Tags: Match Analysis
Arsenal once again fell foul to their old habits of failing to break a down deep and determined defence as Spurs’ rearguard action ensured they put an end to Arsenal’s title hopes.
The early post mortem results are in for this season and there is one name that dominates the answers: Robin van Persie. Of course it is purely hypothetical to assume where Arsenal would have been had they had a fit van Persie for most of the season but the way he ”transformed” Arsenal according to Arsene Wenger and gave the side an efficiency in possession that they were missing, speaks volumes of his influence to Arsenal’s style. Thought to be the vital cog in the changing mechanism of the side, van Persie’s movement creates space for others in the 4-3-3 while his ability to get behind gives greater variety to play.
His immediate introduction brought a great save from Heurelho Gomes, getting on to a chipped pass from Abou Diaby and expertly volleying a shot which was fantastically stopped by the Brazilian. And his movement helped create the first goal, dropping into the space between the midfield and defence to feed a ball for Walcott to cross in low for Bendtner. It was an urgency and penetration that was greatly missing from Arsenal, that van Persie brought to the game and with that defeat, surely brings about an end to Arsenal’s title dream.
Ultimately this was a season of learning – seemingly the perennial excuse - but encouragingly, certain players have made big strides to ensure Arsenal can mount a serious challenge on all fronts next campaign. However, despite those improvements, the Gunners fell foul to their old habits of failing to break down a determined and organised Tottenham defence. Wenger’s idea of playing one dynamic winger on one flank and one half-winger on the other fell flat also – Emmanuel Eboue and Tomas Rosicky were essentially the latter meaning it was all about control and despite monopolising possession, a lack of movement made it all very easy for Spurs to defend. They were very compact and disciplined – as typified by Luka Modric who reigned in as much of his attacking tendencies to play a great box-to-box covering role, making 5 interceptions and 11 attempted tackles.
Calls of signing a new defender have been justified although Sol Campbell put in a performance as good as anyone on the pitch. He would have been disappointed with how the second went in, especially being after the restart but his calmness and pace, kept the Spurs strikers at bay for most of the game.
Rosicky had a busy first-half and Wenger tried to get more out of his Czech Maestro by moving him to the right for the ineffective Eboue but being his job as a wide forward to also get behind, Rosicky went about searching for the crucial killer ball that no-one wanted to receive. Eboue’s poor showing displayed once again his inability to play in front of Bakary Sagna with the Ivorian being to the type of player who thrives on movement to make late driving runs instead of starting the moves for someone else. The Gunner’s liking to playing short, neat passes compromised their ability to get behind and many moves were easily anticipated because of the lack of movement. Decision-making also took a hit but that may be linked to the unwillingness to make runs beyond the Spur’s backline.
As it was, it was van Persie’s introduction, along with Theo Walcott’s directness that seemed to change Arsenal’s mentality and nearly inspired a comeback. The switch to a 4-4-2 was necessary and finally allowed Nicklas Bendtner some room to play off a team-mate but with Gomes making a series of fantastic saves, ended any hopes of Arsenal adding any silverware this season.
Tottenham’s total interceptions of 33, all in their own half, displays their compactness and determination to stop Arsenal from creating chances. It also highlights the lack of movement from the Gunners, making it easy for Spurs to anticipate passing moves.
Tags: Match Analysis
Arsenal were outclassed by a Barcelona side simply to good for them and a masterclass from Lionel Messi in which he scored a breathtaking hat-trick in twenty-one minutes.
You could have tried blindfolding him. Handcuffing him even. To a railing. Quick-dried slabs of cement around his feet. Rolled a giant boulder off a cliff like a Wile E. Coyote contraption. In fact, no matter what you tried, nothing was going to stop him. Lionel Messi was that good and comparisons with the best ever are wholly justified. The most devastating of hat-tricks of recent times was completed in twenty-one absolutely jaw-dropping and dazzling minutes, first scoring an unstoppable screamer from the edge of the box, anticipating a loose ball for the second and an impudent chip to ultimately kill off Arsenal’s hopes. His fourth was just all Lionel Messi, recovering the loose ball after his shot had been blocked to score in the only space possible – through Manuel Almunia’s legs.
