Useful men ship Arsenal to shape and help tame Tigers

Denilson and Diaby were key complementers to Arsenal’s defensive and attacking side of the game, helping the Gunners to a 3-0 win.
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In his playing days (and even now as the boss of Selecao), Brazil midfielder Dunga always seemed to be playing with the metaphorical middle finger up at his critics. Sneered despite his success, eventually leading the national side to World Cup glory in ’94, he just wasn’t Brazilian enough – European even, meaning helping achieve the end result was more important than how it preceded.

He was the ultimate volante – the destroyer – a hard tackler, constantly harrying the opponents and crucially, holding the team together so as to let them flourish. “I know there are things I can’t do on the pitch,” Dunga once said. “But there are other things which I think I do very well. And they are the things which help us get results. And that is what matters.”

Ironically, however, his style of play rather divides opinion like no other. The late Zizinho and star attacking midfielder in the 1950 World Cup, like much of his contemporaries, was rather critical of Dunga. In his autobiography in 1985, he wrote “the cabeca-de-area [midfielder who sits in front of the centre backs], a man who can control 70% of his team’s possession, has now been given the specific function of destroying, when it should be to set up the play” (quote referenced from Tim Vickery).

Arrigo Sacchi, the former AC Milan manager and revolutionary tactician, whose ideas rather unintentionally contributed, similarly agrees. “Many believe that football is about the players expressing themselves,’ he said. ‘But that’s not the case. Or, rather, it’s not the case in and of itself. The player needs to express himself within the parameters laid out by the manager.” And speaking in Jonathan Wilson’s book, Inverting the Pyramid about his brief tenure as Real Madrid’s director during the first Galactico era, he also added: “There was no project; it was about exploiting qualities,” he said. “So, for example, we knew that Zidane, Raul and Figo didn’t track back, so we had to put a guy in front of the back four who would defend.”

But that’s reactionary football. It doesn’t multiply the players’ qualities exponentially. Which actually is the point of tactics: to achieve this multiplier effect on the players’ abilities. In my football, the regista – the playmaker – is whoever had the ball. But if you have Makelele, he can’t do that. He doesn’t have the ideas to do it, although, of course, he’s great at winning the ball. It’s become all about specialists. Is football a collective and harmonious game? Or is it a question of putting x amount of talented players in and balancing them with y amount of specialists?”

The two questions Sacchi posed, can also be applied, albeit loosely, to Arsenal’s football. It was the Denilson’s goal right before the stroke of half-time which ultimately decided the remaining tone of the match against Hull City but he, Diaby and Song were also crucial in their roles as Arsenal assumed control of the game.

Denilson’s role in particularly is very intriguing. Playing in this game as the auxiliary midfielder, this season he has acted as the balancer alongside the now de facto holding player Alex Song. “Denilson gives us stability,” said Wenger. “Because we’re a team that goes forward, we need to win the ball back in strong positions and he contributes to that. He’s a good passer and keeps it simple – which is always a sign of class.”

For a team like Arsenal to work, the side needs players like Denilson and Song, the latter coming on leaps and bounds in his technical game. The Brazilian also representing a similar shift in his native country. Now many teams are playing with two volante, one purely holding and the other as a functionary midfielder, covering for gaps and giving stability in transitions and when the full back attacks. But it’d be harsh on Denilson to state he is a functionary player. An all-round midfielder is a more apt description and being able to perform many roles in one allows the team to flourish.

Back to the game against Hull and the side found it difficult to cut open a resilient and focused Tigers defence. Many would have chewed over what was a largely negative report of the first half from the mainstream press but in truth the away side made it difficult to play. It wasn’t until Denilson decided to take free-kick matters into his own hands when Arsenal could step up a gear as the midfielder’s free kick dipped into the bottom corner. Eduardo finished off a great move after a one-two between Diaby and Song before the former capped up a good win with a powerful move and finish after linking up with Andrey Arshavin.

Arsenal: Almunia, Eboué, Vermaelen, Gallas, Silvestre, Song, Denilson, Nasri (Ramsey), Diaby*, Eduardo (Walcott), Arshavin (Vela).
Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Sagna, Wilshere, Emmanuel-Thomas.

Hull: Myhill, McShane, Zayatte, Gardner, Dawson, Boateng, Garcia, Geovanni, Barmby, Hunt, Fagan.
Subs: Duke, Mendy, Kilbane, Ghilas, Cousin, Vennegoor of Hesselink, Olofinjana.
Referee: Steve Bennett (Kent).

