Arsenal on the road to defeating ‘park the bus’ mentality

Cesc Fabregas had a hand in five of Arsenal’s six goals as the Gunners came from behind twice to dismantle Blackburn.
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Arsenal-Blackburn

Blackburn manager Sam Allardyce was compared to Prime Minister Gordon Brown before the game and his beleaguered backline very much resembled the Labour party’s backbench. His patched-up defence were never going to have any chance against Arsenal when in this form and despite going behind twice, the Gunners in the end had too much attacking quality.

The protagonist-in-chief, Cesc Fabregas was in inspired mood and he was at the heart of every Arsenal move. The system clearly allows the skipper to play with greater freedom and this was highlighted by the fact he had a hand in five of the six goals, one of which he scored. Maybe in another season and with more quality, Blackburn may have been able to stifle Arsenal with their game plan but this year there is more variety from the Gunners and greater ability to change the point of attack.

Blackburn’s tactic was to defend deep and remain organised and compact, and when the opportunity arose, break on the counter attack of which they did relatively well. However the problem was that they were expecting Arsenal to play through them, as they would have done in previous seasons so they congested the centre in an attempt to deny them from playing. How wrong they were.

Arsene Wenger admits his greatest influence was the “Total Football” Ajax team of the late 60s and early 70s led by Rinus Michels. And in his book Teambuildingthe former Oranje coach suggests that the build-up to an attack “needs to create situations to be able to play the ball deep as quickly as possible.” With Arsenal deploying three forwards that is exactly what the system allows the side to do. And with the play already stretched such players could also drop into greater space and allow more angles in the pass. One of the hallmarks of English domination in the Champions League has been the ability to attack at all angles and against the Rovers, Arsenal totally dismantled the bus in front of them.

Arsene Wenger will have been particularly pleased with the way in which Arsenal were able to make angled passes behind the defence for three of the goals. Van Persie is key to that style and was once again allowed to drift around the pitch, creating space for others and he scored Arsenal’s second equaliser with a low shot into the far corner. This was after Thomas Vermaelen had leveled things first with a screamer from outside the box. The Belgian is clearly reveling in the added team responsibility of pitching in with goals as he was felled in the build-up yet was determined to stay in involved with play. Arshavin and Walcott scored similar arrowed finishes from quick breaks while long range efforts Bendtner and Fabregas capped off an emphatic win.

But while Arsenal were comfortable attacking, the same cannot be said when defending. The distances are still very much imbalanced as the gap between Song and the attack was too large. Maybe because of the nature of the Premiership which is more direct and counter-attacking, the flaws can be greater exposed. In the Champions League tie against Olympiakos, the Grecians had all men back behind the ball and despite sustaining a battering for 80 minutes couldn’t find an outlet to relieve the pressure. Blackburn on the other hand stationed Di Santo forward all game while Dunn and Diouf looked to provide quick support if the ball was won. They profited in this manner when scoring their second goal as Arsenal were too committed in attack while the defence and Song could have anticipated the threat and squeezed down the space quicker.

Wenger did concede that leaving space may be a consequence of their philosophy nevertheless improvements are needed to be made defensively. And in that case, the manager won’t go much wrong by instilling this quote by Chinese philosopher and reformer (551 BC – 479 BC) Confucius into his team’s mind: I hear I forget, I see I remember, I experience I understand.

Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn Rovers:
N’Zonzi 4, Vermaelen 17, Dunn 31, van Persie 33, Arshavin 37, Fabregas 57, Walcott 75, Bendtner 89.

Arsenal (4-3-3): V Mannone (6) – B Sagna (6), T Vermaelen (7), W Gallas (6), G Clichy (6) – A Diaby (6), A Song (6), F Fàbregas 9 (A Ramsey, 76mins) – T Rosicky (6) (T Walcott 69mins), A Arshavin (7) N Bendtner 76 mins), R van Persie (7).

Subs Not used:W Szczesny, K Gibbs, M Silvestre, E Eboué. Next: Birmingham City (h).

Blackburn (4-4-1-1):P Robinson 8 L Jacobsen 5 G Givet 6 P Chimbonda 5 M Olsson 6 B Emerton 5 K Andrews 5 S Nzonzi 6 E-H Diouf 5 D Dunn 6 F Di Santo 4.

Substitutes: M G Pedersen 5 (for Emerton, 56min), B McCarthy (for Dunn, 62), D Hoilett 6 (for McCarthy, 70). Not used:J Brown, N Kalinic, M Salgado, P Jones. Next: Burnley (h).

