Posts Tagged ‘Arsenal’
“Arsenal have gone seven and a half years without winning a trophy, but while they used to be able to take solace in the quality of their football, Wenger’s side are no longer the swashbuckling team of old. They continue to enjoy more possession of the ball, on average, than any of their rivals (59.9 percent per game, according to the website www.whoscored.com), but after 15 games of the current campaign, their attack is only the seventh most potent in the division.”
My piece for AFP on the identity crisis that has hit Arsenal this season can be read here.
You can also read my round-up of Saturday’s Premier League matches, including Manchester United’s madcap 4-3 win at Reading, here.
“MARSEILLE — An injury-time goal by substitute Aaron Ramsey gave Arsenal a 1-0 win at Marseille on Wednesday that enabled Arsene Wenger’s side to leapfrog their opponents to top spot in Champions League Group F.”
My AFP match report can be read here.
George Orwell once wrote: “The English are not happy unless they are miserable.” They are not the only ones. France may be within four points of a place at Euro 2012, having also beaten both England and Brazil in friendlies over the last 12 months, but the French sports media are not satisfied.
Critical of the team’s play and piqued by the supposed egotism of certain players, some members of the French press pack have even dared to make ominous comparisons with the atmosphere in the months that led up to last year’s fateful World Cup campaign. To the neutral observer France appear to have come on in leaps and bounds since the end of the Raymond Domenech era, but fissures remain.
The focal point of much of the criticism over the international break has been Samir Nasri, who stands accused of wilfully slowing France’s play by dwelling on the ball and intruding into areas of the pitch that should be the exclusive domain of his defensive midfield colleagues.
Told by Laurent Blanc that he could “do more” for the national team, Nasri responded that he would prefer to be told about the coach’s concerns “face to face”. Largely anonymous in the 2-1 win in Albania last Friday, he was among five players dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s instantly forgettable 0-0 draw with Romania.
The Premier League season is less than two weeks old, but a look at how the top sides lined up in their opening matches provides an interesting indication of how they plan to approach the season from a tactical perspective.
The diagrams below, screenshots from the ESPN Soccernet website, show the average positions adopted by the players from Chelsea, Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool in their teams’ opening home games of the season. (Data is taken only from home games because ESPN’s average position diagrams inexplicably go a bit haywire for away teams.)
Average position diagrams do not give a water-tight representation of a team’s formation – which is necessarily in a constant state of flux – but they do offer useful insights into basic shape.
In the 6-0 victory over West Bromwich Albion on the season’s opening day, Chelsea lined up in the same loose 4-3-3 formation that they adopted during last season’s title run-in, but with Florent Malouda playing on the left of the front three, rather than the midfield three. Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka both drop deep to get fully involved in the team’s build-up play and Malouda has become wonderfully adept at exploiting the space they vacate – as he did when he scored the sixth goal against West Brom from Anelka’s lofted pass.
[Squad numbers: 1. Petr Čech; 19. Paulo Ferreira, 33. Alex, 26. John Terry, 3. Ashley Cole; 5. Michael Essien, 12. John Mikel Obi, 8. Frank Lampard; 39. Nicolas Anelka, 11. Didier Drogba, 15. Florent Malouda; Substitutes: 2. Branislav Ivanović, 10. Yossi Benayoun, 21. Salomon Kalou]
As the dust settles on a Premier League season that somehow managed to be full of surprises and yet completely predictable at the same time, Football Further looks at some of the tactical trends that characterised the campaign.
Wall-to-wall flat back fours
A flat back four, often with attacking full-backs, continues to be the overwhelmingly predominant defensive strategy in the Premier League. All 20 teams in the English top flight preferred a back four this season and the rare deviations often met with alarming results. Injuries forced Manchester United to deploy a makeshift back three of Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick and Richie de Laet at Fulham in mid-December and they went down 3-0, while Wigan’s attempt to stymie Chelsea’s influence in wide areas on Sunday by lining up in a previously untested 5-3-2 was an unmitigated disaster.
Another interesting feature of the campaign has been the perhaps surprising popularity of two-striker formations. Tactical experts readily assert that one-striker formations represent football’s future, but in this season’s Premier League, only Arsenal, Blackburn, Everton, Liverpool, Wigan and Wolves regularly played with only one recognisable central forward in attack.
