Tags: Arsenal, Counter-attack, Man Utd, Match Analysis
It was time again for Sir Alex Ferguson to get re-acquainted with the back of his hand. The wily Scotsman has enough big match experience – and success – against contemporary Arsenal to comfortably make it his chosen specialist subject on Mastermind as his side went about dismantling Arsenal’s title bid and reaffirming their’s. Manchester United met thrust with counter-thrust and vice versa but where much more ruthless from the latter.
There was little to separate the teams with half an hour on the clock as both teams found it troubling to break down each other’s defence from open play. United opting to play without Ryan Giggs missed a bit of invention in the final third and as a result Arsenal sucked up their attacks and looked to punish them on the break – Andrey Arshavin going closest with a drive wide of Edwin Van der Sar. But Arsenal have been slow starters this season, having scored only once before fifteen minutes in the league and once they started getting into their groove, Manchester United sensed their moment pounce. Luis Nani’s wonderful trick and run forced the ever-growing culpable Manuel Almunia to claw into his own net (although in fairness the cross looked to be headed for Park at the back post).
However, it was two devastating moments on the break that settled the tie. William Gallas was crowded out in the United box following a corner and as the ball fell to Wayne Rooney, the England striker, starting the counter-attack ended it with a finish of real conviction after running close to the full length of the pitch. Rooney then showed Arsenal the movement they tried to create with Arshavin as the false nine, as the forward took three defenders out by dropping short and the rest was rudimentary for Park. There were only two options for Gael Clichy - gamble and close down the attacker but risk the early pass or delay and hope the angle narrowed. As it turned out, Clichy left it two late for the latter and Park poked the ball past Almunia (could the ‘keeper have been more committed?). Counter-attacking is not merely a policy for Manchester United but a deadly and utterly ruthless weapon in their armoury. “Counterattacking has always been part of our game, particularly away from home, and we capitalised on those opportunities,” said Sir Alex Ferguson. “Arsenal play a lot of good football and get to the edge of your box regularly, but if you can win the ball there and counterattack quickly you’ll have chances against them.”
“Transitions have become crucial,” says Jose Mourinho, who always seeks to keep his side organised with five at the back in guard of such moments. “When the opponent is organised defensively, it is very difficult to score. The moment the opponent loses the ball can be the time to exploit the opportunity of someone being out of position.” That was the situation that was also posed to Arsenal; the Gunners’ expansive style meaning more resources are committed forward and therefore less organisation at the back. And those gaps are even bigger this season due to the play being stretched on account of the switch to 4-3-3 and cover for the full-backs minimal. Sir Alex would have targeted the right-hand before hand with or without Valencia and deployed a ‘defensive’ winger on the other side. The slight surprise was in deploying Carrick as the deep-lying playmaker as the manager decided to sacrifice a bit of energy for extra tactical nous lower down, while Scholes’ creativity was to be translated higher up the pitch.
Arsenal in contrast were unlikely to play any differently. Arsene Wenger went into the game wanting to control proceedings but found in front of him a sea of black shirts who were very committed in not opening the floodgates and letting Arsenal have the initiative. Dynamism on one hand has waned since their electric start to the season and the late flurry could not hide the defects. The best Wenger can hope his side can regroup and find that extra spark again.
So where next for Arsenal? Chelsea at Stamford Bridge…
Arsenal 1-3 Manchester United: Almunia (og) 33, Rooney 37, Park 52, Vermaelen 80.
Arsenal: Almunia (5), Sagna (6) (Bendtner), Gallas (6), Vermaelen (6), Clichy (5), Fabregas (6), Song (7), Denilson (6) (Walcott) , Nasri (5), Arshavin (6), Rosicky (5) (Eboue).
Subs not used: Fabianski, Ramsey, Silvestre, Traore.
Man Utd: Van der Sar 6, Rafael Da Silva 6, Jonathan Evans 6, Brown 6, Evra 6, Scholes 6 (Giggs), Carrick 7, Fletcher 6, Nani (Berbatov) 8, Rooney 8, Park 6 (Valencia).
Subs not used: Kuszczak, Owen, Gibson, De Laet.
Referee: Chris Foy (Merseyside).
|Arsenal||Team Statistics||Manchester United|
|0||1st Half Goals||2|
|3||Shots on Target||3|
|13||Shots off Target||6|
Tags: Arsenal, Man Utd
Arsenal’s next fixture in their crucial sequence of four games sees the Gunners face Manchester United. We give the lowdown on the encounter.
