Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Tottenham

September 1, 2013

The club that’s supposedly done the best transfer business in the summer meets one that is being panned by all and sundry for a seemingly shambolic state of affairs as far as squad building goes. AVB might not even put some established Premier League players on the bench while Wenger will have no choice but to rely on kids to fill his match-day squad. It is interesting then that the bookmakers still find Arsenal to be favourites to win this game! There are 23 betting companies listed here and, at the time or writing, not one of them makes Spurs anywhere near favourites to win this one and none of them see draw as the most likely outcome either. Surely people will make a killing on the market by betting against the Gunners?!

Maybe not.

Strong squads are useful over a long duration and Arsenal are certainly going to struggle later in the season if the same players keep playing every three days but, in the short term, this game will mostly be about the strengths of the eleven players that go out on the pitch (although Spurs will have an advantage if Murphy strikes). From that point of view, and considering Tottenham’s record at the Emirates, the bookmakers don’t look so silly.

Spurs have indeed shown a very focussed approach to player acquisition. They have created a physically strong midfield that will cover the yardage and provide support to teammates all over. It seems their game is going to be about pace, power, and counter-attacks built on the foundation of structural solidity and physicality. Some might say Vilas-Boas is following the blueprint Wenger used in the early, successful part of his reign, which was built on a similar style with a focus on verticality. Parts of this have worked for Tottenham in the initial games as they’ve not conceded any goals but they haven’t really looked like a cohesive unit from an attacking point of view. Nevertheless, at the moment, they do appear like a team that will be hard to break down. Whether this approach and the calibre of players they’ve signed are suitable for long term success remains to be seen. Too often people get emotionally caught up in the perceived successes and failures of transfers and then forget about it all when the results at the end are very different from those expected. We’ll have to see how Tottenham do over this season and the next before any meaningful judgment can actually be passed on their transfer business.

But that’s for the future, let’s come back to the game. Some of the obvious points have been mentioned in many of the pre-match articles that I’ve read. Both teams/managers have a tendency to play a (relatively) high line and that can be an avenue for opponents to exploit. Cazorla can be a key player for Arsenal but his movement could also give Walker a chance to break. Walcott v Rose can be an interesting battle too.

In my opinion though, the single biggest decisive aspect of this game will be the midfield battle. Irrespective of the perceived successes and failures in the transfer market, Arsenal still have a technically stronger midfield with greater attacking attributes. Tottenham, on the other hand, have a physically stronger midfield with pretty decent technical skills. It sounds similar but the two teams will have very contrasting styles. For Spurs it will be about breaking play and building quickly. Arsenal’s game has been about patience and possession for a long time now.

It will be a massive test for Arsenal’s midfield, particularly Wilshere and Ramsey, as they’ll have to bring the ball out under pressure. Spurs will be very strong through the middle and technical or tactical mistakes can lead to extremely dangerous transitions. Bypassing the likes of Dembele, Paulinho, and Capoue will take some doing but if the Gunners can manage that they’ll have a strong chance of troubling the Tottenham defence.

In contrast, Spurs will get a chance to run at Arsenal’s defenders and goal if they can turn possession over in the central areas. With Wilshere’s defensive weaknesses and the systemic need for Ramsey’s mobility, Mertesacker and Koscielny could find themselves one-v-one with tricky attacking players. Soldado’s movement will also be a constant source of concern for the two. The Gunners have not kept a clean sheet in their two Premier League games and I’ll be surprised if they do so in this one.

Arsenal’s best chance of winning this game will be an overload in midfield. If AVB doesn’t pick a midfielder on one of the flanks, Cazorla’s movement will give the Gunners an extra body to move the ball around. They’ll have to do so with exceptional concentration and their decision making will have to be at a higher level than we’ve seen in many games. Trying to thread the ball between a crowd of players or dribbling through tight spaces, when combined with a lack of defensive awareness and poor positioning, will result in transitions that give the visitors a good look at the Arsenal goal.

Of course, the decisive moment of the game can be a freakish incident. It happens fairly regularly. A player might produce a wonder goal, or a defender might make a horrible mistake, the ref might make a terrible judgment call, or any such unpredictable moment could settle the game one way or the other. But the patterns of play, and through that the likelihood of errors or moments of magic, will be governed by the midfield battle.

Certain individual players will have to play vital roles. For instance, Giroud will have to work very hard to press the central defenders, particularly Vertonghen. Allowing the Belgian any chance to advance forward with time to pick a pass could prove expensive.

Rosicky will also have a big role to play. He’ll have to drop deep as other midfielders advance in order to move the markers around. His ability to turn his man and bring the ball forward can be very helpful to the team and could form the base for many Arsenal attacks. At the same time, the Czech star does have a tendency to lose the ball in some instances when he’s pressed intelligently and persistently. It will be interesting to see if Capoue goes with him and makes his mark on the game with some clever defending higher up the pitch that results in a genuine goal scoring opportunity.

