Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Hull City

May 17, 2014

The Norwich game ended up being a formality. Ramsey’s goal was immensely enjoyable and it was nice to see Diaby and Wilshere back on the pitch. Beyond that there isn’t much to talk about so I’ll come straight to the game we’ve all been waiting for eagerly.

Hull have picked up 1 point from their last five games and that was against relegated Fulham. They’ve lost 15 of their 18 games against the top 9 in the League. Arsenal topped the table when counting points taken against teams in the bottom half. The Gunners are coming into this Final on the back of five straight wins and have done the double over the Tigers scoring five unanswered goals in the process.

As far as any dictates of logic are concerned, Wenger’s side have to be the overwhelming favourites for this game with the usual caveats of the gap between teams being close and anything can happen on a given day being applicable.

There shouldn’t be any major surprises in this game. Hull are a competitive team and the game will certainly be very close till the first goal goes in. The two biggest factors that Arsenal will have to deal with are their own nerves and the opponents desire driven physicality.

Let’s cover anxiety first. I remember the tentativeness from the opening exchanges against Birmingham in the League Cup final. Szczesny was saved by an incorrect offside flag from conceding a penalty, and maybe a red card, really early in the game after the team failed to control the ball or its shape. Nerves can affect the decision making of players, their touch, and the speed with which they react. The resulting technical or tactical errors can level the game up in terms of the quality of the two sides and, if the mistakes are in dangerous zones, it can very quickly hand the initiative to the opponent.

That said, this time around I do have higher hopes. Arsenal have cut out many of their common errors from the recent past. For instance, in that penalty incident mentioned above, Song let his runner through when the team had a high-ish line that wasn’t straight. The frequency of such errors has definitely reduced off late. Those were still the days of struggling against the long ball but that’s another area where Wenger’s side have improved noticeably. There is more experience, greater composure, and a tendency among individuals to take responsibility to keep the vital defensive areas secure. All that should keep the goal relatively better protected even if the players exhibit a degree of hesitancy in expressing their game.

We did see a little bit of this against Wigan. Arsenal’s football wasn’t at the expected level, to put it politely. And Mertesacker’s uncharacteristic error reminded us that one potentially decisive error can come at any time. Nevertheless, over the course of 90 minutes, I have to say Arsenal were a lot more secure at the back than they’d have been a few years earlier. The equalizer that took the game to extra time was also a reminder of the fact that you can always get something from the game if you keep plugging away even when you’re not at your best.

The second factor is a little more complicated. Hull are not going to come up with a novel tactical approach that completely flummoxes the Gunners or produce technical football that will outclass Wenger’s side. What they can do is fight. When I say ‘desire driven physicality’, I don’t mean they’ll get violent. Commitment is the key word here. Most English sides don’t give up. And when it’s a Cup Final we can be sure the Tigers will have some bite. They’ve nothing to lose. All they’ve to do is stay organized – a strength of Steven Bruce, challenge for every ball, throw their bodies on the line when needed, and wait for their chance. They can score from a set-piece, a long range shot, or pounce upon a bad mistake by the Gunners. It’ll become easier for them if Wenger’s side are rattled or show some anxiety induced timidity early on. They’ll also gain confidence as time goes unless the Gunners take the lead.

As ever, the first goal will be very important. Arsenal have the highest PPG ratio (2.79) in the League when games scoring first are considered. Even though Hull are 11th in that chart, their 2.21 PPG is nothing to be scoffed at. Both teams have lost only 1 League game in which they’ve scored first. If we reverse that criterion, Wenger’s team have picked up 0.83 PPG from the 12 games where they’ve conceded first including two wins. Hull have 0.18 PPG (4 points) from the 22 games where they’ve let the first one in and just one win.

This will make the initial tactics interesting. Should Arsenal go for broke? Should Hull sit back and absorb some pressure to make sure they’re safe? What happens if both teams go for it?

