How to beat the clubs that park the team coach in front of goal

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.
PS: If you comment on this article your comment will also appear on Team Talk – from whom you will undoubtedly get a royalty cheque in due course.

24 Replies to “How to beat the clubs that park the team coach in front of goal”

  1. hey tony… you crack me up with the ‘team talk’ insertions…

    i agree with the tactics you talk about when teams like bolton come to the ems and play very ‘negative’ footbal, as i term it… i’ve realised that unlike the other leagues, the EPL is just about results, some teams dont care about the quality of football they play as long as they can manage a draw away or perhaps even sneak a win… it’s iritating at times… I can even cite an example of chelsea playing against barca in the CL semis… didnt like the football they played and i’m happy barca managed to put one over them… in these situations, yes, arsenal has to have a plan B…

    would a 4-3-3 also make sense in times like these? not your typical 4-3-3 but cesc and denilson/nasri playing a little in front of a DM (song perhaps?) arshavin/vela RWM, walcott/bendter LWM and RVP/eduardo up front?

  2. I don’t think Walcott is necessarily the answer to these sides. His pace could be wasted. Someone like Eboue who is a better crosser of the ball could be useful or Rosicky who is a better shooter from outside the box.

    Either way, I still think that there is no definite solution to the problem.

  3. The way you describe it, Tony, is better than to see such a game.
    Last season we (Arsenal Benelux fans) went to the Arsenal – West Ham game in januari just before the snow interval and the Arshavin transfer. Freezing cold day at the Emirates and Arsenal not at there best and a little bit unlucky at times.
    West Ham was playing like you described it and when in the 90th minute they suddenly earned a corner from nothing and ther fans went crazy. It was as if they had scored a goal. Luckily the corner was worthless as there whole performance. 90 minutes of defending.
    I was really dissapointed with the way they played and hated it just like you.
    And then to think that in the evening on MOTD the “connaisseurs” (specialist 8-/ ) praise that kind of tactic. Makes me sick.
    Even when we go away we have to face such tactics.
    If I was AW I would try to make a statement on the field on such occasion. If the home team doesn’t want to play and come out, I would take the ball in our own half and just pass it around with no intend to attack them as well. So you would have the home team on ther penalty area with 10 man and we would be passing the ball at our half with 10 man round the ball.
    I’m sure we would be slaughtered in the press and in MOTD, but I think AW just should use the bullsh*t (excuse me) that is used when teams use there defending tactic agains us.
    Best would be to tell the away fans in advance that such a thing could happen at a given time.

    I think it will never happen. Just hope we can destroy teams who play like that next season, and the other teams aswell. 😉

  4. Kev – Are you Steven in disguise? Or vice versa? Only you post short bits (which are fine, nothing wrong with being short) within seconds of each other from the same IP address.

    Anyway, and more amusing, the Red Action group just posted a section of the current marketing blurb for the new third kit

    “the kit echoes design elements of our blue away kit including a white shirt with redcurrant pinstripes and a polo collar. The shorts are anthracite grey with a redcurrant stripe and the socks are white with vertical redcurrant pinstripes”

    I was just thinking, that might be a way of bamboozling the “park the team bus” approach. Hard to focus when playing against that.

  5. we have the most cynical striker in england in eduardo. vela is pretty cynical too. arsavhin is as well. this is a great article.
    ive even wondered if during a” parking the team bus infront of goal” game we could move clichy left midfield , sagna could play in a 3 man central defence. the left winger who clichy replaces could go behind the two strikers or in a 3-4-3 formation. it is a formation wich could be changed quikly and reverted back when we have a 2 -0 advantage. what you think?

  6. The best answer is to have a competitive appetite through the team – a box to box midfielder like Viera helps, but we have to accept that those types of players are scarce.

    Also a player who can create something from nothing – which we now have in the form of Arshavin.

    The other thing would advocate is shooting from long range more frequently. Arsene’s methodology seems to demand that players almost never do this (in stark contrast to Chelsea, Liverpool & Man Utd) but our intricate passing play works so much better when teams aren’t 100% sure if you are going to shoot or pass. The reverse is true also.

    This in part comes down to personnel but nonetheless it is a skill which any midfielder should be able to apply. If Winterburn & Parlour can put a foot through the ball with occasional great success all of our present midfield should be able to.

    I would have the midfielders and the wingbacks all spend some time honing their long range shooting – Denilson, Fabregas & Nasri in particular should be much more adept at this than they are.

    Now that we have Arshavin that will help a little but up until then the person I recall shooting outside of the box the most is Kolo(with no luck at all and very limited success!) and that can’t be right.

  7. In addition with modern balls you don’t have to do much just put your foot through it and get it on target, chances are it will do something in the air if you welly it hard enough and if you have players following in you can create surprise, chaos and from that opportunities.

