Arsenal’s dynamic dribbling duo can drive the Gunners to glory

The benching of Arsenal’s too most gifted dribblers due to slight knocks did not help the Gunners’ cause in the 1-1 draw to Birmingham.

Two goals. One had a bit of luck; the other was dizzyingly graceful. Yet both were just rewards for the almost impudent desire of both players – although paved with good intentions – to get as close to the goal as possible. Samir Nasri’s jinxing and hypnotic run and finish against FC Porto may last longer in the memory than Andrey Arshavin’s flick between two Hull defenders but the goals evoked memories of the golden age of the dribbler. And while the one man masterclass that is Lionel Messi shows week-in-week-out in La Liga that the art of the dribble is far from dead, modern tactics set out to make sure it’s becoming a marginalised trade. At best, however, the dribbler is a game-breaking trait to have and Arsenal’s movement increased ten-fold with the introduction of Nasri and Arshavin in the 1-1 draw against Birmingham.

The two ends of the spectrum were in some sorts displayed in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Hull City as the home side looked to remain compact and overcrowd the space in the centre for Arsenal’s more technically proficient players to play. As a result, Samir Nasri – the Gunner’s highest central midfielder – found his best work to be when linking up with the players out wide. At it was it was Andrey Arshavin who did find the early goal but even that, expectedly was hard work as he was instantly surrounded by three Hull defenders before firing in. As displayed by these examples, if the wide areas are the positions with the most space, then it is far better off taking advantage of them with your most gifted dribblers. Indeed, that represents part of Arsene Wenger’s thinking when deploying such players as the Marseilles man on the flanks – his ingenuity allowing Arsenal to retain a passing style but still possessing the option to be more dynamic. “What is important is to keep the balance between giving the ball in the final third and scoring goals,” said Wenger after Nasri’s goal against Porto. “On this occasion he made the right decision and has the talent to do it.” And he also added: “He is a very intelligent boy, a quiet boy. He analyses what is happening on the pitch very quickly. He has good technical potential…I believe with the pace he has he can play on the flanks.”

Following Wenger’s ideology early this season of having two different types of wingers on each flank, usually one dynamic and one more technical (although that has recently been challenged by deploying Rosicky and Nasri on opposite flanks to control play better), Nasri’s best chances of starting is on the right, with the left side most likely to be occupied by Arshavin. The Russian can sometimes feel like an incorrigible maverick but Wenger is in no illusions as to his explosiveness. “He is always marked very tight and people do not give him a lot of room,” said the manager. “Everybody who plays against Arshavin says ‘make sure you mark him tight’. But even when he is marked tight in some of the so-called less big games, when you look at the tape afterwards, you always think ‘this movement was good’, or ‘this pass was great’. He always turns up with something special. He can be quiet for 20 minutes, and then suddenly turn up with something decisive. That is what you want from the big players – the big players make you win the big games.” Indeed, at Porto it was arguably his dynamic play, creating three of the goals which helped turn Arsenal’s fortune around.

Dribblers can feel a chancy luxury to have and that is perhaps why managers are more reluctant to play them out wide as it requires quick acceleration made all the more difficult as there is less room to run at the full-back on his outside foot and can lead to moves breaking down. Nevertheless it’s the variation and dynamism that they provide which can turn matches as shown by Arjen Robben’s tantalising displays against Fiorentina, scoring the all-decisive third goal to send Bayern Munich through.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Wilson has so expertly analysed the increasing use of wingers on the opposite sides to their preferred feet but while that makes dribbling easier (allows the winger to attack the full-back’s weaker side) that is not specifically the main advantage that is to be exploited. In Fulham’s recent 3-1 defeat to Tottenham, Damien Duff starting on the right, hardly spent much of the game attacking his man directly as he found cutting in would only lead to more congestion so he realised if he was to succeed in dribbling, it was to in dribbling with movement. The goal he created for Bobby Zamora was created by doubling up in the centre, leaving the left-back Assou-Ekotto with no-one to mark and forcing the central defender, Sebastien Bassong to push up to deal with the extra man he became. In tandem with Arjem Robben at Chelsea under Jose Mourinho, the dribblers found a new dimension starting on the ‘wrong’ flank so as to say and which complemented the team’s style.

