Arsenal out to prove Chelsea’s diamond can’t last forever

The Premiership’s two free-flowing clubs are set to collide with Arsenal looking to come out on top against Chelsea’s diamond midfield.

They say diamonds are a central midfielders best friend. Or at least the saying should be, as in an increasingly bureaucratic game it’s the greatest indication the coach is ready to play to your strengths. Carlo Ancelotti may not have made much changes to the personnel but he has introduced a new system looking to get the best out of his sides central strength.

While Chelsea’s diamond system was born out of goal of getting the best of the players at their disposal, the origin of the formation or its variants,  is less explicit. However due to their obsession with the enganche (playmaker), the set-up is more prevalent in Argentina and in a bid to cater such a player, it seems the diamond ensured a self-conscious symmetry in which to build their play around. And indeed it is at the tip of this diamond where Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Feguson feels this current Chelsea team lacks.

“Chelsea use the same system that Ancelotti operated in Milan,’ said Sir Alex. ‘The difference is he had Kaka there. Kaka made a hell of a difference to how well the system worked, and Chelsea are still looking for someone in a forward role to balance their team better. They tried Lampard there, they tried Deco. They have even tried Florent Malouda and now they’ve brought Joe Cole back in. It’s not the finished article at the moment, though they have the experience to cope with it.”

Although, Ferguson’s United side ultimately fell to defeat earlier this month, they successfully stifled the threat of Deco behind the two forwards.  The midfield pairing of Carrick and Fletcher were quick to close down the Portueguese midfielder denying  any room to manoeuvre. Indeed the consequences of Holland in ’74 continues to ripple through South American football – the pressure the Dutch put on the ball, depriving the enganche any time and space to choose his options – mean some feel the position can have a dangerous effect on those who use it. “The word Enganche is dangerous,” says former Argentina midfielder Diego Simeone. “But, I like enganche, although with some variations. More like the playing style of Zidane, call it a prototype of enganche? That evolved into the enganche roles today of Kaká, Totti, Pirlo, Ronaldinho and Robinho. I believe enganche today must come from another sector, there must be wider variety of options.”

But done well and the role could be of great damage. Much like the system, much depends on the movement of the players which was part of the reason why Deco was nullified. Only when Anelka dropped deeper, towards the end of the first half from his forward position and double up did Deco move more around the pitch to cause greater unpredictability and drag the opposition out of position. In fact, movement is a necessity in the system. The biggest flaw, the lack of width must be manufactured either by players taking up vacant space or the full backs bombing forward.

Ancelotti has played Malouda to the left of the diamond and that could create width although it may become predictable if starting inside then going out. But that has not been a problem for Chelsea, who have been particularly devastating with their movement and along with the marauding full-backs, posed grave problems to their opposition. “They were a bit predictable when they were 4-3-3 but Chelsea’s new diamond formation is very difficult to play against,” said Sunderland manager Steve Bruce. “It’s hard for opponents to work out who to pick up when. The system makes life very difficult for opposing full-backs as, a lot of the time, they’re not sure exactly what to do. Chelsea are the real deal.”

The carrileros (shuttlers or to use a more exact definition, lanes) arguably have the most important of roles as a double function, both providing an option to the left or right and also defending the zones they operate. “The system is good because we have more possession and have the ball all the time,” said Deco. “We have four in midfield and we can play better than when we had the three. When we defend it’s more difficult because we have to go both sides. All the time we have one more player in [central] midfield than the other team.”

And so on to the big game, with Arsenal looking to make up ground on their rivals. The Gunners big test will be whether they can cope with the movement of Chelsea because while they have produce great approach play, have inevitably left gaps open to exploit and at times have looked suspect in dealing with sustained pressure. Because of this, Arsene Wenger is likely to start Denilson, who should offer more balance and protection alongside Song. On the right of Chelsea’s diamond, Ballack likes to tuck in and allow Bosingwa and Anelka to profit from the space afforded so with Denilson slightly elongated to the left, will look to counter that threat.

Wenger’s biggest tactical choices will be who to start at left back and who to play right-wing. Silvestre offers height advantage against Traore (jump and aggression in air) while his cautiousness should be an able shield for such late threat Chelsea provide. On the right-wing, Samir Nasri had a strong game against Standard Liege and his cutting inside freed up space for right back Emmanuel Eboue to bomb forward although it is likely Sagna is set to be recalled. Theo Walcott is also an option as his directness could pin back the opposing full backs, similarly on the left with Arshavin.

