Calm Down

The Hamburg win has thrown into wider debate the tactical formation that Arsene is using this season, a more pronounced 4-5-1 than in previous seasons but with more fluidity in positional play. The reason behind this will no doubt be the personnel available; losing Robert Pires and Dennis Bergkamp at the same time left two large holes to fill even if they were being slowly reduced in their playing time through a combination of age and injury but the loss of Jose Antonio Reyes as well has deprived Wenger of another attacking option that he had been utilising.

The move to The Emirates from the confines of Highbury gave the team more space upon which to weave their patterns of play. It cries out for width; the team needs wide players, not necessarily two genuine wingers but those who will receive the ball and keep wide to stretch opponents to the full. To be fair to the team, the fullbacks this season have provided that support, Eboue more than happy to get his head down to obtain a suitable position from which to cross. The end result in the Sheffield United and Porto games was to find Henry’s head putting the ball in the back of the net. But for all of this, there is still a tendency to drift inside, to try to pass the ball into the net which is fine when you have a back four that is unco-ordinated – Liverpool were very obliging for Flamini’s goal – or a forward who is on fire and able to run the line. However, at this moment in time Thierry Henry is not on fire, something that can applied to the other forwards at the club equally, which is where the problems are beginning to show through. Having relied on the mercurial Frenchman for goals in the past, without them the team is struggling to score more than one at home when faced with the massed ranks of midfield and defence. Yet The Emirates should not be causing this to happen, the dimensions should mean more space but with opponents more than content to sit behind the ball that space is now at a premium.

The late goals came on Tuesday as a result of a change in personnel and playing style. Theo Walcott’s directness in running with the ball opening up the Hamburg defence by causing two or three players to be attracted to the ball, more space in the middle for the attackers. The hyperbole has started again; the clamour for more playing time for the lad growing. Will he make a noticeable difference domestically? Time will answer that. What is apparent though is that the switch to a more 4-4-2 based formation paid dividends. Granted that this was partially based on the need to win following Porto’s victory in Moscow but it also would have happened as the three points were vital irrespective of that result. The directness of the formation and the introduction of a direct player made the world of difference. There is little doubt that those thoughts have crossed Arsene’s mind.

It seems that Arsene is keen to play with one formation that can be adapted to both home and away matches. This is not a problem in theory but at home it is leaving Henry to run the line, playing against four defenders, isolated whilst attacks build from midfield. In previous years, his mobility has rendered this irrelevant. This time round though he is covering a lot of ground but not to the same effect. Which is highlighting the teams fundamental problem: without his goals who is going to score from the formation employed?

van Persie is playing wide left but at his current rate he will contribute about fifteen goals in all competitions. After that, there is no-one vaguely threatening to score more than seven or eight and that is of concern. For all of the undoubted skill and technical ability in the midfield, none of them are consistent goalscorers. Poor old Alex Hleb has some of the best close control of the ball seen in the clubs history but put him in front of goal and his shooting becomes almost Jensen-esque. Yet when he does get it right, you are left wondering why the hell the ball does not leave his boot for the back of the net more often, jis finsh against Porto was as clinical as any hardened centre forward. Cesc Fabregas was top scorer at the World Youth Cup a couple of seasons ago but the step up in playing abilities has found his shooting boots left on the touchline for sustained periods of time. As for Tomas Rosicky, well he will replay the miss against CSKA in his mind until his dying day believing that he will score the next time he viualises it. If those four could contribute the fifteen goals each that their prodigous talents deserve, the main problem would be solved without even including Baptista, the one of them that has a proven goalscoring record, albeit in a smaller team in a different league.

Walcott’s inclusion will come at a price; the exclusion of someone else. From a five man midfield someone has to go. My own view is that Hleb or van Persie will make way. Fabregas is running matches more often than not, passing to set free colleagues seemingly at will. Walcott is at the moment a wide player in Wenger’s eyes; his true potential is in the centre, his age and physique counting against him playing there for the moment. I do not think for one minute that Walcott is going to be starting every game. Rotating with Hleb seems to be favourite at the moment but the inclusion of Walcott at The Emirates has to be given serious consideration. At the moment he is being used as an impact player, a second half substitute to break down tiring opponents but for how much longer? Well, for one I think it is likely to be for the rest of this season at least. Walcott may have the potential to be a great player but at the moment, Arsene has a policy that works for him just needing to tweak the tactics.

