It’s been a while since I wrote for Untold. So I thought it was a good idea to start writing again this year, and try to take a tactical look at Arsenal. No, this is not one of those 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 threads. What I’m going to try and do this year is cover as many games as possible, at least everything in the league, and look at the 4 main facets of play and how that changes over the course of games and different opponents and players – Attack & Defence (Arsenal) and Attack & Defence (Other team). Maybe it’ll throw up some interesting things and give all of us a little more insight into why the team clicks into gear some days and swims through mud on others despite the core of the team being the same. Thank you Arsenal Player. So…Aston Villa…let’s go.
For starters, as has been mentioned in a few previous articles and as has been the case for a long time now (2-3 years at least) probably more…Arsenal do NOT play with a pure defensive midfielder. No, Flamini when he left was not a DM, Alex Song was certainly not a DM contrary to popular belief, Mikel Arteta is certainly not a DM and most certainly Jack Wilshere is not a DM.
Arsenal this season are clearly doing something that Martin Jol reported from the Fulham game. It’s the rotating midfield. Jack Wilshere definitely starts off very deep..near the centre backs, with Ramsey buzzing in and around him.
Now, here is where the fun starts. A DM like say Makelele or Mascherano or John Obi Mikel will be in and around the half way line..and present purely as a defensive option. Jack Wilshere doesn’t “sit”. The moment he’s got Ramsey into the picture, he moves 5-10 yards, sometimes sideways if Arsenal are in a defensive mindset, but largely he tries to move forward.
The moment Jack switches forward, Mertesacker and Kos will push 5 steps up and play a higher offside line. As soon as the game goes beyond the halfway line, you’ll almost always see a little bumble bee dropping deeper and buzzing everywhere in the space between the halfway line and the opposition dee. Bumble bee? Ah sorry.. I meant Tomas Rosicky. Rosicky is continuously, ceaselessly attempting to find little pockets of space and will play tons of 1-2’s with Wilshere, Ramsey and the full back who’s got forward..or erm sometimes both full backs. At this point, the opposition either parks the bus or fouls us.
There seemed to be 2 primary attacking moves in the final third. Ramsey kept trying to find Walcott with short through balls in the inside right channel and pretty much all the offensive men tried to play around Giroud, who is excellent in the pivot role and will get 20 goals and 15 assists at least.
Giroud holds the ball up and either tries to play Rosicky through in on goal, or is going to hold the ball, draw both CBs to him, and somehow lay the ball off to a runner. The runner could be anyone really. It could be even the so called defensive midfielder. In the Villa game, due to Ox getting injured, Sagna shifting flanks and thus reducing Theo’s impact as well and Cazorla too having a dreadful game, too much of the offence went through Rosicky. And he was brilliant on the day, but it just wasn’t enough.
Another couple of interesting things I noticed. Aaron Ramsey is holding on to the ball really well..and waiting much better. He’s more patient and looking to find the right time to release the ball. THAT is his biggest improvement this season. He’s always had a fantastic engine and work rate and has always run around all game in every position possible. He hasn’t always been this calm on and off the ball.
Secondly if Cazorla comes on .. Rosicky drops much deeper overloading midfield and letting Cazorla run things. This does 2 things…it gives Cazorla space to move of course but importantly puts the extra man in midfield to cover for the hole Cazorla is inevitably going to leave on the LW cutting inside and roaming. Which takes me to our defending…
So as soon as Rosicky’s central, the shape changes into a slightly more traditional setup with Theo dropping back a bit and 4 in midfield playing a lot of 1-2’s.. a lot of square passes trying to get Santi into the game. If you see a lot of possession, you’ll see the 4 in midfield become really narrow and the full back pushing on depending on which side the attack is.
