No false dawn about Andrey Arshavin experiment

Andrey Arshavin was the fulcrum to Arsenal’s attacks as his movement helped defeat Stoke City.

You’ll never win anything with midgets was the common maxim before the game, started no less than by the impish Andrey Arshavin. Maybe that was all part of a double bluff as the Russian inspired Arsenal to a comfortable two-goal victory over a Stoke side giant in stature, as the spearhead of the attack.

A “period of re-adaptation” was inevitably going to be needed following Robin van Persie’s injury according to Arsene Wenger and three defeats later, the manager may have found his answer. Arshavin was always the natural answer to van Persie’s movement at the tip of the 4-3-3 after for some reason, Eduardo has failed to adapt to the role. Indeed, the Croatian missed out in this game after suffering a minor muscle injury which allowed Arshavin to lead the line.

If Arsenal were to win this game, it was only going to be through movement; pace was at a premium with only Eboue and Traore able to offer on that front so variety and unpredictability had to come through runs off the ball and quick support. And with Andrey Asrhavin as the fulcrum constantly darting in and out of position, the Stoke central defenders found it difficult to keep up with Gunners approach play. “I had many technical players around him with Rosicky, Nasri, Fabregas, Eboue, and all penetrating from deep positions,” said Wenger. “That is needed when you have a player like Arshavin.” For the first goal, he drifted to the left, interchanging passes with Fabregas before firing low past Thomas Sorenson. The opener was sandwiched in between a penalty miss by the Arsenal skipper and Eboue denying the same player with a goal line block.

Arshavin’s low centre of gravity and ability to see openings one step further than most lent him well in adapting to the role. Indeed the question is, was Arshavin playing as a false nine? Certainly it is a vague definition. While Berbatov and Ibrahimovic have moments where they drop deep into space, they are still very comfortable in leading the line. Tim Cahill filled in as the main striker last season for Everton but he was merely playing as a midfielder in a number nines clothing.

Here, Arshavin’s natural tendencies led him to drop away from the defender and as such mainly operated in the second striker area. This made it difficult for either central defender to decide whether to stick with him or stay back and as a result conceded space. The danger however, was that with Stoke defending as deep as they were, the team may lose some directness. But Arshavin cleverly looked to combine the two roles and in the first half in particular found himself in more orthodox striking positions although his composure let him down. However, it was playing on the shoulder which created the second, Ramsey driving through and receiving the ball back from Arshavin before poking home. The Welshman was a second half substitute for Eboue and his introduction gave Arsenal added dynamism to allow the Gunners to finally put Stoke to bed.

Overall it was a controlled Arsenal team performance. Nasri and Denilson kept the side ticking, Fabregas continued probing but while Wenger will have been pleased with the team finding the back of the net again, he would have also been delighted with the way they handled Stoke’s physical threat. Vermaelen was totally dominant and apart from a period of early pressure, the away side did not get a look in. The Gunners are back on track but the big if is whether they can continue playing with such high level of movement.

Arsenal 2-0 Stoke City: Arshavin 26, Ramsey 79.

Arsenal: Almunia (6), Sagna (7), Gallas (7), Vermaelen (7), Traore (7) (Silvestre), Eboue (6) (Ramsey 7), Fabregas (7), Denilson (7), Nasri (8), Rosicky (6) (Vela 7), Arshavin (8)*.
Subs not used: Fabianski, Senderos, Wilshere, Merida.

Stoke: Sorensen, Wilkinson, Huth, Abdoulaye Faye, Collins, Lawrence (Fuller), Delap (Whelan), Diao, Etherington, Sanli, Sidibe (Beattie).
Subs not used: Simonsen, Higginbotham, Cort, Pugh.

