Welcome to the new bus! Will ‘Disruption’ ruin Arsenal?

This is something I have been thinking on and observing since the Crystal Palace game. A busy lifestyle has prevented it from being brought out until now.

Have we ever replaced him?
Have we ever replaced him?

Let me start by stating some truths, or “truths” that are well believed:

  • Arsenal either go out pressing high and attacking to play beautiful total football, and are beaten on the counter by top teams like the special one’s boys in blue. Can’t win the big game that way.

Or

  • Arsenal have fixed this with a deeper lying formation that does the same, and also shelters the big German dude from pace and youth, but are still beaten when teams then press us in return.

These all lead to arguments about who is best or better, who fits the EPL, and, in the end, questions about whether Arsene has lost it, and not kept with the times.

I will argue here that something more fundamental has happened. In particular, that both the above approaches, total football and sitting deep to counter, are played by Arsenal. And played well. We have beaten top teams with it, and lesser teams, as well.

However, … And there is always a however, the game has changed… I think…

In past, weaker to mid table teams would sit deep and hope for the Fat Sam Miracle (FSM), known to American football fans as the “Doug Flutie, bye bye Florida State (or was it Notre Dame? 🙂 ) hail mary” to pull out one or even three points. Also commonly known as parking the bus and daring you to get through. So, what has changed?

Teams have realised this “prevent defense” (another American football term), is, to use what Americans often call it in context, the “prevent yourself from winning” defence. More simply, they have realised that it invites top teams to totally dominate them, and that with the ever increasing talent gap they will eventually get through. They will, not, they might or they should, they will.

The talent gap is ever greater than before with so many top Euro teams, not just in the EPL, looking for talent and depth.  Thus, what to do? Time to innovate of course!

Simple answer? You can’t be dominated if the other team doesn’t have shape or form, and is lightly battered like good fish and chips, which is to say as much as the missus (in the refs uniform here) will let you get away with! This is easily done by hiring pro wrestlers to come in and chase the other guys around. However, it tends to pee off the fans and the ref.

So, how to get this done by stealth? How to ruin your opponents game so much they cannot score, while offering you the ongoing FSM opportunity?

Simple, don’t park the bus, don’t press, which is what people (or many such) *think* they are seeing now, when Arsenal struggle. Instead, play what I call a disruptive game. I differentiate pressing and disruption, as one which is playing forceful defensive football and keeping shape, while the other is defined to ensure the other team has no flow and no shape. Thus, narrowing that talent gap.

In particular, pressing is a game played to win, disruption is a game played not to lose. More specifically:

  1. Pressing = turnover and fast transition to press/contain the ball as far up the field as possible. Generally, 1 on 1 or 2 on 1, looking to force the turnover on either a long ball prayer having cut off all reasonable passes or marked them closed, or on a poor dribble into a player all other options being closed off. A third equally positive outcome is forcing the pass to keeper who then belts it up field. All turn the ball back towards us by forcing high risk, low opportunity balls from the other side that we can easily take. And take in a form ready to go forward in transition.

It’s about controlling shape and getting the ball back to go on offense with good shape.

  1. Disruptive = looks a hell of a lot like a pressing game but involves more often 2-1 and 3-1 defending. A rush at the ball holder and not necessarily caring about others. The goal is not to contain and restrict field space, but to disrupt passing lanes, foul often to disrupt runs and passes, and a greater focus on taking the ball by running many players at the ball handler.

When this is done the ball may turn over but you are not in a position with players in shape and well spread to take best, or sometimes any, advantage. It forces players to far more quickly find something, far more quickly approach their own ball carrier (shrinking the pitch to smaller areas). Thus, against Palace who played this way a lot, we often won the ball but had nothing to really do with it. Hence, they had lots of ball, but little or few opportunities really, as when they won it, they too, were in no shape to attack.

They make our defending easier, but make our attack much harder. They didn’t threaten until we shut off a bit at 93 mins, after almost getting a third goal at 92 mins. We weren’t dominated, we were disrupted, by a team playing for 1 or hoped for 3 points.

So, you say, they sound the same. But, the difference is that a Pressing team is trying to control space and win the ball back anywhere. It’s a plan that focuses on organizing defence as a form of attack and positioning with structure.

A Disruptive team cares less about shape on defence and how it leads to attack with good team shape when the ball is turned over. Their goal is to take away the other team’s ability to move the ball regardless of what it does to their own ability to move the ball. It’s a negative form of football.

It’s also highly successful at times. It is a great equalizer across teams of different abilities – thus reducing that talent gap. It also creates a scenario when you are at home and know the field and have the crowd, where it is likely the better choice of odds than parking the bus.