The answer will lie as much in the tactical choices of the managers as it will in the way the players feel and are able to express themselves on the pitch. Nerves can be contagious. Just one or two players showing signs of tentativeness can drag the whole team down and that can change the entire tactical dynamic of the game. In this regard, Hull have a slight advantage because expectations are low and they have nothing to lose. It’s already a fairy tale run for them. They can enjoy the event and express themselves without fear. The ape clinging on to Arsenal’s back will have to be tamed quickly if the Gunners are to have fun. Respective fans can make a meaningful contribution. Groans from the Arsenal faithful, for instance, can be severely counter-productive.

One thing Arsenal absolutely must avoid is quick transitions from the central third of the pitch. That means players on the ball have to make the right choices even if it means safe passing that seemingly goes nowhere. Similarly, individuals will have to be stronger in possession. The likes of Santi and Özil have shown a tendency to surrender possession when harassed. This can really fire up the opponents while also opening the route to goal.

Control the ball, ride the challenges, and push the opponents back. Openings will come if they are willing to endure the grind. That doesn’t mean sharp passing and constant movement should be abandoned, just that it’s important to shield the ball in order to control the vital territories on the pitch.

Wenger should have no complaints as far as player availability is concerned. His biggest problem might be in deciding who to leave out of the squad.

I’d like to see,

Fabianski – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Arteta, Özil, Ramsey – Cazorla, Giroud, Podolski.

While the choice of goalkeeper is debatable, the rest of that line up is Wenger’s best starting eleven on current form in my opinion.

To be honest, I’m finding it very hard to see why Arsenal shouldn’t win this game. Worryingly though, far too many times in the recent past, Wenger’s side have shown me how wrong I was when thinking like that. I’m sure many other Gooners are in the same boat and it’s really up to the players to take it to shore and settle the issue once and for all.

I’m amused by the thought of just how vastly different many peoples’ season reviews will be based on the result of just this one game. It has been a good season in my opinion with the potential to become an excellent one if the Gunners perform to their ability. Or it can become a nightmare with no place to hide. Among the many reasons I’d considered for the delay in the extension of the manager’s contract, one was that Wenger wants to give Arsenal the chance to change their mind should his team fail. It’ll certainly be very bad timing for any renewal should the Gunners stumble. Then again, announcing a new deal with monkeyless backs, and the FFP slowly making its presence felt, will surely shine a bright light towards the future.

One way or the other, this could be a historic day for Arsenal.


Filthy Garbage + Referee 1 – 2 Arsenal: I’m Loving It

March 14, 2010

We had an injury stricken starting line-up. Our players were not sharp enough after midweek excursions in the Champions League. The opposition kicked us all over the pitch. The referee was an idiot and couldn’t control the persistent and sometimes dangerous fouling. Familiar story for all of us, isn’t it? Only this time there was a twist in the tale! We won and that is all that matters.

I have to say the performance wasn’t top notch. We are capable of much better even after all the injuries we have had. I feel this would have been a comfortable victory if we had been anywhere close to our best but too many of our players were having a roller coaster day. What was that about winning when not playing well? This was the perfect example.

Hull didn’t offer any threat, at least as far as football is concerned. Bendtner’s eye, Sagna’s knee and other bodily parts of Arsenal players were under attack all through the game. The players deserve a great deal of credit for maintaining their composure and focusing on the task at hand.

We started the game well. In the first twenty minutes or so the players showed a high degree of mutual understanding, the off the ball movement was perfect and it looked like this will be an easy win.

Arshavin finished off a long spell of possession in his inimitable style. How many times have we seen him come away with the ball even when there are two or three players closing him down in a tight space. It seems that he got lucky but if you consider the number of times he gets lucky you begin to accept that he knows what he is doing.

I don’t know what happened around the 20 minute mark. It could be that our players were tired of the pestilential fouling and lost some focus. This allowed Hull a chance to get out of their own half with a little more confidence. Eventually, they were rewarded by a blind linesman and an inept referee.

