Arsenal and Fulham both showed how pressing can be used on Saturday as Arsenal came out 2-1 Victors.
Arsenal started the first 15 minutes at a frantic pace, pressing Fulham high up the pitch and forcing Fulham to make mistakes. Arshavin and Nasri had chances before Nasri scored a wonderful goal after a mistake from Aaron Hughes let Arshavin in, and the Russian passed for Nasri. Arsenal continued to press and could’ve and perhaps should’ve been up by more than one goal. The first 25 minutes though, was one of Arsenal’s best attacking performances so far this year, with 5 shots and several balls into the box. Defensively, it was another story.
Fulham Press back
Fulham, though, pressed back. Mark Hughes had said that they’d attack Arsenal’s weaknesses, almost certainly meaning they’d go direct, and they did not disappoint. They started pressing Arsenal back in the midfield, and hitting long balls for Kamara to run off of. Arsenal, because of there own pressure, were playing an extremely high line, and Kamara was offside several times, all of them close. It was, admittedly, a defensive error that allowed Kamara to score, but he was again on the shoulder of the defender and this time he was played onside. He could’ve scored again, as Arsenal, after Koscielny went off, still played a high line, with a simple ball leaving them exposed. There is though, another issue, which is the role of Alex Song. Arsenal, playing a 4-2-3-1, have a midfield of 2-1, with a destroyer (Song), passer (Wilshere) and creator (Fabregas, or today Rosicky and then van Persie). Song though has pushed forward, and it seems Arsenal have 2 box to box midfielders and no destroyer/holder. That seems a tactical plan from Wenger though:
“The teams close us down so much high up because they know we play through the middle,” said the manager. “I push my midfielders a bit up at the start to give us more room to build up the game.
“When you come to the ball we are always under pressure, so Song is a bit naturally high up because I want him high up.
That may work when Arsenal are pressing, but if they lose the ball, they become much more susceptible to balls over the top, as the defence has to push up to close the gap between midfield and defence. It’s what cost Arsenal against Fulham, it’s what also cost them against Tottenham Hotspur, and several times last year.
Arsenal were pushing for the go-ahead goal, again pressing Fulham. Djourou replaced the injured Koscielny, and Song pushed back, better protecting the defence, dealing with the long ball threat. Fulham, though, had chances from corners, and perhaps Etuhu should’ve scored. van Persie and Walcott came on for Rosicky and Wilshere, pushing Nasri into the midfield and van Persie behind Chamakh, a role he played in against Wigan. Those two combined, with Nasri coming deep from midfield to score his second wonderful goal, giving Arsenal the lead (Chalkboard shown, showing Nasri in central position). Fulham pushed back, putting Arsenal under pressure with a direct aerial threat, but Arsenal defended well, with Djourou particularly impressing, winning all 6 aerial challenges.
The better team won today, in a match that showed the importance of pressing. The team that pressed was on top at that moment of the game, and Arsenal, with their greater quality, won the game, but for them, the role of Alex Song should be changed to not leave the defence exposed. Positively, Nasri was superb, and the pushing of him into central midfield, to get him the ball more often, was a good move by Wenger.