In the ‘invincible season’, we played a team with two destructive centre midfielders with two unconventional wingers, attacking the box, and switching positions with Henry, with the central focus, arguably the greatest Dutchman of this era, with his vision, technique and awareness providing elegance to the intelligent runs of Pires and Ljungberg. In contrast, that central attacking focus has changed, with Fabregas adopting a deeper role in this new, more continental team. With more technical players used in the elusive Hleb and the (ever so slightly) Rosicky, the speed on the counter-attack is not what it once used to be. Until this season that is. As Vieira used to press and harass opponents high up the pitch, leading his fellow players in forcing the opposition into making a mistake, now it is Flamini who while not as physically intimidating, makes this deficiency up through his unlimited stamina, and this new-found aggression allows us to exploit any space with greater speed.
Yet in rotating against Sevilla, while we lost any consistency, (injuries also played a hand), there has no central attacking focus, and with our wide players a striker and a right-back, this tactic did not work. It has done on occasions, such as in January 2007, in the FA cup game at Anfield where, we adopted almost a stereotypical Brazilian 4-2-2-2, with Flamini providing aggression and Gilberto experience. The wing play was superb, with the two eastern Europeans in Hleb and Rosicky, combining to great effect. Yet such a counter-attacking formation was allowed by playing two strikers, who while they were marked well, always gave a hint of a threat, and in the end (with some luck), Henry scored a great goal. With poor wide players (with Eboue limited technically, with the exception that inch perfect back heel and Eduardo, not accustomed to tracking back, leaving us exposed on the left flank), the central trio had to be strong and compact and providing an attacking focus. The fact that Cesc Fabregas, a player who has grown to become the fulcrum of this new side, barely touched the ball in the game, and operating with limited space, epitomised the poor nature of the performance.
Gilberto’s role was vital in the game-plan, with Wenger assuming he would sweep up any counter-attacks, and tackle efficiently, preventing any prolonged spell of possession for the home side. Yet after scoring early, in a group from which we had qualified, the team perhaps subconsciously dropped off, and ceased from pressing and maintaining the momentum built up. There were several instances where a Sevilla player ran at the back-four, without Denilson, Cesc or the Brazilian captain getting near to him, and delaying the release of the pass. The strong central core that was necessary had failed; as a result Sevilla for all their wasteful nature could have had six or seven, if only for some composure. With Eduardo not attempting to track back, once he scored his goal, Traore was left woefully exposed to the attacking intent of Alves and Navas, a potent combination, especially at home in front of over 60, 000 fans. Yet this was not the main issue. The midfield was being bypassed with every Sevilla attack, our ‘volante’ and his young pretender, were like Fabregas, being completely outplayed. While this added to our demise, the simple mistakes made in a Champions League match, which were extremely disappointing, emphasise that concentration and focus must be 100% at all times.
The creativity dilemma is very difficult to solve, with no replacement capable of playing the natural game, which Cesc adds to our team. Without Hleb, it will be even more evident how much this duo adds to our attacking game. Rosicky is not the solution, although he is a wonderful footballer, his direct nature is needed on the wing, where he will track back too, unlike make-shift wide-men in Walcott and Eduardo. We must hope our maestro’s injury is not serious, and will need Flamini back for the Villa game, adding aggression and a high pressing game to our style, which has now been disrupted.
A pacy backline will be needed as the positioning of Senderos ( no more needs to be said, knee-jerk articles will crop up anyway) did not inspire, nor did the majority of his play. Toure lost Fabiano for the header and conceded the penalty, and so a calm presence in Gallas, with the addition of the assured Sagna and Clichy, must improve our defensive shambles. The return of Van Persie would help the team to no end, and would force Wenger to drop the unsuccessful 4-5-1 formation he has adopted since the Dutchman’s unfortunate injury. This would all cover the fragile midfield played in Seville, but a replacement for Cesc is needed, as is cover for Hleb and Rosicky. Naturally Luka Modric comes to mind, but in addition to this, young Fran Merida can come to the fray as a contender to become Cesc’s replacement when suspension and injury strikes. In addition to this, a centre-back is needed, to cover Toure’s departure in January. The Villarreal youngster Caceres may be a possibility, having impressed on loan at Huelva. While it proved to be a good learning experience for the younger member’s of the team, it proved that many of our players aren’t as versatile as once thought.
Hopefully this nightmare of a tactical plan will make Wenger to abandon his 4-5-1 approach, and we should be lucky that it was in a match with little significance, although come February, we may be cursing the decision to rotate.
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