Two great guys, but will they still be at Arsenal in 2017?
Alexis and Giroud to run the show?
Last Tuesday’s unexpected setback against the Hornets hurt us, but not as much as it could have done. Virtually all our competitors for the title also dropped points, so in the end not much damage was done. Of course, it was a golden opportunity to close the gap with the league leaders and put more distance between us and our other title rivals, but the team were poor in the first half and then could not make amends in the second half, despite a valiant effort.
Of course this is just what football is like sometimes; how many times have we experienced such a game – in which we lose to the underdog – in our lives?! It is also what makes football exciting, even though it is nasty to be on the losing side. But we Gooners are just so desperate for success that losing a game is always experienced as a catastrophe, and our response is seldom philosophically: we need victims and we want to see changes. And ideally somebody gets sacked. What about using adversity to galvanize the troops: change nothing other than our focus and passion for the next game? That is what good managers do. Show believe in your team and utilise the available energy to get back to winning ways.
Well, Wenger and Bould will not be feeling great right now, but the last thing they will do is give up, blame some of their players, or totally change their philosophy. As per 17HT’s fine comment yesterday, the real challenge they are facing is sorting out the double DM pivot. Yet most fellow Gooners, here and on other blogs, are desperate to see Giroud benched and us to go back to speed and mobility in attack. I can see where you are coming from but scoring goals is really not anything for the management to worry about right now. We produce many chances and score plenty of goals, much better than last season.
No, the real issue is making us more compact in defence and far more impenetrable from the midfield area. Le Coq and Rambo have not been a successful combo in the DM pivot in recent games, and it looks like Aaron will be out again for a while. Wenger could opt for the Ox but that would be very unwise in my opinion. Playing against a third string Saints is very different from playing the Chavs at the Bridge. The ideal man, and in my opinion the most modern and allround defense-minded midfielder in our squad, Elneny, will unfortunately not be available. Santi would also be pretty ideal but is not available.
Wenger could either go for Ox, or a more robust but less experienced option in Maitland-Niles, or he could opt for moving Debuchy, Gibbs or Monreal into midfield. This would add defensive steel but would deprive us from extra attacking power from midfield.
It would also indicate to the rest of the team and our opponent that we are scared of them. Fact is, we need to win to get our title challenge back on track and reunite the fanbase.
So let’s go for all out attack, I say. Allow Coquelin to sit deep with the CB’s and play 4-1-2-3, which often looks more like 3-4-3, or even 3-2-5. I would like us to attack the Chavs with conviction and not sit back to play them on the break. Only then I reckon we have a good chance to win this six-pointer.
This is the line-up for it:
Yep, Alexis and Ozil behind Giroud to work with and off him and to force the league leaders deep back into their own half. Welbeck and Perez to add fire power and close ball control from the wings and in the box, and press the Chelsea FBs right back where they belong. With Giroud, Alexis, Perez, Ozil and Alexis we have total variety in attacking ability and power, and with Nacho and Bellerin we can offer additional width. Yes we will be vulnerable to counter attacks, but so be it. We have the speed, athleticism and strength in the team to deal with it. But most importantly, we take the game to them and never let them breath until the job is done. We can play like this and what have we got to lose. Let’s play football the Arsenal way.
Until recently, I have always believed that a good defence consists of a centre back pairing of an organiser type and a wild ‘kuitenbijter’, a carve biter, type. One has the overview and organises their defence and the other one operates as the first soldier of the defence, with ferocious energy and an unrelenting desire to win balls in the air and on the ground, and defend the box area with whatever it takes. The former is usually calm and tall and physically very strong and the latter is simply an energetic, fast, beast of a defender.
We all know the Arsenal pairings we have come to love over the years. For me the dream couple was probably Campbell-Toure from the INVINCIBLES (see below) but Adams-Keown were also brilliant of course. I am sure those who go back a lot longer than me will come up with some other fine Arsenal CB pairings. 🙂
In recent years, we have struggled to get the CB pairing totally right. The BFG-Kos combo did come close to a King’s couple of CBs, as they fitted the above mentioned short role descriptions to a large extent. Especially if and when we played in a more compact formation and game plan, Koz and BFG made us look solid and in control for many a game. Unfortunately, the BFG’s extraordinary ability to read the game and organise his defence was occasionally undermined by his Achilles’ heel: his slowness in turning around his own axis and lack of recovery speed. And Arsenal are not the sort of team to sit back a lot and absorb pressure: we love a high line and hemming the opponent into their own half.
The downside of this style is of course the space left behind the highline which makes us prone to deadly counterattacks/balls over the top; and boy have we suffered from this at times in the past. Last season, I regret to say, the BFG was our weakest defender in for example the key seasonal games against Chelsea and Barcelona at home. This is what Wenger, who will never directly name and shame a player, had to say after the Barcelona game: “Barcelona is a great team, we knew that. Nothing new. We put a lot of energy in the game. Technically we were very average. Once we look like we dominated the game in the last 20 minutes we gave the goal away, similar to Monaco. Very naive. Two goals makes it realistically very difficult if not impossible. We will have to go out there and fight. There was room to score but we didn’t. And they are lethal. One thing we could not afford – and we knew before the game – was to let them counterattack”.
I had a feeling back in February that Per’s time as first choice CB would be up in the new season. We don’t really know what Wenger’s plans were regarding the first choice CB pairing for this season, but the bad injuries to first the BFG and then Gabriel, before the season even had started, forced his hands in the transfer market anyway. He had already bought Holding – ‘one for the future’ – in the summer, and the young Englishman impressed us all with some fine performances. He also gave Chambers a few games to show him that he could be ready for regular PL starts, but Calum was not up for the task unfortunately.
Wenger then bought Mustafi from Valencia and rushed back Koz to make them his first choice CB pairing. And what a difference they have made. They have played five times together now, two CL games and three PL games, and conceded just two goals in total. Of course, it is still early days and we have to give it at least 20 games before we can say that KosMus are the perfect rulers of space and time, but the first signs are very promising.
