Arsenal unravel unparalleled attacking depth with win over AZ

Arsenal attacked AZ Alkmaar with speed and purpose to all but seal their place in the knockout stages of the Champions League.

Whisper it quietly but this may be the real deal. Arsenal’s speed and incision cut apart Dutch champions AZ Alkmaar but the win was received with as much as a whimper across Europe.

They’ve been promising it for a while now and the manner in which they defeated AZ moves Arsenal closer to making it even more possible. The Gunners lost their interest towards the end and allowed Jeremain Lens to grab the Dutch side a consolation but for much of the game it was one way traffic, directed by Cesc Fabregas.

The skipper grabbed two goals, the first squeezing past Romero’s near post and his outstretched arm after a probing foray forward by the impressive William Gallas. His second and Arsenal’s third saw Andrey Arshavin bag a trio of assists as Fabregas made pay of Romero’s decision sleep on the job to wrong foot the ‘keeper. In between van Persie’s movement to the left flank found Nasri in the forward position and the Frenchman coolly sidestepped his man before guiding the ball in the net. Diaby wrapped up the win after a swift counter attack starting from an Eduardo flick and ending with the gangly midfielder’s precision finish.

The Gunners even had the luxury of bringing on Eduardo and Rosicky during the closing stages to complete what is probably the most exciting and deadly front line in Europe. But having such talent requires discipline and organisation to allow a certain amount of balance and encouragingly there was some improvements in this regard in comparison with previous games before they decided more goals were more important than the clean sheet later on.

Diaby and Song started closer to each other allowing Fabregas to play higher and that is a key difference to the Arsenal side of yesteryear. Rather than playing through sides, they are looking to advance past them by committing men forward and quickly so teams have less time to get men behind the ball. They have sacrificed that bit of possession that Barcelona have and converted that energy into being more direct, an area which the Catalan giants may lack.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia (7); Eboué (6), Gallas (8), Vermaelen (7), Gibbs (7); Nasri (8), Fábregas (8) (Ramsey), Song (6), Diaby (8), Arshavin (7) (Rosicky); Van Persie (7) (Eduardo). Subs: Mannone, Sagna, Senderos, Silvestre.

AZ Alkmaar (4-3-3): Romero; Jaliens, Moisander, Moreno, Poulsen; Dembele (Lens), Holman, Da Silva, Schaars, Martens; Pelle. Subs: Didulica, Pocognoli, Ari, Wernbloom, Van der Velden, Swerts.

Referee: Alain Hamer (Luxembourg)

Arsenal Team Statistics AZ Alkmaar
4 Goals 1
2 1st Half Goals 0
6 Shots on Target 3
4 Shots off Target 3
3 Blocked Shots 2
5 Corners 4
14 Fouls 14
5 Offsides 2
0 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
83.3 Passing Success 81.5
28 Tackles 27
64.3 Tackles Success 70.4
55.3 Possession 44.7
51.3 Territorial Advantage 48.7

24 thoughts on “Arsenal unravel unparalleled attacking depth with win over AZ

  1. It was really the movement that won it for Arsenal. If you see the first three goals, RVP was not so near the ball and in some occasions, no where near it. The constant interchanging confused the alkmaar defenders. You could even see Fabregas in the left flank and Arshavin in the middle.

  2. Don’t know if you caught any of the Rubin – Barca game yesterday, but you make an interesting point. Barcelona for all their skill and class reminded me very much of the Arsenal we saw last year – unable to break through a side that came out playing for a draw. I only saw the second half of the Barca game, but each time they got in and around Rubin’s penalty area, the Russian side had 7-8 players crowded back into the box. Iniesta crossed several times looking for Ibrahimovic but the crosses were always easily cut out. Despite the individual brilliance of Messi, Xavi, et al, I felt Barcelona spent far too much time intricately passing through the midfield, but could not put their forwards through on goal.

    Contrast that with Arsenal’s performance… Granted, AZ didn’t park the bus, but Arsenal did so well to put players through on goal. Only one of the goals (Fabregas’ first) came outside of a break-away, and if you look at the stats, 55% possession sounds incredibly low for the dominance that the Gunners enjoyed. The scoreline says it all though, and following that 0-0 draw, perhaps Barca could learn a little something from us?

    1. barca learn something for us are you crazy, aint we the ones who are using their formation, not to mean that its theirs and they own it lol. I think you’ve forgotten that barca played away, in russia, very difficult too, weather, pitch, atmosphere really everything. Whereas we played at home infront of our thousands and thousands of fans, who were so quiet in the beginning minutes of the game but then rose their voices after the 1st and 2nd goals. Thats the difference we played at home and bara were away, finally not to take anything away from our performance because we played absolutely incredible, diaby was excellent so too was arshavin, eboue and nasri, and cesc well lets say he was FABTASTIC!!!

