Tuesday, November 9, 2010

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Monday, November 1, 2010

Arsenal 1-0 West Ham: Width and Alex finally get Arsenal on Song

Arsenal left it late, but finally got the 3 points home to West Ham.

Arsenal named almost the same team that beat Manchester City, with Laurent Koscielny replacing Johan Djourou. With Alex Song operating as a box to box player, Arsenal's formation was something between 4-1-2-3 and 4-2-1-3. West Ham started with only Frederic Piquionne up front, as they named a 5 man midfield to try and stifile Arsenal. Luis Boa Morte was used as a central midfielder, and Valeron Behrami was on the right and Victor Obinna on the left.
Early Success
Arsenal had early success down the right hand side with Bacary Sagna providing a threat for West Ham. Obinna wasn't tracking back as much as Behrami, who can also play as a wing back and is much more comfortable tracking back than Obinna. Sagna was able to get behind Obinna and put in some dangerous crosses, from which Arsenal failed to score. That, though was it for Arsenal's wide play, as they kept on trying to cut West Ham open through the middle. Last week at City, Arsenal had played with more width, because City were closing them down in the midfield. West Ham were closing Arsenal down, but they were still content to play through the middle, with Song becoming an extra attacking threat.

Over the last few weeks, Alex Song has been at times the most attacking Arsenal midfielder. Last year he was a much more defensively minded midfielder, but this year he has evolved into a box to box midfielder. On Saturday, and last Sunday, Song was partnered with Denilson who is more aware defensively. Against Shakthar Donestk, Wilshere had the job to hold while Song went forward, though it is interesting that Wilshere is though of as a box to box midfielder. On Saturday, the 3 midfielders rotated between holder, box to box and attacking midfielder.

by Guardian Chalkboards
The chalkboard above shows how much his positioning has changed over the last 12 months.
This though means Fabregas plays deeper, not right behind the front man, as he did last year. This maybe because Fabregas has been marked tightly, leading to more space for Song to get forward.

Some of Arsenal's best chances were coming in from wide, with Sagna cutting back for Fabregas and Walcott hitting the post after he came on for Denilson. His pace also forced West Ham to sit deeper, leaving more time for Arsenal to pass the ball around, and letting them get the ball out wide. Eventually, one of Arsenal's crosses found an Arsenal player, with Song scoring after Clichy's excellent cross.
Right before, Arshavin had been brought off for Bendtner, getting more bodies in the box, and with the Russian ineffective on this day, Clichy getting forward was important.

A good result for Arsenal; another day and West Ham may have held out for a draw, or even snatched a goal on a set piece or counter. Song was magnificent, going forward and winning the ball back, and again Arsenal scored from wide.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Arsenal 3-0 Manchester City: Width Key and Newcastle 0-4 Arsenal: Counter Attack

Arsenal beat City 3-0 on Sunday, a scoreline that hides the fact that City were in large parts of the game.

After the sending off of Dedryck Boyata, City played a 4-3-1-1 formation, with the 3 sitting very narrow. Arsenal played less through the middle than they did against Birmingham, but on Sunday, Arsenal's wide players, Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin kept the width, exposing City, and forcing them to run more. Nasri and Arshavin would combine for the first goal, Nasri cutting in as Bacary Sagna crossed, and Nasri cutting in from the wing provided the ball for Bendtner for the third goal.
A chalkboard explains better than I do:

by Guardian Chalkboards
Against City, Arsenal's passing involved more width than a similar game, away to 10 man Liverpool, did. That may have to do with the different styles of Liverpool and City, but Arsenal's width was a key factor in their victory.

Newcastle 0-4 Arsenal

Arsenal's 4th round Carling Cup victory against Newcastle was a very scrappy and un-Arsenal like performance. Arsenal were sloppy in possession, pehaps down to the pitch, and players like Craig Eastmond in the team, but they seemed to play the long ball more than usual, and Walcott's two goals came from long passes out of defence, though one, by Koscielny, was very composed.
After going 2-0 up, Arsenal sat back a bit, and most of their attacking play in the second half was through the pace of Walcott, as he stretched Newcastle, who were pushing forward to get back into the match. Of the 3 goals in the second half, two were counter attacks, and winning the ball in the middle of the pitch.
Walcott's pace has been missed by Arsenal, as he gives them the pace to lead a quick counter attack, and time and time again a simple long ball from the back found him in a lot of space.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Arsenal 5-1 Shakhtar: Arsenal Rout Pitmen

Arsenal are all but through to the knockout stage after thumping Shakhtar Donetsk 5-1.

Arsenal welcomed Cesc Fabregas back and Tomas Rosicky replaced Andrey Arshavin as Arsenal played their usual 4-2-3-1, but with Nasri and Rosicky providing more width than normal. Shakhtar left Douglas Costa and Eduaro on the bench as they went for a more defensive 4-2-3-1.

The match started out slowly, with Arsenal content to sit back and let Shakhtar move the ball around in their own half. Even after going fortuitously up 1-0, they were still content to let Shakhtar move the ball around in defence. Shakhtar, however, were unable to string any coherent play together, and when they did, Arsenal's midfield was quick to press the man in possession.

Midfield Fluidity
The most interesting aspect of Arsenal's play on Tuesday was the fluid midfield of Jack Wilshere, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Song. Last year Song was ofter the most defensive midfielder, and was quite successful; this year he has become more attack minded player, and at times on Tuesday he was the furthest forward midfielder, and at times the deepest. Wilshere and Fabregas would sit back for Song, and it was remarkable how deep Fabregas and Wilshere were at times. After Denilson came on, Wilshere was liberated to move forward, as Denilson was more content to sit back and hold, and Wilshere promptly scored.

It was amazing how deep Arsenal sat back on Tuesday, and somewhat uncharacteristic. Perhaps they were worried about being caught out like they were by Birmingham and West Brom, or maybe they were conserving energy, being confident of there ability to break up play.

Chamakh soon added a 5th, and then Eduardo got a well received consolation to close out an easy game for Arsenal who never looked in danger of losing.

credit to Total Football iPhone App

Monday, October 4, 2010

Chelsea 2-0 Arsenal: Cole and Drogba do it again

Arsenal lost to Chelsea again last Sunday. Despite playing a lot better than they have in the last 4 times, Arsenal still lost, succumbing to the Cole to Drogba yet again.

Arsenal played 4-2-3-1, with Jack Wilshere and Alex Song playing in the deeper midfield role, and Abou Diaby behind Chamakh. Diaby was often ahead of Chamakh early in the match as Arsenal pressed very well in the first 20 minutes, and could've been ahead, with Laurent Koscielny missing over the bar.