Keep the other team off balance and out of shape / ball and hope that, despite having no real shape to go forward yourself, you can get a quick breakaway or mistake to capitalize on. Then hunker down, disrupt more, and hope to hold on.

Hence, I think when we play these types of teams among others, or top teams away, we seek to have a deep lying defence. That allows shape to be maintained and lets them, or forces them, to come to you. You then have shape to counter from, which we have the squad for. But, it still won’t solve the problem of being disrupted on attack. The only way to avoid it is to move quickly with lots of field space when they are not near to run after you … Sounds like “on the counter” to me.

But listen again, and hear what isn’t said. That if we can only score on the counter, or mostly so, the opposition have taken us out of our game, forced us away from dominating with talent that we have.

The solution is risk. Again, playing to the opposition. Another possibility. A great rock of a ball holder. Coquelin has done the defensive thing, but not that. That was Vieira. It is Toure and Kompany when they are in form. It might be Schneiderlin. It isn’t Santi, Ozil or Alexis who are tricky enough, but too light and dynamic and want to go forward.

The real key?

In my opinion, a rock and a fast passing game. One that isn’t afraid to go backward if it is isn’t there. If we can’t counter, we need to control through speed.

Thus, and perhaps this is now past length, we have the squad for it. It is perhaps something that has evolved and perhaps we are finally smart enough to do it instead of going after them like we have so often done away against such teams (for which we have been punished).

Sadly to say, it also means that Mourinho may know something and be quite clever having seen this first or nearly so? Look at his squad, sit deep, counter, pass quickly, Terry and others are the rock…

Questions for the critics?

  • Is disruptive, and yes, ugly, football the future?
  • What’s your solution?
  • Who do we need to implement it?
  • Or, am I being too subtle and over analytical, just bring on the fresh faces?

— Cheers – jgc

This is not The Arsenal I have been supporting for 15 years

First I think I have to start with the game against Monaco. It has been a while since I was so furious, and this was when we were still at nil-nil. The performance was lackadaisical, complacent and lazy, and any other term you can think of. Tentative, SLOW passing, no effort to win the ball back when we lost the ball, which is fast becoming an Arsenal trade mark. Even after we concede twice, not much changed until the 89th minute. Honestly the less said about that game, the better.

Then there was the victory against Everton. A game which we won, but were dominated almost throughout. I mean we won yes, but I wasn’t impressed at all. This is not the Arsenal I have been supporting for a decade and a half. We cannot hold on to the ball in midfield to save our lives. Our passing is slow and laboured. That movement we had off the ball that allowed us to play the slick fluid game we were so well known for has vanished into thin air. Watching us try to force passing moves in a congested Everton box just wore my patience thin. Something has to change.

From where I sit, I feel like we need to go back to basics. Simply training harder on passing & more importantly moving. Training our technically gifted players on how, where & when to move in order to receive a pass and open up space for the rest and keeping the rhythm going.

So far it is like when Santi/ Ozil/Sanchez receive the ball, the rest watch him and wait to see what they will conjure up. Result? Dispossessing Arsenal has become like taking candy from a baby.

It is worth noting that another consequence of this is that every time we approach the opposition box, the player on the ball (usually Santi/Ox/Sanchez) is left to try something on their own, which again usually ends up one of three ways; wayward shots or shots directly at the keeper, losing the ball or passing backwards. There is an instance against Everton where I was watching Sanchez & Santi at the edge of the penalty box trying to pick a way into the opposition box and almost screamed. All the players around them were static so passing was slow and tedious, nobody had ideas and the result was just frustrating.

Many argue that teams sit deep and defend against us but those are just excuses IMO. Don’t they do the same against MCFC, CFC, LFC, even the Spuds? Haven’t they been doing that since we won the league unbeaten? So then why is it that because this current squad is struggling against those tactics it all of a sudden has become an issue? If you ask Cesc, Hleb & Rosicky what they had to contend with back in 2007, they will tell you the exact same thing. Defences parking buses in front of them. Somehow though, that never stopped them.

cid160876_arse_640x345

I feel like a broken record saying this but I will say it anyway. With the kind of players we have, this is the last thing I should be talking about.

I am not sure playing Ozil & Santi together is working. Why isn’t TR7 ever on the first team line-up? When he plays, we look more assured in possession. When he comes on we look more dangerous, more purposeful. I am not a coach so I won’t try to tell Wenger how to do his job but we do need to see results. And soon. Otherwise, we’ll just start losing our stars like we did for so long.

We surely can do much better.

COYG!!