Arsenal Team Statistics Hull City
3 Goals 0
1 1st Half Goals 0
4 Shots on Target 3
11 Shots off Target 4
5 Blocked Shots 2
8 Corners 0
9 Fouls 17
0 Offsides 4
1 Yellow Cards 5
0 Red Cards 0
83.5 Passing Success 71.2
27 Tackles 25
81.5 Tackles Success 68
65.3 Possession 34.7
53 Territorial Advantage 47
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26 thoughts on “Useful men ship Arsenal to shape and help tame Tigers

  1. good post, and very true. great to see everyone get stuck in after Nas literally pu the boot in, i like to see a bit of that, especially when teams like Hull feel like they are quite within thier rights to play a physical game against us. we need more of that attitude. it help the team pull together and fight for a common cause.

    glad to see eduardo get on the scoresheet too, although he did his best to miss fron 2 feet out.

  2. i can appreciate what you’re saying but i believe Daiby will give arsenal midfield more dynatism with its versitility than denilson can, i can see improvement in denison but he needs to bulk up(get stronger in his legs).Diaby can be emense in the defence area like song and if the manager instill the right discipline in him ithink a midfield of Sond, Daiby & Cesc is the answer.
    Diaby between song and the atttacking midfield that Cesc brings but he would have to maintain discipline. he is a good dribbler, he can heads tha ball and his willing to shoot from outside the box, he probably have the hardest kick of all the arsenal players, and a intimidating tackler.
    One of the main reason why we find it hard to break down opponents when they park there bus in front of there goal is that we dont mix it up enough. we got to be willing to shoot the ball from outside the box a little more, when the defence see us shooting from outside the box, they have to advace to close us down hence leaving space behind them to be exploit.

    1. Hi. I didn’t really get to time to talk about Diaby but regular readers will know how much he is rated in the side. The confidence he had on the ball was reminiscent of the first one and a half seasons he was at the club.

      His movement was fantastic, culminating in a fantastic performance on the left in the Carling Cup final defeat to Chelsea. He made triangles and had the ability to pass it simple, playing one match at Bolton in DM and Denilson higher up.

      He’s started to regain that confidence and he sees his position in between the lines, where he can be as dynamic as anyone and links up play effectively.

      1. Yes – I don’t see an either or debate of Diaby vs. Denilson – but a best 3 of four with Song, Denilson, Diaby and Cesc depending on fitness, suspensions, and opponent. And Diaby’s dynamism creates the possibility of playing him wide and having all four on the field. This might be particularly useful when facing a talented attacking fullback who needs to be neutralized.

  3. Hi all, top report Brain.
    Song played really well today along with Denilson and Diaby. I did’t think Song played as a pure ‘volante’. He got forward and helped out in the attack. Denilson’s free kick was fabulous. Diaby showed us all what he really can be. If he is fit and firing, he is everything a premier league Manager can dream for.
    In the second half we played a lot better. Arshavin was able to link up a little more. Hull allowed us to play in their half and our midfield was able to link up better with Arshavin, especially Diaby.

    On another note Brain, how do you think a team can effectively counter a 4-6-0 formation/system?

  4. Against Burnley, Diaby seemed to have an electric collar a la Makelele on that didn’t allow him past the center circle. Against Hull, he was able to maraud forward to find the spaces left by Eduardo and Arshivin’s movement. It made all the difference.

  5. Remember Felipe Melo? The guy just won the Golden Bin award in Italy for the worst player in Serie A. It’s a sad honour to receive but taking him off in 30 minutes in the 2-1 defeat to Catania shows you the problem with these functional players. He has good power and a decent long passing range, but his decision making and short passing is horrendous and was quickly taken off.

    Song and Denilson, have always had more to them and it’s great they are showing what they can do.

    @ KV; Is this about your FIFA tactics? Anyway, I had someone say play a 3-6-1 or something similar. Unorthodox but may work if a team has the right players. Certainly it’s about watching the runners so you will require a sweeper-midfielder in front of the defence to help if you want to keep a back four. Or simply matching the layout could work (i.e. 4-3-3). But I would say best, is to play to your strengths and of course paying attention to your opponents strategy is important also, but build that around your players at your disposal.