Chelsea got back in the match, and took the lead when Cole crossed for Drogba, with Drogba finishing superbly. It was very similar to the goal Drogba scored at the Emirates last year, with Cole getting ahead of Nasri again, and crossing for Drogba again. Emmanuel Eboue may be a solution to stopping Cole, and tracking him. In the end, Arsenal need a player like Ji-Sung Park, who is in the side to specifically track Cole.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Arsenal played well in the second half, dominating possession but never creating enough chances, and when they did, they weren't as clinical as Chelsea. Obviously missing Van Persie and Fabregas hurt Arsenal, but they must be more clinical to win the big matches. Also, there is a defensive wobbly ness about Arsenal; both goals came from fouls that were stupidly conceded.

There isn't a lot more to say. Chelsea were excellent defensively and took their chances very well. There is a machine like efficiency about Chelsea, and they are favourites for the title. However, Arsenal were a lot better than they have been and the game was a lot closer than some pundits have said. There is still a big gap between the two, and tactically, if Arsenal are to beat Chelsea, they will need to have a player who tracks Ashley Cole and prevents him crossing in for Drogba, like he has in 2 of the last 3 meetings.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Arsenal 2-3 West Bromwich Albion: Thomas excellent against Arsenal

Arsenal expected to beat West Brom on Saturday, but instead West Bromwich Albion pulled off a shock, deservedly winning 3-2.

Both teams lined up in a similar 4-2-3-1, with WBA playing with a more compact midfield with the pace of Jerome Thomas on the left and Peter Odimwingie upfront always being a counter attacking threat.

WBA Pressing

West Brom started well and forced a lot of errant passes from Arsenal. This was because of West Brom's pressing, which Roberto Di Matteo revealed later, was there gameplan. They front players didn't give the defenders or defensive midfielders time to pick a pass to one of the attacking players, meaning that Arsenal moves broke down early, or ended up in loss of possession. West Brom's pressing did, however, leave space behind their defence that Arsenal were unable to exploit because of the lack of time to play a killer pass.

Arsenal Defensive Frailties

Arsenal's defence did not have a good game on Saturday. In the first half the defence played a high line, leaving them susceptible to through balls, like the one from Chris Brunt that found Peter Odimwingie and forced a penalty. In the second half, Arsenal were again undone by pace, as Jerome Thomas skinned Bacary Sagna, and crossed for Odimwingie to poke home. It was a good cross and good wing play, but no Arsenal defender tracked the run of Odimwingie. 2 minutes later, Brunt backheeled past Clichy, Koscielny didn't close down Jara and Almunia palmed it into his own net. That was the highlighted error, but just as bad was Koscielny's failure to close down Jara and force him out wide, and also Song's positioning was awful. Wilshere and Rosicky came on for the ineffectual Eboue and Diaby and Vela came on for Koscielny. WBA then scored again, Brunt evading Song's challenge and beating Almunia to the ball before crossing for Thomas to tap in. It was again poor goalkeeping by Almunia, but again not one defender tracked the run of Thomas and Song's defending was again poor.

Nasri immiedietly responded for Arsenal, who started to look more dangerous. Arshavin came into the center, Nasri had a drifting role, with Vela trying to cross from the left. Wilshere came on for Diaby and played a lot better than the Frenchman had, though WBA did allow more space as they sat back. Nasri would score again, but Arsenal were unable to score a third.


Arsenal were undone by pace and pressing today. West Brom pressedm rather like Sunderland did last week. Both teams didn't allow Arsenal time on the ball, which meant that Arsenal didn't really start to dominate until later in the match when the opposition tired. Arsenal will have to find some way to relieve the pressure. One way to relieve pressure is pace, and it would've been interesting to see if the pace of Walcott could've exploited the space behind West Brom's back line.
Arsenal's high defensive line meant they were susceptible to the pace of Thomas and Odemwingie, and it was those two, along with Chris Brunt, that caused the most damage for Arsenal. The fullbacks were paticularly bad, with Thomas and Brunt regularly getting the better of Sagna and Clichy. Whatever may happen in the following months for West Brom, this was a match they thoroughly deserved to win.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Fabulous Fabregas leads Arsenal in 6-0 thrashing

Cesc Fabregas was spectacular against Braga on Wednesday night; from his position in a 4-2-1-3/4-2-3-1 he dictated play, and was involved in all 6 goals for Arsenal.Arsenal lined up similarly to Saturday, in a 4-2-3-1 with Samir Nasri drifting in a lot, making the 4-2-3-1 become a 4-2-2-2 when either Arshavin or Fabregas pushed on. Braga also lined up in a 4-2-3-1, but a wider and deeper 4-2-3-1 than Arsenal's.

Arsenal started the game off extremely strong and were pressing the ball and passing the ball extremely well and could've had a penalty 3 minutes in. The breakthrough finally came through, and it was Fabregas playing in Chamakh.

All Through the Left
A lot of Arsenal's attacking play came through the left; with Samir Nasri replacing the injured Theo Walcott, Arsenal lacked width as Nasri liked the come inside. This was pointed out last week where I mentioned that Arsenal seemed to be playing a 4-2-2-2 at times. Tonight it looked like a diamond 4-4-2, with Wilshere, though at times defending deep, given license to move forward on the left of midfield, and with Arshavin prefering the left.
(Picture from soccernet.com. Arsenal's defenders are in red, Alex Song is the deepest midfielder, Wilshere and Nasri play on the left and right of the centre midfield, with Fabregas playing ahead of them, behind Chamakh and Arshavin (in black)).
Braga's strongest player was Alan, but as he was on their right, most of their attacks came down their right where Arsenal were strong in numbers, while if they had switched to the left, Arsenal could've been more exposed.

The Joy of Cesc

Braga found it difficult to mark Fabregas, as he was constantly moving between the lines. Fabregas was everywhere, either coming from deep, or appearing at times higher than Marouane Chamakh, and Braga couldn't cope with Fabregas' great all around play. Not only did he have 2 assists and 2 goals, but his pressing was very good, creating his second goal from it.
Chamakh's movement was again key for Arsenal, as he dragged defenders, creating space for both Fabregas and Arshavin.

Arsenal won't find many games easier than this, but it was still a fine attacking performance, and when called upon, they defended well. As Thomas Vermaelen pointed out, Koscielny "goes for the close marking style" and Squillaci is similar. This, as well as defending deep, countered Braga's counter attack threat. All in all, an excellent, joyful performance from Arsenal, and one that should make clubs across Europe take notice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Are Arsenal playing a 4-2-2-2?

With the absence of Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky came into the first XI on Saturday. Rosicky is a different player to Walcott, and looks to come inside more than Walcott.
At times, it looked like Arsenal were playing a Spanish like 4-2-3-1/4-2-2-2, with Rosicky joining Fabregas.

