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 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.