Is Revitalisation Around The Corner For Andrei Arshavin?

Aside from a brilliant run of form in the first 6 months of his Arsenal career, Andrei Arshavin’s Arsenal career has often been outshone by his play for his national side, where he has been able to have a greater effect on games than he has in North London. It’s often been surmised, incorrectly, that this is because Arshavin is able to play in his favoured role through the middle for Russia, which isn’t true. For Russia, in both Euro 2008, where he became known to the world, and Euro 2012, where he had a renaissance of sorts, Arshavin played in a wide-leftish role, as he did for Zenit St Petersburg. As he did at Arsenal, Arshavin had the freedom to come inside, but the big difference was the amount of space Arshavin had.


And Arshavin has remained a dangerous player, if he has space. He showed that on Wednesday, though, against admittedly inferior opposition, as he was involved in almost all of Arsenal’s attacking play, collecting two assists, a goal and winning a penalty. He also rather infuriatingly, gave the ball away a lot, but even when he did he was trying to create something. Afterwards, Arsene Wenger said that Arshavin’s best position may now be in the middle, which was intriguing because he had always said beforehand that Arshavin was a wide player.

One reason for this may be that both accept that Arshavin no longer has the legs to start in the wide areas, and that his already very small amounts of tracking back would become nil. In Arsenal’s new 4-4–1-1, the wide players have to track back, and defend, but not as much the second striker/playmaker, who’s encouraged to find pockets of space to lead counter attacks. In this kind of space, Andrei Arshavin could flourish, and among Arsenal’s playmakers not known as Santi Cazorla, Arshavin probably has the best vision among them. If Arshavin is to start a game, it’ll surely be in this role, and while his sometimes carelessness in possession can hurt the team, having two more defensively minded players behind him will give him a certain amount of creative freedom.

While Arshavin no longer has the legs to start in the wide areas, he can still play the decisive pass, as he did at Sunderland last February, and, off the subs bench, he has enough quality and pace to find a little bit of space to play that pass. With Arsenal still finding problems against deep lying sides, Arshavin could be a secret weapon; he’s certainly more capable of making a breakthrough against an ultra-defensive side than Theo Walcott.

Andrei Arshavin is no longer the force that he was when he arrived in English football; he won’t be scoring 4 goals at Anfield anymore. But he looks fitter and hungrier than he has in a long while, and, with the chance to get into positions with more space, he could be a pleasant surprise for Arsene Wenger.

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Looking Back: Inter Milan 1-5 Arsenal

In the week where Arsenal play the best team in Europe, let’s look back at perhaps their greatest ever European result: Becoming the first English side to beat Inter Milan at the San Siro, and, even more impressively, winning 5-1.

Inter Milan ended up finishing 4th, but they had been unbeaten following the appointment of Alberto Zaccharoni, and had crushed Arsenal 3-0 at Highbury on Match Day 1. They had played on the counter attack then, and as Thierry Henry said in his post match interview, Arsenal wanted to play on the counter against Inter on this occasion.

Arsenal lined up in their traditional 4-4-2, with Robert Pires cutting in more from the left hand side than Freddie Ljungberg did; with Theirry Henry playing exclusively on the left when Arsenal didn’t have the ball, there was no need for Pires to maraud up and down the left hand side, and with Ashley Cole going forward to provide width, Pires could get in to the box and join the front two. With the match being played in Italy, Dennis Bergkamp was unavailable, Kanu played up front, while Ray Parlour and Edu played as the central midfield pairing. For Inter, they set up in a 3-4-3, with Javier Zanetti and Jeremie Brechet playing as wing backs. With Cristiano Zanetti and Sabri Lamouchi in the midfield it was a quite functional midfield, lacking a number 10.

The game started off slowly and was very scrappy. A pitch that had been rained on for 3 days had cut up in the centre of the midfield, and Arsenal’s passing game in the middle wasn’t as good as it normally was, and wasn’t as good as it is today. The midfield was hampered by the loss of Patrick Vieira to injury, and without his influence, Arsenal’s play was more often directed to the width. The passing was very quick, with one touches adding to the pace of the counter attack, unlike today’s Arsenal where the build up is more deliberate. Inter Milan, without a playmaker, were very functional, and there play often consisted of long balls for the front men, Christian Vieri, Obafemi Martins and Andy van der Meyde. Early Martins had success running at balls over the top that were aimed at Pascal Cygan, and his pace caused Cygan and Cole problems throughout the whole match. Because of Martins threat, Cole didn’t get as forward as often, and Arsenal’s play was more focused on the right hand side, where Kolo Toure got forward often. Toure often didn’t have a direct opponent, with van der Meyde preferring to cut in on his right foot. When Cole did get forward, he made a brilliant partnership with Pires and Henry for the first goal. Zanetti on the right was overwhelmed by Pires, Cole and Henry all on the left, and he was prevented getting forward by those 3, leading to Inter not having width until Martins got involved.