Which Manchester United will turn up?
Some grumbles of discontent have begun to surface among fans recently of Sir Alex Ferguson’s continuous tinkering of his side – he has gone 105 consecutive matches now without picking the same team twice in a row - and that unpredictability means it difficult to know what line-up the manager is to send out and in which system. The 4-4-2 has garnered 15 goals in the last four games it has been used although for the big games, Sir Alex has tended to favour the 4-5-1. And with strong performances against Chelsea and most recently Manchester City, the 4-5-1 seems the most likely choice away to Arsenal.
United’s changing face
Losing to Barcelona in the 2009 Champions League final was to Sir Alex, the equivalent of defeat to Real Madrid at home in the Champions League quarter-final in 2000. United had just been crowned European champions the year previously on both occasions but the severity of the defeats meant the manager had to reconsider the way his side functions. “We had a spell after we won the Champions League in 1999 when we had to change our thinking,” said Ferguson. “We lost to PSV and Anderlecht away and others on the counterattack.” This season, not only have they lost Cristiano Ronaldo, out went fans favourite Carlos Tevez across the city, the two key components of their 2007/08 double winning side. Manchester United have churned out some pretty uninspiring performances thus far but their functionality means they are still in the hunt for most trophies.
Inspiration seemingly comes in the form of Mourinho’s 4-3-3 at Chelsea. The wingers look to support the lone striker – typically Wayne Rooney – in attack but in the defensive phase drop back to a more orthodox 4-5-1. The key dynamics of the system, though, is the deployment of their three star central midfielders – Michael Carrick, Darren Fletcher and Paul Scholes. The latter holds while Ferguson seeks to take advantage of Carrick and Fletcher’s high fitness levels therefore they can pressure more higher and aggressively up the pitch. Maybe also, the manager feels he can bring more out of Carrick’s creative and shooting abilities - an area they’ve lacked in central midfield and have been unable to replicate with Anderson and Gibson.
Between the lines
It can be argued, by taking the minutest details of a team’s system, that United’s use of a flat 4-3-3 contributed partly to their defeat to Barcelona in the final. On the other hand, Barcelona played with four bands to make it a 4-1-2-3 and with players constantly moving about made it difficult for Manchester United to match up. Having players ‘between the lines’ makes for more unpredictability and taking advantage in such areas final third of the pitch can be decisive. “I don’t like to play the 4-4-2 in two lines,” says Jose Mourinho. “I like the match in between lines and players with dynamic creativity to do that. What are you a midfield player or an attacker? Nobody knows.” This is still a criticism with Manchester United – that they are lacking players to do the damage in between the lines – although they will argue it’s the angles they attack from and the sheer intensity they do so, that is their central strength.
Arsenal also, it seems, do not have specified men in between the lines but Arsène Wenger’s idea is for the system to be able to morph into a 4-1-4-1, both in the defensive phase and in attack where the midfielders are required to get close to the main forward who is likely to be Nicklas Bendtner. It is primarily Cesc Fabregas’ role to get into such positions, playing as the interior and given more freedom to create chances. The captain has also added greater dynamism to his game, taking on defenders with his developing power not too dissimilar to Steven Gerrard.
Mind the gaps
Recent uncoverings of the Arsenal style have found a chink in the Gunners armour. The most successful opposition teams have been able to expose the space in front of the defence by bypassing the first defensive phase and getting men forward to take advantage of one-on-ones and indecision.
This is because in the defensive phase, the idea is for Arsenal to compress space quickly but that is a difficulty in itself when you factor stretching play is a means of attacking. If the build up breaks down, as opponents have been doing by pressuring up the pitch or alternatively, playing the ball deep early, the distances between the forward players and defence becomes greater (as displayed by below. (Bear in mind United’s intention in the defensive phase is to drop back as opposed to Arsenal’s which is to pressure up the pitch first). Also could Arsenal reverse the tactic and pressure early Paul Scholes and test his reaction times? Fulham did this particularly well as the midfielder gave away a couple of loose balls.
The best solution for Arsenal would be the return of a tired Alex Song back into the holding role, partnered slightly to the left by Denilson. This should ensure the Brazilian can push left as he and Diaby have done in the role beforehand with much success to cover for the space in front of Clichy. This area may be even more crucial should Sir Alex Ferguson choose to deploy Antonia Valencia or even Nani to hug the right touchline. In one of the wide forward positions, Nicklas Bendtner, Samir Nasri or Emmanuel Eboue are options for Wenger due to the extra attention they give to tracking back.