Referee: P Walton Attendance: 59,431

Arsenal Team Statistics Blackburn Rovers
6 Goals 2
3 1st Half Goals 2
16 Shots on Target 5
5 Shots off Target 0
3 Blocked Shots 2
8 Corners 1
11 Fouls 10
4 Offsides 3
1 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
82.7 Passing Success 58.1
17 Tackles 18
58.8 Tackles Success 61.1
65.1 Possession 34.9
55.6 Territorial Advantage 44.4
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37 thoughts on “Arsenal on the road to defeating ‘park the bus’ mentality

  1. The formation was not exactly a 4-3-3 if you ask me. Players kept interchanging and I am not able to figure out if Diaby played deeper than Fabregas. Song was the only fixed midfielder. Everyone else kept attacking and interchanging, even the cb! Would you still call it a 4-3-3 brain?
    I must say that Ramsey was quite good when he came on. He played deeper than Fabregas. Nevertheless, Fabregas was on song. This formation will help Theo score more goals.

    1. When defending, then yes it is a 4-3-3 (or it should be as there is still work needed to be done). In attack, it’s more open to interpretation and players are allowed to move around the pitch.

      Diaby usually covers for Arshavin so he’s at the left of the central midfield three and Fabregas on the right. But if Denilson plays or indeed when Ramsey came on, the two play a bit deeper and which allows Fabregas play more ‘between the lines’.

  2. Good piece. As an attacking performance, it was very pleasing, however Arsenal are already known for this. Arsenal shouldn’t dwell on what they are good at, they need to work at their weaknesses. Defending as a collective is not as good as it should be. It still irritates me that teams are able to pass around easily and then have an effort on goal. In theory, a 3 man midfield and two higher placed players on the flanks should constrict space, but at times, this isn’t the case. The amount of one on ones and two on one duels against us is too easy, and easily preventable. Alexandre Song-Billong shouldn’t be the only person defending between attack and defence, defending is a collective art, Diaby and Fabregas can really up the ante in defending. I’d like to see the team more compact in midfield, especially in defensive motions, remind me of a quote i heard from Zdnek Zeman, ‘my teams are like a lung in opposite operation, when we defend, we breathe in an contract, when we get the ball, we exhale and expand,’ or something like that. Arsenal seem to only breathe and not inhale, you cannot have one without the other and not be balanced in operation, I hope this improves.

    Also, tactically, as I’ve mentioned before, another use of a 3 man defence was used last night by Palermo to defeat Juventus. They employed a 3-4-1-2 formation to counter the Juventus 4-3-1-2, and it worked effectively, the Juventus full backs pinned back, Diego negated entirely and Bovo/Kjaer pushing into midfield to launch attacks. I’m really liking the technical and tactical innovations in Italy, Zenga had his team well set up and flexible to beat Juventus, see extended highlights of it if you can.

    1. I am thinking of writing a feature on the Premiership soon but it’s not really filling me with much excitement despite the goals. I missed the Juventus game (Real Madrid v Sevilla was quite good however) but the three man defence is something which I thought also may be good to play against Chelsea. And a week after I wrote that article Stoke did it and they nearly held the Blues.

    2. Palermo got it spot on however, it shows how tactically weak Ferrara is that he didnt bring on wingers/wide players to attack palermo on the flanks thus making it 5-3-2. As for the Palermo coach, he got is spot on because Juventus team had alot physicality and they tend to play thru the centre alot thus Palermo dealt with most of crosses and combination play of Juve that went thru the middle.

      1. Yup, Zenga has shown in the past he is a very innovative trainer, if you remember the corner routine Utd had vs Chelsea where Rooney tapped it, Giggs came and collected it and played, Ferguson said he got it from Roma,and Roma got it from Catania where he had many routines on set pieces. Ferrara got his tactics very very wrong, also his substitutions were a disaster, but his 4-3-1-2 has been very effective, however bringing a left back on for Diego was a disaster.

        However, it is something I feel Arsenal in particularly lack, tactical innovations. I can see Chelsea-Liverpool being effective to prepare for certain opponents or change their tactics in the middle of the game, Arsenal can’t or won’t. Could Arsenal use a 3 man defence? Yes, if they work on it, it isn’t rocket science to do, it is not like trying to learn Korean. Imagine a defensive line of Djourou-Gallas-Vermaelen with any of them able to push into midfield to mark and spark attacks. Marry this with rabid attacking of the style Genoa employ, especially down the flanks and one controller in midfield, Arsenal could be able to really chase a game more effectively than using any of their current default formations against elite opposition. It does dismay meat times that Arsenal only play one way, I always know what to expect, either winning or losing, change and variety is sometimes nice.