The Inter goal was incredibly lucky, and although it deterred Arsenal until the end of the first half, they came out strong in the second. Just 3 minutes into the half saw Henry attacking down the left again, after a poor touch from Vieri under pressure gave the ball away. Ljungberg had taken up a central role, and was unmarked and tapped in when Henry squared. 2-1 to Arsenal, and they could sit deeper and hit Inter on the counter attack. Sitting deeper suited Pascal Cygan and Sol Campbell, neither of whom are blessed with pace, and Inter didn’t threaten Arsenal too often. Arsenal did threaten Inter on the counter, and a superb solo run from Henry following a corner saw the third and sealing goal. 2 more goals were added, but they were the result of bad defending more than anything else as Inter couldn’t deal with the pace of Arsenal’s attack, and being down 3-1, left the back 3 exposed.

Inter Milan lost the game because they couldn’t deal with Thierry Henry and Arsenal’s left hand side. When Ashley Cole came forward, Javier Zanetti faced a 3 v 1 situation, and it’s no surprise that out of Arsenal’s 5 goals, the first 3 came from the left hand side. The decision to play 3-4-3, then, was a mistake, and played right into Arsenal’s hands as they could dominate the game with their wide players, Pires and Ljungberg, and Henry, who drifted to the left. Inter’s midfield was too functional to break down the Arsenal defence once it was 2-1, and Arsenal were very comfortable at 2-1 before Henry sealed the game with his second.

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It’s Make It or Break It for Carlos Vela

With Carlos Vela going on loan to West Bromwich Albion, one can’t possibly help feel that it’s make it or break it for the young Mexican striker; in his third season at Arsenal, he has gotten few appearances in the Cups unlike previous years, and has largely been disappointing except for a few games early in the season. One problem may be his role, which is something I wish to discuss in the coming article.

Vela was an instant hit in his first year at Arsenal; a hattrick against Sheffield United, a goal and assist against Wigan and a wonderful chip against Burnley were some of the highlights in his first season in England. He showed a range of skills, including pace, nutmegs, chips, but also, excellent movement. Playing with either Nicklas Bendtner or Eduardo, he would drop off the main striker, giving him space to perform the magical, and also meaning he wouldn’t go up against 6’3 centre halves, who would always win the ball in the air against him.

For all of Vela’s potential, the hardest problem for him seems to be, not only getting in the team, but displaying the physicality to stay in it. In 2008/09, Arsenal mainly played 4-4-2, and in his better games, Vela was partnered with Nicklas Bendtner, a striker who offers a more physical dimension, and allows Vela to run beyond him and beyond the defending line or find space in the wide areas. As mentioned on here before, his movement is very good, and so too is his finishing, but his final ball often lacks quality, though he has shown flashes of brilliance, with superb crosses for Eduardo against Cardiff and West Ham. With Arsenal moving to a 4-3-3 and Vela lacking the physicality to play as a lone striker, most likely he’ll have to play on the left of the forward 3. It’s not necessarily a bad thing for him to play there; Theo Walcott, Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri have all scored goals this season and last, and Vela could easily follow in their footsteps in that department. What differs Vela from the previous 3 though is his passing is not as good, and quite often his final ball lacks enough quality. One example is against West Brom, where, brought on to get the ball into the box, not one his attempted 8 passes made it into the penalty area. Nasri in a similar time frame had only 1, but he scored two goals, while Arshavin had 3 (and an assist), Rosicky had 5 and Wilshere had 3. All of the above players, except Wilshere, are competitors for a left wing spot, and all 3 are better passers of the ball. If Vela is to make it at Arsenal, his passing must improve, and that is why he has gone on loan to West Bromwich Albion. They play a similar 4-2-3-1 to Arsenal, they play the ball on the ground and they play a similar pressing style. If Vela does well at West Bromwich Albion, we may see him on the left for Arsenal where his pace would offer a different option to teams that pressure Arsenal in the midfield, and perhaps in the future, a move to a central role could occur. If he fails to play well at West Bromwich Albion, don’t be surprised to see Vela leave the club, especially if his main failings at WBA are physicality and inconsistency.

For Vela, the time to produce has come; whether he does or not is the question.

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Arsenal 3-0 Ipswich: Parked Tractor Finally Gotten Around

Arsenal are through to Wembley after beating Ipswich Town 4-3 on aggregate. It took a long time coming, but goals from Nicklas Bendtner, Laurent Koscielny and Cesc Fabregas sending the Gunners through to Wembley.