The Gunners have conceded possession more recently in big games which could be to their advantage also; whilst it theoretically means more to defend it could also allow the team to play more direct and be a threat on the counter. Nevertheless, the combinations with Eduardo will be key. If the Croatian drops and roams around the pitch, it will mean Arsenal can match Chelsea in the middle and can pin back the full backs due to the higher presence of the wingers. Expect Arshavin to assume the central role in some moments of the match and his low centre of gravity and dynamism could prove a strong weapon on the break.

Predicted teams:
Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia; Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Silvestre; Song, Denilson, Fabregas(c); Arshavin, Nasri, Eduardo. Subs: Fabianski, Eboue, Traore, Senderos, Ramsey, Walcott, Rosicky, Vela.

Chelsea (4-4-2 diamond): Cech; Ivanovic, Carvalho, Terry, A. Cole; Essien, Ballack, Malouda, Deco; Drogba, Anelka. Subs: Hilario, Belleti, Alex, Mikel, Kalou, J. Cole, Zhirkov, Lampard.


26 thoughts on “Arsenal out to prove Chelsea’s diamond can’t last forever

  1. Great article, and I would opt for the exact same side as you.

    With a lack of pragmatic width, Chelsea will likely look to Drogba and Anelka to run the channels. As such, full-backs that can tuck in (Sagna and Silvestre) are likely to be used to cover the channels and protect against wide balls into these areas – it’s worth noting Eboue and Traore struggle to deal with such cross-field balls, also.

    I believe Chelsea are going to look to use Essien to stifle Fabregas. As such, we need as many creative players as possible to shoulder the artistic burden, whilst also retaining balance, which is why I agree Nasri should start ahead of Rosicky.

    Other than that, I think the team effectively picks itself.

  2. wonderful articles guys,that arsenal line is fine wiz unsang mid hero song at his best combined wiz Denilson can keep the likes of Essien from bothering fabregas and this give clear space to plan for a game.secondly chealsea diamond formation mainly rotates on their full backs we need to keep the ball to them .this need Nasri and arshavin keeping all their full backs bizy which their capable of doing.remember drogba is dangerous in this formation but wen Bosingwa and cole are cutoff then drogba and Anelka will be abit this takes the ball to midfield where we can acurately outplay chealse.remember silvestre has not played so much he needs cover and thats keeping Bosingwa bizy.hamza from Uganda in AFRICA

  3. Brain – Thanks for your analysis, as usual very engaging. Although accused elsewhere of being simplistic, I have a more strategic view of the battle. Chelsea’s strengths in my opinion are based on being physically strong, experienced and methodical. However there is an countervailing weakness; a tendency to be slow and rigid in their approach. Once you stifle their one playmaker at the toip of the diamond they get bogged down in the middle. If they spread Malouda and Joe Cole on either flank it is playing against their strengths as it exposes big holes in the middle. Man U game exposed this flaw to their game. Lets not forget how boring that game was as both games slogged it out in the middle. Arsenal’s dynamic flexible passing game can expose this fatal weakness in their game. With the combination of Song and Denilson we can easily disrupt the playmaker at the tip of the diamond. If we attack as a team and maintain our crisp passing game we can easily expose their ageing centre-halfs and pin back their wing-backs.
    I know Inter does not play the same system as Chelsea but an equally physically imposing Milan was on Tuesday made to look very ordinary by Barca (without Messi and Ibra) playing a high tempo passing game. I like your line up with the exception of Eduardo. Comparing Eduardo vs Sunderland and Vela vs Liege, I was impressed by the added dynamism the latter gave to our front three. Wenger may plump for experience but he may surprise all of us, especially Chelsea.

    1. Good comment; however, I just have a qualm with your last point.

      Technically, I think Vela is more than capable of playing the attacking focal point; physically though, he is lacking, and his lack of strength was made clear against Liege mid-week, with a Chelsea back-pairing of Terry and Alex likely to dish out even more of a brutalisation.
      As such, I think it is important we play Eduardo – a player who whilst not big, has a low-centre-of-gravity and uses his body to great effect.

      1. DaStuDawg et al – I now feel very dirty for my Vela vs Eduardo piece after reading the very deluded Pyles Palmer banging on about Vela not getting games, as if the boy wasn’t just returning from injury, which itself closely followed another affliction at the beginning of the season. Please do not associate my comments with the views of this deranged blogger.