        1. Yeah, he sub one full back for another one then took off combination winger in Camoronesi and Diego for a CB and a striker when he could have brought on Giovinco on the flanks, trully shocking substitutions.

  3. We still look dodgy at the back. I hate to moan after a massive win and bags of goals but the fact that Blackburn could have scored 4 and had a penalty doesn’t make this result as dominating as it should be.

    We give way too much space to the opposition in between midfield and defence – gaps appear everywhere. I think diaby is just not as good as denilson in this area. Denilson has been excellent in his role this season and we will miss him as the man who will keep things ticking and playing simple balls. I can’t be critical of Cesc as he offers so much in attack that if he isn’t always sprinting to close at every opportunity then frankly I’m not fussed, but he should and does chip in with his share of pressurising.

    Overall things look good, but it is like Arsenal after 3 great league wins and plaenty of goals to all of a sudden look impotent against Birmingham in a fortnght. I can’t see it myself but we have got previous…

  4. so you just won’t fabregas a 10 why? You can’t get more of a perfect perfomrance than 4 assists and 1 goal plus a kiss of the badge.

  5. One good thing about the defending is the entertainment value and we should give the opponents something to cheer about before they get frustrated n start breaking legs. We will out score them, and that’s a fact.

  6. Arsenal need to take more long shot in order to combat the park the bus mentality. If you look at Vermaelan, Fabregas and Nick B all scored from long shot. By doing this, opposition think carefully about defending so deep

    I am not sure about the whole badge kissing though.

    Cesc, according to the Guardian stats is at times making 20 % of Arsenal’s total passes.

    Cesc Too Much For Blackburn

  7. i agree with goonertank – we are obviously suspect at the back after that display.
    it may be a little anal, but our defense must be much better against the top four clubs.
    Analysis Of The Second Blackburn Goal:
    i thought the counterattack goal was a suckerpunch just waiting to happen. the “pass” from blackburn’s half onto the run of an advancing forward was the first domino to fall in a series of events that went blackburn’s way. that hoofed ball may or may not have fallen fortunately, but I think someone should have taken defensive responsibility. song was running back, but despite the fact that he didn’t have the ball, he managed to run slower than the attacker.
    i’m not saying it’s his fault, but his positioning says it’s not his responsibility, and it shouldn’t be if both our FBs are back.
    Song was back and so were the two CBs but Clichy and Sagna were nowhere to be found and that gave Dunn space to attack Gallas.
    I think FB positioning is an important link in this team’s defense. clichy is developing into a sergio ramos type of player, a “really deep lying forward” if there were such a thing.
    once or twice a game, on average, he’ll be caught out, and we’ll concede a goal this way. it was kind of odd when i noticed I couldn’t find him anywhere in the build up to the goal.
    Brain, you’ve said in past articles that opponents would be looking at our wide channels to attack. This has definitely been a theme throughout our games. This is one area in which we can improve tactically. I don’t know the solution but I know there’s a problem.
    We’ve been hurt by this in the City game, but other times, we’ve just compensated by scoring more. We can’t keep doing that.

    1. we definitely won’t beat a top four side with this weakness – it’s an obvious one and has already been exploited.

      these are the options?
      the FBs must work harder on fitness and track back much faster
      defend more than attack
      or someone else must cover for them.

    2. I completely disagree.

      We had three men back against their three men, and the ball was deflected into the net, failing which it was never a goal.

      We play with full-backs who join the attack, and they will be caught upfield as happens to all teams who play with full backs that join the attack. Ashley Cole was caught upfield several times against Liverpool but Mascherano & Lucas lacked the pace and sure technical ability to create devastating attacks.

      To say that’s the source of all defensive weakness is not accurate.

      Our problem in defending is mostly inability to clear the ball and get back into shape. And it’s not always. Most of the time we do it flawlessly. Sometimes, the back 7 just panic and suddenly we cant clear the ball.

      Watch the City, Man United & Standard Liege games and you see where the problems are.

      We have so much technical ability so surely we must be able to clear the ball cleanly and decisively.

      1. What I don’t get is why were both full backs pinned on the flanks so high up the field simultaneously? If one was in the box or lurking outside the box for a shot, I’d understand it, but it is not practical to have both full backs forward at the same time, not even Carlos&Cafu did that.