Ipswich set up in a similar system to the one they used a fortnight ago that saw them win 1-0; the only difference was that Grant Leadbitter, injured in the first leg, came into the side in a central midfield position, pushing David Norris to the right and Carlos Edwards to right back. Connor Wickham, impressive in the first leg, continued his left wing role. For Arsenal, Robin van Persie started, as did Andrey Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas.

Ipswich, as Paul Jewell said they would, played very defensive, with the midfielders dropping deep as well, creating a wall of 9 players for Arsenal to get by. The defenders were very narrow (perhaps helped on one side, the left, by Darren O’Dea, the left back, being a natural centre back). Arsenal, despite having a majority of possession at half time (74%), they only had 2 shots on target; the one clear chance they did have, when van Persie hit the bar, was after a cross from Bendtner on the right, who received possession from a Clichy diagonal. If Ipswich were to be broken down, they were not going to be broken down through the middle, and either width or from a defensive error would be the way Arsenal would score.

When Bendtner receives possession, there are 10 Ipswich players behind the ball. The left back has gone narrow, and the left winger, Wickham, has taken up a defensive position. It's hard to break down, as there banks of 5 and then 4.

The second half started no different from the first; Ipswich got men behind the ball, and Arsenal had trouble breaking them down.

Ipswich have pushed up after a long ball for Priskin. Despite pushing up, and having 6 players in or near the Arsenal half, Wilshere has no pressure on him, and has time to play the perfect diagonal pass

The right back, Edwards, has gone narrow to prevent Arsenal from playing through the middle, their preferred move. While that isn't a wrong move necessarily, it opens up lots of space for Bendtner when he receives possession. Bendtner can then cut in and shoot, which is a preferred move of his.

What Arsenal didn’t do, however, was panic and send players forward. They were always confident that they’d get at least one goal, and it eventually came. Ironically, it was a quick counter attack from Arsenal, after Ipswich pressed, and their defence and midfield pushed up. What they didn’t do, however, was put pressure on Wilshere, and he had all the time in the world to play a perfect pass to Bendtner, who controlled, beat the right back and then finished with aplomb. It was a superb goal, and just minutes later they were two up; Koscielny heading home from an Arshavin corner that he had won after putting pressure on the Ipswich defender.

Ipswich now had to change their game and come forward, and they had a couple of half chances. What they gave up by going forward though was defensive solidity and after going 4-4-2, Arsenal began to dominate the midfield. Passage through wasn’t sealed until a third goal, and it came after a superb counter attack; Denilson won the ball in the midfield, Ipswich had pushed up and had 6 players in the Arsenal half, and 3 simple passes later, Fabregas was scoring. It was a simple counter attack, and rounded off an excellent performance.

Arsenal showed good patience and good tactical discipline to maintain their shape despite Ipswich frustrating them. Finally, the goal came when Ipswich pushed out a bit, and Bendtner was able to find space on the right. 3-0 is perhaps harsh on Ipswich, as they defended extremely well for 150 minutes, but it was what the Arsenal performance deserved for their patience, and for their two excellent counter attacks.

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Denilson v Xabi Alonso: Passing comparison

Thanks to the TotalFootball App

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Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea: Tactical Report

Arsene Wenger doesn’t always make the right tactical decisions, but today he got his decisions right, as Arsenal moved back to second in the Premier League after goals from Alex Song, Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott.


Arsenal saw the return of Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie, but also, the introduction of Theo Walcott and Johan Djourou, two decisions that ended up to be spot on.

Walcott, more willing to do the defensive side of his game, and combined with his pace, Ashley Cole couldn’t get as forward as much as he usually does in matches between Arsenal and Chelsea. A look at his chalkboard (with a heatmap) comparing the return fixture earlier this year, shows as much: by Guardian Chalkboards

The first half had a familiar pattern, as Chelsea stayed deep and narrow, willing to soak up the pressure and then hit Arsenal on the counter attack. Over the last few years, Cole has been an important outlet for Chelsea counter attacks on the left, but without him getting forward, they often lacked ideas going forward, with long balls to Drogba being the usual outlet. With Djourou in the side, Arsenal had a better aerial presence in the defence, and the two defenders, Djourou and Koscielny had excellent games, subduing Drogba, who lost against Arsenal for the first time in a Chelsea shirt. John Obi Mikel was very deep, and was often goalside of Cesc Fabregas, who tried to exploit the space created for him by van Persie’s false nine role, a combination that worked well at the beginning of last year. The goal finally came, with Song breaking forward to finish off the move. Song has been criticized for going forward, but tonight he got the balance right, winning all 6 of his tackles, while still getting forward enough to make an influence.