Elsewhere, strike partnerships were all the rage, from Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka at Chelsea to Frédéric Piquionne and Aruna Dindane at Portsmouth. Some sides even played with three. Birmingham deployed James McFadden on the left of midfield in support of Christian Benitez and Cameron Jerome, Martin Paterson played in a wide role alongside David Nugent and Steven Fletcher for Burnley, while Sunderland managed to accommodate Darren Bent, Kenwyne Jones and Fraizer Campbell in their line-up towards the end of the season.
“The 4-4-2 structure is not his forte,” said Birmingham boss Alex McLeish on McFadden’s repositioning as a wide midfielder. “He has got an edge in the last third which is why in the middle part of the season we played him around the corner and narrowed the midfield – [Sebastian] Larsson, [Barry] Ferguson, [Lee] Bowyer – and we compensated a wee bit in that very good run we had. James played around the corner to support the front two and that is his best position. You do take a bit away from him trying to make him a 4-4-2 player.”
The shift in attacking emphasis is borne out by the statistics. Drogba, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tévez and Bent all scored in excess of 20 goals this season (and Fernando Torres would definitely have joined them had it not been for injury), which was the first time since the 2003-04 campaign that four strikers breached the 20-goal barrier in the same Premier League season. With Frank Lampard also chipping in with a superb 22-goal haul, 2009-10 was also the first season since 1994-95 that five players broke the 20-goal mark.
A renowned pragmatist, Fabio Capello is not the kind of coach likely to take a gamble on a completely untested player when he names his England squad for this summer’s World Cup. Should he feel inclined to assess his options in the friendly matches that will precede England’s trip to South Africa, however, one player unlikely to have escaped his attention this season is Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
Currently on loan at Bolton Wanderers, where he has started seven of the last nine Premier League games, Wilshere is beginning to show glimpses of the talent that has made him perhaps the most talked-about English teenager since Wayne Rooney. The diminutive 18-year-old scored his first Premier League goal in the 2-1 victory at West Ham United last month and in Bolton’s 4-0 defeat at home to Manchester United last weekend he demonstrated a vision and a range of passing beyond most seasoned midfielders in England’s top flight.
“He surprised me,” admitted Capello back in August. “I saw him twice in the Carling Cup last year and he has improved a lot now. We have time before we have to decide if he will go to South Africa. He plays without fear, with confidence. And the other players passed the ball always to him. This is not normal to be so young and so good.”
At a coaching conference in Rio de Janeiro six years ago, Brazilian World Cup-winning coach Carlos Alberto Parreira described a 4-6-0 formation that he felt would revolutionise football tactics.
The man who will lead hosts South Africa into next summer’s World Cup said the system would involve six multi-faceted midfielders and no recognisable strikers, with players rotating defensive and attacking responsibilities between them. Parreira’s vision has thus far failed to spark a tactical revolution, although a few sides have dabbled with a similar approach.
Manchester United deployed a free-form formation during the 2007-08 season, in which they won the Premier League and the Champions League with Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tévez and Cristiano Ronaldo exchanging positions at the point of the attack while Park Ji-sung or Ryan Giggs offered support from deep.
Roma, under Luciano Spalletti, experimented by playing Francesco Totti as an advanced playmaker who would invert the attacking line by dropping deep behind the ball, while Everton were forced to field six midfielders at times last season when injuries led to Tim Cahill being played as a lone central attacker.
The news that Robin van Persie is likely to be out for between four and five months due to the ankle injury he sustained in the Netherlands’ friendly in Italy earlier this month is a massive body blow for Arsenal. Not only is he their top scorer and set-piece specialist, he is also pivotal to the way they play.
Arsène Wenger has traditionally been loath to dip his toes into the uncertain waters of the January transfer window, but the mid-season signing of Andrey Arshavin last term was the catalyst for a superb burst of form that saw Arsenal assemble a 21-game unbeaten streak in the league.
Furthermore, van Persie’s absence leaves Wenger with a gaping hole in his forward line that none of his other attacking players can adequately fill. Eduardo is too much of a poacher, Nicklas Bendtner not enough of a direct goal threat, Theo Walcott more of a winger and Carlos Vela too raw.