By Marcus

8 Positives from Game: Ozil & Santi Gel, Giroud’s Balance, Gibbs is Back

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.

cid182127_GiroudVI06_1180_580x310

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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! 🙂

 

By TotalArsenal.

Theo/Ozil represent 0.6 goals & assists per game: Season starts here!

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Unless absolutely everything goes our way in the next four months, I reckon this will become a season of which we will ask ourselves what could have been if we had not had so many injuries during the first half of it.

Now that Koz is back and back-up has been brought in (Paulista), Coquelin is 99% close to signing a new contract, Ramsey is getting back to the engine we know him to be and Super Jack is back in training, we are looking strong at the back and in the middle of the park.

Furthermore, and even more excitingly, our attacking options are back to full strength now, with Ozil and Theo fully back and Giroud having totally settled back in again. Our superstar Alexis has been phenomenal and held the fort whilst the others were recuperating. Of course, he had help from the likes of Welbeck and Ox, but they are both work in progress, especially when it comes to the bread and butter stats of goals and assist.

We know that these are all very good players, but the beauty is that Wenger can now choose from his very best attackers, both in terms of producing assists and scoring goals.

These are the assists v games played ratios (data from 2009/2010 season to now, source ‘Whoscored’):

  Total games / Assists Assists per game ratio
Walcott 162/34 0.21
Ozil 222/90 0.41
Giroud 176/21 0.12
Alexis 205/45 0.22
Carzola 213/43 0.20
Ramsey 161/21 0.13
Welbeck 157/12 0.08
Ox 95/10 0.11
Rosicky 149/13 0.09
Wilshere 130/16 0.12

So, in terms of our strongest team in attack from an assists producing point of view, we would aim to field Walcott, Ozil, Alexis, Santi and Ramsey in our five directly attack-involved positions.

Mesut+Ozil+9aWgnj3Jsy_m

And these are goals v games played ratios (data from 2012/2013 season to now, source ‘Wiki’).

  Total games / goals Goals per game ratio
Walcott 67/28 0.42
Ozil 103/19 0.18
Giroud 111/46 0.41
Alexis 131/51 0.39
Cazorla 126/25 0.20
Ramsey 102/24 0.24
Welbeck 99/19 0.19
Ox 83/7 0.08
Rosicky 69/8 0.12
Wilshere 84/8 0.10

So, in terms of our strongest team in attack from a goal scoring perspective, we would aim to field: Walcott, Giroud, Alexis, Ramsey and Cazorla.

Surprise, surprise almost the same players who produce the most assists per game also score the most goals per game, with Ozil producing significantly more career assists than Santi, and Santi scoring a tad more goals per game than the German. Between them, these five to six players produce on average 1.17 assist and 1.66 goals per game.

Our current PL goal tally is 39 from 22 games, 1.8 goals per game and that includes the entire squad of course. I predict that we will see a steep improvement in goals per game in the last four months of the season: by possibly a third, meaning an average goals per game ratio of 2.4.

The thing is Ozil, Theo, Alexis, Santi, Giroud and Ramsey are now all fit to play together, and there is every chance that between them they will improve each others contributions, in terms of assists and goals, even further. And the longer they play the more effective they can all become.

You can also see from the stats above that the return of Ozil and Theo is absolutely paramount to the success of the team: together they can contribute 0.62 assists and 0.6 goals per game. It will take a bit of the pressure away from Santi and especially Alexis, and give us far more balance in terms of spreading assists and goals throughout the team.

The stats also show why we should expect (and want) the likes of Ox, Welbeck and Rosicky to provide back up rather than be first choice. Rosicky is of course a very strong option to have on the bench, and both Ox and Welbeck are still young and hopefully will develop strongly in the next season or two. Jack might also struggle to get back into the team as a regular first starter once he is back.

Let’s hope we can see these five to six top assists and goals producers play together very regularly from now on, so the fun can really begin.

By TotalArsenal.

Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together…. You is wrong!

4-1-4-1: Wenger’s Total Harmonica Football Formation?

Victory Through Harmony.

Victory Through Harmonic Harmony.

 

It is interesting to listen to the TV and keyboard pundits praising Arsenal and Wenger for the disciplined defensive performance against Citeh. They all seem so genuinely relieved we played with a defensive set-up and smashed the Northern Oilers via breaks and set-pieces. It is not the first time we have played with this approach: for example, the games against the Chavs, at home last season as well as at Stanford Bridge this season, were approached exactly in the same way. It is fair to say, it is not the Arsenal way of playing a game, but Wenger has demonstrated once again that a) he does have a Plan-B, and b) he knows how to make tactical changes to get a result from a game.

