Arsenal 2-1 Fulham: Pressing Matters

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.

Second Half

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.

Conclusion

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.

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Arsenal 2-0 Wigan: Lopsided 4-2-4?

Arsenal are through to the last 4 of the Carling Cup after dispatching Wigan 2-0. A comfortable, if not wasteful, performance, with the most interesting part of the match being Arsenal fit 4 strikers, Carlos Vela, Robin Van Persie, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott into the team.

With Cesc Fabregas out, and with Arsenal playing 2 games a week, resulting in Samir Nasri, Andrey Arshavin and Tomas Rosicky being rested, the role that Fabregas has been playing, behind the striker in a 4-2-3-1, was open. That role was filled by Van Persie, who has played off the striker for Arsenal and Holland. Last year, Van Persie played as a false 9, so his link up play is very good. However, because he is a striker, Arsenal at times looked like they were playing a 4-2-4, which is something that occurred last year, when Cesc Fabregas was pushed higher up behind Nicklas Bendtner.

Wigan, lining up in their traditional 4-2-3-1 did not threaten Arsenal that much; on the break, they were poor, with their attacks easily broken up by Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny. They certainly didn’t threaten the Arsenal defence, exposed by the top-heaviness of the team, and they were relatively easy to play through. Only poor finishing prevented Arsenal from winning by a higher margin.

Front Rotation

One characteristic of the front four that played yesterday is that they all have excellent movement, and yesterday rotated between the front four positions superbly. One of the moves of the first half, when van Persie played Vela in, came when the Mexican took up the front role as Bendtner drifted wide. Walcott, who had been taking up front positions against Newcastle and Shakhtar, tended to stay closer to the flanks today, but Vela, van Persie and Bendtner all shifted, with Vela having a fairly good game when he played behind the front man, with 2 fantastic passes. Indeed, it was Vela who laid on the final ball for Bendtner to finish the second goal, after a quick break from Wilshere, who found van Persie in space, who linked up well with Vela.

One interesting thing to note was although van Persie dropped deep to protect the midfield, there was not the usual midfield rotation that we see, and thus Denilson and Wilshere were not able to get forward as much as they usually do.

Conclusion

All in all, a comfortable result for Arsenal, who must be fancying there chances to end their 5 year trophy drought. Perhaps more importantly though, this match saw the return of Robin van Persie, and also saw he could play in the role behind the front man, and link up with Chamakh, Nasri and Arshavin if Cesc Fabregas is to be unavailable. With important matches coming up against Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City, this might be the best result of this match.

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Everton 1-2 Arsenal: Impressive display

Another impressive away display from Arsenal, as they beat Everton 2-1 to move up to second, 2 points behind Chelsea. Their away form has been very good this year, and they have the best away record in the league, with 14 points from 7 games.

Arsenal lined up as expected, with Samir Nasri coming in for Tomas Rosicky, and Arsenal played 4-2-3-1. So did Everton, in a 4-4-1-1 with Johnny Heitinga coming in for the suspended Mauroane Fellaini.

Everton started brightly, pressing high up the pitch and unsettling Arsenal, who weren’t allowed to play their preferred quick passing. Everton, though, were defending deep, allowing space between the midfield and defence when pressing. A one-two between Song and Nasri exploited that space and although Everton had a quick counter attack, Arsenal started to settle and dictate play.

Everton’s Left

Most of Arsenal’s play was down their right hand side, to an almost unprecedented amount. Arsenal usually don’t target a specific area, but today they did. Unlike Everton’s right, where Seamus Coleman, a right back by trade, giving defensive cover for Phil Neville, on the left, with Steven Pienaar moving in towards the middle, and Leighton Baines going forward provding width, Everton are vulnerable in that area, as Luke Young showed earlier this year. Some of Arsenal’s best moves were down the right, and Sagna was allowed to get forward without opposition to score Arsenal’s first. Perhaps the best chance of the match, Chamakh’s glaring miss in the 60th minute, came from good combination play between Nasri and Fabregas before Fabregas put in an excellent cross for Chamakh.

Everton Switch to 4-3-3

David Moyes brought on Yakubu and Beckford and switched to a 4-3-3, with Coleman and Baines getting forward and Cahill also getting forward to support the strikers. Everton went a lot more direct, and Arsenal had problems dealing with it, though they eventually did, but Fabianski also made several fantastic saves. This also coincided with Arsenal having problems giving the ball away: Fabregas and Denilson were almost uncharacteristic in giving the ball away, and Everton were pushing forward. In the end, Arsenal held out, and deserved all 3 points.