Let's look at the 3rd Arsenal goal
Here, Rosicky and Denilson (black underlined) are the 2 deepest midfielders, while Fabregas and Song (in red) are the two furthest. Arshavin is out of picture, and Chamakh is in green.
With Rosicky tucking in, there's noone on the right wing, and Arshavin is on the left, but drifting in. This is similar to Spain's system early in the World Cup; Villa nominally on the left but cutting in, Torres up front, Iniesta nominally on the right cutting in to the middle with Xavi and Sergio and Alonso holding. It's a similar system here (though Song is not an attacking midfielder)
Here, Arshavin has joined the attack, giving Arsenal 2 defined front players and 2 defined attacking midfielders. To me, the formation seems a 4-2-2-2. While that formation can create natural width by players finding space, and some wonderful football (it was used by Brazil in 1982), the lack of a direct outlet on the right could hinder Arsenal, which is why it's important the fullbacks can deliver good crosses when they do get forward, or Arsenal have a direct outlet like Walcott available.

Chamakh Attack: Chamakh's movement key in 4-1 victory

Arsenal got all 3 points today in a fully deserved 4-1 victory against Bolton, though credit to Bolton as they made it very difficult for Arsenal.

Kieran Gibbs, Emmanuel Eboue, Sebastien Squillaci, Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky came in for Arsenal, replacing Clichy, Sagna, Vermaelen, Diaby and Walcott from last week as they went for their standard 4-2-3-1/4-1-2-3 formation. With internationals behind and Champions League matches coming, Arsene Wenger went for a very attack minded defence, with Eboue and Gibbs two fullbacks who can also play as wingers. Bolton played a standard 4-4-2, with Holden and Muamba two more defensively minded midfielders.

Bolton started off strongly, with the aerial threat creating a couple of half chances, and were always a danger from set pieces, Arsenal however dealt with it, and their passing settled down.

Marouane Chamakh had a paticulary good game for Arsenal; his movement and build up play was very good, and he was willing to drift out wide. This allowed Arshavin to come inside, which he preferes, and Rosicky and Fabregas played killer passes for Arshavin on numerous occasions. He couldn't finish any of them, though he did win the corner that led to the opening goal. It could've been two when Chamakh, drifting to the left, played a great ball that Wilshere dummied for Rosicky, coming inside, weakly shot and was easily saved by Bogdan.

It was interesting to see Rosicky, the nominal right midfielder, come inside a lot, creating a formation that looked sometimes more like 4-2-2-2, very narrow. Eboue was trying his best to get forward on the right, but at times in the first half, Arsenal missed Walcott's direct outlet on the right.

A defensive error meant Arsenal went in level, but that was soon changed, when Fabregas took advantage of Bolton's sometimes suicidal high line yesterday to play a great ball over the top for Chamakh. The striker's shot was parried by Bogdan, but from the ensuing corner that wasn't completely cleared, Chamakh scored with his head after an excellent Fabregas cross.

It was Chamakh drifting out wide when he flicked the ball on for Arshavin and was taken out by Gary Cahill, who got sent off.

Song had a much more prominent role in the second half goign forward, and after excellent work from Arshavin, Song cheeklily chipped Bogdan for the third, and the 1000th under Arsene Wenger.

The fourth was an excellent goal. Vela won the ball, and the 24 passes later scored after a great Fabregas goal.

Not a very interesting game, tactically; Arsenal were the much better side, and deserved the 3 points. The only not of interest was that Rosicky was tucking in quite a lot, and switching with Fabregas so that Fabregas would play deeper and Rosicky more forward, or Rosicky deeper and Fabregas more forward. It created an assymetrical 4-2-2-2, which while it worked today as Bolton played a quite high line, against better defensive teams, the lack of width could hurt Arsenal. Chamakh is quite a good header of the ball, and so having width and crossing into Chamakh could be a successful way to goal for Arsenal.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Brilliant defensive performance gives Arsenal victory

Blackburn away is a tricky venue for Arsenal, especially as they are managed by Sam Allardyce, a manager whose tactics had frustrated Arsenal over the years. Today, despite the aerial and physical game played, Arsenal came away with all 3 points in a 2-1 victory.

Cesc Fabregas and Robin Van Persie returned to the starting XI for the first time in the new campaign, while Laurent Koscielny returned from suspension. Unlike the previous 2 games, though, Arsenal's shape was more like a 4-2-1-3 or a 4-1-2-3, instead of the 4-2-3-1. Fabregas quite often came deep, and so too did Chamakh and Van Persie, which allowed Walcott and Arshavin to take up the space vacated by the centre forward, which is how the opening goal came about. Walcott and Arshavin pressed high up the pitch, and as well as scoring 1 goal, Walcott's intelligent run created space for Sagna for the second goal, and had a good game all around.

Blackburn set out to frustrate Arsenal, and matched Arsenal with a 4-3-3, with Jones sitting right in front of the defence and Grella and Pedersen also holding. Mame Biriam Diouf and El-Hadji Diouf played on the wings and looked to cut into the box when possible.

Blackburn played their direct long ball style, attempting only 200 passes in the whole game, and difference in styles is shown below

by Guardian Chalkboards
Blackburn didn't really bother playing through the midfield, while Arsenal did; the Arsenal goals came after 7 pass moves each, and the Blackburn goal came after a 2 pass move.

Defensively, Arsenal were fairly solid and dealed with the long ball and long throw threat of Blackburn. Koscielny may have been at fault for the first goal, but for the rest of the match he was fantastic, with him and Vermaelen only losing 4 duels, with Koscielny winning most of his aerial duels.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Arsenal deserved the 3 points, and they quite easily could've had a third that reflected the dominance they had in the midfield in the second half, as their possession football strangled the game and coupled with Arsenal's aerial security (Blackburn winning only 4 of their long throws and corners) made it hard for Blackburn to create chances. If Arsenal can continue to create this kind of performance at away venues like Blackburn, Stoke, Birmingham, Bolton and Sunderland, it could go a long way in the title race.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Subsittutes change the game for Arsenal

It took Arsenal a long time to break down the organised Liverpool defence on Sunday afternoon, but the introduction of Robin van Persie, Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott changed the game for the Gunners.
The introduction of that trio gave Arsenal more options, and Arsenal got the ball into the box more after Rosicky came on, replacing the ineffectual Wilshere.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Here, the introduction of Theo Walcott gave Arsenal a more direct outlet on the right, and, coupled with Walcott's pace, it forced Liverpool to defend deeper, making more space for Arsenal to work in.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Finally, the introduction of Van Persie meant that he became the link up forward off Chamakh, leaving Chamakh the target man, leading to the goal that Arsenal scored.