Gibbs will have to be careful on the left flank. Cazorla might not always be there to support him and Wilshere is unreliable as a covering midfielder. The young English fullback could end up having to deal with two attacking players on his own. Allowing the opponents to go wide and hoping his teammates in central areas deal with crosses will be his best strategy if he is in a quandary. Letting either Townsend or Walker cut inside or run in behind into the penalty box will result in much higher quality chances.

Once again Arsene doesn’t have many choices as far as team selection goes. Unless there are any genuine injury concerns, I’ll be very surprised if the following eleven does not start the game;

Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs – Ramsey, Rosicky, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.

Some fans might say there is a case to pick Flamini. It might be argued that he know how Arsenal and Arsene like to play, but to introduce someone who has had very little time with this particular group of players in such a game will be a sure-fire sign of weakness. Wenger has made the calls in the transfer market – whether they’re right or wrong is a different debate – and he has to now stick by them. The Arsenal manager has shown faith in his squad and it’s up to him and his players to convince the fans that they have what it takes.

It’s still very early in the season but this could be a defining game as far as fan opinion and belief are concerned.


Tottenham 2 – 1 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

March 5, 2013

Before going ahead with my views of the game I want to share a link to Gary Neville’s analysis of the high line and off side tactics employed by both Arsenal and Spurs. I found it very interesting. Although I don’t fully agree with the opinion offered, there is much to learn from what Neville said.

Coming to the game itself, Wenger’s selection was pretty much along expected lines but Villas-Boas did surprise me by moving Bale into a central role with Sigurdsson on the left. It’s tough to guess what his exact reasons were but Bale’s recent success through the middle, his goals against Arsenal in the last few games, and perhaps a need to give Assou-Ekotto some defensive help could all have been factors.

The nature of the game was partly as I’d expected but also a bit different. Tottenham did press hard in the first minute but the Gunners seemed prepared to match that intensity. It made the game more fast-paced that I’d expected. The two teams also stayed higher up the pitch than I’d thought they would.

As a result the game was compressed in the central third and there were few chances of note in the opening half-hour or so. Both sides got into promising positions in this period but couldn’t quite find the final ball or the finish. For instance, Giroud was almost in behind but wasn’t quick enough when it came to controlling the pass and getting his shot away. At the other end, Bale almost got on the end of a Sigurdsson ball, which proved to be a precursor of things to come.

Then it happened. Chaos in defence. Two goals in quick succession. The worst part being the ease with which these were created and finished.

Gary Neville does an exceptional job of identifying many relevant details but I have a feeling his analysis is based on the way Manchester United defend or many other British teams do. I’m not sure Wenger has the same thought process because the choices made by different players and the gaps that appear between the defenders and the midfield as a result of those choices just don’t correlate with the defensive approach that teams like United have, or the kind of things that Neville is talking about.

It’s difficult to explain this without the help of video analysis and I’m not in a position to make gifs right now just to explain things that we’ve discussed on numerous occasions, but I’ll use a couple of snapshots to make some observations.

Midfielders too close to each other

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The above image is frozen just after Dawson has beaten Giroud to a duel in order to head Szczesny’s long ball away. Arteta can be seen attacking the ball and duelling with Dembele.

A few questions can be raised – Just how close and narrow are the Arsenal midfielders? Remember they don’t have control of possession here. Is any of them aware Bale and Adebayor are in a 2-v-2 with the central defenders? Why does Arteta have to go into a duel where he loses his balance for a second or so and doesn’t really get control of possession? Why don’t Arsenal win the first, second, or the third ball even with so many players in the vicinity?

It’s interesting to note the clever lob that Dembele played just after this tussle with Arteta. He knew the positions of Bale and Adebayor and played a virtually blind pass into space knowing one of the two had a good chance of getting onto it.

Walcott had made a run across the defence in the hope of latching on to a flick-on so he too is in a central position. Not the positions of Assou-Ekotto and Sigurdsson. Also see where Monreal is vis-a-vis Lennon on the top left of the image. Their positions are important because it makes us wonder what Jenkinson was doing on the pitch.

Jenkinson not helping anyone

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Note Jenkinson’s position at the bottom left of the image. This moment has been frozen just after Bale headed the ball towards Sigurdsson. The youngster could easily have taken up a position parallel to that of Monreal’s and that would have made it much harder for Bale to play that pass. Or he could have tucked in closer to the central defenders so that one of them, Mertesacker most probably, could have stepped up to close the Icelandic midfielder down before he got a chance to run at the defence.

Did you see Wilshere’s reaction when Sigurdsson got the ball? It’s almost as if he’s baffled Sigurdsson is in so much space as he looks around to see where Walcott is. Arsenal usually defend with five across the midfield and the central defenders tend to remain narrow. But in this instance, Wilshere should have raced out to put pressure on the ball instead of wondering where Walcott was.

A lot of the above observations – the way Arteta attacks the ball, the slowness of Ramsey’s reaction to a momentarily loose ball that Dembele makes his own, Jenkinson’s position and decision making, and Wilshere’s bemused reaction – point to gaps in the way the Gunners think about defending.

