The Gunners are still ever reliant on Cesc Fabregas to pull the strings with Arsenal’s passing game having suffered this season, especially against the stronger clubs.
The passing stats after the thrilling 4-4 draw at Anfield read Arsenal 281 successful passes and 44 unsuccessful. Contrast that to Liverpool and they made 327 successful passes and only one misplaced pass less at 43. Last season, the 1-1 draw on the same ground saw the Gunners culminate a massive 432 accurate passes compared to Liverpool’s 201. The Red’s made it hard to play with their direct style but how different was it to last season? Nevertheless it is marked difference from the possession kings that is known as Arsenal.
With Rosicky and Fabregas out for large chunks of the season, and Hleb having departed in the summer, Wenger has recast his side to a more quicker team, able to get the ball from A to B swiftly especially with Walcott and Arshavin on either side.
Wenger has always liked his sides to keep the ball; pass quickly with great off the ball movement and dynamism, his ‘Invincibles’ side arguably perfected it. The current side seems to have perfected only half of the formula and while being more dynamic is not a bad thing it means the ball will come back more. Against the lesser sides, the Gunners are comfortable at moving the ball around (although matches against Fulham and Wigan showed their limitations) but when faced up against the stronger sides, Arsenal are more counter-attacking.
As shown by some of the great attacking teams of recent times, keeping the ball is a great form of defence as well, denying pressure on the back line. Barcelona and Manchester United are relentless pressure machines and although they may be open at the back at times, more than balance it out with their ability to keep ball and suffocate space. Liverpool and Chelsea on the other hand are more direct and while capable of keeping the ball, it too means the ball will come back more often than for United and Barca. However that’s why they are the masters of space and efficiency; never giving an inch while looking to make best advantage of what’s available.
When Fabregas is not dictating play from the central midfield role, the Gunners are less possession based and when the skipper is moved higher this means someone must take a greater mantle in circulating the ball. As shown against Liverpool, the side failed to string together a long enough sequence with the ball. Which is not to say Fabregas is not good enough for the number 10 role, he needs the movement around him and capable passers. The modern day game sees the ‘universal playmaker’; it is a team duty just as it is to defend.
Wenger admits his most greatest influence was the “Total Football” Ajax team of the late 60s and early 70s. A team which was built up with a core of players from the academy and played revolutionary football, interchanging positions and keeping the ball.
Samir Nasri may be the player which typifies his vision, which is most likely to be in a 4-4-1-1. The Frenchman’s cameo in a defensive midfield position at Liverpool underlines Wenger’s faith in him, as the manager could easily have put Fabregas back. Maybe it was so that Fabregas could still thread the defence splitting passes but Nasri showed that he has the ability to be a worthy central midfielder or even deeper.
The Bergkamp role seems tailor fit for Van Persie who in that position, has made the most assists in the Premier League and could allow Walcott and Arshavin to play out wide. The team has great potential but one which is still over-reliant on Fabregas to pull the strings but when everything gels, should see a dynamic yet ball-hogging Arsenal side.
There is every chance the Gunners will click with each other very soon but while the team is still young, there is every chance that it may take longer than expected. In the meantime however, Fabregas is still king.