And this is not just reflected in our fine, post-Liverpool, defensive record – to which Holding has contributed as well – but also in the style of play it has allowed us to play as a team.
Neither Koz nor Mustafi are the embodiment of Campbell or Adams; it is more like playing two perfect Koscielnys, or two beastly Toures, with both players happy to push up high and having enough confidence in their recovery speed and ability to intercept and deal with any counterattacks coming their way. Together they organise their defence very well, lead the team all over the pitch, and give away very few chances: they have been in control, sometimes in total control, in almost all games, except the PSG game perhaps.
It is fair to say they also get great help from the full backs and the deeper laying DM (Coq or Xhaka) for which they deserve massive credit.
There are promising signs that KosMus is the CB pairing for the future: the rulers of space and time Arsenal have been needing for so many years.
We will do a proper match preview tomorrow but let’s do a bit of tactics on our mega encounter with Barcelona on Tuesday night. We are lucky to have a large squad available, although it would have been perfect to have either Jack or Santi available as well. We can field a solid and experienced ‘back five’ and have many attackers available to find the right combination between helping out with defending and making things happen up-front. The latter has been a bit of struggle lately but this will have made our attackers the more desperate to find the net against such a high profile opponent; and I am confident that if we can create decent chances we will score tomorrow.
The midfield will be the key area for us and despite us missing two fabulous footballers in Santi and Jack, I still feel we could get the balance right tomorrow. Ozil is a given and will be key in linking midfield with attack: his running with and off the ball should form a constant positive for us. But who we will play around him, is still up for debate.
As Barcelona are likely to press us into our own half, whether we like it or not, we need to play compact wherever the ball is, whilst not leaving ourselves vulnerable in other areas. This Barcelona side is slightly different from the Guardiola era, playing more like a 4-1-2-3 with a preference to use the width of the field whenever they can. On the flanks they have of course world-class attackers in Messi and Neymar, supported by fast and furious attacking wing-backs. If we can prevent these players from getting behind our defence, we can achieve two things: stop them from being dangerous and force them into mistakes on which we can pounce, because we also have fabulous wing-backs and great attackers on the wings. Nacho-Alexis is a given, but who should be paired by the best 20 year old defender in the world? I reckon we should start with Belerin-Rambo and consider swapping Aaron with Danny Welbeck or Joel Campbell at some point in the game.
Rambo is normally my favourite box to box midfielder but I reckon we need to play him on the right for this one. We need to play with three central midfielders behind Ozil, who can all defend as well as play football to have a chance in keeping them away from our ‘D-area’: the other area we should not allow our opponent to get into.
So who else should play behind the German master of creating chances and assists? Le Coq is almost a given but only Wenger will know whether he is now fully up to speed for this game. So if it is Rambo and Coq who else should play in deep midfield (and deep we will be forced to sit for large parts of the game)? My guess is that Elneny will be preferred to Flamini, as he is a very good passer of the ball and has also, just like Rambo, that burst of speed and close control to stride forward with the ball. And it is this ability to defend and switch over to attack as soon as the ball is won that will make all the difference tomorrow. We all know that Santi and Jack are brilliant at the latter; but Aaron and Elneny are also good at this and better at defending, which I reckon will be the most important requirement skill tomorrow.
With Aaron, Francis and Elneny in the centre of midfield, we should be able to play very compact and yet be able to spring attacks whenever possible. Getting the ball to Ozil will of course be key, but we need more players that can receive the ball and keep hold of it for a wee while. And that brings us to our two attackers, the ones who play slightly in front of Ozil, if and when we can afford it.
Alexis is another given. The Chilean, of course, knows better than anybody else what Barcelona are like and this game might just come in time for him to show us all again how good he is. Let’s not forget that Sexy Alexis already has three goals and four assists in five CL games this season, and, despite a lack of sharpness in recent games, I would not bet against him to score/assist for us once again in this CL round tomorrow. The beauty of Alexis is that he can defend too and hold on to the ball like a midfielder if need be; and he can also pick a deadly pass. He is also fast and very valuable in counter-attacks, and with playing three holding/passing midfielders, we should at times be able to play him quite close to our main attacker tomorrow. Moving between defence and attack, Alexis will have a key role to play tomorrow: from supporting his full back against Messi and co, to strengthening our wall in midfield, to supporting our CF and Ozil in making things happen up-front.
The main attacker is, at least for me, the hardest choice to make. Theo seems the obvious choice here: his speed and clever runs will make Barcelona’s high line approach vulnerable. The only problem with Theo is that he will not be much use in helping out the rest of the team when we are being hemmed in, which will affect our ability to link up with our CF and get our midfield to move forward. Theo needs to be launched into space, but we will need him to help out in creating time and space to launch him into it in the first place…
With Ollie almost the reverse is the case. He will link up well and allow our midfielders to get involved in the attack but he is too slow to expose the Barca defenders when being launched into the vast space available behind them. Barcelona will fear Theo a lot more than Ollie, unless of course they have to defend set-pieces. In an ideal world we would play them both, but this would weaken our midfield which we just cannot afford.
I hear you shout: play Wellbeck! He is fast like Theo and can do decent link up play ala Ollie. I don’t think that is a bad shout at all, especially in a game like tomorrow’s. The problem is that Ollie is less lethal than Ollie and Theo, with on average just one goal in every five PL games he played until now. He is also only just back from a long injury and this (extremely intense) game might just come a bit too early for him. Theo was very effective against high pressing teams this season, notably Bayern and Man Citeh, so I reckon he should start ahead of Ollie and Danny.
I reckon with this line up, a solid defensive performance lead by the BFG (who will be excellent as long as we play compact/deep for most of the time), a very disciplined performance by Aaron, Francis and Mohamed, and some re-found deadliness up-front, we could get a good result tomorrow.