        Also it shows deficiencies in defensive motions, you’d expect another midfielder such as Fabregas-Diaby-Rosicky-Arshavin to drop back and cover and create an extra man in case the attack broke down, as it was, no one did, and neither of the full backs broke a lung to get back.

        I’d much rather the full backs only came forward on a few occasions, their end product is not of high quality most of the time, and seeing as Song-Billong is the only one who seems to stay back and no one else wants to fill in, it is a very dangerous and reckless attitude to pursue with.

        1. It heartens me to see such a measured debate. Certainly the type I had in mind when this blog was started.

          Wenger certainly admitted getting back to shape after an attack is a difficult thing and almost seemed defeatist in his comment. It just all goes back to selection and decision-making. I don’t think we’ve needed the full backs to attack as much this season, more as support becuase of the numbers we have forward. I think it’s a ploy to get close to the wingers when attacking so not to give them space but getting high up the pitch, there is a urge to get forward anyway.

          Mourinho always has five back as he says, Sacchi feels five organised players will always defeat 10 but how you organise yourself from counter I don’t know. I have a training guide activity used by Aidy Boothroyd on transitions that I might have to dig out.

          1. Brain you write in one of your recent articles about how Denilson is being missed. This is (the second B/burn goal and the goals nos 2, 3 and 4 at Man city) is a clear example of how Denilson’s role is desperately missed. In the first place he has the tactical know how to remain behind to keep up the numbers when everyone else is going for the jugular. Also he reads the game well and is much more faster than Song when tracking back. In the B/burn match on sunday Arsenal’s fullbacks were shown to be tactically naive in that they were both up field during the second b/burn goal. During the Invincible team the full backs (especially Laurent) were tactically good, they would not usually push forward both of them at the same time. One always remained behind whenever Arsenal attacked. So Sagna and Clichy have to learn this. Also, I think despite Song’s major improvements he is still very suspect positionally and is at times slow to release the ball. As a result he was caught with the ball a couple of times during the match and in bad positions too (near the Arsenal’s 18 yard line). Song is also very slow when tracking back that is why David Dun was able to shoot, had it been a faster person Dun would not had scored his deflected goal. This is where Denilson’s reading of the game and positional awareness becomes vital.

            1. wow . . . someone who agrees with me for a change.
              i’ve been saying those same things for a while but all i get is sweet sweet rejection, lolz.

      2. yea, what newgooner said about both FBs being so far advanced:
        Sagna was actually pretty close to blackburn’s corner flag when the counter started. clichy only arrived on the scene after the ball had hit the back of the net.

        i agree with you that there are times when clearing the ball is a weakness – like on most set pieces. but that’s an emotional response that can be corrected, not a tactical change that the manager has trouble compensating for.
        i just think that clichy and sagna’s offensive contribution is not enough to warrant shirking their defensive duties. those weaknesses have shown up game after game without denilson.
        denilson is tactically adept enough to stay back when others are going forward. he provides the balance between attack and defense that makes our team perform so impressively, as it did early in the season.
        the everton match is a good example of things we did well.

        1. I just completely disagree that we conceded the goal because the full backs were high up.

          Here’s how I see it:

          Even if Clichy stayed back to defend, that would have been licence for Song to push up.

          Remember it was a counterattack with most the team pushed up.

          Before the start of the counter attack, we had 2 men against Blackburn’s one man.

          They added 2 men to provide support to their lone striker, and we added Song to support.

          We had enough men to deal with the threat.

          I don’t think adding one extra man to defend against that one man (making it 3 against 1) is in any way efficient.

          Summary: It was 3 v 3. I am saying that even if it were 4 v 3 (with Clichy having stayed back) it could still have been a goal. It would still have been deflected and would still have gone in.

          1. what i’m saying is that an extra man would have made it so that the defense plays to its strengths.
            gallas is not noted for his pace or his quickness, but clichy and sagna are. they are better suited to defending the advancing attackers.
            this would leave gallas and vermaelen to defend the threat in the middle of the pitch.
            we can’t let our CBs defend like this. they played well in the Everton game because they were focussed and only defended against crosses. vermaelen and gallas are actually quite good at repelling these types of attacks.
            in the City game, they weren’t focused and let Adebayor have a free header. that is one instance in which we defended poorly – but it’s only because we let them.
            if we implement the defense so that it plays to its strengths, we will be much stronger.

  8. If you push up your full backs, you are prone to the long ball. If you make it a flat back 4, there is so much space in between the winger and the full back for the opponent to exploit. What do you do? I would say, when one full back is venturing forward, the other should stay back for the long ball.