Neville’s point was that the defenders should have continued dropping back and getting into a more compact narrower shape around the edge of the box. I’m not convinced they could have done that effectively given the gaps between the full-backs and the central defenders. Odds are Spurs would have found a way to score even if Mertesacker and Vermaelen continued dropping back. We have seen far too many goals scored against Arsenal where the central defenders drop back and the midfielders are seen forlornly chasing back facing their own goal.

There were about six or seven different actions by at least four different players that could have avoided that goal. And that is the frustrating part about Arsenal, there are just too many errors.

Similar analysis can be done for the second goal but I’m not getting into it.

Those were Tottenham’s only two shots on target in the first-half and both resulted in goals. The Gunners didn’t really test Lloris in that period.

In the second-half Spurs eased off and played on the counter attack. They did create two or three very good chances on the break but could not add to their tally. Bale, Sigurdsson, and Defoe all guilty of wasting good chances.

The Gunners got one back early on through a somewhat fortuitous deflection on a set-piece. Nevertheless, the quality of delivery, Mertesacker’s run, and Bale’s failure to read the danger should be noted.

Arsenal also got into numerous promising positions in the second half but their technical qualities and finishing let them down. Too often the touch in the final third was poor with Walcott, Giroud, and Podolski late on, all failing to convert good attacking situations into quality chances/goals.

I don’t think anyone can complain about desire or attitude in this game but that will probably not matter as there is enough else to grumble about. The problems with the defence are long standing issues related to defensive thought. Players seem genuinely confused to me at times and their errors a result of a lack of clarity and unified assessment of defensive situations. Unless they get to a stage where their choices and movements are controlled by one tactical brain they’ll keep on getting into a mess irrespective of who is actually on the field or seems apparently culpable.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Would be harsh to blame him for the goals but I have seen other keepers do better, particularly in situations like the first goal. Came out of his goal on a couple of occasions and got away with it but it was risky play.

Jenkinson: Made some good offensive runs and put some balls into dangerous areas. Defensively, he was lucky Bale rarely ventured that way and Sigurdsson wasn’t as hard an opponent to deal with. But it’s worth noting both goals originated from the space in front of him and his positioning was questionable at the very least.

Mertesacker & Vermaelen: Neville puts a lot of blame on the central defenders. I’m not sure they’re as much to blame because they were put into very difficult situations. They did well in most cases. That said, it did look like they were not on the same page and need better decision making. Good goal from the German. Vermaelen’s passing could have been more composed at times.

Monreal: Should have done much better for the second goal. Overall, it wasn’t a bad game from the left back as he wasn’t stretched up and down the pitch as much. A more controlled performance with limited attacking forays. Positioning and decision making were good for the most part. But you could also argue that one mistake has created a four point hole on the table.

The defenders looked really silly for the goals and there is definitely just cause to expect better but it would be like missing the forest for the trees if all the blame was placed on their shoulders.

Arteta: Should probably have stayed closer to the central defenders every time Bale stayed up the pitch. Steady game but he has had better days with his passing and defensive effort.

Wilshere: As I’ve noted before, a moment’s pause is lacking in his all-action style. There were times when he had the opportunity to play the attackers in but missed it as he was focussed on carrying the ball forward. His intentions are good and the quality is there but the maturity in decision making is not quite there, which can be costly to the team. Also needs better defensive awareness and consistency when dropping deep.

Ramsey: Did well to join the attack at times, like the tenacity shown to win the free-kick which resulted in the goal, or the moment when he almost connected with a Jenkinson cross. But defensively he wasn’t able to do enough. I don’t know what instructions were given to him but it was clear the defenders could have used more support from the Welshman.

Cazorla: Played some delightful cross-field passes. Wasn’t able to get into useful attacking positions as often as he would have liked in the first-half and couldn’t really find a way to break the Spurs defence in the second.

The midfielders weren’t able to support the defence or bring the attackers into play as often and as efficiently as they should have. Spurs were able to bypass them on a number of occasions to trouble the Arsenal defence and did well to read their intentions in attack.

Walcott: Made some interesting runs but didn’t receive the ball in the early part of the game. Could probably have stayed wider more often and waited for his chance to run given that Spurs weren’t too keen to drop back. Did get the ball in promising positions on a couple of occasions but his touch let him down. Decent delivery from the set-piece for the goal and also went close with a well-struck free-kick.

Giroud: The ideas were there, the effort was there, but the execution was lacking requisite precision. Also wasted some promising moments with overambitious shots or poor touches/passes.

It was disappointing to see the attack fail even when there was so much space for them to exploit. The technical weaknesses of both the forwards were apparent and influenced the result.

Subs: Rosicky looked lively and linked well with others. Podolski had a disappointing time in the final third.


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven For The North London Derby

March 3, 2013

Every possible significance of this game – points, pride, confidence, etc. – has been discussed by many so I’ll stick to the relevant points about the nature of the football and the players involved.