The penalty decision was a joke. Firstly, the off-side wasn’t even marginal. Secondly, the Hull striker just put himself in front of Campbell without any control on the ball. If you watch carefully the ball actually hits him on the back of his head and he has no clue where it’s gone. Thankfully, the ref didn’t compound his stupidity by flashing a red card.

Hull were reinvigorated and Arsenal seemed to have succumbed to their dirty tactics. With Hull in ascendancy and Arsenal on the decline, it is not difficult to see why nothing of note happened in the next half hour i.e. fifteen minutes either side of the interval. I meant nothing of note from a football point of view.

In this period, Boateng did try to take Bendtner’s eye and break Sagna’s knee. Both offences were red card fouls, both got a yellow. Zayatte went in hard on Campbell and came off worse. It was Hull who were being rattled.

Around the hour mark, we got our act together and our passing game returned. I was confident we will score one. We created some clear cut chances but our finishing was woeful. As time was running out I thought maybe this is just one of those days. I could see all the negative headlines and it wasn’t pleasant.

I was hoping for a lengthy period of injury time. Hull had wasted a lot of time over the Zayatte injury and six minutes was not a surprise. In the third minute of injury time Denilson found himself with acres of space 30 yards out. To be honest, as he lined up his strike, I was cursing him as I thought he will just lose possession from that distance. Credit to him for working the keeper and to Bendtner for attacking the rebound and finishing from an awkward angle.

It’s now 5 wins in a row and the countdown is down to 8.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Didn’t have much to do, couldn’t have done much about the penalty.

Sagna: Showed more urgency in the final third. Solid defensively. Put in some good crosses.

Campbell: Looked shaky at times and short of pace. Won the headers well. Overall a decent game.

Vermaelen: Another top quality game. I haven’t figured out why our Centre Backs let the ball bounce in and around the penalty area.

Clichy: Looks like his old self doesn’t he. Solid at the back and very useful in attack. I thought he held back a bit probably because there wasn’t enough cover in front of him.

Denilson: I don’t have many expectations from him these days so he doesn’t disappoint. Did what a squad player should do without making costly mistakes.

Nasri: Was quite lively in the initial period but lost his bearings as the game went on.

Diaby: Was brilliant in individual battles and defensively. Passing and decision making in the final third was quite poor.

Eboue: Had some good moments but he should be doing better. I think he was played because of the physical nature of the game more than anything. Delivered on that front.

Bendtner: A mixture of good and bad. The finish was top class. Had a couple of other positive moments as well. His physical presence helped a lot. I felt he should have attacked the ball better on a couple of occasions. It’s an instinct he hasn’t fully developed.

Arshavin: He too had a hit and miss game. Good goal, couple of other moments of individual brilliance interspersed with some woeful finishing.

Subs: Walcott did well, Eduardo’s touch was good.


Hull V Arsenal: Let’s Help Them Get Relegated

March 12, 2010

I really dislike Phil Brown, his managerial style, his team and the general fear of serious injury that such games evoke. These are managers whose teams can be summed up by one word – fight.

In itself, fighting spirit is not a bad quality. In fact, it’s a necessary attribute for any top side and I really appreciate a team with the ability to give their all. The problems arise when it’s the only quality you have and you lack control over it. Apparently, their players having a brawl during training is normal. This is what Brown had to say after the Bullard-Barmby brawl,

It happens on the training ground on a regular basis under the control of the football club, but it seems to have got out this time.

I don’t know if I should be laughing at this or get seriously concerned.

Tactics

Hull’s top scorer is Stephen Hunt with 6 goals. Our Center Back has scored more than that! We have a positive goal difference of 37 while they have a negative difference of 33. Arsenal are fighting for the title while the hosts are battling to avoid relegation. There are enough statistics that show this should be an easy win for the Gunners.

It doesn’t work that way as Chelsea and Citeh have discovered at the KC Stadium. Out of the 13 teams that have visited Hull, only three have come away with a win. To Hull’s credit we have to accept that they have the ability of putting up a challenge.