      1. He says he is a budding coach. I just naturally assumed you would
        need some sort of professional recognition as you progressed as acoach.
        For example FA coaching badge, UEFA badges for the more advanced/experience coach.

        Surely you can’t get a role coaching with a copy of a Rinus Michels book in your hand?

  9. Just to throw another idea around, I have a mainly rugby background, and no rugby team can ever expect to do well without being able to defend tightly as a unit. I played with some current internationals when I was at the U-16 level when we played for the national youth team. At school, our coach allowed us to play a very aggressive attacking game, we would score 5-6 tries each game, far above the average, and we only let in 3 tries in 11 matches.

    We all had a defensive plan, we kept it very tight, constricted the space, had the shaping good, understood where gaps needed to be filled if there was a team mate in a ruck, we anticipated where the opposition would go if the had the ball.

    The same style comparable to our Invincibles, they all filled gaps when a player was missing from where he was supposed to be, I don’t see much of that, I am also not sure what our defensive plan is as a collective. Maybe Clive Woodward should be brought in to add some structure, rugby defensive strategies can be applied in part to football I think.

    1. The defensive thinking that you allude to in your rugby past is what’s lacking in the current team. In an earlier comment you talk about not having the ability to change gameplan and I think the team tactically and mentally is not as able as someone like Chelsea or Liverpool to switch.

      We all know Wenger wants his team to pressure and squeeze space but it is seldom happening to the same effect Wenger wants. It’s up to the players individually to step up.

      1. That is true. Wenger is not as tactically astute as the other big four managers. I dont mean to say that wenger is under par, he just doesnt make the changes when things are not going his way. Mourinho would make a substitution at 45 minutes. Wenger should do better.

        1. ok so the lack that we have is song and diaby thank god nasri is back so sit down diaby song’s problem is he cant control the ball as we all know where does the tackel come from its eaither cilich’s side or song’s in liverpoolvs chealsea game viera was there so that means he is getting closer to be a gunner again if we have song and viera by each othere we will have the best squad in the clubs history

      2. @ Brain and NewGooner, one of Arsenal’s problem in midfield is lack of size (except for Song and Diaby) and pace. The three CM of Cesc, Song and Denilson all are slow (Denilson is slightly faster and counters that with his good reading of the game, positional awareness, and good engine). So every time there is a break away by the opposition (as it happened on Sunday with B/burn or the city game after Denilson was subbed) with our CMs and FBs pushed up pressure is quickly thrown at our CBs for lack of cover, and we know the results. I believe this (the fact that our CMs are slow and small in the case of Denilson and Cesc) is one reason why the combination of Denislon and Cesc or that of Cesc and Song does not work despite their being good technically. It could be the reason why Wenger keeps playing Diaby even though at times he looks out of depth and lazy. If Diaby were to develop the defensive thinking and application, then Arsenal could be home and dry. Otherwise Arsenal have to wait for Coquelin, Frimpong, Ayling, Chucks Aneke, or Nordveit (if Wenger is ready to play him at CM as he is doing for Nurmberg). In the mean time the other options are (i) play Vermaelen at CM and have Senderos, Djourou (injured presently) or Song at CB; (ii) play Djourou (when recovered) at CM (that is where he started anyway), its just that Wenger sees him differently. Both Djourou and Vermaelen can read the game well, they are defensive thinking, can defend well, tactically adept and are much more faster, taller and strong in the air than Song (whom Wenger says will do well at CB) or Denilson. In addition, they are tenacious. Since I do not see Wenger doing what I have outlined, he (Wenger) should instill and instruct his captain (or any other player particularly a CM or CB) who must rise to the ocassion and take responsibility to shout at his colleagues not to forget their defensive responsibilities when Arsenal are attacking. Shout to Sagna or Clichy or Song or Denilson not to leave the gate (CM area) unmanned, and for the FBs not to both of them push up unnecessarily. The FBs (the whole team actually) to play like a Seesaw. When the right side swings up the left swings down with the DCM acting like the fulcrum. But everybody else to be defensively aware and fall back or press immediately when possession is lost.

  10. But we need a quality defensive midfielder otherwise all this attacking prowess will be nullified. We need a defensive midfielder badly, in other words our life depends on it,
    get 1 AW. It,s tym…

  11. cesc is a true talent iam really sick of barcelona bothering us with him with no doubt cesc is better then xavi a million times better xavi could’nt do what cesc is doing right now … now as we all know the Mérida has run off from barcelona just like cesc . Mérida is doing a great job but i belive that barcelona will come and bug us with him too as they see what a great talent he is.

    thnx man

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