Emmanuel Eboue was arguably the most influential player last Saturday against Sunderland. He set up Bendtner’s first goal and was a thorn on Sunderland’s left side throughout the entire game.
In Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson makes the point that space is the most important part of football tactics, and tactics evolve to find space. This can be found in the Total Football tactics of the 1970s, where Ajax made the pitch big when they had the ball and made the space smaller when they didn’t by pressing the opposition. Arsene Wenger has admitted to being an admirer of the Ajax sides of the period, and Arsenal are often thought of as a total football side. In The Guardian series The Question, Wilson argues that the full back has become the player with the most space available. If Sunderland had actually played a 4-3-3, they may have been able to counter Eboue’s runs, but when they played 4-5-1, they allowed Eboue to run, and easily beat Darren Bent, which he did for the first goal. Eboue kept making these runs, and was the most dangerous player, and should have been named man of the match. It’s a far cry from last year where some cringed when he played. And it provokes a question about him: If he’s so effective going forward, should he start ahead of Bacary Sagna?
The answer is that he shouldn’t. While Eboue is good going forward, Sagna is much better defensively. Eboue is suspect defensively (see the game against Wigan last year when he was booed off). Not that Eboue shouldn’t play; he is an excellent squad player, and is good off the bench on the right of the front three. Though not as good starting in the front three, he has been effective off the bench at that position when the opposition have tired. So, if Eboue shouldn’t start ahead of Sagna, and shouldn’t start up front, when should he start? The start against Sunderland showed that he should start against weaker teams who come to the Emirates with a defensive formation and will allow Eboue the space from right back. Also, if Song and Diaby/Ramsey continue to play a slightly deeper role then they have, he can be assured that he’ll be covered if he goes forward.