On a defensive note, Laurent Koscielny had a superb game for Arsenal; he won 5 out of 6 tackles (including 4 out of 5 in the air) made 4 out of 5 clearaances successfully, and his passing from the back was superb, with his 1 unsuccessful pass coming in Liverpool's penalty box. It was a superb debut for the Frenchman, who gives Arsenal the kind of centre-half that they need.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Barcelona Have Acted Disgracefully, and We Should Ignore Them

Since the Cesc Fabregas transfer saga broke, FC Barcelona have been utterly disrespectful to Arsenal and despicable.

When Fabregas allegedly told Arsene Wenger he wanted to leave for FC Barcelona, he said he wanted his future sorted before the World Cup. In an effort to drive down his price, Joan Laporta encouraged him to go public with his alleged desire to leave Arsenal. Technically, Laporta having this sort of contact while Fabregas is under contract at Arsenal is tapping up, which Barcelona have done throughout this whole saga. Barcelona then made an insultingly low bid of £29 million. They claimed that they would pay no more, because Fabregas was "stolen" from them by Arsenal and developed at Barcelona.
2 points about that: 1. It was well within FIFA rules for Arsenal to sign him when he was 16. He had no contract at Barcelona, and was worried that he wouldn't play. 2: Barcelona are only doing this because he became an excellent player. It's like Xavi is claiming Fran Merida has Barca DNA.

Despite Arsenal being clear about their refusal to enter negotiations, Barcelona continued their underhand approach to our captain. They went to the press claiming they had agreed personal terms. Every day it seemed a press release would be on the official website claiming the deal would be done. Barcelona's players went to the press talking about Barca DNA and what not. Finally, yesterday, during the Spanish celebration, Pique and Puyol forced a Barca shirt on Cesc. To be fair to Cesc he never enetered into bullshit discussion. He wanted his teammates to shut up. He said how great Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are. And he took the Barca shirt off. It's became painfully clear what Barca want: They want Cesc as a trophy, and they want to bully there way to get him because they are in serious debt.

Last week they made a loan for €150 m. According to this article, they are in €392m of debt. Joan Laporta and Sandro Rosell knew this. However, instead of saying to Cesc that they couldn't afford him, but they could in the future, they used the press to destablilze Cesc at the club. My belief is that someone at Barca told Puyol and Pique to put the shirt on him. Why else would it be on their official site? Despite saying they would respect Arsenal, they haven't at all. They've gone to the press, complained that the press drove the price up and have tried to bully their way to buying Cesc Fabregas. Arsenal have repeatedly said he is not for sale; Arsene Wenger refused to meet with Sandro Rosell.

My advice to fellow fans is to ignore everything about Cesc unless it comes from Cesc himself or Arsenal. And I hope very much that Arsenal report Barcelona for tapping up and break off relations with Barcelona. If Cesc puts in a transfer request, he doesn't have to be sold to Barcelona. He could always be sold to Real Madrid, which would be Barcelona's (Or the Catalan Real Madrid) worst nightmare.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Should India Do Better?

According to the excellent book Why England Lose or Soccernomics in the United States, countries that have large populations and good economies should do well in international football. This brings the question, why have India only qualified for 1 World Cup, which they didn't even play in? India has a large population and a fairly good economy despite high poverty levels. What gives?
According to Why England Loses, and regression research done by the authors, twice the population is worth .1 goal, twice the GDP is worth .1 goal, and having twice the experience is worth .5 goals.
To tally the goal scoring, you figure out the ratio of, for example, population of country/population of opposition and multiply the coefficient for either population, GDP or experience. For population and GDP, the coefficient is .05, for experience, it is .25.
According to Russell Gerrard's database, between 1871 and 2001, India had played 244 international football matches. I will compare India with the country that has qualified the most for the World Cup, South Korea, and with Iran, who have qualified 3 times and won the Asian Cup 3 times.
India have a massive advantage in population, 1.2 goals. South Korea has .4 goal advantage in GDP and .6 in experience. India should win by .2 goals, meaning most games between the 2 should end in a draw. So we know India should draw with South Korea. Should they've qualified for the World Cup?
In the first round they lost to Lebanon 6-3 on aggregate; using the same method described earlier, India should be beating Lebanon by 14.5 goals, with a massive 13 of them coming from the superiority in population. Over 2 legs, that should be 29 goals, instead of losing by the 3 goals they did. Replacing Lebanon in Group 4, they should beat Uzbekistan at home (.67 goals for home field advantage) by 3.8 goals at home, and 2.43 goals away. Against Saudi Arabia
they should beat them at home by 2 goals, and win away by .7 goals (anything less than .5 is about a draw). Moving on to playing Singapore, which, having a small population and less experience than India, loses by 12.2 goals to India away and by 10.8 goals at home. India, having won all 6 games, have 18 points and a goal difference of 32.

They are then drawn into Group B, with South Korea, North Korea, Iran and the UAE.
We already know in a neutral venue they should beat South Korea by .2 goals. Adding home field advantage, they'll beat South Korea by .9 goals at home, but lose by .5 goals away, which is effectively a draw. Against North Korea, they should win by 3.7 goals at home and by 2.3 goals away. Against Iran they win by 1 goal at home, and draw away. Finally, against the UAE they should win by 9.8 goals at home and by 8.5 goals away. Tallying up the results, India would finish with 20 points and a goal difference of 25. If this happened, they would qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

India should do better. In Why England Lose, they were one of the underachievers based on population, GDP and experience. India can create a good football team if they create a good league, which they can do for cricket, as they did for the Indian Premier League. Based on this, India should become a powerhouse team in Asia, and could possibly win the World Cup in the future.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Best League In the World Series™: Oceania

Continuing the Best League In the World™ after a long break, we are on to Oceania.
Oceania is not a very competitive country footballing wise, having sent just 4 finalists to the World Cup.
In terms of entertainment, the Solomon Islands wins the crown for Oceania; with a low standard deviation and a high number of goals, it ranked first in Oceania.
The Table is here.

Friday, June 18, 2010

England: Antoher simile for "rubbish"

England drew 0-0 with Algeria, and were desperately poor. It was a distressing result, with many expecting England to play better against Algeria, who were not very good against Slovenia.
As this graph shows, England had a lot of passes in the midfield and back, but in the final third, but also a lot down the middle. Algeria, playing a 3-4-2-1 when in possession, 5-4-1 when not, had 5 players in the center, the 3 centre backs and 2 midfielders.
One reason the middle of the park was so congested was the positioning of Steven Gerrard. Gerrard was nominally the left midfield player, cutting inside for Ashley Cole to bomb forward. However, as the graphic below shows, instead of cutting in, he occupied the same area of space as Wayne Rooney, Gareth Barry and Frank Lampard.
In previous tournaments, one of England's problems was that Gerrard and Lampard couldn't play together (Is it no coincidence that in England's best performance of the last world cup, 2-2 against Sweden, Gerrard didn't start?). Under Capello, the problem remains, though, with Barry as the holding midfielder, neither has the responsibility to defend. Neither had a good game; as with the with rest of the England team, they were desperately poor, and the incident where Lampard failed to successfully pass to Gerrard 10 yards away inside the first 20 seconds set the tone for the whole match. The match was desperately callinh out for someone who could deliver an incisve pass, yet just as in the US game, Joe Cole sat on the bench and watched Shaun Wright-Phillips and Peter Crouch come on instead of him. Joe Cole has to start against Slovenia instead of Gerrard or Lampard. Capello might not like him because he cuts inside; yet Gerrard does the same thing and passes the ball better.
Another player who should start is Michael Carrick. He might not have had a great domestic season, but he and Joe Cole are the closes players England have to good technical players, and after the performance put in tonight, technicality is needed.

