Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Pressing, Lobanovskyi and Arsene Wenger

Many liken Arsenal to Barcelona; we share the same 4-3-3 formation, and a similar passing game. But there is something else that is similar between the two sides; pressing. Pressing is important to Barcelona as shown by this Pep Guardiola quote from the Champions League final
Without the ball, we are a horrible team. We need the ball, so we pressed high up the pitch to win the ball back early.

Watching Arsenal without the ball, it is easy to say the same thing. This year, Arsenal have been pressing, though they pressed much better earlier in the year. The pressing led to the plethora of goals earlier in the year, and Arsenal showed their pressing side against Stoke, when they rarely had the ball in our own half.

Pressing as we know it, for long periods of time, was invented simultaneously by Rinus Michels at Ajax and by Valeryi Lobanovskyi at Dynamo Kyiv. Arsene Wenger's sides are usually compared to to the Ajax side of the 70s, but Lobanovskyi's scientific and mathematical approach is comparable to Arsene Wenger himself, who in training, times how long each players takes in receiving the ball and passing it. Lobanovskyi's approach was somewhat different, and was explained in Inverting the Pyramid by Jonathan Wilson. Lobanovskyi set target actions for each player in pressing and for what I believe, actions for his team.

While it is hard to apply that table to Arsenal (more teams press now, and Arsenal play scintillating and free scoring football, while Dynamo Kyiv were more result based) its concept can be applied. When pressing, you want to have more tackles, interceptions and passes in the opposition half than in your own half, and Arsenal tend to do so . So, one can say that Arsenal's tactics of pressing and passing originate from Ajax and Dynamo Kyiv.

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