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Arsenal-Wolves: Tactical preview

After an underwhelming performance from Arsenal on Sunday, they travel to Wolves on Wednesday, needing 3 points to keep in sight of Chelsea. Wolves have gotten rave reviews in their last 3 games; the played well away to Chelsea, beat City at home, and it took United 94 minutes to seal the 3 points last weekend. They defend well, work hard, and are a tough, physical team. Last year, Arsenal sustained lots of pressure in the corresponding fixture before winning comfortably 4-1, while at the Emirates, Wolves defended for 95 minutes before Nicklas Bendtner scored from Bacary Sagna’s cross.


by Guardian Chalkboards

The chalkboard above shows two different styles of play from Wolves. Home to City, where the impetus was to score, they bypassed the middle, where City had the two defensive midfielders, Toure and Barry. Instead, they played with incredible width, with the full backs, Ward and Foley getting forward a lot, as City’s two wide players, Milner and Silva, playing as inverted wingers, drifted into the middle. They were successful from the wide areas as well, creating several chances, with both goals coming from crosses. Against United, they were more compact in the midfield, as they tried to prevent United from scoring; also, it must be noted, the two wide United players, Evra and Park are much more responsible defensively than Silva and Milner, with Evra being a left back by trade. For Wolves, this style almost worked, as United, despite dominating possession for most of the second half found it hard to break Wolves down.

For Arsenal with their known weaknesses in defence, it seems like Wolves will go for the approach they used against Manchester City, while remaining compact when they don’t have the ball. It will be tough for Arsenal to break Wolves down, and they must take their chances and score the first goal. Alex Song will have to rein in his attacking instincts, as Wolves have the pacey players who can catch Arsenal on the break. And with the obvious defensive deficiency of Andrey Arshavin, perhaps Emmanuel Eboue should start on the right, with Samir Nasri on the left. Also, Arsenal must play with width; that doesn’t mean they have to cross it in the air for Chamakh every time, but playing through the middle is easy to defend against if you remain compact like Wolves, and requires a moment of magic to break down, something which has been lacking with Arsenal’s play over the last week.

It will be a tough game, but Arsenal have the quality players that should be able to break Wolves down.

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Shakhtar 2-1 Arsenal: Eduardo sinks Gunners

Arsenal lost a tough away game to Shakhtar 2-1, but, having played a weakened team, they were thoroughly outplayed.

Arsenal lined up in a 4-2-3-1, with Craig Eastmond and Jack Wilshere holding.

The two lineups. Credit UEFA.

Arsenal went into the lead after Jack Wilshere half cleared half passed to Theo Walcott, who outran the defenders and cooly finished, to give Arsenal a 1-0 lead.The lead would not hold, though, as Shakhtar pressed back, and made it difficult for Arsenal to play. Eduardo, nominally lining up on the right, drifted in and between the lines, causing Arsenal problems, and allowing Srna to get forward. Willian caused problems for Eboue on the right, skinning him multiple times, and winning the foul that lead to the equalising goal. With Eastmond being inneffectual at this level, Jadson also caused Arsenal’s back four problems. While the second goal was an error from Clichy, it was symbolic of Shakhtar’s attacking play: Eduardo drifted inside while Srna latched onto a long diagonal, and then crossed for Eduardo to finish. It was also symbolic of Arsenal’s play: The two midfielders, Wilshere and Eastmond, didn’t track the midfield runners, while the front four pressed, opening up space for Shakhtar, as Arsenal, who were uncoordinated, failed to close up space.

In the second half, Arsenal tried to get back into the game, and made attacking subsititutions, with Vela coming on for Eastmond early on. He went behind Bendtner, with Nasri dropping deeper. To counter, Shakhtar brought on more pacy players, and they could’ve scored more on the counter attack. Despite all of Arsenal’s pressure, Shakhtar defended well, and Arsenal didn’t have their usual penetration, with Shakhtar letting them play up to the box, and then defending deeply and narrow.

Conclusion:

A poor game from an Arsenal perspective: Poor in the attack, poor in the defense and uncoordinated. Shakhtar played extremely well, with Eduardo and Srna causing Arsenal’s left problems all game, and with Jadson and Willian causing Eboue and Eastmond problems. They defended well, and had a better tactical plan for winning than Arsenal. It was, though, a tough away game, and a loss here isn’t the worst result, as Arsenal should still comfortably qualify.

Thanks to Total Football iPhone and iPod app

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Arsenal 1-0 West Ham: Width and Alex finally get Arsenal on Song

Arsenal left it late, but finally got the 3 points home to West Ham.

