Attack and defence, defence and attack


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.

Arsenal Offence:

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…

Arsenal Defence:

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


The books…

31 Replies to “Attack and defence, defence and attack”

  1. a very detailed and astute analysis. And as you say, hope the refs do their job. Ozil will be a real handful in such patterns of play.
    Also goes a way to explaining why Wenger wont sign just anyone, and why it can take new signings a while to fit into such a sophisticated system, as we saw for a while last year.
    Things should be better this year , look forward to see Tommy back helping out when called upon, he with his qualities will presumably fare better in this more fluid system than the more defensive approach at the end of last season (for the record, I think TV has been carrying an injury that needed resting on top of everything else).
    This contradicts the view of many that Wenger does not do tactics, he does, but they are his own forged from his 30 years of experience

  2. very interesting article, though I would like a little more detail on Walcotts runs, inside v outside etc

  3. Thanks Arvind.

    I would be interested in your (and others’) thoughts on Jenkinson. I find him sound defensively, other than the odd error of judgement you would expect in a 21 year old – e.g. letting Bent lose him for the goal against Fulham – but we lose a lot offensively when he is playing. If you watch closely, his first thought is to turn back and lay the ball back to Mertesacker or the deep lying midfielder. By contrast most other players in the team think and move forwards when receiving the ball (e.g. Wilshere and Rosicky). It is strange as I feel Jenkinson is actually a better crosser of the ball than Sagna but seems to lack the confidence to player a riskier forward pass and/or go for the byline?

  4. Nice write up Arvind .And have to agree with Pete that Jenkinson should try to mix it up a little .Whip in some early
    crosses from the deep as well as be confident to attack the fullback on his own .
    Didn’t we not have 4 fullbacks on the pitch at the end against the Spuds ? It did work well too , though we lost the attacking option .

  5. Yes, very interesting. I got slightly confused with the references to Flamini, as he did not play in that game. If you prefer the term ‘holding midfielder’ for him, then fine. otherwise you are going to have to give your definition of what you mean as a defensive midfielder?

    Otherwise a very informative post. Please do more.

  6. Arvind,
    Nice work. You have sort of summed up why signing Flamini was a bargain. Where else can you find a defensively minded midfielder who can drop straight into the Arsenal midfield?
    The rotational fouling on Wilshire is a joke, we know why it’s going on but it shows a total lack of joined up thinking, if you want a successful English national team, it can’t be composed of a bunch of cloggers from the ‘favoured’ clubs, whilst you allow the rest of the league to make the decent English players unavailable due to injury.
    It’s also only a matter of time before someone like Jack (who has a bit of a temper) decides he’s going to show the ref what a red card worthy tackle is, ideally during a match against one of the ‘favoured teams’.

  7. Adding to that bit about Jenks. I think most of his problems are because he is very right-footed. The back pass to Mert is the safe option, The crossfield ball carries some risk because it is predictable from the angle he is standing. He cannot play a short one-two as his right foot is not in position to move off as the ball comes back to him?
    Otherwise he is fine …

  8. Pete I have noticed the same. When Bac gets the ball he usually tries to go forward with it not afraid to lose the ball. I think Jenkinson is still too much a fan to do this and is having the crowd reaction at the back of his head if he would lose the ball. Last season I think he always passed the ball backwards for 95% of the time. But this season he has been working on this I think and now he tries go go forward more of the time. But still not at the Bac level. But there is a big difference in experience between both players.
    If Wenger can convince Jenkinson more of his ability of bringing the ball forward he will get better. Maybe a case of not wanting to do it wrong and risk the anger of the fans? Or his team mates?
    I do feel that when Bac plays central defence it looks as if Jenkinson is more relaxed. Maybe because he knows his learning master is sitting behind him ready to pick up if he makes a mistake? Maybe it is a good thing for Jenkinson to have Bac behind him every now and then.

  9. Thank you for an insightful analysis.
    I’d like to see more about our defense against set pieces. I have not seen a convincing clearance and I wonder why that is.

  10. Arvid, nice write up but just wondering since the arsenal win where have Aston villa gone! Me think we will meet them again and as always relegate them, i pity them. Wish they could keep up the temple they had when they played us.

  11. Agreed jekinson is still learning but he is the weak link in the team. Arvid, grea analysis this is.

  12. Arvind,

    Good post!

    Have you ever read Desi Gunner? I think you should check him out at: . He is great at this type of analysis and I guess you can get more perspective by checking out the thoughts of a fellow Gooner. Plus, he is not a bloviating know-it-all.

    Well done mate and keep them coming!

  13. We need Arteta back, he would not have let “the brute” Gabby Agbonlahor run wild like that. Instead of improving his football, he has become a battering ram, see latest video of battering ram action in a friendly game.
    Arteta would have given him a taste of his own medicine. This is why we need a tough guy in the middle, not always, but for those type of games and refs. At the moment Arteta is our little warrior when fit, but we need another one.

  14. great stuff Arvind. I think Jenks will come good but it is his positional sense that needs improving; he gets caught out too often and is much better facing the ball than chasing back (or Bak). The keeper doesn’t help with his distribution and I’d like to see Sir Ches work on this: too often he gives it straight tot he opposition. AS for the rotational fouling of Jack I have a theory: I think he winds players up and early in his career (earlier even!) he had a tendency to go to ground quite easily. And I wonder if (as the golden boy of English football) he provokes jealousy in some and a sense of ‘prove yerself boy’ in others? He admires Stevie G most of all, perhaps he can get some help on how to avoid tackles from him?

