Champions League qualifying games. That will certainly give us a breather of sorts early on and trust me we will see the benefits as the next season develops.

Team Thoughts

Arshavin could start and Clichy could be available. Apart from that we are still at a stage where we cannot even fill the bench and have to put names likes Djourou and Gibbs on the sheet. For the last game we might even see a couple of youngsters like Lansbury or JET in the squad.

I have a feeling we could see Eastmond back in the starting line-up after the experiment with Eboue flopped at Ewood Park. Arsene though, has a tendency to give his experiments some time so we could have a repeat of that midfield. It won’t matter who we play if our players are as dysfunctional as they were against Blackburn so I don’t want to dwell on this much.

In goal we should probably see Fabianski get another chance. In my opinion he was very good against the Thugs and deserves another game.

The starting line up could look like,

Fabianski; Sagna, Campbell, Silvestre, Clichy; Diaby, Nasri, Eastmond; Walcott, RvP, Arshavin.

Tactics

Roy Hodgson’s team troubled us in both games last year and only a phenomenal game from our keeper saved us at Craven Cottage this year. The visiting coach is a shrewd man and knows how to make the best use of the limited resources of his team.

Fulham play a brilliant narrow defence and exploit the wide channels almost to perfection. Their midfield is equally adept at pressing as well as passing. We must be prepared for a team pressurising us and looking to break at every opportunity, especially as our depleted midfield can’t move the ball around as effectively and our aging defence doesn’t really have the pace.

I think we will need some magic from Arshavin or Rvp if we are to break them down. Theo could also be a threat on the counter but in regular play he will be frustrated as the visitors allow us width and snuff out all the crosses. Those who hate our goalkeepers will do well to count how many times the keeper comes for the ball and how often do the defenders deal with it.

Of course, if Hodgson makes wholesale changes it could end up as a soft game with both teams playing safe.

Bottom-line

Let’s hope we have a memorable end to the season. If things do go wrong it will be an intolerable two months on the internet.


Give respect and take the points at Craven Cottage

September 25, 2009

Fulham troubled us in both the games last season. They stopped us from playing, hassling every player all over the pitch tirelessly. They also defeated United at home and held Chelsea for a draw losing only to Liverpool in stoppage time. They deserve a lot of respect.

The side they put out might be very similar to the one from last year. We, on the other hand, will have a new formation and more than half the personnel different. The return of Arshavin will certainly give us an edge.

I am really keen to see whether Wenger will go for a more attack minded starting eleven or will he play two defensive midfielders. The other interesting selection will be the choice of the front three. Will RvP get a rest? Will Bendtner make it back to the starting line up? Will Rosicky start?

Personally, I would like to see any 5 out of Cesc, Arshavin, Rosicky, Bendtner, Eduardo and Van Persie start. This line up is strong enough to continue our scoring streak. But for this to happen, either Arshavin or Rosicky will have to start in the central three along with Cesc. That would mean we would have to play Song as the lone DM. I see this as a good opportunity to test how the team plays with only one Defensive minded player in the middle. Fulham are certainly not the most attacking team in the league and if we can’t play them without worrying about our defence then one has to seriously doubt our title credentials.

The back four will pick itself unless Le Boss decides to rotate and plays Gibbs instead of Clichy. In his interview yesterday Arsene was not sure on who the goal keeper will be. I don’t know if he was trying to hint that Szczesny might get a chance. I think it makes more sense to continue with Mannone and let him build some confidence.

Won’t it be a delight if Vermaelen can continue his scoring streak and put one past Schwarzer after beating Hangeland with a giant leap. But I think our biggest threat will come from the speed of our passing and movement. If we are to get three points at Craven Cottage we need a high tempo right from the start. An early goal will force the issue and make the game more open. Far too often in the recent past we tend to leave it late only to suffer from a freakish goal by the opposition.

My ideal starting line up would be

Mannone

Sagna               Gallas               Vermaelen        Clichy

Rosicky            Song                Cesc

Bendtner          Eduardo           Arshavin

I believe Robin could use a rest. But strange are the ways of Arsene Wenger. Strange but mostly right. So let’s wait and watch. Hoping to see a football feast…