The cannon roared and the parked Boro buses were left in smouldering ruins; and the smoke could be seen all the way from Stamford Bridge. Arsenal were ruthless today and only Boro’s excellent goalie Mejias Osorio saved the Smoggies from a giant walloping.
This is how we all like Arsenal to play when facing teams that play defensive – impressively only conceding three goals in their last ten games: attack relentlessly and never give them time to settle, with pressing them as high as possible up the pitch. The tempo of the whole team was very high and we passed the ball round fast and with real intent. There was structure and plan to our game today.
The first goal was very well worked and a pure team goal involving the likes of Alexis, Welbeck, Gibbs, Santi and OG. It was a well deserved and necessary goal, as we had had lots of possession and a number of decent untaken chances until then, and we had to make this dominance count.
And before the Smoggies could find back their breath, OG found the net again: a quickly taken corner by Alexis and a clever run by the Frenchman to the near post was enough to unsettle an ill prepared Boro defence…. and Ollie’s finish was Poldolskiesque. Boom Boom: 2-0 and potentially game over. To really have made us feel at ease the boys needed to score a third goal, and there were very good opportunities to do so, but the Boro defence and the impressive Spaniard Osorio defended their reputation of solidness at the back with pride and determination.
Eight positives from the game (in no particular order):
Giroud: he has found the perfect balance between his two roles given to him by Arsene: that of enabler of others and creator of space and that of classical centre forward play, including scoring goals. Enough said.
Gibbs is back: Kieran was a great support for the team’s attacking endeavours today. He provided width and penetration from the left flank for 90+ minutes. His assist for OG’s first goal was very sharp this time round; and delivering dangerous balls into the box is just what he needs to add to his attacking game if he really wants to become a super quality, modern left back. Top stuff.
Santi and Ozil CAN play together, even when played centrally. Santi played very well in his deeper role and Ozil was in his element in the free role behind the attackers. Furthermore, with Alexis mixing it all up by coming centrally and deep to get the ball as well, the Spaniard, Chilean and German provided a multi-dimensional creative attacking force today. Together they made our attacks unpredictable and their relentless energy and attacking thrust was simply too much for Middlesborough. They were a joy to watch.
Gabriel’s first game led to a clean sheet and he had a good all-round performance. He looked at home next to Koz and really seemed to enjoy playing in the shirt in front of the home crowd. We need to see him tested in more difficult games but he impressed with his speed, reading of the game and tenacity. I also loved the unorthodox way in which he collected a yellow card for the team!
We did not miss the BFG today. The tactics to push Boro high up the pitch and not let them get into play suited two fast CBs today, as we played a high line for which we need fast defence players in case the opposition spring a counter-attack on us or play one over the top. We might well see Wenger swapping between different styles of play depending on the opposition going forward, with him choosing two out Koz, BFG and Paulista to suit a particular style/ tactics… TBC.
Chambers had a good game both defensively and from an attacking point of view. His final ball when assisting the attack needs to improve further but for a nineteen year old this is to be expected. I loved his drive and strength in the one to ones especially.
Alexis’ defending is just so good. Nobody makes more tackles than Alexis in the team and he reads danger so well for an attacker. He is a constant menace to the opposition and his drive and energy are so contagious to the rest of the team: he applies the whip and leads literally from the front. He also played very unselfishly for the team and he was rewarded by another assist. He was also very unlucky not to score from Santi’s free-kick with an unbelievable header (given his size between the giants).Top, top player.
The football we played today was us being back to the future. I love that we played deep against Citeh and Spuds, but this is the sort of footie that makes us all purr. Wenger’s tactics were spot on and the team’s attitude was fantastic, and the resulting football was a compliment to the eye. More of this against Palace please! 🙂
A bit more than 24 hours to go for the NLD. It is fair to say that both sets of fans are feeling confident about this match. A text from a Spud mate read as follows: ‘I hear Sanchez is out and we have Bentaleb back: thing are looking up’. Both teams are on a good run and have a recent, big scalp to their name: The Spuds gave the Chavs a 5-3 hiding and we overcame the Northern Oilers at the Etihad.
It is fair to say the Spuds are going through another transitional season under the new management of Pochettino , and have had with a mixed bag of results until now. For example, they beat Leicester away in the league but succumbed to them in FA cup at home; they beat the Chavs at home but lost there by 3-0; they beat Villa away by 1-2 but then lose to Stoke at home by the same score the week after. In the league they do not score many goals (35, 9 less than Arsenal) but concede a lot (30, 5 more than Arsenal), hence their goal difference is only five, significantly less than the teams above them (Arsenal has a difference of 19). And in the league almost 80% of the Spuds goals are scored by just three players; Kane with 10, Eriksen with 9 and Chadli with 7.
So we know who to keep quiet and I reckon if we deny them space, play compact and attack them on the rebound, we have a very good chance to come away with a result. Should we approach them the same as we did with the Northern Oilers? That is the big question, if you ask me. Inviting them on to us and taking them down on the break is of course attractive. On the other hand, it would also be good to dominate them in their own half and get the job done as soon as possible. We have the players to do either and I wonder how Wenger will approach the game.
Key is of course the role of the three midfielders and whether we press high or not. With either Flamini or Coquelin we will give the back four protection, and then it is up to the other two midfielders to find the balance between supporting the defence and making the transition towards attack. I hope our defence will be allowed to play deep enough to avoid any risks of them being exposed by the Spuds.
They are likely to put a lot of muscle in the centre of midfield with the likes of Dembele, Mason, Bentaleb and Paulinho. To win the battle in midfield we need to match this physicality and overcome them with clever and incisive passing. This also requires a calm head, especially in a NLD, and as such, this is another big test for Coquelin, if indeed he gets the nod by Arsene. The biggest challenges in midfield are for the two players who play in the middle of our second ‘4’ in the 4-1-4-1 formation. Who should play there, and what should be their remit: sit back and keep it tight, or push forward and hem them in their own half?