10 thoughts on “Calm Down

  1. The problems with our team as it is right now are very simple and have been the same for a while now:

    1. We insist on playing through the midlle, the defence knows this and can pull together and make it tight.

    2. We play way too slow. Fabregas and Hleb in particular take too many touches. (unlike Reyes/Pires who assisted many of our goals last season)

    3. We do not shoot enough, the defence knows this and again makes things tight.

    4. Not enough fight. We get booked for the most ridiculous things, but rarely for a strong challenge. Notice Henry never attacking the near post. If he is to play on his own up front he MUST do that.

    5. Our defence is not a unit. Positioning is weak.

    6. Our set-piece plan is a joke. Poor delivery and never any strong challenges for the ball.

    The bottom line is: It has been like this for a long time now and nothing changes. Stop complaining about other teams playing “anti-football” and adjust to life. Wenger must stay of course, but should we get an assistant who can bring a fresh/alternative and maybe more tactical flexible approach ?

  2. I would disagree about the entire defence; Gallas and Toure positioning is on the whole good as a central defensive pairing. The shooting is not so much of an issue, twenty plus attempts on goal each game with on the whole, 75% on target, is not bad by anyone’s standards. It is the conversion rate that is the problem. In each of the drawn home games we have had in excess of 23 attempts on goal – from that number I would expect the team to score 4 goals. I like Hleb but essentially he is a central midfielder filling a wide berth, something that may change if Ljungberg has a sustained spell of fitness. In Hleb’s favour is that he has a good understanding with Eboue and drops back to cover the right when the fullback charges forward.

    However, Wenger has rarely had a genuine wide player on each flank. The right hand side has always had a player who tends to drift inside. The left had Reyes and Pires who were both direct and adept at getting past a player on the outside.

    I am not sure how much tactical input Pat Rice has. He must have some but my overwhelming feeling is that the manner of the teams play is down to Arsene. He needs to get the style of play more direct.

  3. There is nothing wrong with the way we are playing that a higher tempo from the start & complete concentration, at all times from everyone, will not put right. We have conceeded goals mainly because we have had so much possession that concentration has lapsed. In all we do not conceed many goals so there is nothing radically wrong with the defence. It should also be remembered that for 1 reason or another we have not had a stable or indeed 1st choice defence all season.

    With regard to wide players we have had plenty of situations where we are getting to the bye line. We are making chances, have players who should be able to take them but somehow don’t.

    Sure we would love to have a Vieira, a Pires or even a Reyes at their best but you have to remember that they looked good counter attacking- how do you counter attack teams that do not attack.

    Another problem has been that TH is clearly in need of a break. I would not fault him for effort but he is suffering from going all the way in the World Cup. He is still certainly worth his place but is jaded & not at his best. He & others (eg Rooney & Lampard etc) have to play too much with too little break. They deserve more respect. The FA, Uefa & especially Fifa are a bunch of clowns.

    BKA – I would agree that we could do with a bit more agression or physical presence in midfield. I would be tempted to let Kolo loose there in certain situations or put Djourou in the middle to interchange with Kolo.

    At the end of the day this team has as much potential as any Arsenal side I have seen in over 50 years. It may not be this season (but it still could be-remember 1998), or maybe not even next, but support them & AW then it will happen.

    The danger comes from spoilt fans who think success comes easily. Trust AW he really is the best.

  4. Flint – one man’s higher tempo is another’s directness. A higher tempo gets the ball forward quickly meaning the play is more direct.

    Whilst there are those who have come to the club since the success started, I don’t think that is happening en masse. Some fairweather supporters will drop away when the success seems to be a distant past but I think to each supporter, success is relative. For me, it is not necessarily trophies in the cabinet. AW has been successful in constructing a youth set-up and scouting network that enable him to consistently put the team at the top end of the table but also lays down plans for future generations. His biggest success though has been shedding the club of the image that took hold in the latter part of Graham’s reign, i.e. long ball merchants, but also to give the club its most consistent league finishes since the 1930’s. When you add the trophies onto that, he has been the clubs most successful manager and one who has had as much, perhaps more, impact than Herbert Chapman.

    Anyone who doubts that AW is the best manager for the club needs to seriously go to a Head Doctor for an examination. However, that should not stifle debate nor blind us to the faults of the current team. I would agree they have the potential to be the best side he has had under his control but we can all recall other teams who you thought would go on and deliver but did not (the 1990-91 teams springs to mind immediately and they were relatively experienced). At the moment the same faults apparent in the first game are still there some fifteen games later. That needs to be rectified. I am not too sure about Toure being moved forwards though – firstly he is one of the best centre-halves in English football at the moment. Secondly, much will depend on how Baptista adapts to the English game. He is physically suited to it and could give the team more presence physically, as well as adding goals from midfield.