  15. Hey Arvind and Untold,
    I want to ask if we assume that Ozil will take Rosisky’s place, is this rotating midfield, will he drop deep to help the team defend? I think I worry that it could be a reason to de-stabilize our team that is defending and attacking as one right now… We will find out this Saturday but lets see 🙂
    Lets be positive right!

  16. Gaurav, yes it’s going to be very interesting seeing how Ozil fits in and whose playing time will suffer the most as a result.

    From my observation, Ozil is not a real harrier of opponents when he doesn’t have the ball, and doesn’t track back/tackle perhaps as much as we would like. Maybe that will increase with us and by nature of the PL, I’m not sure.

    I think that we will see a bit more of Flamini featuring to accomodate Ozil, which means on current form I think we may actually see a little bit less of Wilshere, as Ramsey deserves his box to box spot, and if Arteta comes back and gets back to form I too see him playing ahead of Wilshere for deeper roles with Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Rosicky better suited for more advanced and/or wide roles.

    Rosicky is somewhat of a luxury players these days, so even without Ozil, I personally don’t think he would have been a regular starter even assuming decent fitness by his standards. Ozil allows him to be used even more sparingly now and preserves him more for moments like big games when his class and quality may be needed more.

    That’s my thoughts.

  17. Thanks Mandy. I do hope TV5 comes back fit, healthy and raring to go. We’ll need him.

    @mickw: I’ll be doing a few games this season so I will be looking at Walcott’s runs closely.

    @Pete,Brickfields,Walter: I’ll look at Jenkinson more. Thanks.

    @Gerry Lennon: Thanks. A DM for me is someone who just plays very very safe passes, rarely goes beyond the halfway line and protects the playmakers. DM’s rarely offer a goal threat and play most of their passes with the CBs and fullbacks. Sometimes there’ll be 3 or 4 yard passes to the other midfielders. None of the players I mentioned fit that mould. Glad you liked the rest of it.

    @Woolwich: The moment Jack makes that tackle, watch how the ‘Red cards under Wenger’ stat is dragged out. Hopefully the day never comes.

    @Saka,Kampala,Patrick,Bootoomee: Thanks. Glad you like it.

    @para: Yes Arteta’s a loss. Hope he is back soon. I did think that the reactions to the friendly game Villa played in were overblown though. Death threats etc..ugh.

    @blacksheep: I’ll look at Szcz’s kicking too. Thanks.

    @Gaurav: I think it’ll be Giroud, Cazorla, Ozil, Walcott, Ramsey, Arteta which will be our first choice. Wilshere and Rosicky will be eased through the season. We need Rosicky to be fit season long for the big games.

    @A.Stewart: Thanks..glad you liked it.

    @Gary: That’s unfortunate. Life goes on though 🙂

  18. a bit off topic: Zelalem is out with an injury 6-8 weeks he has twittered a few hours ago.

    Bad luck for him as he will miss the league cup games.

    Interesting to see that Podolski was the first one to wish him well. I do think that Podolski is one of the players who brings a good atmosphere to the group. Seems much in touch with the youngsters and linking up with them.

  19. Great insightful article, Arvind. Keep’em coming:) I guess there was not a lot left to say about the keeper, Szczesny has a great start of the season. Even so, in the Totts match, I thought that long clearances looking for Giroud were our favorite waste of balls, as 90% of them were falling into their defenders’ hands (well… so to speak:). But his distribution has improved noticeably, last season only few of those balls were hitting target.

  20. Thanks bjtgooner, Florian. It is good to be writing again, specially about the pretty complex patterns that Arsenal of my favorite subjects. I’ll keep an eye out for SzcZ .. it slipped my mind a bit.

  21. arvind,
    Nice. I enjoyed reading this article. It would be good if you continue this as an Untold Series. I would love that. I find this one detailed and insigtful to my liking. Thanks and keep ’em coming.

    This also remind me the first article I read on Untold by Tony titled “4-3-3 V formation”.. been trying to google and look for that article but couldn’t find it.. could you provide me the link for that article Tony..

  22. I have said it before, the German Federation will make Platini’s life miserable if Ozil gets injured.

  23. Boo: I am reading this article as it was this morning, so probably lots more comments here now. Anyway I was on Positively Arsenal last night reading a great article and saw this Amy Lawrence bit that a guy called Goerge (a Gooner) was about to rip into her but got cut off, then an apology was given to him.
    So did some of those commenters think she is Pro Wenger and Arsenal?cos I am with you in that she is a FukIng click addict, media living and loving hate inciting anti Wenger abd anything ejse that her pimp bosses want, whore!
    Feel much better now!!!

  24. Off topic to an extent (Walter started it!), but see we are now back in our usual position at the top of the Injury table:

    This is definitely a major problem at the club. I wrote an article on this a couple of years ago (Gooner print edition if you must know… although long given up on them due to negativity) and – after rising to mid-table mediocrity last season – we now seem right back in the mire.

    I really want to know (i) why we get so many injuries and (ii) what is being done about it?

  25. Nice Post, Arvind.

    Someone mentioned that it might be best to have a definition of a DM and I think that is a fair point.

    The use of the term DM seems interchangeable and can be used to describe either a specific position in the team or a type of player, and perhaps that is right, but a skilful player can be effective in a number of roles and to label players such as Mascherano or Arteta as DMs can be misleading, as the first one also plays successfully at CB for Barca, and Arteta is very technically skilful and could just as easily play in an attacking role for us, if required.

    Yes, definition, please.

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