Arsenal have now lost their fourth game of the season which is one too many comparing to last season, in a performance which was part of three of the worst during Wenger’s reign as manager (Fulham, Stoke City and Aston Villa). You can see the highlights here.
Why I categorise it as one of the worst is because never before in Wenger’s reign have I seen Arsenal so bereft of ideas and ingenuity while the penetration of passing and movement was so unlike the Arsenal of yesteryear. Before one tries to accuse me of being a short-sighted Gunner, I’m not. I am a big Wenger fan hence the blog and I am optimistic still but changes have to be made to address the balance of the team (no, we do not need to splash the cash as we don’t have it; it comes from an overdraft).
Arsenal are nine points behind just as in the 1997/98 season so it is still possible, a Champions League run or Carling Cup maybe a more likely outcome or a challenge for fourth place; the season is not over and nothing is guaranteed.
Aston Villa Gameplan
Aston Villa had a game plan and that was to pressure the Arsenal midfield high up denying any space to pass the ball out from defense. Agbonlahor provided the early pressure and if that didn’t work, one of the midfielders would come out of the line and look to pressure. Constantly when the defenders had the ball we could see Barry, Sidwell, Young and Milner come out of their line of five and put pressure, resulting in a couple of early chances.
They re-organised themselves in a line of turquoise shirts if Arsenal broke through the first third and when they did get the ball broke forward in numbers and/or look to free Agbonlahor on the long ball as the Gunner’s full backs looked to push forward.
When the goal came Villa could then sit back and force Arsenal to try and find the smallest gap in the defense, shoot from range or aimlessly cross the ball into the box. The Villains were the better team but all teams know how to play against Arsenal this season and at the moment there is no answer.
Back to the Future
What next for the Gunners? The balance of the team is not right from the defense up to the attack and Wenger can learn from the Carling Cup team that beat Wigan. The Latics lined up as a 4-5-1 just as Aston Villa; why can’t the senior players break down such stubborn resistance? There is no need to change the style and win ugly; Chelsea and Manchester United play the same way and still win, and the Invincibles did the same. It is a case of too many individuals and not enough team, the balance needs to improve.
Back to the youngsters, the boys had balance and determination and commitment by the bucket loads. The wingers are not natural wingers and prefer to cut in however they more than compensated with their superior movement all over the pitch, fluidity and commitment. At one point, the midfield apart from Randall were in other parts of the pitch when attacking. If the striker moved wide then a midfielder was able to move into the space left behind, and attack in numbers and more intelligence. In defense, Gibbs got forward a lot but then became more disciplined while Randall and Ramsey where committed to keeping a balance in midfield. If there was any similarities with a team it would be Spain in the Euro’s.
In contrast the senior players lacked movement; the wide men sticking wide at all opportunities, Fabregas in front while Denilson behind whereas they should be side to side but the Spaniard a bit further. He had a lack of movement in front of him and dallied because of this. (Interestingly Denilson was the more accurate passer though maybe played too many square passes; Denilson (90 passes 93% completion) and Fabregas (71 passes 85% completion)).Bendtner was isolated and stood still, and the rest too static and functional, deciding to remain in their positions.
So how to get this balance? Van Persie is crucial partnering Adebayor; similarly Vela and Eduardo can provide the same impact, Fabregas needs to become a bit more defense minded to provide the balance but still be the dictator while the wingers could be more inventive by getting closer to the attacking play and know when to stay wide. There should be more support when attacking while the Silvestre/Gallas partnership is still too edgy. Hleb has been missed as he was the extra creative force and could take players out with his dribbling and assist the assister. Nasri at the moment is too wide even though he doesn’t go to his left foot very much. These may look like a lot of changes but in fact are only small.
I’ll leave you with with Wenger’s thoughts on his system and why he uses creative players on the wings:
“I like to have one behind the striker, and one or two on the flanks who come inside. I always feel that if you have players who can deliver the decisive ball in all areas of the pitch, you have many more chances of being creative. If it’s only focused on one central part, where it’s usually more concentrated, you have more space on the flanks to create.”
” You always build a team to adapt the position that suit players best. For example I don’t see Kaka, who has a tall frame, operating on the flank. When you have a creative player who is shorter, then I’m more ready to move him out wide. Because usually they are quick on the turn. Somebody like Dennis Bergkamp or Kaka though, they have to be central.”
Are Arsenal this season following this description especially from wide? Unfrotunatley, I think not.