  4. I think it is necessary to play Walcott. His direct running will pin back the full back. This will give space for Fabregas to move into and dictate the game. If Essien follows Fabregas, it might create space in the centre. The striker can in turn use this space to drag the CB out of position. The important thing is to station our wingers high up the pitch. They should be direct.

  5. Very good article.

    The best way to defend against Chelsea’s bomb of midfielders (diamond) is to see it as a 4-3-3. You’ll find that very often, the 3 midfielders behind the playmaker play in one solid bank.

    It then depends on whether you want to stop them playing…man for man, or simply use the inherent weaknesses in the formation to put them under pressure.

    The weakness of this system is the lack of width. It shows up as a lack of width in attack but it’s crucially also a potential lack of protective cover in full back positions.

    That means you can flood them out wide, and play from wide to centre, maybe forcing their centre backs out of position. It takes pace, good movement, crisp passing and cleverness to do this.

    Unlike Steve Bruce I don’t think it was the 4-3-3 that made Chelsea predictable. I think they are an inherently predictable team…quite mechanical in their midfield play.

    1. Agree with what your are saying here, the key is wide pressure in depth. Further, since Essien will probably be marking Cesc out we need to have the 3 attackers taking turns dropping into the top of the mid to balance numbers and help with link-up.

      If we are to pressure the fullbacks wide, this will probably need to be the CF dropping in, and we could wind up looking like a 4-2-2-2 in attack with wide forwards, and the front four looking to make runs at the “speedy” CB’s with pace instead of trying to out muscle the brutes. A number 9.75 CF if you will – and to do that I’d like Arshavin or maybe Nasri at CF.

      Ironically, with our DM’s taking away their playmaker, Chelsea will probably have Deco pushing wider and Anelka dropping out to the other side. What does that look like?

  6. Excellent piece Brain. I really enjoyed your analysis. You managed to find some intelligent footballers to comment usefully as well.

    I’ll be watching closely on Saturday, I think I learnt something today and not just that Shotta has a sensitive side either.

    1. Hopefully his bruise lessens which I suspect will happen. If not, Silvestre is first in the running because of his relative match fitness and sharpness although Senderos will give a more natural fit at the back as he is right footed. Gallas has a fantastic reading of the game and also mobility which will be lost. It would be a big blow so more onus may be on the team to defend compactly.

  7. When Chelsea played us at the Emirates in May, they were completely undone with our crisp passing and movement. Walcott played just off the striker (Van Persie) in a 4-3-3 I think and all we needed was that elusive 1st goal. It never came and Song who didn’t have the Diaby of this season i.e. defensively improved or Denilson struggled to fill those gaps that appeared in our defence. Chelsea took advantage of those and this was perfectly illustrated when Anelka took that long distance shot without any challenge.

    From what I mentioned there, I am certain Denilson will start with Song, especially if Gallas misses out. The reason we saw Nasri and Rosicky at Sunderland was because Arsene wanted our midfielders to keep possession, therefore keeping us solid. With Walcott we have more of an incisive, attacking edge with his directness but that is negated when he loses possession. Theo will be on the bench on Sunday. Besides his energy is best utilized at present as a substitute considering he has just been back from injury.

  8. honestly would have preffered to see walcott play except for the fact that he aint 100% yet..we need all the dynamism we can get, chelsea are prone to make fouls which we can convert with gallas or verm. if diaby is fit i’d love to see him on he left wing with arshavin given a free role..he’d also add some height and strength.

  9. Great article.. your view greatly supports mine as to why Song holds the key to success on sunday.. However i fell Traore should be given the go ahead on sunday.. Firstly Traore has the pace and an urge to attack.. a typical Arsenal explosive wing back.. AA23 will drift more centrally thereby drawing their rightback in field.. this gives our left back better freedom to overlap and provide.. Secondly with Clichy and Gibbs out for a while should we depend on Silvestre the entire time? I dont think so. Silvestre is a last ditch option when we have none to play left back.. As a left back he just doesnt fit into our framework of play (As a Centre back maybe).. Traore’s dynamism in the LB position is needded til christmas and this game will be a good learning curve for him. On the attacking front it’ll be a challenge on sunday cos Cesc wont be allowed to roam around freely (lets not forget the exceptional Job Essien did marking Gerrard in the CL game last season). Hence Eduardo should shun his sloppy self (Sunderland performance-18 passes) and begin to link up more effectively with Cesc.. I favour Rosicky ahead of Denilson for 2 reasons– 1) He has had more starts 2) Better Creativity and supreme linkup with Cesc.. Nasri should start on the right ahead of walcot because of his exceptional credentials of being a good finisher.. With Song on song and AA23’s killer skills the game should be ours.. Go gunners!

