As we watch it we hate it. Well I do. And so does the guy who sits behind me. The goalkeeper wastes time from the first minute over every goalkick. He puts it on the left of the area, and then, for no apparent reason, picks it up and puts it down on the right.
Throw in’s take forever. Am I taking it? No you. There’s no one to throw to. Edge up the pitch, get warned by the ref, retreat, not far enough, another minutes used up.
Meanwhile players go down with no injury. Birmingham, two years ago, even had signals from the bench meaning “go down injured”.
Yup, Blackburn, Bolton and Birmingham and the rest are in the EPL and playing for the 0-0. In fact something like half the teams n the EPL will play like this in the coming season. They will hope for the breakaway to nick a 1-0, but failing that, 0-0 will do. Even Everton, who supposedly have top four pretensions, came to the Ems last October, nicked the lead and then retreated, defending so far back there were people in row ten who had to give up their seats.
You wonder what makes their fans come to the Ems when for half the match they won’t even see their own team – they’ll all be defending and time wasting down the other end.
So what sort of team do we put out for such games?
This is not an issue of defence, but of the midfield and attack. Somehow we need a tactic to get past these teams. Our left and right back can always run forwards and overlap with the winger – that’s a given. It is what happens elsewhere that is the key.
One such tactic is the Cesc lob – it almost looks like the long ball game except the lob is so perfectly played to someone like VP or Ade or Eduardo who can take such a ball, turn and shoot in one movement with the defence the the wrong place.
It is not a game where the defensive midfielder adds much – because there is little to defend, which is why, in my opinion, Denilson is important here. When the opposition are lumbering half way around their own half trying to move forward but mostly moving sideways, he is the great interceptor, knowing exactly where the ball will be as it is slightly miscontrolled. He breaks up their attempts to hold the ball, and gets us moving again.
Carlos Vela – at least the Carlos Vela that we saw much of the season – doesn’t work in this scenario because he is at his best running onto balls through the defence – and with a midfield and defence of 10 players crammed into a space of about 10 yards deep, he has no where to go. But, at the end of the season Vela looked much more powerful, so maybe he is being beefed up for such a role.
Bendtner did well on the wing as a sub, as we know, particularly if he came on as Theo started to get tired. Theo on form can pull defences ragged, and get the cross in, and that is worth having. If Ade goes Bendtner is the big man in the middle to receive the crosses.
In the old days we used to beat these 11 behind the ball clubs by allowing them to put two or three players on Henry – which gave Pires the chance to meander inside and slip through unmarked. There have been signs that these days the negative teams in the Bolton/Blackburn/Sunderland mould are willing to commit such numbers on Theo. If they do, Theo just needs someone clinical to pass to – and I’d guess Eduardo is the player for that – with Bendtner picking up the higher balls.
And there’s Arshavin, who when he scored that remarkable goal from an angle of about 1 degree against Blackburn in March, proved that he too has the ability to break into the parked team bus, nick the keys, turn on the engine and drive it down the Holloway Road.
(Sorry, my metaphor took on a life of its own, but may I take this pause to say hello to readers of Team Talk. This article first appeared on Untold Arsenal).
Which gives a midfield of Theo, Cesc, Denilson, Arshavin, and that means no Rosicky, Nasri, Ramsey or Wilshere.
And no place for Song. And no breakthrough for Fran Merida
Now of course I know that the Lord Wenger has more football knowledge in his toothbrush than I have in my entire collection of programmes, but maybe just maybe that means that Song (at least for the games against teams like this) will be available for the defence.
Maybe it means that Nasri and Rosicky get games when we are playing against more open teams.
But although as I have just said, I don’t really know nothing, I am sure that we will further see the development of the alternating tactics. One for the “park the team bus in front of the goal” teams, one for the games against teams who will think they have a chance against us, and the finally the five in midfield approach for Europe away, and possibly against Manchester IOU away.
Anyway, only 16 days to Barnet away.
(c) Tony Attwood 2009.
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