Spurs are getting results this season where in the past they’ve usually faltered. While the common theory seems to be greater mental strength, I put it more down to the decisive contributions of Bale. Last season, Van Persie made the difference for Arsenal at times when no path to points seemed viable. The Welshman is doing the same for Tottenham this year.

In terms of their overall football Spurs have been good but not exactly special. Often they seem to lack ideas and potency in the final third before Bale finds a way through almost all on his own. That doesn’t mean one should jump to the other extreme and label them a one man team. Just like Arsenal weren’t a single weapon army last season, there is more to Tottenham than Bale, but the vital decisive moments have been coming from the Welshman’s left foot.

I expect Spurs will come out strongly in the opening 10-15 minutes. In that period of high energy, the hosts are likely to press high up the pitch with purpose and cohesion. If Arsenal make mistakes in that period they will pay the price just as they’ve done in some of the recent meetings between the sides when the Gunners have conceded the lead. And in this period, Bale alone won’t be a threat. Transitions from the centre of the pitch or counters from deeper positions can put any of Adebayor, Defoe, Holtby, or Lennon in good positions to score.

After a while, I’ll be very surprised if Arsenal don’t have periods of dominance in midfield. Spurs might ease off a bit after scoring or they might just slow down after a high energy initial burst. In this period the key factor will be the discipline and structure that Tottenham can display to protect their goal. Equally, Arsenal’s ability to combine and produce slick, high-tempo football will be a major aspect of the game. The visiting attackers will have to find ways to link with each other and the midfield. There are times when the Arsenal front three play as three isolated nodes. AVB will want his defence to keep them apart because once they come together some of Arsenal’s football can be electrifying.

Even during such a phase of midfield dominance, counter-attacks and set-pieces will continue to worry the Gunners, particularly if Bale is allowed to drift into spaces in front of the central defenders. As the stats zone piece on Arsenal.com points out, Arteta’s role can be significant but I don’t think he can do it alone. Ramsey will have a big defensive role to play if he starts, and the central defenders will have to take more responsibility. Their tendency to drop back early creates big vertical gaps on the pitch at times. That’s exactly the kind of situation AVB will want to see developing and will play right into Tottenham’s hands.

As a unit, I think Arsenal have a more potent attack with different types of combinations and goalscorers. Spurs are still a work in progress on that front. But in terms of defensive structure, decision making, and individual reliability – and despite the goals conceded tallies of either side – it’s the hosts who have the upper hand. There are just too many unforced errors in Arsenal’s game at the moment. It’s linked, at least partly, with the confidence of the players and they have to find a way out of a negative cycle.

Wenger’s team selection for this game will be interesting. Hopefully, he won’t go with Walcott in the middle. Although the temptation to try it against Tottenham’s predictable initial burst of pressing (read high line) is undeniable, the odds of such a tactic succeeding are fairly low.

Arsene might also consider playing a midfielder on the right to support Jenkinson. In theory, it’s a tactic that makes sense but given the tendencies of the midfielders at his disposal, I don’t see it as a balance-fostering approach.

Walcott on the right with Jenkinson staying back seems the best option. The young full-back will have a tough time and will undoubtedly need support. Bale will fancy taking him on and attacking Mertesacker by cutting in from the left if Arteta and Co. do a good job of denying him space and time in the middle. Jenkinson’s ability to maintain the right spacing with Bale and his choices as regards closing down and dropping off will determine how easy or tough it is for the Welshman to express his talents.

In general, Arsenal’s inability to effectively block/close down shots from outside the box can be a constant source of concern.

On the other flank, Lennon V. Monreal can be an interesting battle. This could be the first major speed test for Arsenal’s latest signing. I don’t think the Spaniard is as quick as the Englishman so his decision making and positioning will be worth observing.

I think the Gunners will have to stay very compact vertically or the defenders will be woefully exposed.

We might see,

Szczesny – Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal – Ramsey, Wilshere, Arteta – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.

Diaby could add greater presence in midfield but he also has a tendency to completely switch off on occasion. Ramsey’s propensity to dawdle on the ball can be risky when Spurs are pressing intensely.

The Gunners have won only once in their last seven League visits to the Lane and are winless in their last four visits. The last Arsenal win in an away NLD (not counting the League Cup) came way back in 2007. It’s not a stat that can be dismissed easily. On the other hand, Tottenham have won once in their six games against the top six sides this season. Admittedly, four of those were away games, but even at home they could only draw against United and lost to Chelsea.

Interestingly, Tottenham are one of the few teams who have more away points than home ones. The difference is marginal and it’s partly down to the extra away game they’ve played, but when compared to the home and away form of other teams the difference is noteworthy. Spurs have only scored 20 goals in 13 home games. 10 other teams have scored more including the likes of Reading, Fulham, and West Ham. However, that might also be down to the fact that their attack doesn’t get as much space at home as they do in away games. Against the Gunners they should find enough opportunities to create chances.