    BKA – one point: simply because a team does not pick up bookings for strong challenges does not mean they are not making them. It is noticeable that the current team intercept passes more frequently than clattering into an opponent. Sometimes the latter is necessary but if a team can achieve through the former it is an indication of how good they are. Look at the successful teams and it is only really the English who consider it a requirement for their teams to be able to kick lumps off of opponents. The successful European teams never did: Ajax, Bayern, Real, Milan all could stick the boot in if needed but rarely had to such was the dominance of their possession. That is the way this team is heading and a creditable route to try and follow it is too.

    In fairness to FIFA, some of the time I think that their hearts are in the right place. It’s just that everytime they come out with a positive, they manage to somehow turn it into an astoundingly big negative. For example, Blatter wants the top divisions cut to 18 teams to reduce the number of games. A sterling idea but then the man opens his mouth to change his feet by re-introducing the Club World Championship; an idea purely motivated by greed. UEFA do the same; cut the top divisions but do not think of even tampering with the Champions League, reverting the competition to a straight knockout which it should be. They both want their cakes and to eat them.

    They could do away with regional international competitions and just have a World Cup every four years which would significantly cut the number of games played (or use them as qualifying tournaments) but then theirs and the coffers of the national FA’s will be reduced despite the fact that if there were less international football it might actually increase the interest and put a stop to the interminably dull club v country rows that seem to happen every time a match is played. They may actually have got more international football out of the top names if they played less for their clubs and countries.

    Unfortunately, there are too many vested interests to allow anyone to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and knock heads together until commonsense takes over.

  5. Flint, you are a star. I agree with all that you said.The squad will get better and better, we just need to be patient. We now have a team that can come back from being 1-0 down. On the micro-management side perhaps Cesc and Hleb, skilful as they are, have to be careful they do not slow the game down.

    I think the fans are beginning to get used to the new surroundings too, and we will get better too.

    Good times

  6. people constantly claiming that cesc and hleb are 2 slow are missing the point…when the space opens up 4 them they are normally very swift in delivering the pass as highlighted by cesc’s through ball 2 Van Persie which was preceded by quick interplay between him and Hleb, the first goal against Liverpool, Reading away e.t.c…however the problem with going 1 nil down every game is that such spaces get closed down by packed defences and midfields with ten men behind the ball…the key is concentration and not going one nil down..afterall United and Chelsea have rarely done so this season..this will obviously depend on the defence keeping fit and remaining as a tight unit for the rest of the season which sadly hasn’t happened this season nor last…this will be pivitol to any future successes

  7. Hi Anon,

    No not missing the point. Watch the video if you can get it of the Hamburg game on Tuesday. In the first half before and after they scored Alex and Cesc held the ball well and were constantly looking for each other. In some moves they made several passes back and forth. It got to the point where Alex was looking for Cesc but ignoring two or three other open Arsenal players. The effect of this was to slow the pace of Arsenal’s game and so Hamburg constantly had 11 players behind the ball – break over. In the second half the whole team had obviously been told to play with a different beat – and so they did. We were more efficient and the interpassing between the pair became more effective. I am not suggesting that they slow the game down all the time, just that if they are not careful their interpassing can become a little unnecessary and when it does the game slows down. We are a brilliantly skilful side and we are devastating when we play at pace. When we slow down it is easier for the opposition to defend against us and (if you have played yourself you probably will know this) with more time you sometimes make more mistakes. It is almost as though good players are better when they play instinctively and with their reflexes – that happens when you inject more speed into the game.

  8. think cesc and helb are great at keeping possession and are both often at the helm of our best attacking moves…regardless of what occasionally happened against Hamburg both are equally adept at supplying the killer ball when the opportunity arises which will present itself more frequently if we stop conceding first

  9. I would have thought that it was patently obvious that I was commenting on the first half of the Hamburg game and the pace of that part of that game. The rest of your comment is equally obvious.

  10. god doesn’t a good rant about arsenal just make you feel so much better. excellent blog, really enjoyable. bolton up next, check out my latest entry and let me know what you think of a game i am eagerly anticipating!

    james

Comments are closed.