In general he prefers to play a system of football that is set up to conquer all and does not need much, if any, tactical tweaking for each and every match. This desire will never change as, in the end, he loves free flowing, attacking, total football too much – and don’t we all? It is also the reason he could manage any club in the world, except the Spuds of course. 🙂

On the other hand, the 4-1-4-1 formation seems to offer formational and tactical flexibility during the same game.

Like a harmonica it can squeeze in and out: becoming solid and compact – 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 – when we need to be, as well as very attack-minded and multi-dimensional up-front as per our normal, default system of football: 4-1-2-3/4-2-1-3.

In order to do this successfully, we need: tactical discipline, on-field leadership (especially in midfield) and brilliant, multi-skilled midfielders.

We only have to remind ourselves about the first ten minutes of the second half against Citeh to realise that varying the styles of football and formations within the same game is not easy. We lost our compactness and defensive discipline and spaces opened up everywhere during this phase, and we almost paid for it. Luckily, it was us that scored the all important second goal of the match, and after that it was relatively easy for us to revert back to our original, far more defensive formation. Citeh, without Yaya and Nasri, were unable to give Silva much support in creating gaps and thus opportunities; and we also defended the wings fantastically well.

It was great to see the team having such fantastic discipline for the majority of the game. Coquelin got a lot of praise, and rightly so. Playing compact suits him very well, and the same goes for the defence. Defence orientated players hate space around them, and especially behind them. If there is little to no space around our defence then everybody starts looking so much better, and that includes our DM.

The Chavs’ Cahill, Terry and Matic are no better than Mertesacker, Koz and Arteta/Flamini/Coquelin, but, as a starting principle, they always ensure they play compact and avoid risks at the back. That’s what makes them look good and our lot regularly not so good, often being left over-exposed by their (too) attack focussed colleagues.

What is absolutely paramount for a solid defensive team display is the role of the four midfielders/attackers in front of the DM, and especially the two central midfielders. They need to curb their attacking instincts to a large extent and be able to both support the defenders and build attacks from a crowded, highly pressured back.

Both Ramsey, and especially Cazorla, mastered this very well, and Ox and Alexis also offered superb defensive and ‘get out of jail’ support throughout the game (and so did Rosicky once he came on for a tired Ox). And with Ozil and Jack, we have two more central midfielders who can do this very, very well. Arsenal are blessed with such players which is a great reason to play a ‘harmonic’ 4-1-4-1 system of football.

When we play fellow direct competitors for silverware away, and maybe also at home, we should more often position our team deeper and more compact, in order to give ourselves a good chance to get a result and avoid painful mega-losses (as per last season).

But, with the right players, we can gradually become stronger and stronger at playing a harmonic 4-1-4-1 formation. Key is to have all our players fit and play together regularly. Another prerequisite is a solid and mobile DM, who will also be strong when our team is stretched forward. Arteta suited this part reasonably well, but I have always felt a need to improve in this area to move us to the next level (and so have most fellow Gooners).

Coquelin is looking really good and I hope we can sign him up to a new deal, and we need to sign one more quality DM to provide depth and competition. Key is that we add real leadership in this position; and, in recent games, Coquelin – finally escaped from his chrysalis – showed he might be able to offer this going forward as well.

But the most important and exciting part of all of this is who we will play in the two central midfield positions of the second ‘4’ of 4-1-4-1.

We can pick, in no particular order, from Rosicky, Ozil, Ramsey, Cazorla, Wilshere and one or two youngsters. I can see Ozil and Cazorla play together there, especially in games where we feel we can play more attack-minded and advanced. The likes of Alexis, Theo and Giroud (Ox, Welbeck etc) will be licking their lips at the anticipated service they would get. The idea that Ozil and Cazorla cannot play together is therefore wrong.

I can also see Jack and Aaron play there and rock the place; and we all know how valuable Rosa still is for us. Arsenal are blessed with super quality in these positions and are no doubt the envy of many, if not all, PL clubs with regards to this.

Cazorla, and Ramsey despite his rustiness, showed how well and disciplined they can play in this formation, and it was their ability to squeeze in with the defence and out with the attack that made a huge difference on Sunday (supported by the ‘mid-wings’ of course). Our transition worked really well, given the pressure we were under; and with more practicing, our 4-1-4-1 harmonica could become an all conquering system of football. It will even allow us to play Cazorla and Ozil together – or eventually my favourite combination: Wilshere and Ozil. 😉

Happy, harmonic times could be around the corner. 🙂

 By: TotalArsenal.

76 scoring opportunities in one season: Arsenal’s master creator is back!

