Watching the Arsenal performances this season and contrasting it against Chelsea and Manchester United open up an interesting tactical similarity between the two big rivals and and in turn reveals upon an area which Arsenal need to improve on.
The match between Chelsea and Man United had the two clubs start with Anelka and Berbatov up front respectively. Berbatov was signed as the final jigsaw to the Man United team; a player who stays high up the pitch, holds up play and brings players in; a spearhead in their attacks you can say. Anelka deputised for the injured Drogba (who plays the same way mentioned) and was brought in to fit right into this system as a direct replacement for the Ivorian.
Both strikers instead played in a role where they can use their intelligence to drop of into spaces and play in team mates as well as being able to make runs to stretch opposition. This tactic has been used by a lot of big European clubs; Roma with Totti, Barcelona with Eto’o and their interchanging midfielders (Messi, Henry and Ronaldinho- before being sold) and AC Milan (Pato).
Their is an increased mobility and interchangeability in strikers and you can also see that at Arsenal. Van Persie is not your typical striker, more of a support striker but in Adebayor you have a traditional number nine evolved. Adebayor would play furthest up the field but would drop deeper or to the left side of the field. But thereafter lies the difference between the three clubs.
Chelsea and Man United have been successful playing this type of tactic because the movement of the midfieldershas been great, supporting the attack and a lot of the time going further up the pitch than the main striker (hence one of the reasons Ronaldo was able to score 40+goals last season). Chelsea have scored 22 goals this season so far, only 6 coming from strikers. It is almost a ‘strikerless’ system.
Contrast it to Arsenal who have scored 29 times in all competitions, 18 goals coming from the front men. On paper this is not bad at all but the point is this: when the midfielders become more involved in attacking play it increases the overall level of performance from Arsenal. (If you look at the goals scored by Nasri and Denilson, you will know what I’m talking about- but these moments have been rare)
Quite obvious you might say, but with a style of play so fluid and flowing there should be more from the midfielders. Spain played a similar style to Arsenal in the European Championships with the midfielders linking up brilliantly and also getting into goalscoring opportunities. They also had an evolved number nine (Torres) and a support striker (Villa), while the wingers were more creative midfielders such as at the Emirates.
At Arsenal the midfield is expected to create while the strikers score. This is what Cesc Fabregas said before the Euro’s:
” You have to analyse the way we play for the national team. At Arsenal there is only one channel between the defence and attack and that is me, so I’m involved in practically all of the attacks but here with Spain there are more variations, more ways of attacking.”
If that is the case then what are the rest of the guys doing. Obviously the quote shouldn’t be taken so literal but the truth is he is the main outlet of creativity. What the other players need to do more (and indeed Cesc himself) is either to offer another channel between defence and attack or get more involved in attacks.
The effectiveness of this tactic and the amount of times the main striker (Adebayor) will drop off or run past defenders will depend on the type of opposition and tactics they use and what attributes his own team mates have. Adebayor is often regarded as one of the toughest strikers for defenders to face and if the midfielders allow him to cause indecision, opening up the defence with his running then it will bring great problems to the opposition defence.
The tactic is more easier to implement in a 4-3-3 which was used in the draw against Sunderland in the weekend. The movement wasn’t good from the wide men, the central midfielders or the striker who was left isolated a lot of the time. Adebayor can do a great job in this formation and using the tactics as shown in Milan or against United two seasons ago; it is just up to the midfielders to help out more often and get involved in goalscoring opportunities.
Of course a more traditional centre forward is still used by teams, especially by the ‘smaller’ sides but there are big sides who still use them too: Liverpool with Torres and Real Madrid with Van Nistelrooy
However the system has been used under Wenger in past years; Henry as the main striker but not your typical centre forward while the midfielders would join the attack (Pires, Ljungberg, Vieira, Wiltord, Bergkamp), contributing greatly in what essentially ended up as a 4-2-4 when the Gunners attacked. Further example of this was the run up to the Champions League Final in 2005 where the Gunners used this tactic to great effect nearly pipping Barca to the title. Last season the overall contribution from the midfielders increased also nearly winning the title. If Arsenal want to return to their glory years it is time for the midfielders to get more involved with the striker with better movement to create more goalscoring opportunities.
I would love to hear your opinions on this; do you agree? Are the midfielders doing enough?