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)

Arsenal Team Statistics Stoke City
2 Goals 0
1 1st Half Goals 0
7 Shots on Target 3
6 Shots off Target 1
2 Blocked Shots 1
10 Corners 2
4 Fouls 12
1 Offsides 8
0 Yellow Cards 0
0 Red Cards 0
85.4 Passing Success 67.2
22 Tackles 34
72.7 Tackles Success 82.4
67.4 Possession 32.6
54.9 Territorial Advantage 45.1


23 thoughts on “No false dawn about Andrey Arshavin experiment

  1. Hi, good analysis.
    The movement for the first goal was mesmerising to say the least. The two CBs were rooted to the spot. Everyone were moving intelligently, constantly interchanging and dropping into attacking positions. However, this sort of game plan might not work against the organised defences of Chelsea,etc. The movement was key to unlocking the Stoke defence. They left huge gaps and it is natural that a striker of Arshavin’s caliber capitalises on it. But knowing very well that teams like Chelsea field a water tight defence, this ploy may be a failure.
    We definitely need the direct, well timed runs of Walcott down the flanks or even through the middle. And a tall hybrid striker like Bendtner will do no harm.

    1. Stoke have a rather organised defense rarely lose by more than a single goal (lost 5) so I wouldn’t underestimate them in that regard.
      They aren’t Chelsea, but even in that match we had several opportunities that could have resulted in goals but that’s just not how the cookie crumbled on that day.

      1. This false nine role will not always work but if the support is there then there is no reason why Chelsea won’t have the same problems. The problem against the Blues was Eduardo played a bit too high up, more orthodox and we all know how good Chelsea are at man-marking. Torres hardly gets a sniff, nor does Crouch or did Henry.

        A team has to make sure in top-level attacking games to have two things; dynamism and movement. This tactic allows the side to have that especially if teams defend deep as as back as Chelsea did in the second half.

    2. Having watched how Arsh played the tip of a front 3 position and Watched how RVP played it as well, Eduardo has been efficient in that role bcuz he always move to far way from the danger zone thus leaving us pretty much noone to run in behind.

      The best way to play the role is limit your moveent between the width of the penalty box side-to-side and another 10 yards in front of the box to receive and link-play. Also another key is the Use of Operational Space meaning anytime CBs or fullback is out of position, the striker must make a forward run into that position and take a quick accurate 1st touch to get quick shots on goal.

      Also even if they are not out of position, the tip striker can take up positions between the CBs and fullback which effectively render the fullback out of position if the fullback doesnt take-up goalside before the striker receives the thru ball [Check RVP’s equalise against Blackburn home in 6-2 win for example]. For more on Use of Operational Space check

    1. Hi. Just been swamped with a lot of other commitments recently but from the week starting the 14th, normal service shall resume. Hopefully it’ll be worth the wait(!)

  2. I can not see Walcott being a threat. He is way too predictable and half decent left backs win the battle.

    I thought Arshavin was excellent yesterday, pulling defenders all over the place. Ramsey adds a bit extra to the team with willingness to shoot and energy.

    Rosicky was poor and fabregas did not have a good game. However Nasri looked good and helped denilson in shielding the back 4 but also in the attacking 3rd

    1. I thought Eboue played quite well and for me earned himself a place on the wide right ahead of Walcott, at least until the later gets some form going. (Something like Bendtner->Nasri/Eboue->Walcott with the left being Arshavin->Eduardo/Vela->Rosicky)

      I know Walcott is a fan favourite but for me he’s one of the few Arsenal first teamers I can’t see making as a first team regular, I just can’t see where the his role would be past an impact sub for stretching late games (e.g. Liverpool CL Away/Away last season or the AC Milan away game).

  3. Re: Theo James Walcott.

    Gunnerbegoals & drwtw

    To give you credit, the above mentioned player of Arsenal has only completed one game in 50 league matches or something along those lines. However we signed him very young and not many players are expected to be heavily involved at that age. Also, he has had rotten luck on the injury front.