Bang that head that does not bang for Ozil! :)
Bang that head that does not bang for Ozil! 🙂

Two summers ago Arsene Wenger did something we had never seen him do before: he spent record bucks on a world class player, Mesut Ozil. It was greeted with widespread cheer among Arsenal fans even though at the time, it was a signing that defied the deficiencies of the team.

He had a dream debut at Sunderland where he created a goal for Giroud. If Walcott had his scoring boots on that afternoon, it would have been a hat trick of assists for our creative maestro. He went on to have a run of good games but then ran out of steam, and suddenly £42.5m began to look like a lot of money.

He then went on to have an average world cup (by his standards) with one goal and several assists. When he came back he looked jaded, just like all the German players did. Critics went on and on about how Ozil wasn’t worth his price tag. I would like to explore this.

Ozil is one of the best, if not the best, number 10s in the world. Arsene certainly believes so, and if you no longer trust his judgement, as I know many no longer do, then trust Mourinho. The problem is that we Gooners are trying too hard to compare him to Cesc, Oscar, Silva etc etc.

What we are failing to understand is that Mesut Ozil is Mesut Ozil and at his best, he is a contender for player of the year.

Many of his critics argue that he does not put in enough effort and I disagree. Yes, he does not put in enough effort DEFENSIVELY, however when you look at his play in the attacking half, you realize that Ozil is a very hard working player. He pops up everywhere in search of the ball and in a bid to create space for his team mates. He is always on either wing or in the middle trying to look for a decisive pass.

Here is an interesting statistic: Arsenal created a total of 406 goal scoring opportunities last season. Ozil created 76 of them – a massive 18.7%. That means Arsenal were more reliant on Ozil’s creativity than any other Premier League team were on any other player.

Let this sink in a it. 76 scoring opportunities for a player many view as mediocre. I believe that what many saw as a lack of effort on Ozil’s part was really him feeling a bit frustrated. Here is someone who creates chances for fun in a team where nobody, not even the main striker (Giroud) was making any decisive runs into the opposition box.

That statistic proves Ozil did not lose his creative nous, but that the Arsenal team were not able to capitalize on his efforts. This has changed now with Theo back and Alexis in the team. Ozil is primed to step into the fore as he now has proper goal scorers to feed. He already has created for Alexis, Welbeck & Theo individually. Even giroud will be a beneficiary of Ozil’s talent.

What is even more encouraging is that with Santi’s form, he will have to fight for a place in the team. All that is left is for Arsene to bring in a defensive shield (and my first choice is Morgan Schneiderlin), and then we can really see what Ozil is made of. I for one am excited to see him back in the team and cannot wait to see him properly link up with Theo, Alexis & Giroud.

He created 76 scoring chances last season when he was adjusting to the BPL, what do you think will happen when he is back and he is playing alongside ruthless goal scorers?

COYG!!

Written by: Marcus

Gibbs-Alexis, Ozil-Welbeck, The Chambers: With Arsene We Thrust?

Arsenal's Danny Welbeck scores a goal during the Premier League against Aston Villa

Is Triple Thrust the future?

It often amuses me when I speak to Gooners, on and off-line, about Arsene Wenger’s management style, and they tell me that Wenger has no ‘plan-B’ and never prepares tactically for a game. It is most probably true that Wenger does not prepare for every game tactically in great detail, and he also likes to play the same system from one season to the next; but that does not mean he has not got another system of football, or Plan-B if you want, if need be. Just think back to our home game against the Chavs, when he shut the door and played not to lose (as we were still licking our wounds from a heavy defeat at the Northern Oilers).

As I wrote recently, Wenger has a deductive style of management: he thinks things through, produces a plan of how he wants to set up the team (at least in his head), talks to his coaching staff and off he goes implementing it. The plan or system of football and formation is key, and from this he will buy, train, and mould players in such a way that they bring his vision/plan to live. It usually takes time, but once the players get it and start to work as a team, some of the finest football can be enjoyed by both Gooners and non-Gooners. And what he develops is often copied by other managers, even though he has usually already moved on to the next system of football, as he is into perpetual improvement, it seems.

It looks like Arsene is developing two massive new weapons (three actually, but I will come to that later): the combo-wings within his 4-4-1-1 formation, although this could also apply for the former 4-2-1-3 system (to which we might still revert back to). On the left we have Gibbs and Alexis, and on the right, at least for a little longer, we have the Chambers: the Ox and Calum. As others have pointed out, the Ox-Calum train is moving quite nicely right now, and the longer they play together the better their partnership on the right could become. Both are very promising players and have the hunger and talent to make that wing theirs.