A couple of Bale moments and/or unforced errors from Wenger’s side could hand this tie to the hosts. On the other hand, if they play to their potential the Gunners can take a point or three. Unfortunately, based on current evidence, the odds are likely to favour the former possibilities and it will be up the Arsenal players to prove people wrong. Can they do it again?


Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Tottenham

November 17, 2012

This has been the Gunners’ worst start to a Premier League campaign and there have been many occasions when Spurs have been booed off the pitch by their own fans. Neither team is really on top of their game, for different reasons, and that adds additional drama to a fixture that has seen 23 goals in the last 4 ties. The impact of a win or a loss would be greater than that of any other such result thus far this season.

Spurs are a bit unpredictable at the moment and so are Arsenal. You can see the Tottenham players are still in the process of understanding what AVB wants them to do on the pitch while the Gunners are searching for balance in their own play. As a result, it’s not difficult to imagine either side scoring more than once in this game but it’s equally possible to envisage a tentative midfield battle with neither taking sufficient risks to avoid vulnerability at the back.

I expect Arsenal to come up on top if the game is open and frenetic as the Gunners have more creativity and different kinds of goals in the side. They also have more practice at defending in chaotic games. On the other hand, a tighter midfield battle with greater structural integrity could suit the visitors as they have a strong threat on the counter-attack with the ability to quickly switch flanks. And one can always expect the Gunners to slip up at least once or twice over the course of 90 minutes, particularly when the midfielders commit forward in search of openings.

In that sense, the discipline in midfield and the ability to control the tempo of the game will play a big part in shaping the patterns of the play. With Arsenal, we can be pretty sure they’ll try to build from the back. If AVB instructs Dempsey to sit on Arteta and his side hold a strong defensive shape through the middle, Arsenal will struggle to create chances. It’s a story we’ve seen repeated far too often.

The first goal is usually vital but could take on great significance, especially if Spurs score. They won’t be as open and vulnerable as they were last season and taking the lead could set it up perfectly for them from a tactical point of view.

In contrast, an inability to prevent Arsenal from moving the ball around at will and pace could expose their full-backs, especially on the left, which could in turn drag the defenders deeper and out of their comfort zone. Giroud’s strengths would then come into play and Tottenham’s central defensive pairing might be found wanting. Arsenal have also shown their counter-attacking strengths this season and could benefit from the advantage given by the first goal as long as  they don’t just stop playing as a team.

The nature of the possession battle will also have a direct bearing on the counter-attacking opportunities that Spurs can create. They need to win the ball in the central third (or higher) with most of their players looking forward if they want to break with purpose. That way Bale and Lennon could get a chance to run at the Arsenal defence from the centre line or even higher. It would minimize the defensive contribution of Wenger’s midfield as they’ll be ineffective while chasing play back towards their own goal.

Certain qualities of individual players can also be decisive for both sides. For instance, Walcott’s pace could pose a big challenge for Vertonghen if he starts as left-back. Similarly, while Sagna has by and large negated the impact that Bale has on games down his flank, the Welshman’s runs through the middle of the pitch or his tendency to float towards the other side could catch the Arsenal defence off-guard. Wilshere’s ability to skip past his man could open up the game for his side but if he loses the ball to a poor touch or doesn’t get into the right defensive positions, Spurs will find spaces to their benefit in threatening areas.

Based on what I’ve read, all those who were given fitness tests have passed. This might result in the following eleven starting the game,

Szczesny – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.

That back five does not convince me completely and I expect Arsenal to be vulnerable down the left where Vermaelen is clearly not a natural full-back, and the middle as Koscielny hasn’t rediscovered his form from last season. Szczesny also has a lot to prove. I’ll also be keeping a close eye on the Gunners’ defensive approach in general. A high line hasn’t quite worked for them in recent games as the pressing up the pitch continues to lack cohesion. Dropping deep without closing the ball down or marking players who pop up between the lines, is also risky as it exposes gaps in the defensive third and invites balls/runs into the box. The whole team will have to function as one well-oiled unit in order for Arsenal to get the win that kick-starts their season.


Tiny Totts 3 – 3 Arsenal: Match Thoughts And Individual Analysis

April 21, 2011

What a cracker! Probably was the most open and entertaining game I have seen in the Premiership this season. Begrudgingly, I have to say congratulations to the Tiny Totts for putting up a performance like that. I lost count of the long balls and hopeful crosses but in between all that there was some good football from the hosts.

I thought one of the reasons the game was so tightly fought was that Modric was playing out of his skin and might have produced his game of the season. For Arsenal, Cesc was nowhere close to his best. The other reason of course was that Arsenal really struggle against the long-ball/cross-to-big-man style and the Tinies pulled it off pretty well.

To be fair no team should be criticized for a 3-3 draw in which either side could have scored more. I loved the similarities between the goals. Both teams scored the second from outside the box from a position one would not have normally expected the ball to go in. Arsenal’s first was a lovely through ball that caught the defence out and Spuds scored a similar one for their third. Their first and Arsenal’s third came from crosses into the box from the right and some defensive mistakes. Freakish!