      1. It was tongue-in-cheek. I know Arsenal’s style of play takes a lot of influence from Barca’s (who in turn owe it to the Total Football of the Dutch in the 70’s if I’m not mistaken). My point was that when you play that way, you can sometimes struggle against sides who are determined to keep you out of the danger areas all game. Arsenal this year have had no trouble scoring.

      2. By the way Barca were beaten by Kazan at the Nou camp. That makes our win even more credible as compared to Barcas draw

    2. Actually, there is a good point here. There is the risk of the possession game Barca play of losing the attacking edge. Arsenal fans know that from long experience. Barca need to be able to change speeds, and when they are playing well, they do that. They slow the game down with patient passing and possession and then somebody turns behind a defender instead of passing backwards, and they are in on goal. Arsenal, on the other hand, will need to remember how to slow things down and play patiently at some point during the season. I love the speed and incisiveness, but possession is a very good form of defense.

  3. Brain, would you say we are playing a 4-6-0?
    “A highly unconventional formation, the 4-6-0 is an evolution of the 4-2-3-1 in which the centre forward is exchanged for a player who normally plays as a trequartista (that is, in the ‘hole’). Suggested as a possible formation for the future of football, the formation sacrifices an out-and-out striker for the tactical advantage of a mobile front four attacking from a position that the opposition defenders cannot mark without being pulled out of position.However, owing to the intelligence and pace required by the front four attackers to create and attack any space left by the opposition defenders, the formation requires a very skilful and well-drilled front four.”
    That is the real description and it fits the way arsenal play perfectly. What do you think?

    1. For the sake of being simple, Wenger will call last nights formation as a 4-3-3 but I think we all know that’s open to interpretation. It really is about the movement of players now and in Arsenal’s play it can feel like a 4-6-0. Definitely Wenger wants Fabregas to move closer to the front three to essentially make a four but Cesc’s role is less a trequartista and more a central midfielder looking to push up.

      It’s interesting that RVP has become more orthodox in his role but instead of looking to drop deeper as often he is moving wide, allowing another player to take his position. Roma played this way with Totti dropping deeper and it was called 4-6-0 and others 4-1-1-1-3-0. United’s in 07/08 could have been called a 4-2-4-0 (rooney, tevez, giggs and Ronaldo) so maybe you can call Arsenal’s a 4-3-3-0 because the functions of the central midfielders are not as related to the front four.

      1. Tony Adams reported that Wenger told him we are playing a 4-1-4-1! Does he see Cesc and Diaby in the same band as the wingers? Thanks for the reply.

        1. Paradoxically, that makes things more clearer. From a defensive point of view, let’s say this is a 4-3-3 for structure and organisation.

          But the 4-1-4-1 (which Spain played in Euro 2008) ties in with what Wenger said before the season that the formation is likely to change and be fluid.

          (1) He said in pre-season that it was a 4-2-3-1 i.e. it looked 4-3-3 but allowed Cesc to push forward .
          (2) RVP is the focal point of the attack with others playing around him.
          (3) With the introduction of Diaby in for Denilson (and we may see Nasri sooner), he covered for the left winger and was given a bit more attacking responsibility than the Brazilian. Ultimately, this basically left Song as the main blocker of the counter attack and four back.
          (4) Pushing those men a bit higher allowed for better pressure and to break teams down better by stopping from getting behind the ball as quickly. So Diaby and Fabregas in an attacking sense push to the same line as the wingers, and while RVP interchanges and drops deep to give the effect of the ‘strikerless’ system, that last 1 in the 4-1-4-1, is just highlighting his importance at the tip.

          [It is important to note Wenger wants to play one half winger and another direct winger (or wide forward in Bendtner and Walcott).]

          Hope you understood that. Maybe I will write an article on the formation because this comment seems unclear. Also if anyone has any recommendation on an article that should be written, please feel free to email or leave a comment. Thanks

          1. I think 4-1-4-1 makes sense. Song is very discipline at the back – he rarely strolled past the far tip of the middle circle.

            Arsene would prefer Diaby to be that discipline as well as he said recently on the official site. So it could also be a 4-2-3-1, especially if it’s Denilson who’s playing alongside Song. With 2 defensive midfielders to buffer him defensively, Cesc is reveling higher positions up front, attacking the D more aggressively and got more scoring chances. Our defensive midfielders – Song/Diaby/Denilson – all know how to play ball. Diaby is strong and best in dribbling. Denilson is best in reading the game, while Song is the strongest of the three. Ideally I would want 2 of them play at the same time, one sitting tightly in the whole like Song is doing, while the other moving up and down to support Cesc.