    Theo has had a lot of expected of him especially since he scored THAT hatrick in Croatia. I think it was around that period that Theo was playing some of his best football to date. What makes him an exciting player no doubt is his pace when he is on the ball. However, opponents have wisened up on that or at least it appears that way. Or maybe Theo just hasn’t had time to get into gear with regards to match time.

    He would be most effective when he spends less time on the ball and more off it. Remember his involvement for Nasri’s second goal vs Utd. Opponents know he is quick and they would find it more difficult if they saw him move around into spaces which would create opportunities for the other players. Movement.

    1. finally, someone notices walcott’s movement off the ball. the goal that nasri scored against united was because walcott pulled a defender out of position and left a huge gap of space that nasri took advantage of.

      i dont know what to do with walcott b/c he has trouble with trying to cut in on the wings.
      his limited dribbling ability shows itself against quicker, more experienced opposition like ashley cole . . .
      i feel like the problem is that he does not fake out the defender enough, he just tries to go past with pace.
      the reason ronaldo and messi are so great is not just because they are fast, but because messi is great at changing pace and ronaldo can confuse fullbacks with his stepovers.
      walcott needs to know how to dribble and hold onto the ball in crowded areas. but alas it’s too late imo.
      the only way he’ll do better is if his direct runs and short crosses reach an arsenal player. he’s just gonna have to keep his cool then.
      and regarding his crosses – he needs to work on his long crossing or just stop doing them entirely.
      maybe a forward position might better utilize his direct running?

      1. Walcott’s main weakness has been that he can be crowded out too often. Teams know if you deny him space it becomes difficult for him to manufacture space. He needs to add more to his locker in that respect but like you guys say his movement, if afforded the room, is deadly. Especially if Arsenal can switch play from one side to another, then the threat of Walcott coming inside can cause problems.

        His dribbling last year was fantastic until he got crowded out; get him on a defender one-on-one and if the opposition is indecisive, they are finished.

  4. I’d want to say something about Stoke’s approach of the game. Tony Pulis did one right and one wrong thing.

    The right thing he did was to be consistent with his pregame strategy. Stoke refused to let loose long after falling behind 1-0. They played with 10 men behind the midfield line most of the game, only creeping upfield when they have a set piece or throw in. From the Arsenal point of view this is outright negativity. But from a neutral point of view, the tactic exhibits a logical consistency that’s admirably rare in football: if I think parking the bus and working on long throw-ins give me the best chance to outscore my opponents then why should I change it whether the score is 0-0 or 2-0 against my team? This tactic made Arsenal nervous for a long spell of the game, forced to take the initiative even with one goal up. To be persistent with your own logical thinking despite adversity is a mark of courage. This is not to praise Tony Pulis: have you seen anyone more stubborn with his football philosophy than our beloved Arsene?

    The one thing that Stoke probably did wrong (probably in judgment rather than in execution) is that they thought parking the bus was their best strategy to deal with us, especially here at the Emirates. Chelsea contained Arsenal not by defending but by stifling our midfield. We failed both offensively and defensively at midfield. We could not mobilize one of our extra midfielder up front to assist Eduardo and we could not put enough pressure on Ashley Cole, leaving him free on the two scoring occasion in the first half. Chelsea’s backline got to look good because Chelsea’s midfield outmaneuvered ours. Other teams that have done this against us, albeit less effectively, are West Ham and Fulham. This gives me hope because we created chance galore against a 10-men defense – we have found the solution to that approach. It gives me hope because most teams won’t outmaneuver us in midfield (including ManU) during the course of the long season.

    1. Nhan Le, I like your post and I gave it a thumbs up even though I disagree with the second part. Sometimes we are vulnerable to teams pressuring us in the midfield. But less so this year. And against Chelsea I actually thought our midfield did well. The difference, I thought, was in the finishing… and in Ashley’s two crosses. Our attack was disjointed. And Drogba is incredible when he’s on his game, and against us he always seems to be on his game.