    1. Hi Brain.
      It was indeed about the fifa tactics. As you suggested, I tried the 3-6-1 tactic. It was pretty effective. With a massive midfield like that, you can really control the middle with short passes and you can also recover the ball easily if you lose it. I also made the striker a false nine which made a more effective. In professional difficulty, I managed to amass 90 passes in 4 minutes, with 4 goals!
      Maybe you can do a piece on the unorthodox tactics such as 4-6-0, 3-6-1, etc. It does exist in real football. I can remember Australia playing it in the world cup. I guess they are the tactics of the future.
      Thanks.

  6. I thought the Denilson-Diaby-Song middle three was very well balanced, with one of the three filling in any gaps another left by taking over that role briefly.

    Everyone knows the technique Diaby has at his disposal, it’s just been a matter of decision making, concentration and injuries. If he puts in performances like that week in week out we’ll have a mighty power house of a midfielder (And injuries permitting we’ll have adequate cover during the ACN).

    I thought Ramsey and Vela were effective when they came on, linking well with all the players, Walcott showed why he can be a threat but why he’s not ready for a starting spot.

    Almunia was also much improved, needs to improve his distribution and still looks worried about playing as the sweeper keeper.

  7. May be a slightly controversial idea, but what are your (Brain or anyone happening to read this) views on Diaby playing the attacking midfield role (the one usually assumed by Fabregas) away from home whilst Van Persie and Bendtner are injured?

    One of our problems since the losses of the abovementioned, is that we lack sufficient height to play the direct ball to the forwards and relieve pressure. On tough away days, this has been exacerbated, with teams pushing high up the pitch, and our side showing a general inability to retain the ball effectively in the final third.

    Diaby can push up to take down the aerial ball, as well as having the necessary quick feet and power to retain the ball in tight areas and open up space.

    California Gooner, you make a good point about the tacit electric collar. The reason he has not been pushing up in such a manner during the course of the season is that he has an onus to play a more defensive role when Fabregas is playing, in order to allow the Spaniard more creative freedom, and help cover for Song during one of the Cameroonian’s forays forward.

    kv, I appreciate the comment wasn’t aimed at me, but if you’re talking about a 4-6-0 such as the one we’re playing, then you will notice that our midfield is always lopsided, meaning a cross-field ball can leave a winger one on one with a full-back. By this I mean, if play has gone down the right-flank (our left), Diaby/Denilson (whoever’s on the left side) will move over to help cover the left-back, which means Song and Fabregas will shift along also. This leaves a huge gap down the otherwise of the pitch, and if a cross-field ball was played, Sagna/Eboue could be left exposed against a dangerous winger – a winger who will likely have ample room to build up pace in his run.
    Further, it’s also worth noting our full-backs push up a lot to provide width. Playing a channel-running forward can prove an effective method against such a system – remember how well the likes of Fagan and Zamora have done against us in recent matches?

    1. I’ve mentioned Eboue for the right wing forward position before but I’d rather see Diaby there if he’s going to put in performances like that and play the role that Nasri/Rosicky have been playing (The half winger) and to a lesser extent Bendtner before them.

      His decision making and concentration were excellent on Saturday and were solid/good against Burnley. Those were always his major problems since his injury at Sheffield United.

      He’s a player who has the technique and physique to play anywhere on the pitch and he does have experience as a half winger/attacking midfielder.

      That would allow us to keep the Song-Denilson-Fabregas setup which provides stability, ball retention, pressure and ample creativity while giving us Diaby’s drive and height in the final third (he’s starting to use it at last).

    2. Actually, if you watch from goal kicks closely enough, you will see, especially when there is less height in the team that Wenger looks to push Diaby more higher to win headers.

      I would be more inclined to play Diaby behind the main forward rather than Fabregas role as the dictator (or interior if you like). But in the 4-3-3, if Denilson tucks in closer to Song, it can free up Diaby to move higher. He needs to be clever in that movement as Fabregas has been. Nevertheless, Diaby’s effect is more higher up the pitch, more between the lines hence Wenger’s comments.

      On the wing, the team had movement against Hull but lacked dynamism to complement the attack in the first half. Wenger’s trying to balance with one side more direct, the other more intricate but injuries have hampered that notion. You need to have both in the modern game.

  8. Villas counter attacking game will cause us problems and Diaby will have to have another excellent game if he is to cope with the likes of milner and petrov who will maraud him.