Of course, at one point the more experienced pair of Theo and Debuchy will be ready to take over, but one is out for a while and the other will need time to get back to full match fitness after a serious injury. So let’s see whether the young ones can make further progress in the next month or so.

On the left side, we have either Gibbs and Alexis, or Gibbs and Ozil, with Monreal coming back soon as well. Especially the Gibbs-Alexis combo is looking very promising: two very talented, athletic and hard working players who seem to be able to work very well in tandem, and who have no apparent problem with staying put on the wing. I have high hopes that these two can become the deadliest wing-combo on the left in the PL, if not Europe.

The good thing is, as we saw on Wednesday, both wings give us thrust and creativity, and plenty of options for our central midfielders – two of: Ozil, Jack, Ramsey, Santi – to make the play. It remains to be seen how effective they are against the park the bus teams; but even then, the best way of cracking these open and smash them is to stretch and attack them from all sides. And both Ox and Alexis have the additional ability to dribble past defenders, as well as receive a ball in space and power forwards to the goal.

And if we add the central partnership between Ozil and Welbeck to the mix, you can see we will have even more thrust and invention in the team. The first two goals against Villa should give us real hope that this partnership could flourish very nicely this season.

Having these three options to attack our opponents will make us very hard to defend against as danger will come from all areas, and this has been lacking for quite a while now.

Of course, there is a lot more to football than the vertical partnerships on the wings and in the middle. Partnerships between Alexis and Danny, Alexis and Ozil, Ox and Ozil, Ozil and Jack, etc, are just as important. And then there are the horizontal lines of partnership, partly depending on the formation we will be playing during the rest of the season. But this is for another time.

It is also key that the DM and the box to box midfielder are of high quality to both facilitate the attackers and protect the remaining defenders (with FBs often venturing forward, leaving their colleagues exposed). Some of us have argued that we really need to play with two DMs in order to not allow all that thrust up-front to backfire on us.

To be frank, I am not sure what Wenger is trying to achieve exactly. No doubt, it is the big battle between thrust and rebound/counter-football on the one hand, and totally controlling play on the other hand (both styles of play we have seen at the home of football during the Wenger era).

Ideally, we will combine the two into something very special, but this is by far the hardest thing to do. My money is on Wenger trying to achieve just that, as that is what he is like. It might frustrate us at times, but ultimately it will come good. Or not, but then at least we tried to be different and exciting.

And for those who doubt whether Wenger can still pull it off – and some doubt continues to linger in me as well – let’s take Sir Winston Churchill’s wisdom into account:

“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm”. 🙂

Or, as a friend just emailed me, ‘No moss gathers on a rolling stone!’.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Revealed: Arsene’s next Wengerball Plans are a Total Revolution!

Email message from Steve this morning:

Total Arsenal! Amazing news!

I just finished a once in a lifetime private one to one phone call with Arsene himself and let me just say he has put my mind at rest concerning all our midfield questions and debates and our worries about lack of numbers in defense.
I tell you mate there I am spouting all these silly diamond formations and trying to make uninformed selections of players for order of first choice when the boss man had the plan to sort it all out all along. He guaranteed me that the lack of cover in the CB position was done on purpose as a part of a plan and that we could see even more players in the defensive line leave without any replacement also.  He told me that both Szczesny in goal and Welbeck up top would have huge individual roles to play in the near future and that he’s expecting a lot from both of them.  He then went on to explain why he’s been buying up so many attacking midfielders of the same type over the last few years – i’m telling you mate he’s a clever bugger!  I never saw this one coming!
I wasn’t supposed to divulge any of the information he shared with me but I had to tell someone and I knew you would appreciate it, so after he dictated the new line-up to me that would sort all our problems out, explain the logic behind what he’s been doing all these years and reveal his master plan, I quickly made a note of it and made a copy for you.
This is the future line-up, but PLEASE keep it to yourself mate, we don’t want any of the enemy sc*m getting their hands on such a revolutionary tactical concept.
1-9-1 Death by Tiki-Taka! :)
1-9-1 Death by Tiki-Taka! 🙂
Emoji Hope that brightened up the Monday morning for you mate lol, just felt like a giggle.
Cheers, Steve! Sorry, I could not keep it a secret! 😉
TotalArsenal.
On a more serious note, let us know how you want Arsenal  to line-up versus the Northern Oilers this Saturday: what is your ideal starting eleven? I will collate the formations and present our joint preferred line-up by end of the week.
Cheers, TA.