I reckon Aaron and Santi are the obvious candidates for the two central midfield positions. They are in fine form and know how to execute Wenger’s tactical instructions. They know how to sit deep and make the transition forwards when in possession.
I don’t think Wenger will tweak his back-five for this match, so let’s move on to the front three. The big question is who should replace Sanchez’s goal threat and who can find the best balance in supporting the defence on the flanks, yet offer speed, ingenuity and control of the ball when in possession/on the break.
Giroud is a given, so who to play on the ‘wings’? I reckon we will need Ozil’s quality to unlock defences and add a much needed goal threat. The partnership with Giroud has also been fantastic in the last two games: it has been good to see Mesut and Ollie exchanging goals and assists.
That leaves one position, and it will be either Theo or Rosicky I reckon. Theo offers a great goal and assists threat and Rosa has that passion and offers better additional defensive support.
With Bellerin on the right, whose strength it is to add to our wingplay there, we might not need Theo as much, and either Ozil or Rosa can play in front of the young, blossoming Spaniard. On the other hand, Theo is so confident and has that wow factor, especially on the counter…. I have a feeling that Theo will lose out, but only just.
So my predicted line-up is as follows:
Let’s play compact, deep enough as a starting point, disciplined and full of passion – and our quality up-front and in the middle to shine through.
Let the mighty red and white cannon blow that skinny chicken of the ball. 🙂
36% possession, three shots on target, two goals…. does that sound like Arsenal? Yesterday, we were outplayed throughout most of the match and yet we came so close to fantastically raid the Scousers for all three points.
A few years ago, after we beat Pool early on in the season, I read on a Liverpool blog something along the line of ‘You have to give it to Arsenal, they come to Anfield and just play their game as they always do’. Yes our style of football and system of play were our hallmarks, and they gave us strength wherever we would go for so many years under Wenger.
Yesterday we saw the reverse. It was Arsenal that adjusted its system of football and tactics, whilst Liverpool bravely stuck to their system and style religiously. I have no doubt that Rodgers has studied Arsene’s approach to football intensely over the years, and he is coming closer and closer to the French (former) master of possession and passing football. Arsene has, post-modernly, moved on again and is trying to get Arsenal to play a new, different style of football. For this he is heavily reliant on having the right players fit and available, it seems. That is the friendly explanation, as there is also cause for concern that Arsene just is not able anymore to get his players to reach the level of performances, and with that the required style and system of football, needed to reach the very top.
I was all for not playing a high line at Anfield and applaud Wenger for doing so. I was also in favour for a double-DM pivot that could push Pool’s midfield back and give the back-four breathing space. I expected Wenger to play Coquelin next to the Flame to accomplish this. He opted for the Ox instead which, in hindsight, was not his best choice. Pool played 3-4-3 and their approach was reminiscent of the way Dortmund played us off the pitch in Germany. They floaded our midfield and we just could not keep the ball long enough to set up an attack. They pressed us hard and ran very well with and off the ball, and their passing was slicker and more accurate.
Pool basically succeeded in separating our attack from the rest of the team, making Welbeck, Giroud and, to some extent Alexis, look like lost desperados. Both Ox and Santi had a big role in preventing this, and especially in the first half they totally underperformed. Santi had a much, much better second half, sitting deeper and helping out the, for his age, phenomenal Flamini.
Flamini had so much weight on his puffed-out chest that he got pushed back all the way into the CBs area more and more. Given these circumstances, the defence did very, very well in keeping Pool mostly away from the box, only giving away half-chances from outside the box, or just inside the box, and always having enough bodies there to prevent them from scoring. Alas, it took till the very last minute of the first half, and a very good piece of skill by Coutinho, to finally beat the then knackered BFG-Debuchy-Flamini ‘triangle of determination’.
Our back six had worked their socks off and it was harsh to see them concede so late in the half, even though Pool deserved it. But these guys care about Arsenal and, fully against the run of play, it was the triangle of determination that showed the Scousers how a good robbery should be done. BFG and Flamini win their headers in the box from a free-kick and the latter directs it into the path of the third musketeer, Debuchy. Amazingly, the Frenchman out-jumps Skrtel and puts in a strong header to which the keeper has no answer.
We started a bit better in the second half, with a bit more support for Flamini. I was hoping Wenger would replace the Ox or the totally ineffective Welbeck with Coquelin, as to give Flamini more support (Ox could have been moved to the wing), but Wenger opted to give new instructions rather than bringing on new players (as usual) and it seemed to work. Then came to long injury-treatment to Skrtel nasty looking head injury. Liverpool kept their possession and pressing footie going in the remainder of the second half, but also remained quite toothless inside our box (oh how they wished bitey was still around 😛 ).
And as we know so well ourselves, if you dominate a good team but don’t score during a prolonged period, then sooner or later you might pay the price. And so Pool did. Gibbs powered forward with the ball, finding (much improved in the second half) Giroud with his back towards the Pool goal. He quickly, and so typically, releases Santi into the box and the Spaniard then produces the sweetest of low diagonal crosses back into the centre of the box; and who is there to ram it home, low and hard…. Nanananananana Geeeeroud.
This is the 64th minute and we are 1-2 up at Anfield. What to do: attack for a third and complete the robbery in style or sit back and hold on…. The former seems the best option, and for a short while I sensed we could get that all important two-goal cushion. But Pool have tremendous energy and are rightly fuelled by a sense of injustice and a passionate home crowd (and if there is something the Scousers cannot take it is a perceived injustice!). We almost buckle under the pressure and are fully pushed back again. Cazorla plays his best football now: he is able to hold onto the ball and find space to release it to another player, away from the danger zone, regularly. The team succeeds in keeping Pool mostly outside the box and give away only half chances. We fight like lions at the back.
