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Post by Michael Schatzky on Tue Feb 21, 2012 1:01 am

Interesting analysis of our tactical problems, whether you agree or not.
What I drew from it is that Cox thinks our midfield, Ramsey and Arteta specifically, are not skilled enough or quick thinking enough to play passes that break the midfield pressure when we are in possession, nor fast enough to counter attack when we have the opportunity to break ....


http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/blog/2012/feb/20/arsenal-flaws-exposed-sunderland-hybrid


Arsenal's 2-0 defeat at Sunderland said so much about so many aspects of their play – their mental strength, their level of confidence, their raw quality.

The nature of the defeat, signalling the end of their last genuine chance of silverware this season, inevitably leads to grand conclusions based around small or simple incidents. ITV highlighted Sébastien Squillaci walking straight down the tunnel having being replaced, supposedly indicative of the lack of team spirit, while Roy Keane was outraged by so many players wearing gloves, an example of the lack of fight.

Tucked away was a smaller tactical point that can also be twisted into a microcosm of Arsenal's season. There are broadly two strategies a side can take when they do not have the ball. They can push up high and pressurise their opponents, or they can drop very deep, allow the opposition time on the ball in deep positions, but concentrate on remaining tight in their own third. This is the principal tactical debate in modern football – Barcelona have become the dominant side in Europe by pressing heavily, but the only side to deny Pep Guardiola three consecutive European Cups is Inter, who won the tournament by sitting deep in the 2009-10 season.

Of course, it is entirely possible to combine the approaches, which is basically what Martin O'Neill did this weekend. In the league meeting between the sides a week before, Sunderland sat very deep – they played fewer passes in the opposition half than any other side that weekend, and they allowed Mikel Arteta to play 100 passes, more than any Arsenal player had managed this season. It was an exaggerated form of standing off. But though they frustrated Arsène Wenger's side for long periods, Arsenal eventually found a way through. Aaron Ramsey steered in a shot from outside the box, while Thierry Henry found himself on the end of a cross to flick in the winner.

With that in mind, Sunderland used a hybrid approach. They often replicated that caution, but combined this with tenacity higher up the pitch when Arsenal were attempting to build attacks. A key part of Sunderland's gameplan was pressing the three Arsenal central midfielders when they received a forward pass, forcing Arteta, Ramsey and Alex Song to return the ball to where it came from. Arsenal's momentum was killed and they had to start again. When the away side did enjoy long periods on the ball and moved higher up the pitch, then Sunderland reverted to their deeper positions and packed the penalty box.

And this is the puzzle of Arsenal's current style – they are not good enough to overcome either problem. They conceded the first goal after midfield pressure, when Craig Gardner closed down Johan Djourou and forced a free-kick. They conceded the second when Sunderland sat deep, then broke quickly.

Arsenal have long struggled with deep and narrow defences. Stylistically, this should not be as much of a problem as in previous years – they no longer incessantly try to thread the ball through the middle, as they did with Cesc Fábregas the focal point with Samir Nasri and Andriy Arshavin coming inside from the flank. Instead, they play with width and pace, with Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain options out wide.

This naturally lends itself to playing against narrow sides, but Arsenal move the ball too slowly into wide zones, allowing the opposition to retreat into deep positions where going around the back four results in running out of space. Gervinho, for example, may frequently lose all sense of direction when in the penalty box, but he showed with one good bit of play in this game, when forcing a save from Simon Mignolet, that he can be effective when given the ball quickly and able to run in behind. Against Milan, Arsenal surely had to target the defensively poor Milan full-backs, but the ball never arrived at the wingers in potential one-on-one situations. Pitch-related concerns notwithstanding, it was simply a failure to maximise the area they were stronger in.

Now, they also struggle with pressure in midfield. Physical problems are a key factor; Arteta is too lightweight, as shown by how easily he was shoved off the ball by Stéphane Sessègnon for Sunderland's second goal. Ramsey is a fine competitor at his best, especially considering the severity of the injury he suffered at Stoke two years ago. But he has looked exhausted for weeks, and is currently the equivalent of a dying battery that has been shaken to squeeze more life out of it, when a fresh replacement is sorely needed. Song should be a fine physical force in front of the back four, but the insistence upon midfield rotation means he often ends up ahead of his two midfield colleagues, and is in no position to help.