    2. i kind of agree with california gooner about the chelsea game . . .

      except that it wasn’t just our finishing – it was the offensive third in general that failed in the chelsea game . . .

      i attribute the lack of cutting edge to the fact that eduardo was playing up front and he was lacking in many areas of play – including hold up play and sharpness in touch . . .

      his hold up play was VERY weak and therefore, we lacked a platform upon which to spring attacks. the final passes were not of the class that would have challenged chelsea, in fact tehy were awful . . .

      also, his runs into space were not effective – he was constantly man marked and we hardly had any possession in front of goal because once he had possession, he would get crowded out too quickly. he just wasn’t sharp enough to be playing in this game and his touch was like jelly . . .

      the “midfield” that beat us was the four players who packed the space in front of the back four. our midfield could not hold possession well in that area because of the holding play of mikel and essien (who had plenty of help from lampard) and thus, we could not perform those “slide rule” passes that are our trademark . . .

      we resorted to crosses from the outside and everyone knows that chelsea are the most dominant aerial side in the league and we are one of the weakest sides in this respect . . .

      the reason their attacks succeeded – i agree with nhan le here – is because we lacked a physical, defensive presence . . .

      their midfield was comfortable sitting back and launching balls forward – but we answered this question fairly well with vermaelen and gallas’ superb heading ability . . .

      however, once they started streaming bodies forward, we needed to win back possession and we had trouble doing this . . .

      once they got possession on the wings, ashley cole’s crosses were just superb – low and within the 6 yard box. we now know that our centerbacks have tons of trouble with this type of ball. i mean come on – we conceded two goals within 5 minutes of each other that were EXACTLY the same. sure, vermaelen could have just sidefooted it away on the second goal, but he didn’t . . .

      we did put defensive pressure on them, but they were big and strong enough to hold us off the ball and keep possession with just their weight. whenever they challenged us, we capitulated way too easily . . .

      on the first goal, much of the problem stemmed from the fact that arshavin was left in the middle of space when he should have been in terry or cole’s face. his positioning was weak – as he allowed cole to continue his run and tried to intercept the ball . . .

      however, the above is just nitpicking. i think the general problem with us is that we had a lack of physical presence and thus had trouble challenging for balls or holding possession. that allowed chelsea to just throw their weight around in our third once they regained possession from us in the area in front of their back four . . .

      their tactic of compacting the space between midfield and defense worked perfectly . . .

      as an alternative, we needed to catch them on the break or force the ball in from the wings, but we did neither, due to a combination of players and tactics . . .

      imo, once we lost van persie, we lost this game.

  5. a lot of our problems just stemmed from teh fact that our players were not sharp . . . eduardo, walcott and even denilson weren’t at their best because of injury.
    traore just isn’t good enough offensively – he doesn’t combine well with arshavin and couldn’t cross the ball.

    injuries conspired to destroy us once again in the chelsea game.

    we would have had a MUCH better chance of winning that game with van persie.

  6. I actually Traore does cross pretty well.. the ricochet off the bar, and a couple of other good crosses come to mind.

    Let’s wait and see if he gets better as we really have no other option there at the moment (Silvestre anyone 😦 )

    1. srry, maybe i wasn’t clear – he was good in the stoke game, but i didnt like him in the chelsea game . . . he just doesn’t have enough quality at that level.

  7. gr8 blog mate. would like to add that it seems Arshavin plays his best football when he plays at the edge of the box – almost as the 2nd striker – maybe Wenger should look to playing arshavin in a 4-4-2 with Bendtner upfront. Also agree with above poster on Walcott – i dnt think he has the intelligence/movement to play as the winger – maybe as a striker in the 70th minute or at a late stage in the game.

  8. Must say, Arshavin looked fantastic in the role – albeit whilst exhibiting some profligacy.

    Unlike Eduardo, Arshavin was more than willing to drop off the centre-backs and provide a pivot for the sides attacking play to revolve around.
    Unlike Van Persie, his acceleration and balance made him very effective at then spinning in behind any Stoke defender that opted to follow him out from the back.