    Even Rosicky stopped shooting from outside the box as much as he used to once he joined Arsenal. Which leads me to believe what most suspect that Wenger actively discourages it.

    Sometimes you’ve just got to have a good old-fashioned dig.

  8. Wow.

    I so totally gave up on the idea of punctuation, in that last e-mail!


  9. Arsene needs to weaken the defence. Thus making the “parked bus” teams think they have a chance and so come out to play. Then show them up for the “opened up” suckers they are with our cynical finishers.

  10. Might be a bit off topic but stay with me for a bit. I’ve been following your commentary on everything Arsenal for for quite a while and I’ve found it to be one of the only place I can get anything original or worth reading about the club and the league. I especially like the fact that you do not join a multitude of supposedly Arsenal supporting blogs by bashing the team based on these rumors and made up stories.

    I caught a story of yours where you were, I think, talking about the hypocrisy of the British Media by referring to Andy Murray as British so as to benefit from his success on court. Well I came across an article that had similar connotations on third gen as regards to rugby and he goes on to suggest that the johnny-foreigner mentality of the British press impacts Arsenal similarly and there I agree.

    When teams come and park their buses when playing against us, their tactics are condoned and God help us if they nick a goal in the dying minutes of the match. Then we get the all too familiar talk of not having grit and character, you know, because we have so many foreign players in there. I guess being British that would be expected but a little bit of professionalism would not hurt. But they are so blatantly partisan which in my opinion won’t change anytime soon. That’s why it really gets to me whenever I see the likes of Myles (is it allowed to drop in names like that? Oh well..) taking shots at the team and writing them off before matches. Lord Wenger gets enough stick as it is without their help.

    In conclusion, we’ll get it right eventually and after all this heartache, it will be so much sweeter. The only problem is that when we do finally bag the silverware, Times and co are all so good at covering the orifices from whence their material is pulled from.

  11. Jonny Neale,

    you echo my thoughts exactly.Shooting from long range or even from the edge of the penalty area,has become a rarity.I noticed at the beginning of least season,Nasri as a debutant was not afraid to try his luck from outside the box, but as the season wore on he was more inclined to play the intricate short passing game,especially on the counter attack.

    With regards to the much talked about Adebayor,I believe that Wenger is watching very carefully Eduardo’s physical recovery,as he is is in my mind the most clinical of our strikers,and if the right bid came in for Adebayor we would see a defensive player brought in, as we have countless attacking options.I stress that it is only an opinion,and we may well see Adebayor in the starting line up this coming season.i think Wenger is quite relaxed about this situation.

    With regards to countless reports and speculation about who may come into the squad,I ask you how many of us really knew much about Sagna,Eduardo,Nasri and even Ade himself, beforehand.The boss invariably gets it right more often than not. (copyright Adam Smith )

  12. IMO in 07-08 we demonstrated the ability to breakdown these massed defences. Mind you in 08-09 teams became more cynical and deliberate with a preponderance of relatively tall (6 ft plus) athletic defenders and central midfielders. But in 07-08 we typical had a very skilled, experienced midfield trio of Hleb, Rosicky and Cesc with defensive support by Flamini. Hleb was much maligned for not being a scorer but he was very much under-appreciated for his willingness/ability to hold onto the ball attracting two, sometimes three defenders, creating space for our forwards to get good scoring chances, e.g. Adebayor with 24 goals in the EPL. Replays of some of the goals scored are simply breathtaking.
    In 08-09 our midfield simply did not have that level of creativity even with the arrival of Arshavin. Cesc is a great passer but he is no Hleb in terms of ball retention. Rosicky is a greater miss than most realize because he is not only creative but he is a goal-scoring threat from midfield (7 or 8 goals in 07-08). On the subject of midfield creativity and goal-scoring I am hoping that Diaby will realize the enormous potential that we see in glimpses.
    Anyway Tony great subject matter. AW knows infinitely more than us and I am sure he is plotting how to overcome. He did say that the problem was not goal-scoring but our defending. But I am sure he does not thing in such discrete terms and is thinking even more globally about overall team balance. Hopefully we don’t have the usual jackasses trashing the manager because Flamini and Hleb chose money over glory.

  13. Anyone know the best way to get tickets for the Barnet season opener and how much they cost? Any of you lot planning on going?

  14. My partner and I will be at Barnet. I bought tickets by phoning Barnet FC, rather than buying on their web site (the web site seems only to cover part of the ground for reasons that did not become apparent during my consumer experience with the club.)

    All straight forward (there is no segregation).

    I would say I would meet up with people but I don’t really know the ground that well, so don’t know where and when to be, but I’ll try and remember to look at my ticket in case anyone here is in the same stand as us.