Credit is due where it's deserved: Algeria defended exceptionally well and made it difficult for England to break them down. They were looking for a point, with the possibility of getting a goal on the break. As stated earlier, playing a 3-4-2-1 meant that when England came down the middle, they were well prepared to defend.

England were extremely poor with the midfield too congested. They'll need to stretch play against Slovenia and include Joe Cole and Michael Carrick to provide incisive passing. Wayne Rooney will need to more of a factor, otherwise England will go home early.

Thanks to the Total Football 2010 app for the iPod touch for diagrams.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Arsenal Under 18's 5-3 Nottingham Forest Under 18's

After a week delay, I finally have an article about Arsenal's youth team triumph 5-3 over Nottingham Forest. If you have Arsenal TV Online, I recommend watching the game.

Arsenal Under 18's captured the Premier Academy League title on Monday (Silverware!) after a 5-3 victory over Nottingham Forests' Under 18's. The played like an Arsenal team, attacking well, and defending poorly.
Football Fans Know Better
They lined up in a 4-3-3, but as the graphic shows, with Ozyakup drifting in, it was more like a 4-1-2-1-2. Freeman played on the left, but drifted in in the second half, and got more involved.
Arsenal pressed up high on the pitch, and started to dominate after going behind. Nottingham Forest had trouble getting out of their own half, and Arsenal were on the brink. They did, when a long pass from Henderson played in Afobe, and he scored after a rebound and pass from Freeman. Chucks Aneke, who reminded me of Abou Diaby and had an imperious game, played in Afobe for the second.
Ozyakup had a very good game, and it was his pass that led to the penalty won by Afobe. Freeman put away a second penalty and after Forest made it 4-3, Freeman ended the game with his second after a cross from Henderson.
Aneke, Afobe Ozyakup, Frimpong, Freeman and Miquel were all impressive, and I'm looking forward to seeing them in the Carling Cup.
For more on the youth team, check out younggunsblog.co.uk

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Arsenal 4-0 Fulham

Arsenal concluded the 2009-10 season with a 4-0 victory over a disinterested Fulham, securing 3rd place and an automatic spot for next year's Champions League.

It was a good performance from Arsenal, as they dominated possession, and made 589 passes. Better finishing from Walcott and Van Persie and they would've had 6, and it was a good response to successive defeats.
Football Fans Know Better

Arsenal lined up in a 4-3-3, with Samir Nasri deeper than Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Eboue, who was the most advanced midfielder. Fulham lined up in a 4-4-2, with Stefano Okaka playing higher up than Nevland, while the 2 wide midfielders, Demspey and Riise, were forced to play deeper as Arshavin and Walcott saw a lot of the ball early, and were threats. The first goal had a bit of luck about it, but the second and third goals came after great team play.

Carlos Vela and Henri Lansbury made impressive cameo's: Vela scored with an esquisite chip
after brilliant play from Lansbury, Eboue and Nasri, while Lansbury, making his senior Arsenal debut after a spell at Watford, was impressive in the centre of the midfield, only making 2 errant passes.

by Guardian Chalkboards
He played a key role in Vela's goal, and it will be interesting to see how he fits in next year.

This game had some similarites to the 4-0 victory at home v Wigan earlier this year; 4-0 victories, and also the same kind of incising passing into the box that Arsenal didn't have when they missed Robin Van Persie.

by Guardian Chalkboards
Out of all the players Arsenal missed this season, it was Van Persie who was missed the most; not only did he have 8 goals when he went down, but he also was linking up extremely well with Fabregas, Arshavin and the right sided midfielder, and it is possible that with him fit, Arsenal would've won the league, and scored 100 goals, like Chelsea did.

Also, congratulations to the Under 18's for their Title winning 5-3 victory against Nottingham Forest, and we'll have a report on that game.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Best League In the World Series™: South America

This is the first installment of a 6 part series, talking about the most competitive league. You can find the intro here, and here's how I'll be calculating it:
To find the most competitive league, I'm going to use Standard Deviation, a statistical measure of spread. It finds the spread from the mean; the lower the Standard Deviation, the more competitive league. I'll then rank each league in Standard Deviation and goals/game, add the ranks together, and divide by 2. For example, a league that ranks 15th in competitiveness, and 10th in goals/game will have a rank of 12.5 (15+10=25/2=12.5).

First up is South America, with 10 leagues.
The Data is here, but I'll put it below.
CountrySDRankGoal/gameRankTotal RankNote








Uruguay14.592.846.5excludes 1 team



sheet 2=database

The best league in South America, in terms of excitement is Boliva; first in competitiveness, first in goals/game, it's the most exciting, though maybe not the best quality. The worst league, in terms of excitement, is the Paraguayan league, which has the second least goals, and lowest competitive ranking.

Next up: Oceania

Best League In the World Series™

When watching the Barclays Premier League, you are often told "It's the Best League in the World™". But is that really the case? Well to figure out what the best league in the world, or least the most exciting is, I'm going to find out tw0 things: One, which league is the most competitive, and Two, which has the most goals per game (because goals are entertaining, even if rubbish). To find the most competitive league, I'm going to use Standard Deviation, a statistical measure of spread. It finds the spread from the mean; the lower the Standard Deviation, the more competitive league. I'll then rank each league in Standard Deviation and goals/game, add the ranks together, and divide by 2. For example, a league that ranks 15th in competitiveness, and 10th in goals/game will have a rank of 12.5 (15+10=25/2=12.5).

