In light of our 4th defeat this season – all bar one thought to be comfortable games for us – many have criticised the team for not motivating themselves and not playing well. I was not able to see the game today, but the belief that every time the opposition match us, it is solely down to us playing poorly, seems a little discrediting to me. I think our tactics have quite simply become predictable.
Many are of the belief that the best teams should not have to adapt their system to counteract the opposition; instead suggesting a team should simply concentrate on imposing their own system on the opposition, and leaving them worrying about your tactics. However, in the modern game, this is idealistic – not realistic. The truth is every team has to adapt, and seemingly, we cannot.
While our tactics generally appear to be either the traditional 4-4-2 or 4-5-1, our system is far from standard. As opposed to natural wingers, Wenger opts for those with the ability to cut inside; sacrificing width, but compensating with large amounts of possession. In the current system, we have an ‘in-the-hole’ player in Nasri on the left, with Walcott on the right. While Nasri has the ability to take his man on and shows good pace, his right-footedness leads him to persistently cutting inside. While Walcott is played out on his stronger foot out on the right, he is not a natural winger. Again, he can take his man on, but I see him more as a passive threat – teams know that if they push for a high line, his pace and movement can get in behind and punish them a la the Croatia game. Much like Nasri, he is not selected for his crossing into the box.
So where does this width stem from? The full-backs. In Clichy and Sagna, we are blessed with two of the best full-backs in Europe. They get up and down the flank all day, showing defensive solidity and attacking threat.
There is a problem with this however. With the full-backs having to push up, channels on either side of our central defensive pairing are created. From what I gather, Agbonlahor ran these channels all day long against us, and this is not the first time this has happened: remember Hyeon and Zamora? Remember Cousin and King? Remember what happened in these 2 games, as well as the one today? That’s right, our defence were pulled out of shape, and we lost.
We are so reliant on our full-backs for width, that we rely cannot afford to change our system, so this flaw can always be exposed. I believe it is imperative that we get a natural winger in. I feel Armand Traore should be brought back from his loan at Portsmouth. Adams clearly prefers Belhadj, but prior to our former captain’s arrival at the club, he had been one of their top performers. He is quick, direct and most importantly, gets out wide and gets the ball into the box.
This issue with the full-backs also has a knock-on effect though. With a high-line being played, a lack of natural DMs at the club – hence little protection – and the reliance on the full-backs for creativity from wide positions, our defence has to be very mobile. This is why it was so difficult for Wenger to address the issue of a lack of height at the back. Remember, we had that ‘old-fashioned British centre-half mould’ we desired in Senderos, but his physical deficiencies were exploited in such a mobility reliant system. A defender with good reading of the game, good pace and good aerial presence is hard to come by, which leads to a greatly inflated price tag.
If the full-backs were allowed to tuck in and support the CBs some more, then a lot less mobility would be required at the back, which would allow us to address the issue of a lack of height in defence.
It appears the lack of wingers at the club is an issue that causes far more difficulties than it would first appear.
When the system works, it is marvellous to watch; but when it doesn’t, it is frustrating to say the very least.
If we at least created the possibility of being able to alter the system we play, then surely we would not be so easily hampered against sides that, with all due respect, we should be beating if we have any aspirations of winning the title. Perhaps a more pragmatic option is needed?
What do you think? Are Arsenal victims of their own style or do you think the Gunners lack the personnel? Leave a comment here
By Stuart Hayward
(If you would also like to write an article for Arsenal Column e-mail at: email@example.com)