It seems like the game is taking a holistic route and if it is true as former Ecuador manager Luis Fernando Suarez argues, that taking advantage of wide areas is the key to opening up teams, that can only be exploited best by what’s happening around you. Antonio Valencia has particularly profited for Manchester United by the way his side build up play, allowing him to stretch play on the right as the opposing full-back is forced to tuck inside because of United’s moving of the ball from left to right. And in moments, the defender got too tight he found space to exploit in the centre, winning the penalty against Liverpool by running on the inside of Insua and causing the foul by Mascherano.

And so returning to the 1-1 draw at Birmingham, the starting line-up featuring a front three of Theo Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner and Tomas Rosicky instantly looked worrying at St. Andrews – even more so than the pitch. No real unpredictability and not enough complementation, Walcott was always going to struggle with a lack of creativity in the line up not helped by his style. Switching to the left flank may have been another option yet you couldn’t help think the versatility and explosiveness of Nasri and Arshavin were huge losses in opening up the Blues defence.


25 thoughts on “Arsenal’s dynamic dribbling duo can drive the Gunners to glory

  1. Eboue is arsenal’s best dribbler bar NONE. RVP, Song and diaby are amazing as well. Nasri, rosicky, clichy and cesc are very good but arshavin is relatively average. Hes had a few nice moments but more often than not his close control looks a bit below the standards of some of the other players. He has many great qualities but dribbling isnt his strongest point.
    Walcott can be a really good dribbler at times but vela has better close control.

  2. nasri is a great driller but to be fair it is eboue vela is also very good as well as ashavin walcott should realy be the best if he gets it right he could be as good as messi are better

  3. Eboue is a very good dribbler also, but if you look at dribbling in thight situations then the writer is right Nasri and ARsh are best and maybe Diaby if you’re talking about very technical dribbling.

    1. Completely disagree with you there.
      Eboue is the best overall dribbler because he combines pace, strength AND control; and he’s certainly better than arshavin in tight situations, maybe nasri is a closer comparison.
      Diaby and song are both amazing in the tight situations, better than eboue or nasri imo. I think diaby might have a bit extra pace over alex that allows him to turn and glide away with greater ease, but song can glue the ball to his feet, like makelele used to do.

  4. I think arshavin benefits from his reputation.
    Its like how henry always used to have ridiculously high dribbling ratings in computer games because he was a great player overall, so it was just a given that he could dribble at 95 out of 100 or something. In fact he wasnt that good a dribbler but was super quick and could occasionally beat defenders with ease. Same goes for pires really. He was always considered a good dribbler when he rarely beat players 1-on-1, at least thats true in his later years when the scored all his goals.
    Arshavin has done a couple of fantastic runs since hes been at arsenal, but many more times hes tried and failed miserably, he has other qualities that make him a top player. Eboue on the other hand does it extremely consistently. Hes extremely hard to stop.

    1. Hleb was the best dribbler at the club while he was here, you couldn’t get the ball off him without fouling him during 07/08.
      Watching the Stuttgart vs Barcelona game however it appears he’s an utter shadow of his former self.

  5. Eboue? Don’t make me laugh. He does the same thing every time. A few feints and fakes and then goes outside. He has great break away pace but his dribbling doesn’t come close to Arshavin or Nasri. Have you ever seen Eboue go past Ashley Cole or Evra? No! Nasri has gotten the better of both on occasions whilst Arshavin’s close dribbling is uncanny. There is no way in a million years Eboue could score a goal like Nasri’s against Porto. I like the player but without his explosive pace he is very limited

    1. Arshavin’s dribbling is sometimes amazing then utterly terrible at the next attempt.
      Nasri is great, he just needs to utilise his pace and power a bit better.