They will chase every ball and make it difficult for our players to play their game. We don’t need any special tactics for such games. Our players need to ride the rough challenges without losing their composure. As the game goes on our chances of a win will increase because Hull will have exhausted their solitary weapon.

Of course, we have to avoid stupid mistakes but that’s not a tactical issue.

Team Thoughts

Song and Cesc are not available.  Sagna, Rosicky and Campbell are doubts. There isn’t much choice and so there aren’t many thoughts.

We are likely to start with a midfield of Denilson, Diaby and Nasri. I am not really confident this is a midfield I’d put out away from home when we have to fight for every ball. Well, this squad has given us enough reason to believe so I’ll focus on my faith rather than my analytical thoughts.

I think Wenger will risk Campbell for this one if he is anywhere close to fitness. Silvestre and Vermaelen don’t make a good pair. Eboue should be comfortable at Right Back against their top scorer Hunt. Walcott has had a decent rest in midweek and should give us a massive threat down the right.

I think the starting line-up will be,

Almunia; Eboue, Campbell, Vermaelen, Clichy; Denilson, Nasri, Diaby; Walcott, Bendtner, Arshavin.

Bottom-line

Our present winning sequence of four games is the joint best for this season in the League. Last time, this sequence was broken by an away draw at Upton Park. We must extend the winning streak if we are serious about the title challenge.


Arsenal Fight Their Way To Three Points

December 20, 2009

I must say the starting line up had me a little worried. Looking at Song, Denilson and Diaby in the middle, it was difficult to imagine where the creativity would come from. The initial few minutes were worrisome as Hull went about hassling our players and it was clear that the ref was going to be lenient about it, once again.

Once we got our movement flowing the initial fears changed to expectation. The midfield and frontline exchanged positions seamlessly and it looked like we just needed the final ball to set the scoreboard ticking. I was really happy to see the players making an effort to get into the Hull penalty area. This was so different from the sideways passing that we sometimes witness.

Hull came to replicate the plan used by Burnley. For most of the first half they were able to maintain their defensive shape but lacked any serious threat upfront. Their only hope was to fight for every ball and wait for a mistake.

Incidents surrounding two dubious free kicks towards the end of the first half changed the game. Nasri seemed to clip Garcia on the ankle. If it was deliberate, I say kudos to Samir. Unfortunately, the Frenchman didn’t go down clutching his face when Barmby shoved him in the face. It might have led to a sending off. Hopefully, there won’t be further action in this case.

The fracas might have ruffled Hull but it didn’t affect Denilson. I liked the way he took ownership of the situation and delivered. The free kick was more about intelligence and placement rather than power and technique. The Brazilian saw the opportunity and passed the ball into the net. If we can improve on our threat from set pieces, most teams will think twice before getting too physical with us in the defensive third. This is just a start so we will have to see how it develops.

In the second half Hull came out with purpose and we seemed have lapses in concentration. The game was more open with chances for both sides, none better than the one that Eduardo created for himself with a brilliant turn. A shame, the finish couldn’t match the quality of the turn.

On the other end, Steve Bennett gave one of the softest penalties we will ever see. It might be luck balancing out after a few decisions that have gone our way recently, or it could be the ref’s way for making up after awarding us the free kick that lead to the goal. Almunia did enough to keep the lead intact. The keeper was modest enough to attribute the save to luck but no one can deny his role in keeping our confidence high.

It shook us out of our slumber and Diaby showed he can offer a lot when he sets his mind to it. Arsenal could have scored four or five more in the final half hour of the game. Eduardo got a tap in after good work from the lanky Frenchman, who capped off a fine performance with a goal of his own.

Hull were completely outplayed and it was only a question of how many we will score. The clean sheet was a bonus and will hopefully help our defenders and keeper feel more confident in future games.

Individual Performances

Almunia: Didn’t put a foot wrong. A penalty save is probably the best a keeper can do. Deserves credit after being under scrutiny for so long.

Eboue: Did well defensively. Was probably given instructions to curb his attacking instincts.