    Diaby had an excellent game v hull his movement and ball control was great to see. However he has done well all season against lesser sides.

    Villa will be a different proposition all together and if he can play well again maybe he could turn the corner and push on.

    We will have to play smart against villa and by that I mean not over commit the FBs as the likes of young and gabby will get in behind and be 1 on 1 with a defender.

    It will be a great game and I forsee plenty of goals

  9. How about playing a diamond midfield against Villa when Cesc returns? Diaby, Denilson and Song are playing quite well too. We can play Arshavin and Walcott/Nasri/Eduardo upfront. o you think it will work?

    1. I have no qualms about the system as such but will it play into Villa’s hands? They will probably look to play at a high tempo, direct and look to attack on the wings. The key to that will that will be handing some of the initiative to Arsenal and they can exploit in transitions and playing through Carew.

      The team would have movement if you put in Nasri on the right of the diamond but would it have dynamism? Or would the movement be creating the dynamism? I like the front pairing, the midfield is still an unknown quality but has exciting potential. But I think we can squash any chances of a change in system – the 4-3-3 looks likely to remain.

    2. I agree with the Brain on this one. With our current personnel it would make sense to play a midfield diamond and Eduardo and Arshivin up top… but it seems like the commitment to the 4-3-3 is total, although with Nasri on the right, it may look a lot like a midfield diamond. What I would like to see is a formation where Diaby is free to go forward. That is the way to take advantage of movement and space created by the front 3. Cesc has been brilliant playing in a more offensive position, but I think we might benefit from having him drop back a little and push Diaby forward. Alas, I doubt that will happen either.

  10. Hi Brain,

    about the Brazilian ‘volantes’, it is necessary to point out that Denilson, were he still playing his football in Brazil, would probably be assigned to a more advanced ‘meia’ role. This is because, deep-lying midfielders in Brazil are almost exclusively destructive – both of them (since most teams play with two)i.e., it is like playing two Flaminis in central mid! Denilson can function alongside a more robust defensive midfielder such as Song in a pairing – then again, by Brazilian standards Song is too cultured to be considered a volante, ditto Yaya Toure, ditto Busquets, ditto Alonso, Carrick etc. I also think that Denilson (like Cesc and Xavi) can play slightly ahead and wide of the defensive pivot (what the Spanish call an ‘interior’)- ideally in a 4-3-3 or a midfield diamond.

  11. @ drwtw

    I’m glad you’ve changed your mind on Eboue at outside-forward, since for me this is a waste of an attacking position. No matter how attacking a full-back is, such players are athletes, box-to-box runners and not classical outside-forwards (i.e., wingers like Overmars and Robben) or mobile second-strikers (Messi and Arshavin, even Robin Van Persie for Holland).

    Whenever I see Eboue anywhere on the teamsheet except right-back I’m thinking “Arsene must be switching to more of a 4-4-2 today, in order to shore up the midfield..hence Eboue”.

    1. I haven’t changed my mind per se, I’d still prefer Eboue over Walcott and potentially Eduardo (his form has been so patchy and poor recently), it’s just if Diaby can play like he did (not hit and miss) then I’d quite like to see him play the half winger role that Nasri has been playing.

      Eboue’s criminally underrated in that position, his final ball or shot is the only thing that lets him down usually.

      1. But you could still have Eboue in the team at right-back, and thus leave an attacking space free (if you’re playing 4-3-3).

        You could also have him playing as a carrilero or box-to-box merchant in midfield in the same formation (alongside one of the creative mids and the holding mid)

        1. I don’t want him as a first team starter, I just feel he is currently a superior backup, for Bendtner/RVP/Arshavin (as a wide forward), than Walcott or Eduardo and perhaps even Vela.

          The first two are in shocking form and I really don’t want to see either forced to find their form in games and Vela hasn’t really been given a chance for me to trust him entirely.

          I guess it’s all irrelevant now anyway since Eboue is off to the ACN and Bendtner back soonish!

        2. I love the carrilero or box-to-box merchant role as displayed by Ramires or Elano for Brazil. It would be a fantastic fit for Eboue who it may suit better. Also it may take a bit of pressure off him because as drwtw says, in the final third he seems to lack the final ball and is indecisive despite the difficulty of getting in that position in the first place.

          Playing him in such a role, could allow for Fabregas or whoever to push up more regularly and Arshavin to play closer to the main forward if indeed he played on the left.

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