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: soccernet.com)

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.

Midfield

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.

Conclusion

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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