Transitions and set-pieces
Transitions and set-pieces more than anything have been the bane of Arsenal in recent season and will be key once again for both sides. Every team is able to counter these days but the most successful sides have made it their weapon, not their main policy. But it is not just winning the ball in the defensive third of the pitch that can lead to a counter – teams have found that winning the ball in midfield is the crucial area to spring a quick attack from. “Transitions have become crucial,” says Mourinho (again). “When the opponent is organised defensively, it is very difficult to score. The moment the opponent loses the ball can be the time to exploit the opportunity of someone being out of position.”
Effective wing play may just be key especially as both teams like to stretch play and Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia has been in fine form. More orthodox than many of United’s great wingers of the pass, he found multitudes of room against Manchester City in the first leg by hugging the touchline while his central midfielders worked the full backs inside by switching play quickly. Defensively Valencia also has his plus points as against Chelsea he successfully helped nullify the threat of Ashley Cole by pinning him back.
Patrice Evra has had another fine season at left back and indeed the full-back position has become key in the modern game as it has become the only position where the player is unmarked. Arsenal’s full-backs, however, have been slightly more conservative in their roles, choosing to be more selective although Bakary Sagna showed his threat against Tottenham when he foraged forward unmarked twice to set-up two goals. Higher up the pitch, can Andrey Arshavin get into areas to take on the defender one-on-one as he likes? Indeed, if Bendtner does start, the support he provides to the forward will be crucial and especially testing to rookie full-back Rafael.
Arsenal’s key men
Sol Campbell- This will be the real test of Sol Campbell’s mobility. Barcelona have shown you don’t have to be particularly quick to be a success in a high line, instead astute reading of the game is order of the day. Campbell expertly marshalled Agbonlahor and restricted use of his pace and once again will have to be aware as Rooney likes to run the channels on the break.
Nicklas Bendtner – The Dane has a confident streak but has yet to translate that consistently over a season. Hopefully with injuries behind him, Bendtner can push on and give Arsenal a direct outlet they have been so missing. Playing as the focal point, the Gunners will be hoping the midfielders can play around the big forward while also giving Arsenal an outlet from the numerous times they reach the wide positions. An added bonus he possesses is the option to play the ball early from defence and relieve pressure on the backline. ”If Eduardo is out, am I ready to come in?,” said Bendtner. “I wouldn’t be here if I was wasn’t ready. If I play Sunday, I will be ready as well and Manchester United is the sort of big game you’d love to come back into.
Manchester United’s key men
Ryan Giggs – Like Benjamin Button, Ryan Giggs seems to be only getting younger. If he starts on the left as anticipated, Ferguson will expect the Welshman to cut inside and deliver killer passes to Wayne Rooney as he did in winning the penalty in the 2-1 win when the two sides last met. “It was the kind of pass we’ve been trying in training all week,” Ferguson said of the assist. “We got one.”
Wayne Rooney – The England forward has nineteen goals in twenty-one games and he owes much of that good form to curbing his altruistic instincts and playing in a more orthodox manner. He has stated Valencia has kept him on his toes because he expects the winger to fire in more crosses than Ronaldo used to from the same flank.
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Campbell, Clichy; Song, Denilson, Fabregas; Nasri, Arshavin, Bendtner
Subs from: Fabianski, Eboue, Silvestre, Traore, Ramsey, Eastmond, Rosicky, Walcott
Man Utd (4-5-1): Van der Sar; Brown, Vidic, Evans, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs; Rooney
Subs from: Kuszczak, Rafael, Neville, Anderson, Nani, Gibson, Owen, Berbatov, Park, Diouf
Tags: contract, Man Utd
It’s quite fortunate that Carlos Tevez doesn’t want to break from his contract as if he did, it would surely tear a whole in the football universe and release with it a messy gunk of goo.
We all know Tevez and Mascherano both transferred to West Ham under the ownership of two third parties (Media Sports Investment and Just Sports Inc). Just what involvement the parties have now is unclear but Kia Joorabchian is still involved. Mascherano has signed for Liverpool outright while Tevez is still unattached to a club. It must be noted that third party ‘ownership’ is not illegal, providing there’s no right given to the them to influence the polices and performance of the team (such as missing a penalty etc.).