I'll be doing installments by continent, and the first up will be South America.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Best Games of Arsenal's league campaign

Me and Berty worked on the best league games of this year, and this is what we have:
Everton 1-6 Arsenal
Arsenal start their season off with a bang with 6 goals away to Everton, who'll finish 8th this year, beat United, Chelsea and City at home (and drew with Chelsea and City away) and finished 5th last year.
Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn
The day that marked Arsene Wenger's 13th season at the club saw Arsenal come back twice to score 6 of the best against Blackburn.
Arsenal 3-0 Tottenham
North London derby: check. Tottenham in Top 4: Check. Is there any reason not to have this game?
Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenal come back away to Liverpool, who lets not forget, beat United at home, as Arsenal reinvigorate the title race.
Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa
3 against the best defence in the league at that point, and holding Villa scoreless for the first time since the opening game was all part of this Boxing Day thriller (alright, it was December 27th) as Cesc's 22 minute cameo won it for Arsenal.
Arsenal 4-2 Bolton
Arsenal come back twice to beat Bolton 4-2 and go top of the league for the first time since the opening day.
Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool
Days after losing to Chelsea 2-0, the title race was turned back on after Chelsea lost to Everton, United drew with Villa and Arsenal won with a Diaby header.
Stoke 1-3 Arsenal
The most debatable game in the compilation because of the horrific injury suffered by Aaron Ramsey, but it showed the great spirit in the side to comeback and win 3-1.

And now the video:

Arsenal 2009-10 from Aidan Gibson on Vimeo.

Death of the Poacher or ode to Kevin Phillips

Many positions in football have died over the years. Wingers became useless in the 4-3-1-2, the 3-5-2 became rare and so did the sweeper, and now the poacher is joining them on the scrap heap. Poachers aren't completely dead, but the poaching sort of player like Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and Ruud Van Nistelrooy do not exist at top level clubs. Owen played with United this season, and scored a few goals, one which was a classic poachers goal, against Manchester City. Poachers no longer work for good teams because besides putting away chances they don't add anything else to team play, unlike a false nine or more complete forward does.

False Nine/More complete striker vs The poacher
One reason for the death of the poacher is that false nines and more compete strikers simply add more. They create chances by dropping deep, like Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Lionel Messi do, and allowing midfielders to make runs into the box. There is also the Big Man holding the ball up and creating chances, like Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole, Bobby Zamora and Peter Crouch, who is 7th in assists, and 11th in chances created. The poacher usually doesn't create chances unless he has pace and can use it to create chances like Michael Owen did in his hey day. However, if the poacher doesn't have pace, he's not going to create chances by getting into the box or sitting on the shoulder of the last defender; he may score the chances, but he won't create them.
What Can the Poacher do?
The poacher still has some value, though not for the top teams. One example is Kevin Phillips, whose 250th career goal, which came for Birmingham against Arsenal, showed the value of a poacher. Despite the goal coming off his nose or shoulder, he got into the box, and he finished a chance. Poachers still have some value for a midtable or lower team, or for a team that isn't playing well and needs the goals. A case in point is Darren Bent, who Tottenham seemed quite happy to go, despite him being their top scorer. The reason is with Pavlyuchenko, Crouch, Defoe and Keane they had more complete strikers; of all strikers, Defoe is 14th in assists, while Bent is 47th, with only one.
The poacher isn't dead, not by a long shot, but the days of a poacher being at a top club, like Ian Wright at Arsenal, Van Nistelrooy at United and Fowler and Owen at Liverpool are over.

The reason for the title being "ode to Kevin Phillips": Phillips is one of those poachers, and despite 36, has still has the quickness to score goals, and now has 250 in his career. He never played for a top team, but put together a good career, and is the kind of player whose breed is dying.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Pressing, and what can Arsenal learn from Barcelona?

Think back to Arsenal's first match of the season: 6-1 away to Everton. While the result was remarkable for the amount of goal's that Arsenal scored it was also remarkable for the way Arsenal pressed. Everton were hardly allowed time on the ball, and they gave the ball away a lot. One example of a goal created by pressing was Arsenal's fourth: Arshavin won it from Hibbert, and Arsenal were away. Pressing continued against Portsmouth, Celtic, Man United and Man City, and Arsenal were fairly unlucky to lose in those last 2 games. Yet, what has happened to the pressing that Arsenal employed earlier in the season?

In a recent article in the Guardian, tactical genius, and author of the excellent book, Inverting the Pyramid, Jonathan Wilson discussed pressing. He writes here

"Without the ball," Pep Guardiola said after last season's Champions League final, "we are a disastrous team, a horrible team, so we need the ball." It is a sentence that could equally be used of Arsenal: of course they are much better in possession than out of it. The difference is that Barcelona are much better at regaining possession than Arsenal.

After 20 minutes last Wednesday, Barcelona had had 72% of the possession, a barely fathomable figure against anybody, never mind against a side so noted for their passing ability as Arsenal. Their domination in that area came not so much because they are better technically – although they probably are – but because they are better at pressing. In that opening spell, Barça snapped into tackles, swirled around Arsenal, pressured them even deep in their own half. It was a remorseless, bewildering assault; there was no respite anywhere on the pitch, not even when the ball was rolled by the goalkeeper to a full-back just outside the box.

He then further goes on to describe pressing, as quoted from Valeryi Lobanovskyi, the father of modern day pressing:

In The Methodological Basis of the Development of Training Models, the book he co-wrote with Anatoliy Zelentsov, Lobanovskyi lays out three different kinds of pressing. There is full-pressing, when opponents are hounded deep in their own half; half-pressing, when opponents are closed down only as they cross halfway; and there is false pressing, when a team pretends to press, but doesn't – that is, one player would close down the man in possession, while the others would sit off.

It is full-pressing that Arsenal employed in the opening matches, and through that they had a lot of the ball; even away to Manchester United they had 53% possession, and away to Manchester City they also had 53% possession. However, injuries, tiredness, and players playing unfamiliar roles, like Arshavin at centre forward, meant that the full pressing went out the window.

There are also obvious problems with full pressing, and a perfect example of the problems are in the 2-2 draw with Barcelona. When teams full press, they become vulnerable to quick counter attacks, or long balls over the top. Full pressing also makes a team get tired, which is why Barcelona were not as good for the final 20 minutes as they were for the first 70 in that 2-2 draw, and they were vulnerable to the quick pace of Theo Walcott. Arsenal have also been vulnerable to quick counter attacks when pressing, as against Manchester City, Chelsea, Everton in that 2-2 draw, Manchester United, and Chelsea again. After that last Chelsea game, Arsene Wenger made a bit of a switch, pushing Cesc Fabregas up, and also not having players full press. Arsenal false pressed more often, and while they didn't concede as many, they didn't score as many, evident by the amount of late goals we've had to score this year. Against Barcelona though, we couldn't get away with not full pressing, as they had all the time in the world on the ball, and they punished us, scoring 6 in 2 games. We were also punished against Tottenham and Wigan; Danny Rose had a lot of time for his first goal, even though it was a wonder strike, and against Wigan, in those final 10 minutes, Wigan had lots of time on the ball (see their first goal, and their third), though that can also be attributed to lack of mental focus.

So what's next for Arsenal, mainly, what kind of pressing should they do next year? Obviously, full pressing, while extremely effective is also hard to do for 90 minutes. For an answer to that, I'll turn again to Wilson:

Particularly against technically gifted opponents, Lobanovskyi would have his sides perform the full-press early to rattle them, after which false pressing would often be enough to induce a mistake – and often, of course, his side would be comfortably ahead after the period of full-pressing.