Arsenal could have man-marked Messi and Pep Guardiola has realised that may be the case this season and therefore has given him an almost a free role in most matches. Messi is the ultimate “decoy” according to South American expert Tim Vickery and the touch graph here displays how players are attracted to him and in doing that frees space for players like Xavi. The playmaker had another flawless game and as Enrique Ortega wrote in Marca, “when Xavi plays, Barcelona work. When Xavi thinks, Barcelona breathes.” But the biggest difference displayed by the Catalan side was not in the way they kept the ball but the mechanism put in place to allow them to play such a game. “Recovering Possession” is how Pep Guardiola describes it. ”We are working within a specific system in which we all have our obligations,” explained Xavi after the win. ”And if we are all doing our respective jobs it’s a difficult task to stop us. “[Lionel Messi] makes the difference of course but everyone in this team pulls their weight and it’s a privilege playing with these players.” Guardiola adds: “We had more possession but things were still very dangerous for us. When we drew level it calmed us down a lot and we became more aggressive in defence. We are exceptionally happy with what we managed to do. Each player knows exactly what he has to do and right now we are playing with more intensity than ever; we were even putting pressure on [Manuel] Almunia in the 80th minute.”
The countless variations and tweaks Guardiola has added to his side makes it just that bit harder for sides to defend against. The efficient Seydou Keita on the left – usually the position taken up by Andres Iniesta - allows the side to stretch play with their full backs as the opposing full back is forced in by the unnatural wide player, creating space for Abidal on this occasion to bomb down the flanks. On the right however, Dani Alves had met his match. If he ever did wonder how hard it is to play against himself, here Gael Clichy gave him that test as the French left-back out-powered and out-paced him and was continually Arsenal’s driving force although emotions may have got the better of his decision-making at times. In the centre, Busquets held the fort but when Arsenal pressured high, Barcelona always found an option be it the other central defender or another midfielder; they stretched play so expansively, it became difficult to counter them.
The question after the game was could Arsenal repeat such a defensive game that should aid their passing game? The excuse with Arsenal is, however, that they are a young team and that means there is expected to be some leeway in the tactical understanding and maturity of the players. But why should there always be compromises with regards to Arsenal? This is a team which has been taught the joys of attacking football and rather erroneously, the consequences of their defensive game are said to be sometimes unavoidable.
So how to beat Barcelona? In the first leg, Arsene Wenger asked his side to push up higher defensively to remain more compact and to allow Arsenal to press more higher. Which sounds perfectly feasible theoretically but pundits, while never really adding that layer of sophistication in their analysis that experts do, may be right that defending deep is a much more viable tactic. The problem here is in distances; as displayed once again by Diaby’s tackle on Milito to win back the ball in the build up to the goal, you must pressure high but it is all about the spaces between midfield and attack and defence and midfield. In this instance, by defending deeper and thereby being more compact, Barcelona had to push forward which gave Arsenal acres of space to exploit. Pressuring may be best done closer to the halfway line by bring Barcelona forward. The other ingredient is to keep tabs on the deepest midfielder, whether in the striker dropping short or the midfielder advancing to decrease the angles in the pass, remain disciplined and break forward quickly. Rather to quickly and impatiently was Arsenal’s downfall last night, giving the ball away in crucial areas and which led to Barcelona’s first.
Arsenal were not just defeated by the splendour of Lionel Messi; this was a fantastic collective performance also in which Arsenal looked quite a bit away from competing, let alone beating Barcelona. And not even an endless tickling from Mr. Poppin’ Fresh would make that pain of missing out once again in Europe go away for Arsene Wenger.
Tags: Match Analysis
Theo Walcott’s introduction to the fray switched Arsenal’s flow to the dynamic and the direct to give the Gunners hope in the second leg at the Nou Camp.
Barely twenty minutes had registered on the clock but those watching the game were in unified agreement that already, they were witnessing something spectacular. Arsenal had just survived the most relentless onslaught you are likely to see in world football this season but yet, somehow, came out of the early exchange with no goals conceded. Barcelona threw wave after wave of attacks at the Arsenal goal with Manuel Almunia performing heroically to repel each and every one of them. Ten shots were fired in the first quarter of an hour and fans were wondering how many more were to come. Barcelona were mesmerising on the ball, hypnotic and the way they pulled around the Gunners’ defenders was probably most reminiscent of the Dinamo Moscow side of 1945 when they toured these shores and baffled every team they faced. Or even as spellbinding as Ajax in their 5-1 win over Liverpool in 1966 which forced Bill Shankly to peculiarly declare that “they were the most defensive team we have ever met.”