Arsenal named almost the same team that beat Manchester City, with Laurent Koscielny replacing Johan Djourou. With Alex Song operating as a box to box player, Arsenal’s formation was something between 4-1-2-3 and 4-2-1-3. West Ham started with only Frederic Piquionne up front, as they named a 5 man midfield to try and stifile Arsenal. Luis Boa Morte was used as a central midfielder, and Valeron Behrami was on the right and Victor Obinna on the left.
Early Success
Arsenal had early success down the right hand side with Bacary Sagna providing a threat for West Ham. Obinna wasn’t tracking back as much as Behrami, who can also play as a wing back and is much more comfortable tracking back than Obinna. Sagna was able to get behind Obinna and put in some dangerous crosses, from which Arsenal failed to score. That, though was it for Arsenal’s wide play, as they kept on trying to cut West Ham open through the middle. Last week at City, Arsenal had played with more width, because City were closing them down in the midfield. West Ham were closing Arsenal down, but they were still content to play through the middle, with Song becoming an extra attacking threat.

Song
Over the last few weeks, Alex Song has been at times the most attacking Arsenal midfielder. Last year he was a much more defensively minded midfielder, but this year he has evolved into a box to box midfielder. On Saturday, and last Sunday, Song was partnered with Denilson who is more aware defensively. Against Shakthar Donestk, Wilshere had the job to hold while Song went forward, though it is interesting that Wilshere is though of as a box to box midfielder. On Saturday, the 3 midfielders rotated between holder, box to box and attacking midfielder.
http://www.guardianchalkboards.com/guardianchalkboards_embed.swf?chalkBoardID=Y89o9l5O6QIs48I602u6
by Guardian Chalkboards
The chalkboard above shows how much his positioning has changed over the last 12 months.
This though means Fabregas plays deeper, not right behind the front man, as he did last year. This maybe because Fabregas has been marked tightly, leading to more space for Song to get forward.

Width
Some of Arsenal’s best chances were coming in from wide, with Sagna cutting back for Fabregas and Walcott hitting the post after he came on for Denilson. His pace also forced West Ham to sit deeper, leaving more time for Arsenal to pass the ball around, and letting them get the ball out wide. Eventually, one of Arsenal’s crosses found an Arsenal player, with Song scoring after Clichy’s excellent cross. Right before, Arshavin had been brought off for Bendtner, getting more bodies in the box, and with the Russian ineffective on this day, Clichy getting forward was important.

Conclusion
A good result for Arsenal; another day and West Ham may have held out for a draw, or even snatched a goal on a set piece or counter. Song was magnificent, going forward and winning the ball back, and again Arsenal scored from wide.

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Arsenal 3-0 Manchester City: Width Key and Newcastle 0-4 Arsenal: Counter Attack

Arsenal beat City 3-0 on Sunday, a scoreline that hides the fact that City were in large parts of the game.

After the sending off of Dedryck Boyata, City played a 4-3-1-1 formation, with the 3 sitting very narrow. Arsenal played less through the middle than they did against Birmingham, but on Sunday, Arsenal’s wide players, Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin kept the width, exposing City, and forcing them to run more. Nasri and Arshavin would combine for the first goal, Nasri cutting in as Bacary Sagna crossed, and Nasri cutting in from the wing provided the ball for Bendtner for the third goal.
A chalkboard explains better than I do:
http://www.guardianchalkboards.com/guardianchalkboards_embed.swf?chalkBoardID=6002zz8Tc3jP1a70s43S
by Guardian Chalkboards
Against City, Arsenal’s passing involved more width than a similar game, away to 10 man Liverpool, did. That may have to do with the different styles of Liverpool and City, but Arsenal’s width was a key factor in their victory.

Newcastle 0-4 Arsenal

Arsenal’s 4th round Carling Cup victory against Newcastle was a very scrappy and un-Arsenal like performance. Arsenal were sloppy in possession, pehaps down to the pitch, and players like Craig Eastmond in the team, but they seemed to play the long ball more than usual, and Walcott’s two goals came from long passes out of defence, though one, by Koscielny, was very composed.
After going 2-0 up, Arsenal sat back a bit, and most of their attacking play in the second half was through the pace of Walcott, as he stretched Newcastle, who were pushing forward to get back into the match. Of the 3 goals in the second half, two were counter attacks, and winning the ball in the middle of the pitch.
Walcott’s pace has been missed by Arsenal, as he gives them the pace to lead a quick counter attack, and time and time again a simple long ball from the back found him in a lot of space.

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