            On another note, it’s worth noticing that even when Arshavin doesn’t give 3 assists a game as did the last game, he is our go-to guy when other players are out of idea. In the most difficult moments early in the Tottenham game he was constant receiver of the ball in very awkward positions, facing 2/3 opposing defenders, but still didn’t give it away.

          2. Do write an article about the evolution of our formation so far.
            I think the main objective is to push Cesc higher and the percentage of him giving the final ball is higher and it is deadlier as it is higher up the pitch. Diaby/Denilson/Nasri are the ones who support Cesc.

  4. A bit pedantic to note, but the counter-attack for the fourth goal actually started when… Diaby regained position near our own box, pushing up to Ramsey who then passed to Eduardo. Diaby ran the length of the field and then scored in about 7 seconds by my count.

    What is truly fantastic is our depth in attack. Nothing against Bendtner — I hope him a speedy recovery– but I think we are even more incisive with Nasri or Rosicky playing up front. That extra bit of flair and intelligence in the pass seems to set Cesc free. Arshivin-RVP-Nasri/Rosicky-Cesc are all phenomenal at the passing game and make fantastic runs without the ball. We lose little or nothing when Eduardo subs in. Merida, Vela, Ramsey and perhaps Wilshire can all slot in well. Diaby is playing a more intermediate role, but as we saw, his runs from deep can be devastating. And unlike many of our fans, I think Eboue fits nicely with this crew as well.

  5. couldn’t agree more KV,

    the way arsenal do it(attacking) is much better than having one or 2 front men who they must pass or cross to get goals. the variation in attack will definitely create a lot of confusion to the opposing team as we have seen time and time again since the season started. with the players we have like RVP, Ashavin, Nasri, Rosicky, Eduardo and Fabregas(just to name a few) who are very mobile, skillful and intelligence, they definitely can tear any defence apart.
    this is definitely the best attacking strike force i’ve seen in Arsenal. i’m very confident Arsenal will win at least 2 silverware this season.


  6. Stupendous performance !!! fluid movement & creative passing, the whole team played very well. 11 players stayed focus & worked hard for each other until the final whistle. A few players were electrifying. Keep up the confidence boosting performance on a regular basis.

  7. Hi guys,
    from what I can see it is indeed a 4-3-3 and not a 4-1-4-1. Though it does become a 4-1-4-1 in defensive phase (following the Capello dictum that in modern football all teams employ some variaiton of 9:1 relative to the ball when they lose poessession), this is not the same as 4-1-4-1 as a starting formation (as was the case with Spain in Euro2008). And no, Fabregas is not playing as a No.10 in 4-2-3-1. that was last season’s experiment, remember? I think Wenger realised that whilst Cesc could do a job, he was less comfortable spending large periods with his back to goal. Now he is playing as a No.8, what the Spanish call an ‘interior’ as do Xavi and Iniesta in Barca. They go forward but still have the vision of play ahead of them.

  8. I should have said above:

    the 4-3-3 can become 4-1-4-1 or/and 4-2-3-1 in defensive phase depending on where the pressing occurs and the personel involved and the movement of the opposition.

    Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s negative; unlike defensive phase in a 4-4-2 (which tradionally saw Arsenal adopt some form of 4-4-1-1 very deep in their own half) it liberates the attacking players from having to fall all the way back to form a defensive bank in front of the back 4. How so? ‘Cos it enables the pressing to occur higher up the pitch relative to the defenders and defensive midfielders.

  9. Good point Brain about how Cesc and one of Denislon/Nasri/Diaby pressure in the same line as the wingers in defensive phase. but this just makes it temporarily 4-1-4-1.

    Also, in the 4-3-3, the positions of the two midfielders ahead of the holder are not static, they can rotate and stagger even to the point of assymetry. That simply allows a greater range of passing angles. But under this system there is never a permanent specialist between the lines as you find under a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-1-2 etc.

    1. Hi. I was skeptical about not having specialist between the lines players at the start of the season but as the campaign as wore on, you can see the problems defences are facing in the unpredictability in someone arriving in that position and hence possibly why Pellegrini is so against a “mediapunta”.

      The beauty about this system is it is a 4-3-3 but one which can morph into others in accordance to the different phases of play. I was about to refer to that Capello 9-1 dictum in my earlier comment but I somehow forgot so thanks for putting it up.

      In answer to the bottom comment; Eboue is not a winger in the traditional sense but his functions are to be similar although probably at a cost of the goalscoring threat of someone like Walcott or Bendtner. Wenger likes to balance one side with a ‘half-winger’ and another with a more direct wide man, hence Eboue’s involvement. His confidence in the final third is generally below standard despite getting into great positions while his habits, as you allude to cannot really make him an outside forward. But for the sake of being simple and understanding Wengers thinking, we will say Wenger is a winger although the purists may cringe at it.

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