Next year, that should be the Arsenal game plan. We have one of the fittest teams in the league, as evident in all the late goals, and they should be able to press, not fully for 90 minutes, but press enough that they can win the ball back, as Arsenal try and conquer the last divide that separates them from Barcelona (aside from Barcelona having much more technically gifted players than us).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Wigan 3-2 Arsenal: What the hell happened there?

Earlier in the season, Arsenal pressed hard, they won the ball back, and they scored lots of goals. Against us last week, Barcelona did the same thing. Did Arsenal start to press again? No, but the teams they played, Tottenham and Wigan did press, and they won the 2 games. Arsenal didn't press, they didn't defend as a unit, and that cost them. If these same players had played Wigan in the beginning of the season, when Arsenal were pressing, they would've won the game comfortably.
Arsenal were very poor yesterday; they looked tired, they defended poorly, and their heads weren't in it. They passed poorly, 74%, and they allowed Wigan to get back in the game.

by Guardian Chalkboards
Arsenal's passing was poorer than usual, and Wigan were allowed back in the game.
Still, at 2-0 up, Arsenal should've held on to the lead, but they didn't. Defensive frailties, like Fabianski dropping the ball on Bramble's head (was Almunia really injured), and Silvestre being beaten easily (he actually had a decent game), but a major problem was holding the ball. Arsene Wenger said as much, and that issue was compoinded by Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre hoofing the ball in later periods.

If anything., late wins against Stoke, Wolves and Hull have shown that in the dying minutes the ball needs to be played on the ground, not hoofed in the air. Wenger also said the team became complacent, and changes should've been made to rectify that; starting from the 65th minute, Wigan, who had shown little, got into the ascendency. In the end, the subs were ineffectual and too late, and Wigan took advantage.

by Guardian Chalkboards
Wigan had control atfer their first goal went in, and Arsenal struggled to get the ball and get forward, and their second goal was fairly inevitable.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The Revival of 4-2-4

Recently, the two teams playing pass and move football, Barcelona and Arsenal, have switched to a 4-2-4 variation formation. And with Arsenal only 3 points behind Chelsea, and Barcelona joint top in Spain, and in the semi finals of the European Cup, there is a good chance that a major competition could be won by a team playing 4-2-4 for the first time since 1970.
What Happened to 4-2-4?
The problem with 4-2-4 is that the midfield gets overrun fairly easily. While it worked during the 60s, and fairly early 70s many managers realised that when possession was lost, it was increasingly difficult to win possession back. Because of this reason, 4-4-2, developed independently of each other in Russia and England by Viktor Maslor and Alf Ramsey. Argentina too, played a 4 man diamond. The death bell was sounding for 4-2-4, and Rinus Michels joined other managers when he realised that 4-2-4 would not work for Ajax. He played 4-3-3, and in the 1974 Final, both teams, Holland and West Germany, played 4-3-3. The age of the 4-2-4 was over, and teams were moving to 4-4-2, catenaccio or giocco al'Italia, 4-5-1, 4-3-3, or the newest formation, 3-5-2, that was developed in 1986 by Carlos Bilardo. In that final, West Germany played 5-3-2, and, as Jonathan Wilson put it, the pyramid was inverted. The days of the 4-2-4 and it's free scoring were over, as the 1990 World Cup had one of the lowest amounts of goals in it. FIFA outlawed the backpass and the tackle from behind, but the 4-2-4 still looked very dead.
Yet 4-2-4 was not dead. In fact, did it even die?
One of the last teams to successfully play 4-2-4 was Brazil 1970. However, with Jairzinho and Rivellino playing slightly behind Tostao, and Pele dropping off, what was their formation but 4-2-3-1? 4-2-3-1 is just a slight variation of 4-3-3 or 4-5-1; if it's 4-3-3, just have the wingers drop back a little, and have a midfielder advance, and it becomes 4-2-3-1. Or, it was a variation of 4-4-2; have a striker drop back, wingers push up, and you have 4-2-3-1. The credit in Spain for inventing 4-2-3-1 goes to Juan Manuel Lillo when he was in charge of 3rd Division Cultural Leonesa in 1991/92; it was transported to England when Manchester United adopted the formation after losing to Real Madrid in 2000, though Alex Ferguson claimed he has always played with split forwards. France won Euro 2000 with it, and 4-2-3-1 is now a fairly common formation; looking at the Guardian's Squad Sheets for the weekend's games, Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are all expected to line up in that formation, and England, once the standard bearer for 4-4-2 has now switched to 4-2-3-1. And with 4 defenders, 2 midfielders and 4 attacking players, what is 4-2-3-1 but 4-2-4?
Arsenal and Barcelona
That brings us to Arsenal and Barcelona.
Both teams independently came to their 4-2-4 variants after some problems with their preferred 4-3-3. For Arsenal, as described here, the issue was being suspect to counter attacks after defeats to United and Chelsea. Abou Diaby dropped back into the midfield, the wingers drop slightly deeper and Cesc Fabregas played like a ponta da lanca, off of Nikclas Bendtner (that role is now Samir Nasri's after Fabregas' injury). This article in Zonal Marking covers Barcelona's switch; here, Lionel Messi drops back, Andres Iniesta pushes up, and either Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Thierry Henry plays as the number 9, with Henry being more of a false 9. Both are fairly similar, except that with Barcelona's formation, it was a midfielder being pushed up on the left, and Messi, they're most creative player dropping into that playmaker's role, while at Arsenal, it was Fabregas playing in the playmaker's role. Both formations could easily be described as 4-2-3-1, and maybe they should be, but with the 4 attackers being higher up than they would be in a 4-2-3-1 (which can be attributed to the amount of possession both teams have), it's more accurate to describe them as 4-2-4, which, as a formation is having it's swansong before it sweeps into obsolescence for the final time.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Defensive frailties the difference

Arsenal can take a lot from this two-legged tie with Barcelona. They showed us how to press well, and their passing was great. For Arsenal tonight, we need to take the positives, which I guess can be we scored. Defensive frailties were a major difference between Arsenal and Barcelona; while it was a Barca mistake for the first goal, Silvestre played a 1-2 with Messi. The second goal was just an excellent team goal all around, again Silvestre at fault a bit, and the third goal was a typical Arsenal goal to concede. Vermaelen goes forward, and it's wide open for Messi to complete his hat trick. 3-1, and the tie was over.
Like the first leg, this was a difficult game to analyze tactically. In fact, if you want a brief report you could say this: "Barcelona passing excellent, 61% possession, pressing excellent, Messi". And that is what it boiled down to; its not demeaning of Barcelona in any way, in fact it's a testament to the way that they control the game. They're passing and pressing were just top draw; ours (69% passing, must be the lowest this season) was not. As expected, Walcott started, and created the first goal, with his speed. But, as I feared, he didn't get in the game that much, and wasn't able to latch on to through balls. Rosicky was poor, Clichy was alright, and Silvestre was abject. It says enough about his defensive capabilities, that Sagna was pushed to centre half.
Disappointing, but not unexpected, and the better team won.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Arsenal nick lucky draw in remarkable comeback