Gallas: Had a good game. Hull didn’t have enough to challenge him

Vermaelen: Same as Gallas

Silvestre: The visitors couldn’t get in behind as often as Burnley did. Showed great movement, positional sense and passing in the attacking third. Even ventured into the opposition box.

Song: Solid as ever.

Denilson: Put in another unobtrusive high value effort. Can be a big player if he works on his free kicks.

Diaby: Looked lazy in patches and incisive in others. I am still waiting for him to play at his best for 90 minutes game after game.

Nasri: Moved all over the pitch and always looked positive. Should work more on set piece delivery.

Arshavin: Quiet by his standards but fairly effective when he got involved.

Eduardo: Great movement. Made himself available quite often. Finishing is still rusty.

Subs: Ramsey, Theo and Vela had some good touches.

Overall, there wasn’t much to complain about in this game if I ignore the ref. But it’s Hull at home and we have to win these comfortably. Amongst the competitors, United got thrashed and it just goes to show how difficult it is to cope with multiple injuries in one area of the pitch. Chelsea take on West Ham tomorrow and there can be an upset in that one as well.

Finally, a word on Mark Hughes. Wenger might feel sad that a fellow manager got the sack but I have to confess I am delighted. Hughes wasn’t good enough to succeed even with such massive financial backing. Worse was his cheap attitude when he was disrespectful towards Arsene. Thankfully, Citeh have appointed Mancini and I am writing off their challenge for a top 4 slot this year.


Arsenal V Hull Preview + Your Chance To Win Arsenal Merchandise

December 19, 2009

Once a team is in the title race, must win game is just another cliché. It’s best to avoid talking in those terms as we all know the significance of three points.

Will the absence of one man turn out to be much more significant in this game than the presence of twenty two others? I hope not. We have to show that we can win home games even without key players like Cesc and RvP, especially against the likes of Hull.

To be honest, I am a little worried. The four 0-0 draws last year and the performance against Burnley after Cesc limped off showed that we can dominate possession in his absence but we lack the cutting edge in the final third. These are the kind of things that critics hold against Arsenal and Wenger and his squad have to show that they have developed the ability to adapt and respond.

Will we see Rambo get a chance in El Capitan’s role or will we see Wenger play his favorites Denilson and Diaby along with Song. I would love to see Ramsey get a game. He is the most creative midfielder amongst our fit players. The young Welshman also brings some freshness with his willingness to shoot and to run at the opposition defense.

The only other changes could be if Silvestre is dropped or Walcott given a rest. Neither seems very likely. I don’t mind big-head playing at left back as long as we provide some cover for him. Denilson will have to play more like a left sided midfielder than a central one. Silvestre has the best crossing ability in the team and we should try and use it more often. Walcott has to do more of what he did at Anfield. Make those lung bursting runs into the opposition box even if he doesn’t get the final pass.

Wenger might also put Nasri in the middle and Diaby in the left attacking role. I am not in favor of that as it would mean changing the positions of the players once again. I am not convinced these players can adjust to positional changes on a regular basis.

Hull have been poor after their initial 9 games in the league last year. But they have a team capable of putting up a fight. I think most of their games against big teams are characterized by a fighting spirit that lasts till someone scores against them. After that they tend to come out more and lose discipline. We have to score early otherwise we run the risk of the opposition gaining confidence and our players losing it. Of course, the Burnley game showed the risk of scoring early! That means we have to score early and then keep looking for the second goal.

The visitors are coming into this game on the back of some decent performances but their away form remains a concern. 2 points from 8 games with 5 goals for and 21 against should give us enough confidence, if we needed any.

I would like to see this team,

Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Song, Ramsey, Denilson; Walcott, Arshavin, Nasri;

I think we are going to nick this one 2-1 with Vermaelen scoring the first goal. That brings me to the competition I am running. You can predict the correct score and first goal scorer for a chance to win Arsenal merchandise. Details on this post. The contest closes one hour before kick-off time.