Arsenal were certainly suffering from an inferiority complex early on and it was mighty relief when on twenty-three minutes, Samir Nasri bent one past Victor Valdez post to show that there was a second side in this contest. Indeed Nasri had skinned Dani Alves more than once in the first half but Carlos Puyol’s last ditch blocks and an offside flag to Bendtner made sure nothing constructive came out of the runs. On the other side however, Andrey Arshavin was given no joy and Barcelona’s asphyxiating pressurising off the ball contributed to the Russian’s more prematurely than expected exit with injury.
Barcelona’s wingers played more narrower than usual, with Keita’s inclusion in the middle allowing the side to switch seamlessly from a 4-3-3 to their asymmetric 4-2-4. Xavi and Busquets were so comfortable in possession they took biomechanics to another level and in weaving their pretty patterns forced Arsenal’s wide men to push inside. Even with Nasri strategically positioned to deal with Dani Alves, the Frenchman was unable to get into direct confrontation with the full-back and he and Maxwell on the left continued to bomb forward on the outside with relative little pressure. Arsenal’s formation also made it easier for Barcelona to create triangles as Abou Diaby was elongated to the left and Cesc Fabregas pushing closer to Bendtner. If the pair played either side of Alex Song, perhaps that would have denied the midfielders to get between the lines as they did so easily as then each men would have had a designated man to go up against.
The half-time instructions from Wenger would almost exclusively have been made up of telling his side to squeeze the space better and remain compact and so they entered the second period playing 10 metres higher up the pitch. However, it quickly backfired as a ball over the top of Thomas Vermalen found Zlatan Ibrahimovic to deftly lift the ball over Almunia. For Arsenal, pushing up was the right move to make but Pique was afforded too much room to look up and make a pass while Ibrahimovic took advantage of the uncertainties in marking playing more compact created to bend his run magnificently. The second goal followed almost a carbon copy of the first and with two away goals looked game over. It was a big blow to Arsenal because they had started to come into the game a bit more with Denilson a much more astute presence than Song andf Diaby had been, constantly nipping the ball away from Barcelona’s midfielders (he made 12 interceptions according to PickLive and made the most passes of any of the Gunners’ midfielders despite playing half a match less) and on the whole Arsenal saw more meaningful time on the ball.
Wenger had one more roll of the dice to make and with sixty-seven minutes on the clock brought on Theo Walcott. The England winger’s brain may not be the size of some of his visiting counterparts but his pace more than compensated in a match where pace could make all the difference. His introduction lifted the mood amongst the fans and his directness caused great problems to Maxwell who until then, had the freedom of the left hand side. With Eboue moving to right back it gave Arsenal the double penetrative threat that has served them well in recent games at the Emirates and as Diaby intercepted a pass from Busquets, Walcott was put through. His shot wasn’t the most accurate but it was close enough to Valdes to make it an awkward stretch – the ball rolled under the ‘keeper to give Arsenal hope. Suddenly Barcelona were on the back foot and Walcott had turned Arsenal’s wiggly and unfinished lines to the dynamic and the direct.
Barcelona looked physically and mentally more tired in the second period and credit must go to Arsenal for summoning that extra strength against what must be soul sapping opponents. Cesc Fabregas may be out of the first leg through suspension and an injury that followed his thumping penalty but it ensured he had given Arsenal more than a chance in the return leg. Theo Walcott may have played himself into the starting line-up but thoughts will instantly turn to the way Barcelona had torn apart and humbled Arsenal in the opening exchanges. Abou Diaby looked lost defending against Messi and co while Song’s incessant fouling would go more than punished at the Nou Camp. The three substitutes however gave Arsenal greater structure and that indicated the Gunners’ need another collective performance that matched the last thrity minutes. And Walcott’s cameo gives hope to Arsenal that anything is possible against Guardiola’s Dream Team.
Tags: Match Analysis
Arsenal had to dig deep and remain focused for the full ninety minutes to keep West Ham at bay and record a win after Thomas Vermaelen’s red card early in the first half.