The one player that holds the key to Arsenal’s season

2.92 chances/2.58 key passes per game, yet we still question MO11

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Since Mesut Özil joined on deadline day last year every expert seems to have given their opinion about him. From ‘biggest waste of money’ to ‘best number 10 in the world’, and no player seems to divide the opinion of experts and fans as much as him.

Indeed, he seems to be a giant paradox.

Statistically, he is one of the world’s most creative players. Creating 2.92 chances per game, playing 2.58 key passes per game and 10 assists in 26 games in the Premier League is as good as it gets all across Europe.

On the other hand, his performances seem to tell an entirely different story at times. He often goes missing and looks lacklustre, lazy and unwilling to defend. I believe the biggest problem with the perception of his performances is that we expect too much from him. He has the giant price tag of £42.5m hanging over his head and everyone expects him to be a 20 goals, 20 assists per season player that grabs every game by the scruff of its neck and wins it for us easily.

I hope people have realised by now that Mesut Özil is not that kind of player.

The second biggest issue is his position. It seems to me at times that Arsene Wenger himself does not know yet whether he wants Özil to play in the number 10 role or out wide in the future.

Özil playing out wide allows Wenger to fit Ramsey, Wilshire, Özil and Cazorla in the same line-up, which gives us the lion share of possession most of the time, but it also seems to hinder our creativity and completely takes away our pace. Playing out wide also requires Özil to track back which he does not like to do and even abandons at times.

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To be honest I have no idea why Wenger still plays him out wide as it clearly does not bring the best out of him.

Playing in the number 10 role, no matter whether alone in a 4-2-3-1 or as a shared number 10 in a 4-1-4-1 suites Özil much more. He gets into positions where it takes only one or two more passes to create a goalscoring opportunity. He does not have to track players back into his own box and we can counter attack much better if he wins or receives the ball as early as possible.

In my opinion the criticism he receives is over the top and one obvious thing is that none of his former or present coaches and teammates have anything bad to say about him.

I still remember seeing an Interview with Arsene Wenger on German TV in October 2013. When asked to describe Mesut Özil he stated ‘Mesut Özil is a dream. He is born to play football. Everything he does is class, he makes it look very easy, but he also works very hard’. Joachim Löw hails Özil for his performance without the ball and Jose Mourinho has called him the best number 10 in world. The perfect quote about his role at Arsenal comes from one of the most intelligent footballers ever, Phillip Lahm: ‘His vision is probably the best I have ever seen and that is why it is so important to have the right striker ahead of him. He is a dream for strikers and you saw that with Ronaldo and Benzema when he was at Madrid. If Arsenal can find the right striker who is fast and makes intelligent runs – then Mesut will be devastating next season.’

To me Mesut Özil is the best number 10 in the world. BUT he is only as good as the team allows him to be. At Real Madrid he was sensational because he played the number 10 role with world class forwards like Benzema and Ronaldo, who made it easy for him. At Arsenal it has been up and down so far. He didn’t have a player he could feed with passes the way he could with Ronaldo and playing out wide has not helped him a lot either. The signing of Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez might change this. Welbeck, Alexis and Walcott (if he can finally stay fit) are quick and intelligent enough to provide runs through the back four and therefore provide Özil with what he needs to be brilliant in the number 10 role.

My questions to you are:

1) Where do you want Özil to play? Left wing, right wing or in the middle?
2) Have we found the right striker to get the best out of Özil?

Written by: Nik

Arsenal might finally have the new Bergkamp, Henry, Pires and Ljunberg

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The new season is almost upon us, and with new signings coming in fast now there is plenty of reason to be positive. I reckon Giroud will once again be the first ‘attacker’ on Wenger’s team sheet this season, but I will devote a separate post to this at some point this week.

This post is about the possibility of a serious plan B, if not a future plan A: the reintroduction of 4-4-1-1 or 4-2-3-1 without a ‘holding centre forward’. We now have the players who can come close to the most magnificent combo of attackers I have ever seen at Arsenal, if not in any team: the Invincibles of Bergkamp, Henry, Pires and Ljunberg. The main reason I feel so positive about the possibility to resemble these ferocious, fabulous four is the arrival of Alexis Sanchez: he holds the key.

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Alexis = Dennis in the making

For me Alexis is a player who comes very close to what the one and only Iceman once had to offer to us. I watched the Holland – Chile game again this week and studied Sanchez closely. As many know, he is a very good finisher and winger, but he can also play centrally, either up-front or, ideally, in the hole – ala Bergkamp. He can play with his back to the goal, can turn quickly and attack space and/or players with menace, has great ball control and composure, and he can also spot and execute a killer pass at the blink of an eye. On top of all that, he has a great shot and can be a fox in the box too. Sanchez in two words is ‘attacking versatility’ – just like DB10 was – and that is just what we need at Arsenal right now.