I don’t think in this game anyone can say that Arsenal bottled it. That would be an extremely ignorant and lazy opinion based solely on the fact that a lead was lost. But in such games I find that irrelevant. We cannot be in denial about some of the weaknesses that Arsenal have. When the opposition exploits those we just have to say fair play to them. I’m convinced Wenger has some defensive blindspots that are about the system and not individuals. That’s the reason I have been talking about a new defence coach but now is not the time to get into that. One thing is for sure, if you think buying a goalkeeper or defenders would have changed anything in this game you haven’t been watching closely. It’s a complicated topic so more on this in the summer.

I don’t want to write about the goals and other aspects in detail as it would turn this article into a novel. I’ll just cover key aspects in the bullet point form.

Tiny Goals

  • First– Diaby should have read it better. Central defenders were doing a good job on the strikers. Szczesny should have covered his near post as Diaby would most probably have blocked a strike across the goal. Van der Vaart deserves credit for his opportunism and technique.
  • Second– System problem, too many players in the box no one outside. Have covered this in the past so will leave it for now.
  • Third– Stupid mistakes by Sagna and Szczesny. Sagna moved forward when that angle was already covered, he should have moved towards the centre. Szczesny could easily have pulled out. At this level the keeper should be aware that the attacker is at a hopeless angle and is most likely looking to go down rather than control the ball. Lennon anyway doesn’t have the control to take a soft touch in such a position.

Arsenal Goals

  • First – Another superb break at speed. Excellent finish from Theo.
  • Second – Opportunism and technique from Nasri. Awful tracking by Van der Vaart.
  • Third – Excellent cross by Sagna. Rubbish from Gallas. Wonderful chip by an alert Walcott. Powerful header by RvP, top class save by Gomes, good finish from Van Persie.

General Observations

  • The Tinies moved the ball from flank to flank really well. Even though my head was aching after watching some of the long balls, I must commend their general approach and the technique to successfully execute it on many occasions.
  • Arsenal seem to suffer an identity crisis at times, especially when the team is leading by a couple of goals. This team plays its best football when the pressing starts higher up. They can also do a decent job when they stay back with discipline (Wolves, Everton etc). But there are times when we get stuck with a couple of players in a no man’s land. That’s the time when the attack doesn’t have enough numbers to create or press and the defence doesn’t have enough bodies to cover the key areas.
  • The Gunners didn’t do a good job on the second ball on some occasions. I thought this was related to the identity crisis issue as the bodies were in the wrong areas of the pitch. It’s another issue that I want to expand on with snapshots, either next week or in the summer.
  • There were acres of space in the Spuds half but the system didn’t allow Theo the chance to run into those spaces often enough. That’s another example that the team/manager doesn’t have a clear cut approach in some cases. If you want to attack after three goals, press a bit higher up. Don’t allow the opposition so much time to pick out effective long balls. If you want to defend, change the shape and get the fastest man down the middle.
  • Arsenal should not have played the end-to-end game in the second half but slowed the tempo down a bit. This would have allowed the team to get back into shape and pushed the Tinies back. When a game is so spread out it favours the team that thrives on long-balls.
  • Redknapp brought on Sandro for Pavlyuchenko in the final fifteen minutes. Arsenal introduced Arshavin and Bendtner. Shows what both managers wanted to achieve.
  • Let’s not forget no visiting team has scored three at WHL this season. Nor the fact that United, Chelsea, and City have all drawn here. Arsenal might have played a more cautious game and come up with a 1-1 or a 0-0. People would have found other reasons to criticize the team then. But the simple fact is that it’s no longer an easy ground to get results at.

Individual Performances:

Szczesny: Made some good saves. Could have done better for the first and second goals. Should have done better for the third.

Sagna: Good game on the right, especially against Bale. But made a big blunder for the third goal. Put in a couple of good crosses.

Djourou: Had a few shaky moments. Didn’t look like he was prepared to attack the second ball after Crouch won the first, instead he was watching the ball.

Koscielny: Lost almost everything against Crouch in the air. Can’t really blame him but he needs to learn how to make an impact using his body to put the striker off.

Clichy: Did quite well given the fact that even with Nasri on the left he often had to deal with two attackers on his own. Could have done more in attack as Van der Vaart would not have tracked him that well. No one at Arsenal seemed alert to this option.

It was disappointing to see crucial mistakes from reliable players like Szczesny and Sagna. The back five did as well as they could considering how often the team lost its shape.

Song: Had to do a lot of chasing as the ball moved from flank to flank. Was a bit clumsy in the first half, lost his footing and control of the ball on occasions, needs to do a better job of holding his position in the defensive areas.

Cesc: Surprisingly poor touch in and around the opposition box. Tried some shots from distance late in the game that should satisfy some fans who keep demanding it. Was one of the players who was caught in a no man’s land quite often.

Diaby: Had a decent game but made some mistakes. Was lucky not to be punished for his tackle on Modric. Should have done a better job on Van der Vaart for the first goal.