Watching the first 20 minutes you can see why Barcelona are the best side in Europe, and what Arsenal need to do to match them. Barcelona pressed from the front, and won the ball back, and passed it with ease. The possession stats say it all: 71% in the first half, 65% overall.
They lined up in a 4-3-3 that could switch to a 4-2-4; Keita started on the left of the centre midfield, Pedro on the right wing, and Messi just off Ibrahimovic. Both William Gallas and Cesc Fabregas started, with Arshavin and Nasri switching flanks because of Nasri's greater defensive qualities.
Almunia made some great saves and Barcelona were unlucky to go into the break at half time at 0-0. Meanwhile, Arsenal had already made 2 subs due to injury-- Gallas going off with a calf injury which could be him for the season, and Arshavin also with a calf injury. Eboue came on for Arshavin, and Eboue's more defensive qualities helped Arsenal defensively, as Eboue would track back, and prevent Barca's fullbacks from pressing, unlike Arshavin. In fact, Barcelona didn't really have a great chance after Eboue came on, and then after half time, Arsenal's defense pushed up for a higher line, which squeezed the space but also lead them susceptible to the long ball, which is how their two goals arrived. The first, a mere 24 seconds into the second half was a bit of a mistake from Almunia, off his line, but it was a good finish from Ibrahimovic. The second was a mistake from Vermaelen who pushed forward to try and catch Ibrahimovic offside, but he was easily onside, and made it 2-0. But those were the only chances Barca had in the second half, and if you look back at the 2 goals they conceded, there was no pressure on the man with the ball at all;
As this picture shows, right when Pique kicks the ball, Bendtner is still a good couple of yards off of him, and for the second goal
It was almost a carbon copy of defending for the second goal, Abou Diaby doesn't press Xavi, and he ahs all the time in the world to play the perfect ball.
Walcott came on in an inspired sub, and was the difference. Arsenal had pace to hit Barca on the counter, and unsettled Maxwell. Walcott is at his best as an impact sub, and scored after Bendtner played him in. It was Walcott's cross that lead to the penalty that Cesc put away, though damaging his leg in the process. A great comeback, but possibly a costly one.

Barcelona Preview

Arsenal-Barcelona tonight is the pick of the quarter finals, and as Arsene Wenger said, could be the best game of the decade. So yeah, it's a big one.
Arsenal will go into it with Cesc Fabregas as a big doubt.
He didn't appear in training because at the moment he is not fit to play. We will give ourselves 24 hours more and we will assess the situation tomorrow. But today he would not be available. Sometimes you do not want to take a gamble in training because 24 hours more can help. You don't want him to get another kick so it was better that he didn't train. I would say it is 60 against, 40 for him playing.

Barcelona will be missing Andres Iniesta, so instead of playing the 4-2-4ish formation that they had been playing recently, they will play in a more traditional 4-3-3, with Xavi, Sergio Busquets and Yaya Toure, the last 2 as holding midfielders, with Toure a little higher advanced than Busquets. Up front it will be two of Ibrahimovic, Henry or Pedro with Messi on the right. If Pedro comes in for Ibrahimovic, Henry will play as a false nine, as he has in their 4-2-4ish formation.

For Arsenal, Andrey Arshavin and Samir Nasri should start after training. William Gallas could start as well, and if he can, he should. If Fabregas does not play, I think Samir Nasri will come in for Fabregas in the midfield, and Tomas Rosicky will play on the right wing. Alex Song will be restored to his midfield position, and hopefully Abou Diaby will be fit enough to start in the midfield as well. Nicklas Bendtner will start up front.

Both sides obviously play the same style of football, so it may come down to the managers out witting one another. One thing that Arsene Wenger could do is play Andrey Arshavin on the right flank and play either Samir Nasri or Tomas Rosicky on the left flank. They both have more defensive awareness than Arshavin, and with Messi on that side, tracking back will be important.

Projected lineups
Arsenal (4-2-1-3); Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy; Song, Diaby; Nasri; Arshavin, Bendtner, Rosicky
Barcelona (4-3-3): Valdes; Dani Alves; Puyol, Pique, Maxwell; Xavi, Yaya Toure, Busquets; Henry, Ibrahimovic, Messi

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Not Only Almunia was at fault

Obviously, the main talking point is Manuel Almunia's inability to catch Kevin Phillips' deflected shot effort, and how the title chances look over again. Yes, Almunia should've dealt with the effort, and it came from a stupidly conceded free kick. Andrey Arshavin should be going into the corner rather than the penalty box at that stage. Personally, I thought that the goal shouldn't of counted because Chucho is offside when the ball is played and is interfering with play.
In regards to the title, we need Man United to drop 5 points, and Chelsea 4 because of how far behind we are in terms of goal difference. Can they drop those points? Obviously, a dour 0-0 draw between the pair, with Rooney, Drogba, Terry and Vidic being sent off is the best result, or any draw. If we win, and they draw then we are only 2 points behind Man United and 1 behind Chelsea. The title is still doable, but it is difficult.
I also have a problem with the team selection. Arsene Wenger said this before the match:
I don't choose at the moment, I think the League for me is the most important. Birmingham is the absolute priority for me
Yet, despite saying that, Arsenal started both Theo Walcott and Tomas Rosicky, instead of Samir Nasri and Andrey Arshavin. Walcott and Rosicky were fairly ineffectual, though Walcott was not as bad as some said, he just didn't get the ball to run at people. Nasri and Arshavin came on, and made a difference as Nasri scored, and Arshavin opened space. Nasri could've scored again, so too could've Arshavin. After the match, he said that Arshavin had a groin problem and Nasri a bit of a knock, but I think thats bullshit. If they weren't fit enough to start, then they aren't fit enough to be on the bench. Obviously he had Barcelona in mind, he gambled and he lost. But that could be a decision that comes back to haunt us if we lose the title by 1 or 2 points.

But Almunia is still at fault. The shot was right at him, and he flapped. I'm not sure what the complete ratio is of shots on target/per goal and how much you can draw into that, but one thing you can look at is his kicking. Against Birmingham, his kicking was horrible, and not for the first time. On the other hand, Joe Hart made 17 out of 31 passes successful, and most were longer passes than Almunia. Hart is a top class goalkeeper, Arsenal need a top class goalkeeper, and we don't have one.

by Guardian Chalkboards


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