Arsenal’s pressing was more visible than it had been in previous matches this season, and, again, it was another good tactical decision made by Wenger, with Walcott saying

“We didn’t think about that at all. It was in the past. We were concentrating on the defensive of the game today. Everyone pressed. It was so good to see,” he told Sky Sports.

“Not just the starters, but the players who came on as well. They pressed and we didn’t give Chelsea space at all. We did that throughout the 90 minutes.

It was pressure caused by the energetic Walcott that got Arsenal the third goal as he robbed Malouda, and, with Arsenal squeezing the space, they caught Chelsea offside 7 times (Again, Djourou playing in place of Squillaci helped here. If Chelsea broke the offside trap, Djourou has enough pace to get back.)  They also won the ball back in promising positions; the first goal came as a direct result from this pressure, as Clichy won the ball back from Kalou, and was fouled, and then Arsenal passed the ball around before finding an opening.

by Guardian Chalkboards

At half time, Carlo Ancelotti brought Ramires on for Mikel, but this hindered Chelsea more than it helped. Ramires is better going forward than Mikel, but his introduction forced Essien into a deeper role, where he isn’t as productive, and Fabregas found himself in space more often in the second half, and was involved in both. Yes, they may have been defensive mistakes from Chelsea, but they were caused by Arsenal pressure, and for that, and for the introductions of Walcott and Djourou, Arsene Wenger outmanaged Carlo Ancelotti.

Arsenal thoroughly deserved to beat Chelsea; not only did they outplay them, and take their chances, but Ancelotti was outmanaged, and Chelsea struggled to create chances from open play, and looked sluggish, old and slow. It was a really poor performance from them, but take nothing away from an energetic and outstanding Arsenal performance.

Originally posted at The Short Fuse, thanks to them for republishing permission

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Arsenal 3-1 Partizan: Subs prove crucial

Arsenal qualified for the knockout round of the Champions League for the 11th straight year after a 3-1 defeat of Partizan Belgrade.

(Average positions. Source:

Major changes made from Saturday’s victory against Fulham were that Robin van Persie came in for Tomas Rosicky and Denilson for Jack Wilshere. The inclusion of Denilson was an interesting one: Denilson holds position better than Alex Song and defends better than Jack Wilshere, so his inclusion allowed Alex Song to get forward more often without exposing the defence to the extent they were last Saturday. Van Persie’s and Chamakh’s role was interesting too: last week, van Persie rotated among a fluid front four; Wednesday, with Nasri and Arshavin not natural front men, the movement was restricted to Chamakh and van Persie swapping positions, and the average position graph shows Chamakh actually being deeper than van Persie in a more defined 4-2-3-1.

Partizan set up defensively, with Cleo playing as a loan front man making runs to try and beat Arsenal’s high line. His movement was excellent, and he constantly received the ball in decent areas.

Defensively, Partizan were compact and made it hard for Arsenal to pass through them. It took an untracked run from midfield by Song to create the penalty win, but was one of few chances for Arsenal.

Second Half

With Arsenal only 1-0 up, Partizan always had a chance, and Cleo took his, albeit via a massive deflection after another defensive miscue from Koscielny who was too eager to intercept. Arsenal put the pressure on, but they couldn’t break through Partizan, who were happy with a point. Arsenal needed a change, and the introduction of Theo Walcott brought pace and forced Partizan to defend deeper. It was an error that allowed Walcott to finish magnificently, but his pace forced Partizan to defend deeper, and Song took advantage to combine with Bendtner and Nasri to finish the game off.


Van Persie was playing in a somewhat unfamiliar role behind Chamakh and he never really linked up with the Moroccan striker. Again, as it did against Wigan, the midfield looked unbalanced, with van Persie dropping deep as Fabregas does, but lacking the cutting edge passing that the captain provides. Because he isn’t a midfielder he always wanted to push forward, and with 2 defensive midfielders in the side, the midfield looked top-heavy. He linked up better with Bendtner, but maybe the only way van Persie and Chamakh can play together is either with van Persie on the right cutting in or in a 4-4-2. As seen below, van Persie never created a clear cut chance with his passing, which is different to the players who usually play in the playmaking role.


A poor and one dimensional performance from Arsenal for the first 65 minutes, but the introduction 0f Theo Walcott gave the game needed pace and forced Partizan to drop deeper and lose their compactness, and allowed Arsenal to finally break through. Does Walcott deserve to start against United? Maybe, but if the game doesn’t play into his hands, and if he’s denied space, he can be anonymous, which would be different if he’s used as an impact sub where his pace forces tired defenders to drop deep.

Thanks to TotalFootball 2010 app for the iPod/iPhone

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