Arsenal is learning how to win things the hard way. Late goals at Hull and Stoke reaffirmed their new found mental mental strength while the emphatic turnaround against Porto and the defeat of Liverpool displayed the correct application of flair and pragmatism. This time however, they faced arguably their most difficult proposition since being written off the title after the loss to Chelsea – having to defend a whole half with ten men.
Recent statistics on the other hand will dispute that notion, indicating that not much changes once a team experiences numerical disadvantage from a level or winning position and in some cases, gets better. That was the case in the win over West Ham as the away side visibly found it just as difficult to make their man advantage count as creating opportunities with the head count at evens. The Carlton Cole effort that hit the crossbar stands as the real notable moment in which West Ham looked dangerous in the second-half and Gianfranco Zola was particularly displeased with his side’s overall application. “I am disappointed, especially after the first half when I thought that we were playing the best game of the season,” he said. “The key was to keep the discipline because you have the extra man and I told them to keep it simple, to move the ball around until we have two versus one. Scoring the penalty would have been a big help because Arsenal would have played different football. But they just sat back and played the counter-attack. We just did not use the extra man.”
The aftermath of the defeat asks what West Ham could have done different to disrupt Arsenal’s compactness. Zola did revert to the 4-4-2 in a bid to catch Arsenal in moments of transition but found in front of them, the defensive shield of Song and Denilson in imperious form, the latter scoring a well worked first. As usual, Andrey Arshavin’s pearls of wisdom capture the Brazilian’s performance best; “He [Denilson] was the best in this game. Not because he scored early in the first half, but because he worked miracles in the second one. He kept on snatching the ball from West Ham players; he was everywhere, ahead of everybody like a “clockwork bunny”. In my opinion, Denilson played phenomenal game.” [Stats: 73 passes - 100% accuracy, 10 tackles attempted– 6 won, 3 interceptions and 3 free-kicks won.]
The problem with the Hammers was that their formation mirrored Arsenal when attacking, even with a man down. The full backs weren’t able to get forward freely so the Gunners never at any moment felt stretched despite the pretty patterns West Ham created. By moving Valon Behrami to right back, Zola effectively displaced his most industrious player and the one most likely to double up in zones to create uncertainty.He could have switched to the 4-3-3 he played when he had less strikers at his disposal but as is the case with West Ham, their final ball is often missing when there is less space to manoeuvre.
Arsenal also upped their concentration levels and in introducing Diaby, gave the side the ability to win back the ball better. Wigan manager Roberto Martinez says it’s normal that it’s sometimes easier at times to defend a lead with a man down as the team’s mentality instantly shifts: “When you go [the opposition] down to ten men, that didn’t help us at all,” he said after his sides draw against Manchester City earlier this year. “It gives a reason for the opposition to be alert, to be concentrating, to get behind the ball, to be well organised and that’s makes it even harder.”
Tags: Match Analysis
Samir Nasri pulled the strings and Nicklas Bedntner compiled a hat-trick as Arsenal put in a dynamic collective performance to overwhelm Porto.
They say that every Arsenal attack is what makes Arsene Wenger’s heart tick – the free-flowing football constituting the pumping of blood through repeated, rhythmic contractions. This was the red and white cells versus the blue and white – occasionally the heart skipped a beat but not as frequent as the press and pundits made it out. Sol Campbell and Thomas Vermaelen swept up nearly every loose cross that came their way. Gael Clichy and Bakary Sagna were calm and composed when Porto countered, where instead of impatiently jumping into the challenge as they may have done in the first leg they calculated the winger’s movement and ushered them into blind alleys. Alex Song and Abou Diaby’s telescopic legs stopped the opposing midifelders in their traps and enabled the Gunners to build up quick impetus. And Arsenal’s forward quartet was mesmerising, dynamic and unpredictable – too much for Porto’s vanity defenders.
This was not the sum of parts being greater than the whole; this was a fantastic team performance and each player performed their individual bodily functions in tandem to produce a multiplier effect on the collective.
