Good day Insiders, First of all I would like to apologise about the players within the diagrams used below. They were done towards the end of last season and therefore include Flamini (already gone) and Hleb (possibly going). The ideas are still the same however and if it makes it easier imagine Song in Flamini’s position and Rosicky where Hleb is.
I decided to look at certain aspects of our play that are currently weak and need changing.
In the diagram above, the filled in area is that dangerous area between defence and midfield. When a long ball comes over this is the area which a centre back must attack. This is where the first ball is won. Most teams will have one centre back that comes out of position to attack this long ball in the danger area. The centre back partner will then be ready to sweep up should there be a second ball to win or flick on to cover. The problem we have right now is that neither of our centre backs attacks the first ball and both their games are suited to the second centre back, the covering defender.
Cast your minds back to three games from last season. They provide perfect examples of what happens if the centre backs don’t attack the first ball:
Arsenal v Tottenham (home) Premier League
Throughout the game Dimitar Berbatov dropped into the space highlighted in the diagram but he was unchallenged. He was then able to bring the ball down and run at the defence. This is when a defence is most under threat; a quality striker running at them with the ball. From here Berbatov was able to dominate play and make things happen for Tottenham that day. He got a goal and was the main reason Tottenham deserved something out of the game. From this dangerous position he was able to cause havoc for the defence.
Chelsea v Arsenal (away) Premier League
Both Chelsea’s goal came from long balls into Drogba. The ball was allowed to come too far into our half as both Gallas and Toure refused to go out and meet it higher up the pitch. Drogba was then able to bring the ball down in positions that ultimately gave him the chance to score. The defence was all over the place as the ball came into the danger zone unchallenged and lo and behold, Drogba turned the game in their favour because our defenders could not dominate the area.
Arsenal v Liverpool (home) Premier League
A harmless ball came over and dropped right into that area where the first ball needs to be attacked. Peter Crouch found himself with space as both Toure and Gallas backed off him. This gave him the time he needed to chest the ball down and move towards goal. Again, the defenders were in the situation where they faced a striker coming at them in a dangerous area. Crouch then had the space to take aim and find the bottom corner.
The common pattern here is that when a striker gets into this space, he seems to be unchallenged. These examples stand out but it has happened on other occasions. Either Toure or Gallas has to take the initiative and attack the first ball. This may not be their natural game but sometimes things have to change for the good of the team. If they cannot work this out between them, maybe something entirely new is needed. We need someone to dominate in our defence and right now it doesn’t seem we have that player.
Arsenal have never really replaced the goals that Pires and Ljungberg chipped in with. This is because the players we have used are not the goalscoring type. Hleb and Rosicky are more creative players who make goals rather than score them. When we had these two on the wings, the goals from midfield dried up. The play tended to get too narrow as both players wanted to cut inside. The same happened if Wenger tried Diaby on the left or Denilson on the right. The play got too congested and there was not enough space for the strikers to operate.
Wenger tried to change this by playing Eboue on the wing last season but he flopped and didn’t manage a single goal throughout the whole season. He also tended to get lost in games which became a problem if we needed to get the ball wide. To make space for strikers, the ball needs to be sent out wide before it can come back in sometimes. Eboue didn’t have the quality to deliver the right ball, most of the time anyway and with Hleb cutting inside most of the time, we did not use the width nearly enough.
Next season we need to use our width more and get a few more crosses in from out wide. We saw this season that Adebayor can put away chances when given the right delivery. The best football played under Wenger has involved moving the ball in and out and using those in wide positions. Towards the end of last season we saw that if you have the right player out wide, it can work brilliantly. Theo Walcott came into his own during the final games of the season and we must use him more next season. He drags defenders out of position which means they cannot pack the area. The strikers are capable of scoring but if the opposition pack the box, any striker would find it hard. Rosicky/Hleb will always want to cut inside so we need added width on the other side.
It really annoys me to see all 10 outfield players back in our penalty box when defending a corner. Our team is not a tall one and it seems pointless to have such a large group of small players defending set pieces. They would be better suited up field waiting for the clearance and thereby force the opposition to have more players back. I remember seeing a Barcelona game where they left Eto’o, Ronaldinho and Messi up front at a corner. This mean their opposition had to have 4 players back. This left the area free of too many players and cleared room for the keeper to claim the ball and stopped confusion over who had to attack a ball coming in.
Having too many players back congests the central area and often creates a minefield for the keeper to make his way through before he can think about catching the ball. It also creates difficulty for the keeper when trying to see where the ball is when headed towards goal. Confusion can also be created over who is supposed to attack the ball. If there are too many players within the same area, they can often leave it for someone else.
I would like to see Arsenal change the way they set up. It is fine to have 2 players on the post; in fact I would not want to move them. Cesc and Clichy are fine doing this job as they did this season. A player is needed on the edge of the 6 yard box to move in case a short corner is taken or to clear an under hit corner. Again, this can be a shorter guy and Hleb/R osicky is fine doing this. The opposition often put a player on the keeper and a player is needed to pick up this man and protect the goalie. This can be done by a short player and unless a tall DM is brought in, Song can do this job. That leaves Sagna, Toure, Gallas and Adebayor to pick up the remaining opposition players. They are all decent headers of the ball and can pick up the men according to who feels most capable against the more dangerous opposition players. We must man mark as zonal marking is so easy to beat now, just look how Adebayor stood in the goal before moving out in a straight line, to head home unchallenged against Liverpool.
That leaves Van Persie and Walcott up front to play on the counter. Theo’s pace can be a huge weapon on the counter and it could relive the days when an opposition corner was quickly turned into an Arsenal goal within seconds. Having everyone back slows down this process and means we never win the cleared ball. Having Theo and Robin up means someone can pick up the loose ball, or they can be used as an outlet, especially with the pace Theo possesses.
These things are all small aspects that I feel need to change but if they are put into practice they could revamp both our attacking and defending for next season. I will leave the changes in personnel to Mr Wenger and obviously certain things within what I have said might be answered or need to be changed further after changes are made.