    But, on a broader point, I have managed to get my season tickets back this year (having let them go when getting divorced 10 years back) so will be in a regular place this season, rather than jumping around from area to area with my silver memberships, so would be happy to meet anyone who wants a natter, before most home games.

    (The big worry with getting new Season Tickets is that one might end up sitting next to Mad Maria of Malta with her one-woman “Come on You Gunners, Come on Arsenal….” ad infinitum. I like the noise, but that one I find painful.

  15. Nice piece Tony but you actually cover 2 different subjects. The first is the time wasting issue by whatever means. Now all teams do this, even Arsenal the difference is between teams that wind down the last 5 minutes and teams like Hull who start to time waste straight after kickoff. The solution is simple. a) We need ref’s to punish this behaviour much sooner. b) The media need to criticise teams who do this. During his rant after the Hull game Phil Breakdown blamed Wenger for getting his GK booked for time wasting during the second half. If the interviewer had questioned Breakdown properly and embrassed him in public he might think twice about doing it again.

    The second issue is teams who defend with 10 men behind the ball. I believe we are better equipped to handle this now providing we can keep the injuries to a reasonable level. We just need to pick the right players for the right occasions.

  16. The full back’s need to be more clinical with their crossing as when they get forward they are almost always unmarked. Secondly, there needs to be men in the box; Arsenal do not commit themsleves as well. Some late, unmarked running will also help similar to what Cesc was doing a season ago. Thirdly we have more dynamism now with Arshavin and Walcott.

    We will be better next season as we have the players to keep the ball after a good pre-season work out, meaning better movement and cohesion. I have a suspicion we may win the season next year (injuries can only stop us).

  17. Mad Maria is in Club Class, Tony. A friend of mine sits just in front of her. Apparently there was a petition to make her stop the noise (my friend refused to sign, I am glad to say) so that now she can only give it full pelt when the rest of the crowd are, ie never.

    The issue of the “parked bus” & time wasting has been going on for at least since 1966, when Alf Ramsey invented English defensive football.

    Often it is a matter of taking the one chance you, nearly always, get, in these games that is the difference between challenging for the league or not. In that run of 0-0s I well remember RVP & Ade spurning ‘golden’ opportunities to win 2 of those games.

    The simple answer for us is a fit & sharp Cesc, which we only had for 2/3 games last season, & the will to break ’em down.

    Too often we have had most of the really creative players injured at the same time, which is why AA was purchased. We need at least 2 preferably 3 of Cesc, RVP, Tommy, RVP, AA & Diaby, which was a rarity last season.

  18. Last season it seemed that this became the chosen tactic to use against Arsenal. Pack the defensive line, wait for Arsenal’s attacking players to advance, and look for a chance to catch us on the break. Even the ‘top’ teams used it, so it wasn’t just a symptom of our opponents’ mediocrity and lack of ambition. And unfortunately, it was too often effective against us. Only Liverpool had the self respect required to try and play us at our own game. It’s stating the obvious, I know, but to be effective in attack we have to be strong in defence. Then RVP, CF, AA etc can have the confidence needed to try and break through the defence using the strategies discussed above.

    Less than a month to the Emirates Cup!

  19. I think all the skill is there, the pace and fitness too. I seriously feel we just need the self belief. Chicken and egg. Winning gives that belief. Look how the Fairs cup spurred on the eventual double winners of 70/71.
    The frustration is that we were oh so close to winning last year that these guys would be destroying all before them by now had they not faded at the last.
    I’ll also add injuries. This is not a gripe or a moan and yes all clubs have injuries but we lose whole chunks of our team, together, at crucial times – last season was the worst I’ve ever known in all my 16,816 days.

  20. Now there’s a thought. What was the worst season we have known? I suspect it was the one when the tiny totts did the double, and there was one I have memories of where there was talk of us going down. Must look up the record books.

  21. Anyone who saw the last England game will realise how much Theo can bring to the team. It became obvious in the second half when Ashley Young come on. When Theo got the ball, he had three defenders on him. When AY got the ball, he had 20 yards of space, and then only the right back to beat.

    Theo had pulled their defence yards over to their left, even when he didn’t have the ball. I will be very surprised if AA, Vela or Nasri cannot take excellent advantage of that.

    I also support the call for the 433, with the front three NEVER tracking back. They will need to keep 5 back, meaning that our defence will never be under that much pressure. I see the forwards as Theo/RvP, Bendtner/Eduado, AA/Vela. The midfield would include the options of Diaby, Rosicky and Nasri, allowing us to play more of a 4213, and with the full backs pushing up, a 2233 or 2413.

    These options will create space for Cesc. I have never bought into the idea that Flamini allowed him to play well, and his drop in form last season was the result of Flamini leaving. More likely no holiday, European Cup success and injury. I hope the Confederations Cup doesn’t have a similar effect next season.

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