In the Villa game, AOC went off which was a loss. But the biggest loss was Kieran Gibbs. No it’s not because he’s the focal point of our attacks OR defence. But he’s a natural left sided full back who gets forward. Putting Sagna there, and I hope this doesn’t happen again is not a great idea. Bac is a fantastic RB and probably a very good CB (haven’t seen enough) but he’s not a great LB. He was too eager to get rid of the ball offensively and defensively and didn’t get forward enough. Also .. because Santi came on, Theo started playing LW along with Bac for a while, possibly to support Sagna in an unfamiliar role. And then Kos got sent off for 2 perfectly good tackles that weren’t even yellow cards and Ramsey went to CB. Now Ramsey actually did quite well at CB to be frank .. but his brain is that of a midfielder and we were chasing the game, so he was too far up the pitch too many times, leaving Mertesacker at the back, Sagna as a left sided CB and Jenkinson as the 3rd defender who was also the only outlet wide on the right, coz Theo had a poor game and kept cutting in (which is fine as we needed goals, but he wasn’t playing well). The entire shape was a complete mess frankly and it wasn’t a shock that the 3rd goal came on the counter. The max we could have done was take our chances and take the draw this game.
Aston Villa Offence:
Villa’s offence was a battering ram. A number of quite bad fouls and a lot of actually high energy pressing high up the pitch. Benteke didn’t have a particularly great game to be frank but Gabby Agbonlahor did. He was an absolute menace and continuously troubled everyone with his pace. Villa’s main tactic was to hit our LB with long diagonal balls. That’s not a particularly new tactic, but considering that we had injuries and players playing out of position, it was a smart move. It was almost as if Villa were playing ‘2 up top’. It is definitely a blue print on how to play Arsenal. I daresay we’ll deal with much better 11 v 11 and the right players in the right positions. This would have been a problem for any team.
The other worrying thing was the ceaseless kicking of Wilshere. Everyone seems to do it these days, depressingly. It could be something as simple as targeting a key player in the opposition, it could be more than that..I don’t know.
Aston Villa Defence:
Frankly, since this was my first time doing this type of article, I didn’t look at how Villa defended apart from the fact that they pressed very high up the pitch, overloaded our left side a lot and Brad Guzan had a great game.
To sum up..
– Arsenal do not have a defensive midfielder. No. Flamini is NOT a DM.
– Giroud will be the pivot all season. And I’m happy for Bendtner to stay too if he has his head screwed on coz he’s very similar. And the Demba Ba storied make sense too, Arsene wants a more efficient plan A and options there, not a Plan B and a Plan C.
– Ramsey on the edge of the dee, Theo on the inside right and crosses in to the near post are things you’re going to see a lot of.
– Mesut Ozil coming in will mean he gets kicked now and Wilshere is not the focus. A commenter from Stoke City said it well really…and it said a lot .. ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if Ozil got injured against Stoke? I wouldn’t want it to happen mind you..but…’. Yep .. sounds about right. I just hope those refs do their job.
So, do you think this kind of a series would be interesting to read? I want to see if I can get patterns, albeit subjective ones by looking at our most efficient ways of offence and defence, who’s really important, why AW doesn’t sub certain players at all and well..a lot of things I have in mind. Do let me know.
Arsenal’s Anniversaries for 10 September
- 10 September 1904: Arsenal’s first home match in the First Division.
- 10 September 1910: Woolwich Arsenal 0 Sheffield United 0
- 10 September 1931: Jimmy Brain sold to Tottenham for £2,500
- 10 September 1947. Arsenal beat Bolton 2-0 to complete six straight wins at the start of the season for the first time ever.
- 10 September 1958. David Jack dies.
- 10 September 1962: David Court league debut
- 10 September 1968: Pat Rice international debut
- 10 September 1980: Graham Rix international debut
- 10 September 1995: Last appearance of Eddie McGoldrick
- 10 September 2002: Arsenal go top after 5th game unbeaten.
- 10 September 2008: Theo Walcott youngest player to score hat-trick for England
- 10 September 2011: After a strange transfer deadline day, two defeats and a goalless draw Arsenal get first win of the season
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- Premier League 2022/23 – Matchweek 2 Refereeing matters
- Are we all really sure that no other club behaves like Barcelona?