Wenger, eventually and late, brings on Coquelin, but for Giroud and not for the unfit looking Ox, or the still lolloping Welbeck. He will have had his reasons, but I felt we needed OG desperately for defending the set-pieces, where he is such an important force to have.
Because of Skrtel’s nasty injury there is a whopping nine minutes of extra time, and in the 96th minute it is the blooded Slovak Slayer himself who towers above everybody and powers the ball into the goal. Lallana’s out-swinging corner had surprised all our defenders and nobody picked up Skrtel; but the corner-kick had also fooled Gibbs who thought Lallana had aimed it towards a Liverpool player at the near post, making him move towards that player and vacating his position at Szczesny’s left post…. Had he stayed, he might have saved the three points for us, but that is football.
I was proud of our defence today, even though they messed up for the late equaliser. Flamini was immense and Cazorla and Giroud improved significantly in the second half. Alexis struggled to get into this game, but he was given bad service and support throughout the game; at least he was very effective in helping out our defence.
Rodgers’ system of football was superior on the night and we did not have an adequate answer. I am convinced this was down to us playing too many second choice players on the night and Wenger being left with little choice but to sit back and absorb the Pool pressure.
We needed midfielders who are experienced and confident on the ball in crowded spaces, who can hold on to the ball and make a burst forward if need be, and who can pass accurately. Jack and Ozil are such players, and so is an in-form Rambo. Rosicky can do this too, of course, but he was not even on the bench.
To be fair to Ox and Cazorla, Giroud did not play well in the first half and Welbeck really offered a very poor outlet for the ball, and the Pool tactics very cleverly cut the three attackers off from the rest of the team.
In the end we got a point and were given a good footballing lesson: nothing wrong with that. The team held strong defensively and I liked that a lot. Any defence enduring 27 shots of which ten on target and surviving a game largely played in their own half, should be applauded. Shame for the late equaliser, but let’s look at the bigger picture rather than picking on the one incident…
Plenty of food for thought and I am looking forward to your views, insights, constructive rants and irrational positives. 🙂
Now that was a game of football. It might not win many beauty awards, and the neutrals will only have liked the second part of the second half; but, from a tactical point of view, very good football was on display tonight.
Koeman developed his initial playing career under Guus Hiddink’s wings, and his current Southampton team play football like PSV Eindhoven used to do under Hiddink’s reign back then. It is structured around a strong defensive shape and discipline and based around the simple, Maureenesque ‘philosophy’ of keeping a clean sheet and nicking a goal when the chances arrive. Hiddink won the Europa Cup One (now CL) for PSV with exactly that approach a few decades ago.
With Wanyama, who had an almost faultless performance and showed once again how useful he could be for us, and Schneiderlin, Koeman has the best midfield shield in the PL. The beauty about the Frenchman is that he can also play football, and he was duly missed by the Saints tonight. From an attacking point of view, the Saints did not perform well enough to hurt us, even though their Italian CF had more than a decent chance to score early on. The forced omission of Schneiderlin was a big advantage for us, which might have turned the game in our favour (and Cork’s injury helped a lot as well of course).
Our defence was also well organised: with BFG and Koz having a relatively easy, but very focussed and aggressive, game; and the FBs played very good throughout the match too. It is absolutely amazing how Chambers plays at such a consistently high level, and yet, he is still so young; and Nacho also really showed desire and high energy levels for the full 93 minutes.
Our DM-shield worked ok too. Flamini kept it simple – he completed 64 of his 69 passes – and did not get involved in our attacking play a lot. Ramsey had the free role and showed a lot of drive, but his lack of touch, his continuously misplaced passes and his over-eagerness to make a difference is holding him, and therefore the team, back.
Ramsey needs to link defence and attack up, so he has a pivotal role to play. Luckily, both Carzorla and especially Alexis helped him out a lot with coming deep to collect the ball and make things happen from there. But of course, this leaves gaps up-front. We can say the same about Welbeck, who was full of drive and desire, but ultimately not very effective – although this changed a bit when Giroud came on.
Bloggers on this site will know well how much I believe Giroud makes all the difference for our team. In the first 65 minutes our attacks were often chaotic and harmless, with lots of runners with energy, but very little cohesion and penetration. Giroud is our mobile anchor: the pivot in our attack around which we base our attacking initiatives. As soon as he came on the play centred around him: midfielders can play the ball into him and fellow attackers can take better positions and find themselves in more space. He also had no fear and found the weak spots in the Saints defence instantly. This, in my opinion, was vital for our attacks becoming more centred and deadly. It was evident that Giroud made such a difference once again as soon as he came on.
We finally cracked the nearly formidable defence of the Saints late on in the game. It was not a beautiful goal but well deserved in the end, even though we were helped a bit by the injury to the impressive Alderweireld, which meant Southampton had to continue with ten men as all subs had already been used. It was good for Ramsey to produce to cool-headed assist, and let us hope he will take this with him into the next game. It was good for Alexis to get a reward for running his socks off all night. This was not one of his best games by all means, but his work ethic and desire to win are phenomenal and it was sweet for him that he got us once again all the three points. At Barca he was one of many great players; at Arsenal he simply is the star at the moment; and boy does he like it, with already 14 goals in all competitions to his name.
And these are very sweet three points. They pull us up to just three points below the Saints now and keep us in touch with all fellow top teams, except the horrible Chavs.
Next up are Stoke: another heavy battle waits. Bring it on!
Well let us get the nasty bit out of the way first. We lost.
Why did we lose?
The simple answer to that is, because Chelsea did the necessary things better than us.
They defended better.
They scored when the opportunity came their way.
We defended well.
We had some chances, but not clear cut, or with accurate shots.
They had 11 players. So did we.
Were their players better than ours …. Best not go there?