Some may point to the quality of Porto but what the Dragões always do is provide a stern test on the break and the Gunners passed that with flying colours. The way the two sides were set-up was always going to produce an open affair – definitely one or two hearts in mouth moments but thankfully Samir Nasri’s clearance off the line and Falcao’s shot at Almunia were the clearest moments of danger. Diaby and Song overwhelmed Porto’s tireless, if a little functional midfield trio and the former in particular ran the show from deep in the first half.
Arsene Wenger’s selection was not particularly difficult or surprising but the decision on whether to start Andrey Arshavin was to signal Arsenal’s intentions. Would Wenger go for the jugular early on, knowing his most dynamic player would be unable to last for the full ninety-minutes or more? Or was he to unleash his lion later when the legs will invariable begins to tire but that being at the risk of potentially leaving the Russian with too much to do? As it proved it was to be an easy decision as Arshavin’s penetration and directness helped create three of the goals and was a constant menace all match.
The first goal for Nicklas Bendtner set the tempo up for the match and it was a task in which Nasri relished. His demand for the ball, control and movement would have created a fire for Raymond Domenech’s team of “stick-fetchers” while his slalom for the third was brilliant enough not to have even looked out of place at the Winter Olympics. And while Bendtner may look at times a giant-hooved Bambi on ice his link up play and balance gave Arsenal a focal point in which to play around once again. Emmanuel Eboue’sgoal from a devastatingly quick counter epitomised all that was good about Arsenal last night – confident, sleek and dynamic. The stuff of champions? They’re certainly not pretenders anymore.
Tags: Match Analysis
Theo Walcott roundly answered his critics with a fine performance but Samir Nasri also stepped up to the plate following the injury to Cesc Fabregas.
Somewhere in his dorm in Paris, with a telescope by one side, a silver-haired, rectangular-rimmed spectacled man was frantically searching the night sky for some answers. Destiny has always been bestowed upon him but he has never fully felt in control of proceedings – the stars have all the answers he feels. Sometimes they conspire against him, most it is felt they provide him with the wrong advice and on some occasions, just fail to give any. But if Raymond Domenech was watching closely, he would have noticed a little star shining brightly named Samir Nasri.
Nasri was given the central role that the France manager demanded if he were to be selected for the national team and on this display, demonstrated the sort of creativity and ingenuity in movement that was missing in their 2-0 defeat to Spain. The ball he laid on for Cesc Fabregas for Arsenal’s first goal was pure genius, as his wonderfully weighted chipped pass plopped straight from the sky and on to the feet of the captain. The Spaniard made sure of his fourteenth goal of the season to equal Robert Pires as the highest scoring Arsenal midfielder in a season with another perfectly timed run that has put him on such a par echelon. But it was to be Fabregas’ last significant contribution of the match as the main protagonist’s exit is set to elevate an even greater role for one of Arsenal’s support cast. Most likely to be out for the crucial Champions League game against FC Porto, Fabregas’ hamstring injury should mean Samir Nasri stepping up to the position behind the main forward. It is a role that should suit him most, having gained such comparisons with Zinedine Zidane back in his home town of Marseille and would fit in well with his ability to provide good support to the man in possession and dribbling skills.
It was the same stage of the tournament last season where Nasri shone also, playing a support role to Robin van Persie and much like this 3-1 win at Burnley, profligacy was the main scourge of a decent performance. Nicklas Bendtner was the chief culprit but as Ian Rush used to always say, it is about getting into the position that counts the most and the rest should follow suit. At times the Dane’s movement allowed him to get into such positions and indeed him dropping deep allowed space for Theo Walcott to score the second goal.
Even with the glut of missed chances the result never seemed in doubt with Arsenal’s new found invincibility against teams which they may have got unstuck against in the past ensuring they have remained in the title hunt. Arsene Wenger stated the performance early on as “a bit minimalist” as Burnley troubled to cope any slight sort of movement. The Gunners were able to play the ball from back to front very quickly, made even easier as Burnley’s 4-1-4-1 ensured gaps in front of the back four as their high pressuring tactic failed to pay off. But in missing chances, it meant Arsenal were not always comfortable nor did they hit top gear and David Nugent capitalised on a watching Arsenal defence to equalise. The day, however, was to belong to Theo Walcott as his buzzing performance was capped off with a well taken goal before Andrey Arshavin made safe with a left-footed finish into the bottom corner.
|1||1st Half Goals||0|
|10||Shots on Target||6|
|10||Shots off Target||3|
Tags: Match Analysis
Two errors from Lukasz Fabianski handed Porto the advantage as Arsenal’s failed to put on the defensive show Arsene Wenger had asked of beforehand.