In the second half, the midfield didn’t control the game as well as they could have done against a two-man opposition. I also thought the midfielders should have been closer to the back five. Only Song was staying deeper and that sucked Walcott back whenever the ball was kicked long to Arsenal’s right. It also left Clichy in difficult situations.

Walcott: Put in some amazing crosses. Excellent finish. Good assist for RvP. Did more than his share of defensive tracking as well.

RvP: Excellent movement, good goal, should have done better on certain occasions when he was in possession in dangerous areas.

Nasri: Opportunistic goal. Didn’t offer enough in attack or defence. Another player who was caught in a limbo quite often. Struggles on the left so it’s a bit of a sacrifice to play him there but that’s the best balance this squad can achieve right now.

The attacking players were incredible in the first half and extremely clinical. Struggled in the second half when the game was stretched. I would like to see Nasri and Walcott swapping positions during the game.

Wenger: This is the best team available to the manager, often called the first-team by some fans. Can’t criticize the team selection. Don’t know why Diaby was taken off so no comment on that. Wasn’t able to instruct the players to control the shape or the pace of the game. Individual mistakes came from usually reliable players so again tough to blame the manager for that. On the positive side his system was the only one that opened up this opposition so often in their own backyard. If you don’t believe me watch the opening day Spuds-City game to get some perspective.


Thoughts On TheTactics And Starting Eleven Against Tiny Totts

April 20, 2011

The Barcodes have kept United in check. There is still a lot to play for. Wenger is also getting some players back from the treatment room. I guess we can call this a good news day.

Tactically, there won’t be any surprises in this game. I expect a lot of long, diagonal balls from the Spuds defenders and midfield directed towards their speedy wingers. Sagna and Clichy will have their work cut out but in the past both have shown they can deal with pace. Even then, Arsene should not leave the responsibility of dealing with Lennon and Bale on his full-backs alone. The wide attackers and midfielders have to provide better support in the wide areas. If the Gunners leave the wings open often enough, the hosts are definitely going to score from one or two of their chances.

Redknapp, if he stays true to his notions, is quite likely to start Crouch up front. He will be the target of some long balls out from the defence and also a million crosses from either wing. Djourou and Koscielny will have to do a good job of marking him, and along with the midfield they will have to track the runners to the second ball. Song will have to produce a big game and he must keep his priorities on defending. There are times when Arsenal do this really well and on other occasions we have seen some players switching off. At this stage of the season nothing short of unwavering concentration will suffice.

The Tiny Totts will certainly play at a higher tempo at home and the initial phases of the game will make for an interesting tussle. The Gunners will find themselves trailing if the start is sluggish. On the other hand I expect good counter attacking opportunities in the early exchanges. Should Arsenal capitalize on at least one, it will make the rest of the game even more open and exciting.

I believe Van Persie’s movement and technique can really trouble Spuds’ central defenders. The Dutchman can pick up a brace or even a hat-trick in this game if he puts away the chances that are bound to come his way. Even Nasri and Walcott can get on the score-sheet if they are alert to the gaps that will inevitably appear in and around the opposition penalty box.

In some ways, Arsenal just have to play the steady style they have been using away from home. The midfield must stay deeper and focus on supporting the defence. The opposition must be allowed to come forward with most of the pressing, tackling, and interceptions being attempted in the middle third of the pitch. Of course, a number of tackles will have to be won on the wings and the defenders will have to win some headers in the box as well.

The final point that stands out is that the players should keep their focus on the game at all times. For instance, even if they score a late goal that seems like a winner, the thoughts should not be about celebrating but on concentrating in defence.

I don’t think picking the starting eleven will be a difficult task.

Szczesny – Sagna, Djourou, Koscielny, Clichy – Song, Cesc, Diaby – Walcott, RvP, Nasri.

A point can be raised about including Wilshere in the starting line-up. It’d be a fair one but I think the youngster is very close to a burnout and a mini-break will do him good. Anyway there is another game at the weekend.

With that game in mind and considering the fact that Spuds have had a week’s rest while Arsenal played a gruelling tie againt Liverpool, some might suggest the need for freshening up the side with a couple of changes. I guess there is a case for picking Arshavin to start but I’m not convinced any changes to this starting eleven will maintain the right balance. The players just have to produce the performances at the business end of the season.

These kinds of games are difficult to predict. Arsenal can stamp their authority on the neighbour’s ground once more, they can make some mistakes and concede two points, and I can also see them gifting the undeserving hosts all three points. I expect some goals in this one, at least three, and quite likely more. Hopefully, the majority will be in the right net.


Tiny Totts V Real Mad: Nice Fun And Some Noteworthy Points

April 14, 2011

Before I begin I just want to say a big Thank You to Arseblogger for linking to my last post and a sort of belated welcome to all the new readers who came from Arseblog. Getting a mention on the best and most popular football blog on the planet is for me something akin to what Connor Henderson might have felt while playing with the big guns in the first team. Thanks again.