In Wenger's glory days, Arsenal could deal with that physical attention. They were at their best with two imposing players in the centre – first Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit, then later Vieira and Gilberto Silva. If the opposition tried to rough them up, Arsenal could overpower them. Even Mathieu Flamini was a decent solution. He was a smaller player, but fierce and combative. Much more talented players have left the club in the past few years, but Flamini's decision not to sign a new contract in the summer of 2008 was a significant blow.

The other option for getting around close attention in the centre is a sudden burst of pace and directness. The significance of Jack Wilshere's absence should not be overstated, but that is exactly what he brought to the side last season, and that is partly why he was appreciated by Arsenal fans, to an even greater extent than his fine performances would justify.

It is currently unclear what style of football Arsenal would want to play against. They are not good at dealing with sides pressuring them, and they are not good at dealing with sides who stand off and sit back. The only possible combination that works for them is a side foolish enough to play a high defensive line yet not close down sufficiently in midfield. It is no coincidence that Arsenal's only good performance against a top side this season, as Daniel Taylor notes, was away at Chelsea, who employed those tactics when they and André Villas-Boas were figuring each other out.

Maybe they still are – you half-expect that from a young manager trying to revolutionise a side's style of play. But the main benefit of Wenger's long-term reign has been consistency of approach, familiarity of ideals. For the first time since he joined the club, it is difficult to pinpoint precisely what Arsenal are good at.

Walcott fails to fire through the middle

The other interesting feature of Arsenal's game was Walcott's brief spell as a striker – he has frequently stated his desire to be fielded as a centre-forward, and here he finally got his chance. But the timing was wrong – late on Sunderland were sitting deeper and deeper, and though quick players are often used as super-subs because the opposition have tired, it often emerges that the player has no space to exploit. Walcott was desperate to run past the defence to use his pace, but his most significant contribution was being caught offside twice.

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Post by Sami Rockfeller on Tue Feb 21, 2012 1:43 am

I quite agree with Cox, our midfielders are very inefficient in providing service to our wingers. Our midfielders are too slow on the ball. Imagine if we still had Cesc to provide service to the likes of AOC and Gervinho, we'd be tormenting the likes of Sunderland.
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Post by Joey Schwab on Tue Feb 21, 2012 2:27 am

I've been a fan of Arteta since he arrived, but it really stood out against Sunderland how tentative he can be with the ball. Numerous times he would receive a pass facing our defense, and it would take him 4-5 seconds to turn upfield and start looking for the next pass. It slows us down immensely at times, and when teams know how to defend against us we need quick thinking, quick passing players

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Post by Alex Hadjicharalampous on Tue Feb 21, 2012 2:36 am

I really disagree with the 'physical problems' he mentions. So Arteta gets pushed off the ball once and that means he's lightweight?

It seems like the old tired argument of ''Arsenal don't like it up 'em'', or whatever. Which is ridiculous, because I can't think of a team that actually enjoys being roughed up. Be that as it may, I don't think we've had that kind of a problem for quite a while now, it's been more a problem of lack of desire, work effort and quality. Our players don't seem up for it, even in big games sometimes, and even when they are we're just not as good as we used to be and aren't changing things up tactically to reflect that.
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Post by Alex Hadjicharalampous on Tue Feb 21, 2012 2:41 am

Joey Schwab wrote:I've been a fan of Arteta since he arrived, but it really stood out against Sunderland how tentative he can be with the ball. Numerous times he would receive a pass facing our defense, and it would take him 4-5 seconds to turn upfield and start looking for the next pass. It slows us down immensely at times, and when teams know how to defend against us we need quick thinking, quick passing players

Like Cesc Sad

Arteta is a signing that came a couple of seasons too late... having him instead of Denilson in midfield with Fabregas still here would have been amazing. Not to mention the fact that being a Barcelona boy himself, he might have convinced Fabregas to stay a bit longer. None of this really matters now and doesn't have much to do with this topic though.
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Post by Durrell on Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:10 am

Sami Rockfeller wrote:I quite agree with Cox, our midfielders are very inefficient in providing service to our wingers. Our midfielders are too slow on the ball. Imagine if we still had Cesc to provide service to the likes of AOC and Gervinho, we'd be tormenting the likes of Sunderland.

I found it interesting during the Sunderland game, Gervinho was in lots of space on the left wing, and no one got their head up to play him in.
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Post by Sami Rockfeller on Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:23 am

Durrell wrote:
Sami Rockfeller wrote:I quite agree with Cox, our midfielders are very inefficient in providing service to our wingers. Our midfielders are too slow on the ball. Imagine if we still had Cesc to provide service to the likes of AOC and Gervinho, we'd be tormenting the likes of Sunderland.