    1. That is probably because he mostly plays in the final third of the pitch, and is looking to get past defenders. Diaby and Eboue play deeper comparatively, and cannot afford to try to dribble around players and lose the ball. I still think Arsh and Nasri can dribble the ball much better than Eboue, but I guess that’s a moot point. The question should be, is each player playing his role in the game and helping the team win.

  6. think sami is the best as he has the quickest feet so can control the ball better.
    andrey is the most determined he doesnt care if you get a touch on the ball he still gona take it past you.
    eboue lets face he very good running with it but getting past people he likes to fall over and take the freekick.
    great piece as always brain.

  7. its like people dont know the meaning of “dribble”. how can somenone say eboue is better at this than nasri and arshavin. what eboue does is just run with the ball and hopes he puts it in the right place. can u give eboue the ball between three defenders and goes past them? i doubt it. on the other hand wath nasri get the ball from the left then he will dance his way through 3 or even 5 players trying to get the ball off him and thats waht we call dribbling. ARSHAVIN is a genius, i know sometimes it doesnt work but watch what arshavin does with the ball, he takes the most impossible routes and succeeds. he can make a defender look silly when they’re not. arsh and nasri are genius full stop and as goog as eboue is he’s nowhere near these two………………………….

    1. Such rubbish
      Eboue constantly beats multiple defenders. You dont do that so consistsntly by just “hoping to put it in the right place”.
      Ive seen arshavin do that once or twice, but on most occasions when he attempts a run he messes it up.
      Nasris close control is brilliant, but he cant beat players as easily as eboue.
      Arshavin’s close control is clearly not on the level of many others at arsenal. Sorry but it’s true. Watch him more closely.

    1. Eboue can cut inside and power past players with pace, but rarely with skill. Once again I say, do you honestly think Eboue could score a goal like Nasri’s v Porto? That was dribbling masterclass. Unbelievable awareness of timing, distance and balance. Anyhoo, agree to disagree perhaps. Looking forward to next discussion. I think Eduardo should be loaned out next year and Rosicky sold. Neither of them look the same.

      1. I think people confuse what I consider dribbling e.g. what we see Messi do week in week out, or the goal against Porto from Nasri with “driving runs” that we see from Eboue (I’d also say this is what C.Ronaldo does).
        I’m indifferent to the fate of Eduardo at the moment but as for Rosicky he’s an immense player to have as a backup for Nasri/Arshavin or even the CM’s if things get really bad. He’s unlikely to ever reach his maximum ability again but a squad player of his experience and quality is a genuine blessing.

        1. Yes, I would agree that Eboue is a driver of the ball; someone who uses others movement to great effect and likes to support players in possession. But ultimately, Nasri and Arshavin can give that variety in the final third although Eboue pushing on from RB has been a great weapon.

  8. Hi,

    I won’t get to do the match preview which is disappointing but these are my two cents;
    1) Diaby and Song key to disrupt Barcelona’s rhythm not necessarily with strength but their general ball winning and retention to create impetus,
    2) Iniesta is a big miss as there is no-one to play that assymetric 4-2-4 that he wants on the left without playing a proper winger like Henry or Pedro – Messi may have to start on the left although you also wouldn’t bet in Guardiola still going attacking and trusting his players,
    3) Barcelona have looked poorer in the middle of the pitch without Iniesta complementing Xavi in some way or another. Busquets and Toure to some degree are quite withdrawn.
    4) It may be good for Arsenal to keep a couple of players higher up the pitch. It worked for Atletico, Villarreal and USA against Spain, and it can maybe expose the space behind Pique and Puyol and whom have a lack of pace.
    5) Do you stop Messi by limiting his support? May be the best way and Arsenal cannot give time to Xavi although if he plays deep as expected then it will be difficult.
    6)It all depends on how each side is organised and squeezes play. It may not be in Arsenal’s nature to be too compact which may help but I will point out once again that Diaby and Song will be key in moments of transitions. If Fabregas is out that may be a big blow but others have imporved considerably so Nasri stepping in may imporve the collective balance and desire.

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