So for me Sanchez could be our new Bergkamp. This might take time, but he has the right attitude and in Wenger the best tutor to get there.

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Mesut = Robert in the making

Now this will not be universally supported, but I reckon Ozil best position is in the ‘free role’ on the left. Ozil needs freedom and movement and does not naturally hold the area between the opposition’s ‘D’ and the middle line. He still does well at Arsenal in the hole and this is partly because Giroud is so good at holding onto the ball in the middle, allowing Ozil to roam freely; but this is for a different post.

I would prefer Sanchez, or even Jack, in the hole as they both are more natural in owning the area. Ozil is a great player who will ALWAYS add value to a team, with his movement and immaculate positioning and passing, and for me he will be most effective if played on the left with a licence to roam – including into the hole. As such, I can see Ozil developing in our very own new Pires, who was also not a typical left winger. Mesut will always produce assists (and penultimate assists, for a lack of a better word), but in this new system there will be space and time for him to start scoring towards 15 PL goals a season. The beauty of both Mesut and Sanchez is that they can interchange positions, which will make it really hard for opponents to eliminate our ‘creative force’.

Theo soring against Udinese

Santi, Alex and Theo = Freddie in the making

On the right, we need the ‘new Ljunberg’ and this place is up for grabs for the likes of Santi, Ox and of course Theo (and maybe Gnabry eventually). Santi is possibly to slow and lacks defensive discipline at times, and Theo lacks the close ball control skills Freddie possessed, but they both can produce the assists and goals the Swede once produced for us. I reckon Ox come closest to a Freddie-esque player but he would have to work hard to get there; maybe Santi or Theo could play there until he is ready? And there is still scope for Santi himself to work hard and become our very own new Freddie.

The Ox: ready to add the extra spark next season?
The Ox: ready to add the extra spark next season?

Theo, Joel or Alex = Thierry in the making

But who could be the new Henry? At this stage, I can see three options: Theo, Campbell and, my favourite, the Ox. I need to observe more of Campbell’s talents to be sure whether he has all the attributes to develop into a Henry-esque all-round attacker, but what I have seen until now is very encouraging. He has good close ball control and speed, he possesses a great shot and finishes well in the box, but most importantly, like Henry he comes for the ball all the way to the middle, and makes things happen once he has got it. He has presence and attitude and a good engine, despite having to improve his fitness a bit more. He is comfortable with the ball, and also makes good runs with or without it, and he can also pick a good pass. Of course, he still has a lot to learn but he is a very exciting prospect for us, and I hope we hold on to him this season (which is really not a given right now).

I reckon Theo could be lethal in the ‘free central forward’ position, IF played in front of Sanchez, with both Ozil and Santi/Ox on the wings. Key in all of this is Sanchez being our central anchor, who can play with his back to goal and orchestrate our attacks from the area in front of the ‘D’. The one limitation of Theo is attacking players in front of him with the ball (in tighter spaces): Theo needs to be released into space to be at his best and he is not so comfortable with the ball as Henry once was. I find him still more suited to the wing than centrally up-front, but would like to see more of him there with the right players around him.

And that brings me to the Ox. For me he comes closest to what Thierry Henry offered us for so many years. He also needs Sanchez to be in the ‘Bergkamp role’ as to have the freedom to make runs with and without the ball and not have to be the holding man (ala Giroud). Jozefos2013 excellent post yesterday, about the many options for the Ox, has made me realise even more that his best position might well be the Thierry role. Ox is brilliant with the ball when attacking space and/or players: that is his strongest skill. As such, he can play on the wing, just like Henry once used to do. But there is a real thrust in his play: a power and determination to make it to the goal and score, and for this he has the physique, the stamina, the speed and the close ball control/dribbling skills. The Ox also has a good to great shot and a good eye for a through-pass too. I would love him to be played up-front with Sanchez behind him; I reckon he would be revelation there.

I know I am dreaming when I write this, but the prospect of Ramsey and a beast of DM/Diaby (everything that sticks out crossed he stays fit for a long period!) in the double-DM pivot, supporting Ozil, Sanchez and Theo/Santi up-front with Ox/Theo as our furthest forward gradually growing into our new ‘Henry-Bergkamp-Pires-Ljunberg foursome’, has me very excited!

I doubt strongly whether Wenger has these sorts of plans for the team, at least not in the short run. And that is okay, but the prospect of having a really attractive plan-B potentially in place, and that we might have the players now who have the talents and could reach the heights of our former super-attacking Invincibles, is just fecking exciting!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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