  10. One thing Wenger needs to do is ensure whoever gets the ball off the defenders first, and I’ll assume this will be Essien, he is the one the main focus must be on. As a regular watcher of Serie A, the teams that were able to beat Milan in the past under Ancelotti, wasn’t by stopping Pirlo or Kaka, it was by stopping the primary pass coming out of midfield, most times from Gattuso or Ambrosini. Pressure Essien into not selecting passes, you should negate some of the passing of Chelsea. However whoever does this, if they miss that tackle and the pass is released, they will have a clear run at our defence.

    I’m in favour in Wenger deploying both Vela and Eduardo, he says they are good enough, and goals is what will win this game, we need players who can score. Not sure on Walcott starting, A.Cole has shown in the past he could deal with all types of players, and I have yet to see Walcott get the better of a top class fullback over 90 mins, Evra and A.Cole normally have him contained because he is very predictable, and his defensive work needs to improve.

    More importantly, we need to fight as a unit, Gallas ensured we ‘died’ on the pitch to get a 2-2 draw in 2007 against Man Utd, if we aren’t fired up like that on Sunday, we have given some extra incentive to Chelsea.

  11. Great discussion here! I doubt Wenger will play Eboue because we simply don’t know which Eboue will show up, but if pinning Chelsea back on the wings is the plan, he would be my man. If not, then Traore should definitely be on the left as his speed will help get in behind Chelse, with Walcott playing on the right and switching centrally could be useful.

    Anyhow, this game makes me nervous as hell– I have a very hard time seeing which way it will go, but this analysis definitely helps me think about it. Thanks Brain of a great post and the rest of you for really interesting comments.

  12. Thanks guys. Very good points here, some which I missed out (either because of the rush or it didn’t come to mind – I’m human also!) so well done. Anyway, I may echo other people’s comments but like the defeat in the FA Cup last year there are there are two things to consider; would it be best to stifle Chelsea’s threat first or the greater focus on playing to our strengths?
    The big battle will be in midfield and how we stifle them. Song and Denilson will start but even in that Arsenal mustn’t let Chelsea outnumber them in the middle. We have seen Arsenal are susceptible to leaving gap by being expansive and so should greater focus be on being more dynamic? Anelka will love the space but that’s Chelsea’s other problem; are they mobile or indeed dynamic enough themselves? Once again Gunner’s best bet would be if Chelsea play with attacking midfielders thereby losing that dynamism because someone like Malouda or Cole in accordance to the front pair may be deadly.
    Stopping Essien out of the pass will be a good ploy as last year, Mikel playing in that role was taken out and the full backs where then given less opportunities to get forward (the 2-1 home win).
    Let’s remember. Walcott had a great first half in that 4-1 loss. Arsenal had 17 or so attempts and clearly dynamism was a problem for them but on the other hand they exploited the space we left behind. Plenty of one-on-ones for use will be the order of the day and then pressuring quickly in defence.

  13. Great article. 0.9 Calibre, I think playing Traore would be our downfall. I think we have overlooked one of Chelsea’s biggest strengths, which is set pieces. We have Gallas and Vermaelen who we rely on to score the odd set piece and defend against the oppositions top heading players. Chelsea on the other hand have Terry, Carvalho, Ivanovic, Essien, Ballack and Drogba. This is why we need as much height as we can, in comes Diaby and Bendtner… oh… So we need Silvestre’s heading ability and ample experience against Chelsea.

    Walcott (Nasri) 65, Ramsey (Denilson) 70 would be my tactical substitutions with the third spot incase someone is injured (touch wood) or out played.

    1. In the press conference yesterday, Wenger seemed to have signaled Traore is set to start. He said that we have three left backs, unfortunately two are out leaving him with one. That could only be Traore indicating also Silvestre is only a back-up for Gallas. Like you feel, Silvestre will be my choice at LB because of his height.

    1. I don’t unfortunately. But there are a lot of readers/commentators on blogs who have interesting viewpoints on football but don’t write or at least not regularly. I think you can agree those comments in this site have been of a high quality and very interesting.

  14. Arsenal’s strength lies in playing through the center. We must look to free Cesc. For this we must exploit Chelsea’s weakness-lack of width. Arsenal has to play through the wings to pull the chelsea midfielders. We need to stretch them up. This will in turn allow us to play through the center. We need to move quickly and pass swiftly to open them up.

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