But let me give an overview of how things went, and come back to individuals.
The kick off was delayed by 15 minutes as Arsenal fans coming into the ground were either discovered to have flares with them (presumably from departing Galatasaray fans?), or one or more were let off before they got in. Either way, it meant that the players had some minutes to kill, having done all the warm-ups. However, AW asked the ref if they could go out on the pitch again. This granted, we had the bizarre situation of the Chelsea team lining up from the dressing room side meeting our lot coming the other way off the pitch.
AW did have another surprise in store .. he changed our line up for this game!
Out went the 4-1-4-1, in came the 4-3-3. Team was this:
With the front three helping out in defence, it was something for Chelsea to think about. No doubt about it, for nearly half an hour we gave as good as we got.
Alexis got a shot away from distance, which went wide. Around the 10 minute mark, Wilshere played a delightful ball for Alexis to run on to, but his first touch was a tad heavy, and Courtois came out to gather it near the edge of the box. Alexis tried to jump over him when he realised he couln’t stop, at the same time as the ‘keeper tried to carry the ball clear, rugby style, ball in chest head down. His momentum forwards took the side of his head into direct contact with Alexis’s oncoming hip bone. Whilst he looked uncomfortable, he did not seem to be knocked unconscious. The club doctor duly allowed him to continue.
When play got underway again, Chelsea were probing our defence mostly through Hazard down the left. Remarkably, Costa hardly had a touch during the first half, and Fabregas was not receiving the ball very often either. So apart from the usual type of niggly fouls, it was pretty even-Steven. But then Cahill came on to Alexis late and dangerous, possibly as a result of the Courtois clash, which was very accidental. This was not! Not only a clash right knee to left knee, he followed through, studs up on Alexis’s standing leg. Very lucky to get just a yellow?
That sparked the off-field clash between AW and Moo. In order to get to the injured Alexis, AW had to walk in front of the Chelsea dugout. Moo tried to push him back, and things became heated when AW returned the push with interest. Both were warned by the ref that next time it would be the naughty chair in the stands.
Relations did not improve, and the 4th referee was well occupied in keeping them apart.
Things on the pitch carried on much the same, with Calum preventing Hazard from breaking away in the clear, and he took his 5th card ‘for the team’, and is now banned from the Hull game after the interlul.
Then Moo was having a charades moment when Szcz was about to take a GK to alert the ref that Courtois was in need of help. With apparently blood coming out of his ear, possibly suggesting a fractured skull, he left in an ambulance for a precautionary scan. The meant Cech came on wearing his head protector. Perhaps they should all wear one?
Chelsea seemed to step up the pace a little then, and although Fabregas will be credited with the assist for the goal that followed, he actually did little more than pass the ball to Hazard. The rest was all Hazard. A quick start got him past Santi on the edge of box, change of direction took him away from a reluctant challenge of Chambers. This left Kos to stick out the obligatory leg to give away the penalty, which he dispatched with ease. Kos was a tad lucky to only see yellow, but it was the presence of Gibbs in the box that probably saved him.
This time we did not go ‘mad for it’ trying to level the score, amid the multiple fouls from both sides, including a head clash between Kos and Hazard. Luckily Kos’s cheekbone is made of sterner stuff and he was able to continue. Towards the end of the half you got the sense that Chelsea were the happier to get in and regroup as we pressed more and more.
The second half carried on where the first left off, with fouls and cards following each other. Chances were fewer and farther between. Santi sent a shot wide after nice build up play. At the other end, Szczesny made a super reflex save at his near post when Hazard(again) beat Chambers to the byline, got the cross in at pace, which hit Santi on the knee: it was going to be a fluky own goal but for the gloved hand snapping out to turn it around for a corner.
Surprising substitution was made when Ox came on for Santi, who was not a happy bunny: understandably, as he was having a very effective game. The logical choice would have been Ozil, but it was not him; or Jack, who was having a good game, but opened up the argument of when he plays, he plays down the middle, and either takes space away from Ozil to run into, or forces him to operate wide. However, with Ox on in the middle, and Jack out to the wing, it seemed, at the time, to be the worst way of trying to reconstruct all the good things that came out of the Galatasaray Game?
They responded with Mikel for Schurrle, and were prepared to shut up shop.
However we were keeping steady pressure on them until Fabregas did his second thing of note. From the middle of his own half, Cesc flicks the ball over to the middle of our half, where Costa lurked between Kos and Per, and beat them both for pace. He finished it off with a nice touch that drew Szcz out into no man’s land, and lobbed the ball over him.
Having kept him quiet for an hour, this was the kiss of death. Alexis was subbed almost immediately, who was equally miffed at coming off, given it was Poloski who replaced him. Not quite replacing like with like regards work rate? And a few minutes later, Jack was replaced with Rosicky.
Chelsea replaced Oscar with Willan, who had just been booked.
It ended 2-0.
The stats tell much of the story: 60% possession, twice as many shots – 10 to their 5 – but crucially 3 of their 5 were on target, and we had none.
Sorry, I write that again: 94 minutes and not one shot on target?
They edged us with the most fouls – 14 to our 10, and cards to a similar ratio – 4 to our 3.
The last one to get a yellow was Welbeck on Fabregas. A two footed, studs up lunge at that. The Cahill yellow earlier may have saved ref Atkinson some ‘Untold grief would it have been a red, which to be frank, they both deserved?
That was the story of the game. Players all came away with some credit, although Ozil had a bit of a ‘mare, mostly losing possession. He had two things different today from his previous good games. A, The players moved off the ball quite well, but were also marked a lot better by the Chelsea defenders. B, Jack Wilshere.
Szczesny – had his reflex save, two shots straight at him, and the goal. Whatever he did, he probably would not have saved from the ‘Killer’.
Gibbs – Usual good stuff in defence, and got more use made of him in the second half.