Coming to the topic of the post, I had fun watching Spuds against Mourinho’s men. To be honest I felt some pity for ‘Arry and his boys because they fought valiantly even though they were clearly way out of their depth. It wasn’t an emotion I ever thought I’d feel for the Tinies but you have give credit where it’s due.

If it hadn’t been for a blatant dive by serial diver Bale in the opening minutes, the ref might have given one or two penalties to the home side. One can argue that it could have changed the game and made it competitive. It would certainly have woken Real up from their slumber and got the visitors out of second gear in which they were cruising. But then one can also say a yellow card to Bale, even before five minutes were up, would have affected the rest of the game.

In the end there was never any doubt about which team was superior and by quite a margin.

From an Arsenal point of view though, after watching this game I was a bit disappointed we didn’t draw Real in the second round. A team that came so close against Barca would have had more than a fighting chance against Madrid, Bayern, or Schalke. Anyway that’s all water under the bridge so I don’t want to dwell on it but I hope Gooners will appreciate the quality of Arsenal’s effort against Barca after seeing the 5-0 hammering received by the Spuds.

There were some observations from the game that I wanted to share.

First was the way Real moved the ball around without any attacking intent. I have talked about the importance of defensive possession in the past and the need for the Gunners to develop that art. We got a fantastic example of the value of that tactic in this game. There are many games where Arsenal can defend just by moving the ball around while forcing the opponents to chase the ball and commit fouls. For instance, the 4-4 draw against Newcastle would have been a very different game if Arsenal had played keep-ball for a while.

Somehow, the Gunners tend to lose patience in possession when there are no attacking opportunities. But when you are up by four goals, or even two goals for that matter, just passing the ball in the middle of the park can be a very good defensive approach, especially for a team that isn’t built to pile numbers at the back and park the bus. Of course, in order for this to succeed each player should know just what they are doing. It cannot be done by one or two players. The priority has to shift to sustaining possession. The off-the-ball movement has to be adapted in order to suit this change in approach. Hopefully, we will see more of this as the team continues to mature.

Second was the one dimensional approach by ‘Arry. All Spuds could do was knock the ball long and wide to their quick wingers. It led to plenty of crosses but not many genuine shots on goal. Again as I’ve discussed before, this kind of play is among the most inefficient ways of attacking. I don’t remember a single decent attack from the Tinies that came down the middle or which put a player through. Width is good as a plan B but if that’s the best you can do then you don’t belong at the highest level.

Another interesting point was that the Madrid full-backs struggled a bit in this game. As I have noted in the Arsenal context, when the full-backs don’t get enough support from the wide attackers and/or midfielders, it is not easy for them to defend against quick and tricky wingers. It just shows how good Clichy and Sagna actually are.

Mourinho had to ensure one of his midfielders joined Ramos and subsequently Arbeloa whenever Bale was running with the ball. Clichy has to do a lot of work on his own when Arshavin and Wilshere don’t provide this support on a consistent basis. Sagna does better because he often has Song on his side. I believe with more experience Wilshere will make our left side much stronger and that will help get the best out of Clichy once again.

I also noticed that Casillas was not too confident against the aerial balls. This is another point that I have covered in the past. Football teams look to have a solid defence when the defenders deal with most of the balls into the box and the Keeper doesn’t have to come out to punch or go chasing deep crosses. In that area Arsenal have made significant improvements this season. Fabianski and Szczesny didn’t have to come out that often and it made them look more than competent. Almunia probably lost his confidence and decision making after last season and the West Brom game this year. He made the mistake of coming out when not needed and that made him look like a clown. If this single issue of the Keeper holding his ground is sorted out, the goalkeepers at Arsenal, especially the Poles, can make a big name for themselves. All of them are certainly much better than a guy like Gomes.

Finally, I wanted to restate my amusement at the way pundits talk about the Tiny Totts. They lost 4-1 to a second string Arsenal side in the Carling Cup, got thumped 4-0 by Fulham in the FA Cup, got knocked out of the Champions League with a humiliating 5-0 score line, and are 9 points behind the Gunners in the league table.

Of course, it is clearly a case of balancing performances against expectations. Nobody expected anything from Spuds in the first place and so whatever little they do is a big achievement. The reverse is true for Arsenal.

However, it is important to note that many doom-mongers and pundits in the media have been constantly predicting that the Tinies will go past the Gunners. It’s been going on for years now as the Totts have spent considerable amounts (~300M in the last 8 years). But most of these are pre-season predictions based on the transfer activity and are forgotten by the time we get to the business end of the season where Arsenal are competing at the top end while Tottenham are busting their guts to finish fourth. I find it incredible that some fans want Arsenal to sacrifice the stability and consistency and go down the path that Spuds have taken.

Anyway, I don’t want to spoil the joy of this day by going into that tired discussion. Let’s move on and keep the focus on the remaining games. In that context, the Totts are lucky they have a long rest before the North London Derby. Hopefully it won’t matter. More on that when we get closer to the game.

RIP Danny Fiszman

Update: Just wanted to share this excellent article by Walter on Untold in case you haven’t been there yet.