“It is a little bit like a loan deal between two clubs, except it is a loan deal between the club and a third party,” says Joorabchian, feeling like a modern day Robin Hood. “Third-party transfers are a way of bringing outstanding players to clubs that would not be able to afford them ordinarily. So they increase the competition. Why should only Manchester United and Chelsea be able to afford the best players?”
When the Argentinian joined Manchester United, the Red Devils agreed to a two-year lease deal worth £10million with his owners. United have registration of the player for that duration but the third-party owners have retained all economic rights over him. Under the terms, Tevez is not allowed to agree to anything without their consent and only MSI possess unilateral right to terminate the contract.
But if Tevez did want to leave he would have European Law on his side to allow him to do that. Chris Heaton-Harris, president of the EU’s powerful Sports Intergroup which deals with sporting matters across the continent and also East Midlands MEP Chris Heaton-Harris said: “It is unique and bizarre that an entity, rather than a club, owns a player.
“In employment terms, Carlos Tevez has a contract himself with this company. But if he went to the European Commission and said he wanted out of it, he would get European support. It is just an employment contract. You can’t keep a person to a contract that he doesn’t want to continue in. Under European law, he has the right to break this contract.”
Heaton-Harris then continued: “Bosman was tied to a football club and Tevez is tied to a company. There is very little difference. It is a simple follow-on from Bosman”
That case of course revolutionized football because it meant a player is no longer tied to a club when his contract does indeed run out. The Belgian defender’s representative claimed any third party (a club) which governs the movement of a player between jobs is a restraint of trade, prohibited under Treaty of Rome. The legal sticking point is likely to be the fact MSI signed their contract with Tevez in South America (ie outside of EU jurisdiction), but since he wants to play in Europe, his contract is arguably open to challenge within the EU.
Carlos Tevez’s lease deal has run it’s course and hypothetically should he wish to leave, would undergo a pretty lengthy court procedure as the Bosman case took five years, something the player is not motivated to do.
In employment terms, contracts of employments are to be distinguished from contracts for services, which typically deal with independent contractors or other types of employments such as agency workers (and which most probably includes footballers). Contracts of employments are the standard contracts which you and I have and which differ from contracts for services as they have certain implied terms embedded in to the contract (like the restraint clause), something which is missing in contracts for services.
In employment terms, restraint clauses are not unlawful unless they are deemed ‘unfair’, which then the employee must prove. A company could restrict an employee from working at another company for a certain number of years if there is a risk of highly confidential information being passed on, or a skill that gives the company a USP.
In football, players have already made an obligation with the club for the number of years they can stay and therefore do not have the power to leave in the middle. (In the case of Bosman, he left at the end, a contract of employment doesn’t necessary have a time-limit).
It’s probably just as well then, Carlos Tevez has sought not to exercise such rights and let Kia Joorabchian handle the matter.
By this time you may have noticed nothing has been said about Arsenal, this being an Arsenal weblog. So to wrap things up, wouldn’t it be great if the Gunners signed Tevez? Do we need him? We’ve got many quality strikers. Eh, probably couldn’t afford him anyway…
Tags: Analysis, Man Utd
Arsenal Column have identified three key areas which could determine whether Arsenal return from the first leg of the Champions League semi-final at Old Trafford with a result.
1. Midfield shield must keep tabs on United’s attacking quartet
Wenger may not have advocated the midfield shield before the start of the season but there is no doubt that the role has helped steady the ship this campaign. Manchester United’s forwards like to operate in the area between midfield and attack and especially Berbabtov who is likely to start because of his hold up play.
Like Porto and Liverpool before them, being organised and denying space in front of the defence will be the first step to an Old Trafford result. It will be interesting to see who Arsene Wenger deploys in central midfield, as he has a full set of options to contend with, and whether to play Fabregas, as predicted, behind Adebayor. Arshavin’s unavailability will probably mean Nasri will play out wide but at Middlesbrough he showed great positional awareness which Wenger may be tempted to call upon.
Possession will not be key in this game and with the tempo both teams play with, the ball is likely to go back and forth between each end though mostly in United’s favour. Expect a 55-45% possession advantage to the Reds but with the counter-attacking nature of both sides, it will be how each team is set-up when possession changes hands that could decide the outcome.