Chambers – after his booking followed Hazard like a shadow. Given the difference in their experience, it was a great shift he put in.
Mertersacker – Masterclass of controlling our back line.
Kos – unlucky with the pen, but never gave an inch in defence, but Costa just had too much pace.
Flamini – amazingly missed a booking. More by luck, but still a solid game.
Wilshere – was behind much of Arsenal’s best approach work, and tried his best to change the script. One more game showing an all round improvement.
Cazorla – far from being ‘found out’, he worked his socks off. He was always quick to get away from defenders, and with quick passes he had one of his best games for so little reward.
Ozil – it seemed he could barely do the simple things right, and with the German team manager there to watch? Definitely a game to forget … and that is being kind?
Welbeck – found this much tougher but it did not stop him trying
Alexis – he was here, there, and everywhere. Not quite as effective going forward, but at least he made the defenders work hard.
Ox – strangely went into the middle when he came on, but did join up with Calum down the right some of the time. Not a lot happened for him though.
Rosicky – was also only fleetingly looking like the player of last year.
Podolski – would have had more openings early on, but they were closing the shop when he came on and he never really got his foot in the door.
Strange unused sub was Martinez? Presumably Ospina has travelled early for international duty?
Overall, we were beaten by a team who have all the players in the right boxes. We are still a couple away from that, but this was no 6-nil thrashing. The team worked hard and are much closer to them this time. Just two pieces of brilliance, the solo effort of Hazard, and the Cesc pass and Costa finish, was what separated the sides today. If anything, AW can look forward to the return fixture and a full strength squad as we progress some more.
Shame about the result, but full marks for effort.
A short term reactive change of tactics instead of long term unwavering stubborn genius – is it too much to ask of Wenger?
My analysis of the match and how we approach it:
How do Villa line-up and how do they play?
Villa line up in a 4-3-3 which morphs back into a 4-5-1 when they don’t have the ball, they are comfortable defending and will rely on this to initiate their greatest strength in the counter attack.
How do I think we should line up and play?
For most people this is a given: the 4-1-4-1 is a formation well documented as having success against the 4-3-3 and it would make sense to turn up ready to play using it, especially since it is what Arsene has been trying to develop recently and that this would be a perfect time to see a much needed good example of the formation performing well.
I am definitely not most people though lol. I would plan to do two things; surprise the opponents with something they wouldn’t have planned for, and secondly (with such an obvious villa counter attacking game plan), play to their weaknesses rather than their strengths.
Instead of playing possession football high in midfield which is what Villa expect and what they will be waiting to break down to create counters from, let us sit deeper as a team and draw them out and onto us, and then attack at pace with our own counter attack. It is something that is quite the reverse of what we have been trying to do as of late, but with Villa playing at home straight off the back of a win against Liverpool it wouldn’t surprise me if (especially in the first half) they completely obliged us and committed a lot of resources up the field.
So what formation do I suggest to implement this tactical surprise, and do we have the personnel to pull it off?
You are a bunch of lucky buggers as the wonders of google have saved you the torturous endeavour of reading the novel I had planned for you regarding the formation I want to use, and how it can be used to destroy the 4-3-3. It was on the seventh!! page of google results (yes I like to do my research lol) that a result popped up using the exact example I was using to demonstrate my theory.
It was Italy vs Spain in the confederations cup in 2013 – “Steve you muppet” I hear you say, Spain playing 4-3-3 went on to win that game on penalties. Yes that’s true but for any of you who watched the game you would have seen a very different picture than the score line suggests. Spain were obliterating everyone, but against this Italy side they were completely subdued and outplayed through formation and tactical play. With the higher level of attacking threat Arsenal have over Italy, and when used against a team like Villa, the result could be the high scoring game we really need to kick start our season.
Now instead of reading two pages of writing explaining my reasoning behind this, you can simply watch this video J
Actually due to injuries, drops in form, rotation of players and square pegs in round holes, I really think that now more than ever we do.
Firstly who do we leave out?
Szczesny – I would rest from CL match to give others a chance at starting
Ramsey – dropped in form lately
Ozil – dropped in form lately
Arteta – looks off the pace
Zelalem – still too inexperienced at this point
Diaby – AWOL
Debuchy – Injured
Wilshere – injured
Gnabry – injured
Giroud – Injured
Sanogo – Injured
Walcott – Injured
That’s 12 players out from the squad of 30 (if you include Bellerin and Hayden, which I do).
30 – 12 = 18 players left
18 – 11 (starting XI) = 7 (named subs)
Perfect, at least my maths add up, even if the rest of my plan doesn’t lol.
Who’s left then?
Ospina – I would give first choice
Martinez – I would use as cover
Bellerin – Not really a defensive RB, perfect as a wing back though
Chambers – Great ability and potential looks like he could bring the freshness and composure we need in DM
Monreal – Looking a little off the pace atm but still defensively sound so maybe take the crazy running up and down the pitch out of his game and watch him flourish as left CB
Gibbs – Back from injury and looking fast and sharp as usual, this kid was born to play as a wing back.
BFG – The big guy looks out of place playing off side traps in a stretched team but in any other situation he’s still solid as a rock so a deeper sitting compact defence may help him shine in this instance.
Koscielny – First name on the team sheet
The OX – Looks fit and raring to go, fast and able to battle
Rosicky – Desperate to prove he should be in the team and I feel with good reason
Cazorla – Hasn’t really been given the amount of time that Ozil has to try and prove his worth so this could be his chance
Flamini – Proved he still has it in him to hold the line at the mancs and now fully rested he provides tried and tested experience at DM
Coquelin – Unproven but I want to see what he can do, could also be an excellent choice to shore up midfield if we actually find ourselves with a healthy lead
Hayden – Unproven but bags of potential and provides cover for a number of positions: right wing back, DM, CM or at CB, an excellent option to have on the bench if something goes wrong
Welbeck – Shows good movement if not absolute clinical finishing yet, let’s get him on the score sheet
Campbell – Performed in preseason, unproven since and deserves a chance
Sanchez – Hungry and determined as always
Podolski – World class striker
Put it all together and what does the team look like?