    I think Arshavin upfront is now a near-mandate at home in the role, in light of Van Persie’s injury.
    However, I do have qualms with his ability to play the role on a gruelling away day.

    Whilst we are hardly a route one side, we saw against Stoke that when the ball was in our third, and Stoke pressed high, we had no direct outlet to relieve pressure. When the ball went long, Arshavin lacked the strength or height to take the ball down, and pressure the Stoke defence into moving back.
    In the tough away ganes, I feel that such a lack of a target man may leave us penned back to some extent.
    From a longer-term perspective, I would like to see Bendtner play the role away from home, with this in mind.

    As for the game itself, I think one of the main problems with Stoke’s formation is that Pulis seemed to have given into media pressure and played Tuncay.
    I can’t help but feel Tuncay was purchased without a real plan for him in mind by Pulis, and the Stoke manager had simply leaped at the chance to sign an international captain for such a bargain price.
    He clearly didn’t suit the lone striker role, and was caught offside on a multitude of occassions.

    Interestingly enough, despite his poor performance against us, I think he would perfectly suit our system with his excellent balance, touch, and creative play.
    However, trying to play him in the pragmatic role Pulis did was never going to be effective.

    1. If you play football manager (haven’t played the newest ones), you’ll know how legendary Tuncay was on that game. He reminds me of Rooney in that he works so hard but that stops him from doing the things he is best at and in the final third. Either way he doesn’t seem the most clinical despite his talent; I’ll be inclined to play him as a wide player which allows him to move between the lines (a bit like Modric, Dempsey, Benayoun, Pires) and get into goalscoring positions.
      I agree with your point about Arshavin’s presence. He actaully done well considering the opponents but in that respect hardly seems like a long term option (with RVP’s injury it’s eemingly long term). But watching Barcelona the past few years, an interchangeable attack of Bendtner, Arshavin and Eduardo/Walcott could be deadly. Eduardo likes to play off players so you would be inclined to play him wide and at times switch around (like Robinho for Brazil). Definitely the marking will be very disrupted in switching the three around.

  9. Not sure if you saw the Man Utd game, but many still think that using a 3-5-2 formation is out dated, Ferguson used it with his makeshift defence, and they held reasonably firm against a team that scores goals.

    It should come as no surprise though, Sir Alex Ferguson stole the Roma 4-6-0 and perfected, and I’m certain he has seen that when you don’t have all your best players, a 3-5-2 adds good balance and variety in both defence and attack. I sure hope Arsene Wenger is also watching Serie A, we are one 1 defender away from having to use Silvestre in defence, so to circumvent this, he could use a 3-5-2 as well, use one of Gallas/Vermaelen whoever isn’t injured, Sagna and Silvestre as a back 3, Eboue on the right, Gibbs/Traore on the left as wing backs in the 5, Song-Billong, Fabregas, Nasri in the middle and any of our strikers as a duo.

    This is just a pipe dream though, Wenger is rarely flexible, and it sucks seeing Ferguson have players able to be so tactically versatile and Ferguson being ready to embrace a different playing style to suit the conditions and opponents. No wonder the teams that have beaten Wolfsburg in the Bundesliga this year have focussed on their flanks and having an extra defender to pick up Dzeko/Grafite as they are such a tricky duo.

    1. Interesting post, NewGooner. I saw that ManU has been very effective while even more devastated by injuries then even we are. But didn’t get to see the games. It sucks to have to admire ManUre, but there we have it.

      However, I think that our 4-3-3 often is more of a 3-4-3 or 3-5-2, or even 3-6. I saw a heat map of where our players were against Stoke and Traore actually played almost exactly in the same area as Rosicky and Vela. He actually spent most of the game in Stoke’s half of the field. At the same time, one of our three front men (Rosicky/Vela in this case) will usually play in a more withdrawn role.

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