I found it interesting during the Sunderland game, Gervinho was in lots of space on the left wing, and no one got their head up to play him in.

I too couldn't help notice that, Gervinho was in acres of space and yet all we did was hold the ball back in midfield and restrict our own play.
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Post by Michael Foster on Tue Feb 21, 2012 3:47 am

Right now?


Relying on van persie to score more than the other team......
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Post by nick t on Tue Feb 21, 2012 4:32 pm

what doesn't help ramsey and arteta is when they have the ball and THREE arsenal players are bunched up next to him. literally, everyone stood still. what was more agonizing was sunderland pressured with 2 guys, that should leave a space open, but no one went to it. gervinho only stayed on the left side, never cut in the middle. notice when we had henry, he would actually try to get behind defences and actually look to cut through the middle. gervinho doesn' t do any of that, hence why henry has just as many goals has gervinho does, in a months time period no less.

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Post by Jonathan Prendergast on Tue Feb 21, 2012 5:32 pm

Joey Schwab wrote:I've been a fan of Arteta since he arrived, but it really stood out against Sunderland how tentative he can be with the ball. Numerous times he would receive a pass facing our defense, and it would take him 4-5 seconds to turn upfield and start looking for the next pass. It slows us down immensely at times, and when teams know how to defend against us we need quick thinking, quick passing players

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Watch Walcott's goal 24 secs in. Song - Cesc - Theo.



Would it happen at the moment?
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Post by Zaid Derweesh on Wed Feb 22, 2012 1:47 am

The thing is, Song and Arteta are fine for what they're supposed to do. But the weak link is Ramsey/Rosicky. Because they do not do what they're supposed to do, it forces Song and Arteta to try to provide further forward, where they are less effective. Ramsey and Rosicky are too slow on the ball and do not have the vision for that role. Ramsey has time, he's still so young, but we shouldn't be relying on him. We need another player in there, of great quality. Wilshere isn't that player, I feel he's more Arteta. We need a better creator.



And truthfully, I don't know where our strength lies. Our defence isn't mean (even though on paper it ought to be), our midfield isn't dominating, our attack isn't terrifying. We're average right now, so painfully average.

We need to spend 100m this summer. We need to buy Mario Gotze, Eden Hazard, and Edinson Cavani. Madness you may say, and that's because it is madness. But I genuinely feel that's what we need, and it'll cost at least that much to do. Our defence is fine, frankly. It's not world class, but it is very good when confidence is high and injuries are low. Song and Arteta are good enough, and with Wilshere and Coqpong, it's ok. We lack quality in the Ramsey position, and I think Gotze can help there. On the wings, Ox, Gervinho, Arshavin, Walcott is a little light (especially when Arshavin is done for and its unclear whether Walcott is in a funk or this is just his level). A Hazard-quality winger would be extremely useful. Finally, RVP needs a decent backup, in fact, a player who could challenge him for his spot.

But this is assuming we keep this formation. I think we may need to change it, since its built for Cesc and Cesc is gone. Maybe a change would be good.

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Post by Alex Hadjicharalampous on Wed Feb 22, 2012 2:55 am

I pretty much agree with everything you've said there Zaid.
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Post by Ravneet Singh on Wed Feb 22, 2012 6:19 am

I agree with Cox, with Arteta and Ramsey we have a midfield more suited to Mourniho style of play.But than we don't know how to defend. We don't play high pressure game up top cuz ur midfield doesn't allow it.So right now we only look to pass around and try to find RVP.

This season a lot of times I have seen RVP crying for the ball to be played into his feet but Arteta and Ramsey always go for a percentage pass.Our current midfield is not capable of playing fast passing game which over the years has been our strength.

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Post by Michael Foster on Thu Feb 23, 2012 5:37 am

One problem you can still see is that Wenger built a team around 1 player now he has moved on it seams like a lot of the time we have 2 trying to do the job of one rather than change the tattics to fit in with the team......

Arteta is good don't get me wrong but cesc he is not,a hope could be that when jack is back in the team that jacks ability will hold play off of mikel allowing him room and time to pick a pass or push upfield with the ball,

I hope Sunday we deploy somebody in the middle to cause absolute chaos and get vp a few direct runs at the spurs defence...I don't think the flanks nor trying to pop balls over the top for Theo or even the ox to latch onto will come of any good...that said what's our injury status looking like so I could think of a team that would do good? .....
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