Four years Sol Campbell had to think of something different with his celebration but just as the Champions League final in 2006, jubilation was soon cut to disbelief as two errors handed FC Porto the initiative in the first leg. His header had put Arsenal level to mark his first appearance in the continental competition in three years and nine months this after Lucasz Fabianski inexplicably failed to hold on to a misplaced cross from Silvestre Varela to divert into his own goal. But indecision had already consumed the Pole and in a chaotic period in the match, transcended into hesitation for the veteran Sol Campbell.
The defender accidentally touched the ball back to Fabianski in the wariness that Falcao was breathing down his neck and referee Martin Hansson awarded Porto a free-kick for backpass. The Swede then proceeded to order the ball away from Fabianski’s hands and the home side displaying all their craftiness and opportunism in one moment, taking a super-fast free-kick which no Arsenal defender was ready for, Falcao resuming the simplest task of stroking the ball into the back of the net. Arsene Wenger was furious; the legality of taking an indirect free-kick was not in question should the ref allow it (although it put Arsenal in a no-win situation), and ordering the ball from Fabianski essentially stopped any time-wasting and delaying tactics. But Hansson was in a position no way advantageous to Arsenal or ready himself, impeding the likelihood of Campbell getting back. Contentious decision and contentious goal maybe, but Arsenal still had plenty of time to get back however the Gunners just fizzled out – unable to string two passes together in a stretched encounter. ”Schoolboy goals. What can you do? Nothing. After the second goal, we went down,” said Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas. ”We are still a little bit soft in that aspect. When we concede a goal we are not strong enough to lift ourselves up. Until the second goal we were having a very good game.”
The two sides were seemingly set-up in mirrored formations but certainly there was more ambiguity in Arsenal’s 4-3-3. Cesc Fabregas was pushed up right behind Nicklas Bendtner at most times while Arsenal’s defensive solidity was predicted to come in the form of a midfield shield but Diaby started slanting slightly to the left. Perhaps that disorientation is systematic of the Gunners defensive problems at the moment. Porto were initially able to profit greatly by doubling up down the flanks, bypassing Arsenal’s first wave of pressure and exposing the relative lack of cover in front. The full-backs motored up and down the wide channels all game and were among Porto’s most active players. Up front, Falcao in particular was industrious and had pushed Vermaelen and Campbell right down the pitch. Porto’s tactics were clearly to defend deep themselves and push Arsenal right back so as to create large spaces in front of the defence to exploit. There was no offsides showing Arsenal’s need to compress space better but on the other hand made difficult by Porto’s live wire front three and an extremely cautious backline.
“We played a good game against a difficult team,” said Porto coach Jesualdo Ferreira. “We showed initiative and left Arsenal with no options. Our forwards adopted strategic positions. Arsenal dominated some parts of the game but it was a balanced game and we also had lots of chances.”
But after falling behind initially, the Gunners played their way back into the match and displayed some neat football around the opposition penalty area. With Nasri and Rosicky on the flanks, it obviously meant less dynamism but Wenger wanted control and in an entertaining first forty-five minutes, Porto were finding it difficult to handle the quick passing. Cesc Fabregas was put on a shackling job by Ferreira and every touch was followed closely by the hungry Fernando – the Spaniard suffering nine fouls in the match. The second-half, however, could not have got off to a worse start as Arsenal fell behind but they were unable to provide any answers. The intensity and expansive nature of the game seemed to have took it’s toll and Wenger reacted, somewhat strangely perhaps to drop Diaby back and push Denilson higher to regain some control and calmness to the match. The Gunners, though, lost their urgency and a late assault at the Porto goal was just that. The tie is still firmly in the balance with Arsenal producing an away goal but the Gunners are in no way favourites – Porto displayed enough danger signs to show they can trouble Arsenal at the Emirates.
FC Porto: Helton, Fucile, Rolando, Bruno Alves, Pereira, Ruben Micael, Fernando, Raul Meireles, Varela, Falcao, Hulk. Subs: Beto, Guarin, Belluschi, Gonzalez, Maicon, Costa, Miguel Lopes.