Starting eleven and subs (on the right)
Do you think this could work and win without the Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere trio? I will leave it up to you to comment, but please mention your preferred line up also.
Btw I rang Arsene to discuss this line up and the response was:
“Take a break Steve ffs, its Villa not Barcelona! Stop calling me on this number, and stop that Cockie Monster bloke from poohing on my front door step!”
That was the boss’s response, what’s yours?
Remember this is a formation for a one-off game in which we have a host of injuries at the moment, this is not a long term change.
It has been a whirlwind of a season for Arsenal this year. The poor start to the league before the incredible run of form that saw us lead the league table for a mighty long time followed by the collapse in the league and finally the FA cup triumph that ended the trophy drought. For many observers, this seems like a typical Arsenal season and sure enough in some aspects that is the case, but I have seen real progress in this team this term. Of course the proverbial monkey is off our back now that we won the cup, the biggest testament to this growth.
One of the biggest strides we have made this season (if not the biggest) is the assembly of the rock solid defensive unit of Szczesny, Koscielny and Mertesacker. For me Koscielny is the best defender in the league. Mertesacker is Mr. consistent and Szczesny’s golden glove prize says everything I need to. Bac has been phenomenal for us too, but i hesitate to dwell too much on him as his departure is all but rubber stamped. This defensive unit (barring the humiliation at the hands of Chelsea, Liverpool and city) was the best in the league. The aforementioned defeats are a result of our poor tactical nous at the middle of the park but I will get to that in a bit. Defense has been a major achilles heel for Arsenal since the pairing of Campbell and Keown but that is now a thing of the past. In Szczesny, we have a true heir to David Seaman’s throne.
Secondly, has been Arsenal’s ability to grind out wins, which is a testament to the brilliance of our defense. Before when Arsenal took an early lead you always felt nervous at 1-0 because we would eventually crumble and either draw or lose. This season however we have learned how to ‘win ugly’ as many would put it. Perfect examples are the wins against Spurs, Dortmund away and many more.
Thirdly, there is the coming of age of some of our players. Biggest of them all, Aaron Ramsey. I mean we all saw his potential before his leg break but nobody could have predicted what we saw this season. He has been nothing short of phenomenal. He has consistently put in match winning displays when fit, sometimes showing lashes of skill that the likes Ronaldinho and Zidane would be proud of. Another has been Theo Walcott. Though he has been injured for the most part, he has shown that he can be the 30 goal a season player we always thought him to be. It’s a shame we lost both at such crucial times of the season.
Last but not least, is the fact that Wenger has finally shown us that he is willing to spend money on world class talent. With the acquisition of Ozil, Wenger has proved that he is willing to spend big on the right players, something he will need to do more of if we are to build on our recent FA cup success. I find it hard to believe that our first trophy in years after we brought in a world class player is pure coincidence.
There have been a few negatives that saw us surrender the league title to Man City. They can all be summed up in one sentence; Wenger’s lack of tactical prowess. This comes out in a number of ways.
First and most frustrating of all is his inability to manage his squad effectively. Arsene Wenger simply does not know how to rotate his squad. He will play his best 11 week in week out until they either get injured or lose form due to fatigue. In my opinion apart from Theo Walcott, all the other injuries we got this season could have been avoided. Allow me to explain. When we started the season, we had Wilshere and Theo injured but were coming back. Wilshere’s had been long term and Theo’s short term. This meant that Ramsey got his chance to play, along with Gnabry. However, not long after Theo returned, regaining his place on the right meaning we had a midfield of Arteta, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott and Santi (our best line up). So they played until Theo was injured again. But Wilshere soon returned. Note that with his well documented injury issues, he needed to be eased back in. Wenger would have none of it. He was played, even at times on the flank leaving a fit Ox and Gnabry on the bench. His worst performances came from the flank mind you. This team played on until both Ramsey and Wilshere (both of who thrive on the B2B role and would have shared the responsibility brilliantly) were injured due to the sheer amount of games they played. All this while, the Ox, Gnabry and Rosicky on the bench. Same to Mesut, a player who needed to be carefully introduced to the English game. He was played until he lost form and ultimately got injured yet Tomas sat on the bench unused. Look at players like Mertesacker and Bac who played almost every single game this year when TV5 was left unused. Podolski, one of our best players played a very small part in our league campaign despite being our best finisher. The examples go on and on. What is the point in having a big squad if the boss won’t use it?
Secondly I feel that our traditional beautiful game has been compromised. Our lack of pace makes what used to be scintillating displays in slow, labored, boring football. Our quick paced passing was seen in flashes like in that fantastic goal vs Norwich but majority of the time it was that slow passing that was at times difficult to watch. This made defences harder to break down, a major reason why we seldom won by big margins. We need some pace in that team.
Finally, Wenger’s lack of a midfield plan. Gary Neville said that at times it is like Wenger picks his midfield and asks them to play as they feel. For most parts I tend to agree with him. He has managed to assemble a very talented midfield but they are all too similar, especially when we lose the ball. There is no positional discipline, no tactical defensive shape, no coordinated pressing of the ball. This leaves the defense open and vulnerable to attacks. This explains the routs we received. Wenger, at the very least, needs to bring in a proper DM who shields the back for properly. Arteta’s lack of pace and aging legs have been exploited more than once this season.
All in all, it has been a good season. The lads have tasted victory and now it is up to Arsene to bring in 3-4 world class players ( a world class DM of the Javi Martinez mould, a pacy, goal getting left sided winger and a 30+ goal a season striker) to elevate us to title and UCL contenders. At this point, no Gooner is willing to go back to the trophy-less years – rather would see our glory days return.