2. Press Carrick
This job will be up to whoever plays behind Adebayor, most likely to be Fabregas. If Arsenal can get the England midfielder searching for the ball, then it could open up gaps for the Gunners to exploit. Carrick is a fantastic passer of the ball but with the way United attack, which is like a 4-2-4, the forward quarter are almost looking for the midfielder to feed the ball to them at every opportunity.
Cutting Carrick out may not necessarily mean cutting off the supply line; United are a pressure team looking to force the opposition on the back foot with the angles they attack from. Nevertheless, denying Carrick space will open up spaces for Arsenal to attack in and create uncertainty to the back four.
3. Effective wing play will be key for both sides
Last season in the FA Cup Arsenal were comprehensively beaten 4-0 by United as Hoyte and Traore were run ragged out wide. Although with Sagna on the right this may not happen it is less assured on the left with Gibbs doubtful which means Silvestre may deputise if he also passes fit.
Ferguson will have identified this as an area of Arsenal’s weakness therefore could be tempted to play Ronaldo there. Wenger on the other hand may want to deploy Diaby to offer added protection.
However the past few games have also seen United frailties in defending quick, pacy players especially if the wingers do not offer enough protection. Evra v Walcott may well be the defining contest and on the break the winger can be deadly. Manchester United will want to force the England man as far back as possible to deny him the opportunity to run at Evra. On the break Arsenal had the back four on the back foot at the Emirates in October, with the centre back pairing having to make up positionally for others.
Predicted Line Ups
Manchester United (4-4-2):Van Der Sar – O’Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra – Ronaldo, Carrick, Anderson, Giggs (c) - Rooney, Berbatov.
Subs:Foster, Rafael, Evans, Park, Fletcher, Scholes Welbeck, Tevez
Arsenal (4-2-3-1):Almunia – Sagna, Toure, Djourou, Gibbs – Song, Nasri – Walcott, Fabregas (c), Diaby – Adebayor
Subs:Fabianski, Silvestre, Eboue, Denilson, Ramsey, Vela, Bendtner
Tags: Man Utd, Tactics
Sir Alex Ferguson is likely to sacrifice Wayne Rooney’s central link up play and creativity in favour of giving more protection to the full backs.
In football we think we have seen it all; tactics go out of fashion and some come back (the deep-lying playmaker, box-to-box midfielder) so it is rare to see something new emerge. The defensive winger. Nothing fancy, nothing flashy, they just do their job quietly. OK, maybe it is just a means to balance out the team and cater for specialists and individuals but their selflessness allows others to play with greater freedom. Park Ji Sung and more recently Wayne Rooney, have both played out wide for Manchester United to give greater protection to the full backs.
With the advent of the universal playmaker and the physical development of the modern game, it means most of the play nowadays tends to be concentrated in the centre. Effective wing play therefore is ever more crucial (though Spain’s movement and intelligence was too much in the Euro’s) but a natural winger can be much inconsistent and anonymous if they are stuck out wide all the time. Such players may have one good game in five but in that one game can be match winners. Wingers have added more to their game and are more than just tools although effectively decreasing the number of natural wide men.
Theo Walcott harks back to those old days but his Arsenal experience makes him the greater all-round player and his underlying threat to Manchester United is evident to Ferguson. Patrice Evra was tormented by Aaron Lennon in the first half in their 5-2 defeat and with United behind, Ferguson’s side’s relentless pressure forced Lennon back while Rooney was moved to the left, scoring two goals and nullifying the threat of the winger in the process. When United attack, it is like a 4-2-4 which means it can lead to vulnerability in the full back area and the central midfield prone to being overrun. Indeed this is an area Porto exploited in the first leg until United patched up the gaps in the second leg.
Rooney’s discipline allows Ronaldo to play up front where the Portuguese can use his dynamism to drive at the opposition, especially on the counter where the defence will have their tails up when they see Ronaldo running. (Maybe a converted forward role in the same way as Henry beckons?)
The tactic can be a double edged sword therefore we are likely to see some interchanging out wide as rookie Kieran Gibbs will start on the left side. The full back was given a torrid time by Jesus Navas in the Emirates Cup and lets see just how much he has progressed in the face of limited opposition.
Maybe Ferguson could have instilled a greater work ethic just as Guardiola has at Barcelona to his awesome attacking trio but in the short term at least , the solution is to counter-balancing Ronaldo’s egotism with Rooney’s selflessness.
Remember to leave your comments on the game. A full preview (with a greater Arsenal prospective) will be up on Wednesday.