Arsenal: Fabianski 3, Sagna 5, Campbell 7, Vermaelen 6, Clichy 5, Diaby 7, Denilson 6, Fabregas 6, Rosicky 5 (Walcott), Bendtner 5 (Vela), Nasri 6 (Eboue). Subs: Mannone, Ramsey, Silvestre, , Traore.
|1||1st Half Goals||1|
|6||Shots on Target||4|
|4||Shots off Target||4|
|110110||Distance Covered (mt)||110086|
Tags: Match Analysis
Abou Diaby’s header was enough to see off Liverpool as Arsène Wenger’s switch to drop the goalscorer deeper gave Arsenal more solidity.
The sense of relief was overwhelming at the final whistle. Only one goal had been scored previously in the sequence of supposedly deciding fixtures, Vermaelen’s goal in the defeat to Manchester United only in vain while before that, Dean Whitehead’s own goal was in a competition that ceases to matter much nowadays. You had to go back to the 4-2 victory over Bolton when Arsenal last scored in a winning cause, sending the Gunners to the top of the table. Abou Diaby reminded fans what celebrating in jubilation felt like again and with both Chelsea and United dropping points, the win put Arsenal back into the title race they apparently weren’t meant to be in.
The game itself began in a tepid and somewhat scrappy way, the first thirty minutes representing the relative vulnerabilities both sides were in before the start of the game. Neither side were willing to give an inch with Rafa Benitez as always, setting his side out to “control zones”. That meant the wide areas which are Arsenal’s Achilles heel were not to be fully tested in transitions as Dirk Kuyt and Maxi Rodriguez’s instructions were as much defensive as they were attacking. The 4-4-2 deployed by Liverpool also effectively cancelled each other side out in the centre as when in the defensive phase that adjusts itself into a 4-2-3-1 and the triangles Arsenal set about creating were blocked off.
Arsène Wenger realised that the best chance the Gunners were to have in breaking down Liverpool in open play was to disrupt the pairing of Lucas and Mascherano in front of the defence. So with half-an-hour on the clock played, he dropped Diaby alongside Alex Song and pushed Fabregas up behind Nicklas Bendtner. The result was a more open encounter but Arsenal’s greater positive approach saw them through while Diaby gave more structure to the side. Indeed, it was an interception by Song that led to the goal, as Diaby picked up the ball in his own half and powered his way into the box. Fabregas running into an offside position may have helped inadvertently create the space in front of the goal for the cross to be played as it meant the Liverpool backline having to push up. Tomas Rosicky found Diaby with a well whipped cross and the Frenchman caught Degen flat-footed with a strong run and finish.
Arsène Wenger entered the game promising to take a more visceral approach and it showed with Arsenal pressuring the opposition defenders with great intensity. The attacking play was also more direct as the wingers sought to get close to Bendtner at all times and the ball played forward much quicker. The Gunners were not exactly cohesive in terms of passing last night but they were more functional – and even with Fabregas not at his best, the side dug in and produced a result. Bendtner’s inclusion was a big plus as the Dane made it akward for the Kop defence while represented a direct outlet to relieve pressure from the back.
The slight switch, though, to a 4-2-1-3 may have made all the difference as Diaby was afforded more space to come from deeper and duly obliged with a powerful header. The advantage of playing the double pivot with two strong midfielders meant it was harder for Steven Gerrard to get into the game, reminiscent of the shackling job Diaby and Denilson did on Totti in last season’s 1-0 win against Roma. It also gave more cover to the full backs should they have needed it but Clichy and Eboue came out with another plus (7 and 14 attempted tackles respectively); their intensity and willingness to get tight on the wide men when the ball was lost gave Kuyt and Maxi no time to take advantage. Liverpool were unable to profit from the channels on the counter as Chelsea and United did, representing a welcome tactical victory for Wenger and an indication of the Gunner’s growing mental strength.
Arsenal 1-0 Liverpool: Diaby 72.
Arsenal (4-2-1-3): Almunia 7; Eboue 7, Gallas 8*, Vermaelen 7, Clichy 7; Diaby 8, Song 7; Fabregas 6; Arshavin 6 (Walcott), Bendtner 7 (Sagna), Nasri 6 (Rosicky 7). Subs not used: Fabianski, Denilson, Traore, Campbell.
