The Arsenal teams under Wenger have been renowned for their passing game which leads to their beautiful attacking style. From the Invincibles to last year’s title challengers the passing game has won many plaudits and admirers alike but what makes their possession play and possession play in general so successful?
Traditionally it has been thought that width is the key to keeping the ball while being compact, a tactic more prevalent in recent years (e.g. Liverpool) also allows a team to be more effective in possession. None of which are wrong but a good passing side can do both, which means possessing good movement to be able to support each other. How close or far one is needs to be enough to be of use to the team.
Options every time Fabregas has the ball has been lacking this season. In fact Arsenal have been below par this season and have arguably only performed to their attacking standards in four league games this season; Blackburn, Newcastle, Manchester United and Tottenham. There are key personnel to come back from injury at the moment who can change the upturns of fortunes however.
Going back to movement; good movement is important because of the unpredictability and uncertainty it creates. Triangles give options but also make it harder for the defender to know where the ball is going. Teams would like it if they could open the defence with one pass but this doesn’t happen in football therefore by keeping possession a team will look to drag defenders out and look for gaps to exploit.
Looking at Nasri’s second goal against Manchester United displays the threat of movment to give options, dragging defenders out to make space.
The first goal against Blackburn this season is also another example of good movement and support, dragging defenders out and exploiting the space for and by others to use.
Going back to this season teams know when they play Arsenal all they have to do is park the defense in front of the box with two lines of four and The Gunners will fail to score and when they get the ball can counter attack. At the moment the midfield is too functional, the wingers are staying wide without providing real dynamism and the attackers become congested and are forced to move out leaving a gap where they should be not exploited.
The Carling Cup performance against Wigan was so impressive as the team did all that was talked about, passing and moving, opening space and others utilising space left behind if a player moved somewhere else. It is this sort of play that made Arsenal so strong and the ability to do it at speed was so dangerous. I’m a big fan of Wilshere as he always looks to make himself available even when he play as a winger and is even more useful as can dribble past players. Diaby hasn’t got this ability on the flanks but similarly looks for the ball and provide options, his goal against Liverpool last year typifying that.
I mentioned in previous posts that variety was missing which is still true but feel more options and movement are lacking greatly at the moment to exploit and take adavantage of suh high possession. Arsenal have players coming back (Rosicky, Walcott, Eduardo) while players are regularly getting injured which are crucial to the teams success.
The most effective possession play requires options, having as many players as possible capable of making and exploiting spaces, the movement to support each other and create gaps. Whether to be compact or wide is not set in stone, it is being positioned to be useful relative to your position. The Invincibles were so fluid but devastating at the same time, attacking at such great speed as the options and movement was so strong.