Liverpool (4-4-2): Reina 6; Carragher 6 (Degen), Skrtel 6, Agger 6, Insua 6; Mascherano 7, Lucas 6 (Babel); Kuyt 5, Maxi Rodriguez 5; Gerrard 6, Ngog 4. Subs not used: Cavalieri, Riera, Aurelio, Spearing, Kelly.
Referee: Howard Webb (S Yorkshire)
Tags: Match Analysis
Didier Drogba was in inspired form once again for Chelsea against Arsenal but despite monopolising possessesion, the Gunners will have been disappointed not to have created more clear-cut opportunities.
When Arsenal decided to go down the youth policy route, Arsène Wenger was aware his side were going to be behind in terms of mentality. It may seem intangible but that know-how, tactical understanding and resilience is the missing ingredient and Wenger, in private and in the post-match interview grudgingly admits that. “They [Chelsea] are more experienced. They are 29, we are 23,” he said after the 2-0 defeat. And before the game he added: “We have really top quality. What we want to add is that fraction of belief. It is a lack of experience because when you have never won you make it more difficult and bigger than it is. And that’s the problem of this team at the moment.”
That gulf was exercised yesterday as Chelsea displayed a stoic determination to stay compact and lent some of that experience to drawing and conceding fouls while on the attack, looked to get numbers forward to exploit Arsenal’s gaps with Didier Drogba particularly in potent form. Indeed the Ivorian even sought fit to drop deep on a number of occasions so his side could retain possession and relieve the pressure that Arsenal were building. ”Today I give credit to Chelsea for their defending,” Wenger said. “They had always the guy who came back in the box. They didn’t make silly mistakes. They have fantastic defenders and I believe many times they were out of position and managed to get back, especially one situation with Nasri in the second half and another with Bendtner.”
“Exceptional talent” it is hoped will carry Arsenal to the next level and for much of the defeat to Chelsea, that talent found itself moving left and right in front of the opposition’s penalty area. Arsenal lacked bite and despite monopolising possession, the second half was always going to be difficult with Chelsea defending deep. The key, it seemed, was whether Arsenal could score first otherwise the later proceedings was likely to be a repeat of the Manchester United game where openings would be hard to come by. But, the statistics were against them with the Gunners having only scored once in the first fifteen minutes in the league thus far (Burnley 1-1) and after Didier Drogba’s header gave them an early lead, it always looked a tough ask. “We were still a bit uncertain at the start of the game. When you went into it [the game] we were completely dominant. That’s how I explain that we conceded the first corner.”
Realistically, there was only one starter that was missing for Arsenal – Robin van Persie – and ever since his injury, it seems the team is trying to recreate the same dynamics he provided. Andrey Arshavin could not provide the same movement and with his natural instincts telling him to drop short, John Terry and Ricardo Carvalho were able to snuff that out. Theo Walcott was subdued although on one part he did minimise Ashley Cole’s forward forays and was a willing worker. Arsenal’s best threat seemingly comes from Cesc Fabregas and Wenger will do well to incorporate the Spaniard’s creativity higher up the pitch. Maybe a 4-2-1-3 is a more sustainable alternative? as Abou Diaby looked inhibited from getting in the box despite being one of Arsenal’s strongest runners although it seemed Wenger told him to take a more cautious approach. Emmanuel Eboue did breathe life back into Arsenal’s attack with his runs inside from right-back and Samir Nasri stationed wide to stretch play. Nicklas Bendtner gave the side a direct outlet when he came on but to complement his presence, Arsenal needed crosses and willing movement in the box – but that was at a premium despite having oceans of ball in wide areas. The performance wasn’t bad – just the end product was missing.
Wenger will be right to see his side grow but in the meantime the two constants from his post-match analysis are effectiveness and organisation. The side must compress space better when not in possession as the style means defence will be disorientated. And in attack, the mentality needs to change to create more urgency. Bendtner may just be the key to click things in to place again but with only one point gained from a possible nine, in the league at least, it seems a little too late.
|2||1st Half Goals||0|
|5||Shots on Target||2|
|7||Shots off Target||8|
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|