Speed of passing remains key for Arsène Wenger’s side

Despite seeing his side outclassed at Camp Nou last season, technical efficiency and movement remains Arsenal’s forte.
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Theo Walcott apparently personifies the stereotypical anatomy of English football; that of “kick and rush.”  All running and no brain he is, according to Chris Waddle. His exclusion from the England squad indicates that Fabio Capello is looking for a more methodical approach which, in all likelihood, may see the Three Lions revert back to the rigidness and “organised muscularity” that has been both the bane and brilliance of England during the years.

Theo Walcott does have his fans however with Brazil’s World Cup winning captain in 1970, Carlos Alberto* picking out the winger-come-striker as the type of player who can offer his team a direct outlet to break from the compactness and short passing likely to be displayed by many teams in the World Cup.

Speed will not beat brains – but it is increasingly about teams having the balance of the two. Speaking of Zinedine Zidane, director of Real Madrid Jorge Valdano said the Frenchman’s “advances are slow but his decisions are agile.” What Valdano means is that, in a rapidly moving game, what set him apart  was his speed of thought and execution. Indeed analysts at the German Sport University Cologne found that the essence of European football nowadays is speed: players are running more (an average of 10 kilometres, 6.2 miles per game) and the ball is circulating quicker therefore decisions need to be made in a snap (the deepest midfielder is typically in possession of the ball for an average of less than one second per contact). At particular moments of Hiddink’s reign and in the second half of this season, Micheal Ballack has been preferred to the more cumbersome Jon Obi Mikel and indeed, German coach Joachim Löw will need to find a solution to his captain’s efficient distribution following his injury. (The finding from the university helped shape Löw’s Euro 2008 tactics and one such ploy was to force opposing wingers inside to the compact block – a tactic which is increasingly prevalent in Europe).

Ruud Gullit waxed lyrical about Wesley Sneijder’s technical efficiency during the Champions League final, effusively highlighting  that Sneijder rarely touches the ball twice in attacking movements and always finds the opportunity to make quick first-time passes to stretch opposition defences. Paul Simpson, editor of Champions magazine, in contrast analysed opponents Bayern Munich’s sloth-like decision-making – this coming from the side who’s rapid interchange of the ball from left to right – with ten men – brutally tired Lyon into submission in the semi-finals. “The only way to beat Inter was to attack them at speed – by that I don’t just mean physical pace but the speed with which the ball travels – and Bayern’s players sometimes took seven touches before passing,” wrote Paul Simpson.

Speed of passing is not lost on Arsène Wenger also who has always modelled his sides on being mobile and technically above the rest. However, despite seeing his side outclassed in that respect by Barcelona’s magicians, Wenger still remains committed to sticking with his philosophies. “Both sides like to play a quick passing game,” he said when discussing the scant positives of the 6-3 aggregate defeat.

The changes in season 2009/10 had sought to make his side more dynamic which, while on the whole have worked, the degree of its effectiveness has been severely affected by injuries and inexperience hindering decision-making and tactical awareness so crucial to the system. In particular, the attacking momentum seemed to suffer with the loss of key forwards – chiefly Robin van Persie (although you can also put a big case forward for Nicklas Bendtner too).

Wenger sees van Persie in the Marco van Basten type mould, having seemingly revised his Dennis Bergkamp type comparisons only the season before. The statistics indicating to him was that van Persie was more suited to making quick decisions higher up the pitch rather than in the hole where he would occasionally take that split second longer, anticipating for the movement he essentially should be at the end of. “Technical superiority can be measured,” said Wenger in Total Youth Football Magazine in 2008. “If I know that the passing ability of a player is averaging 3.2 seconds to receive the ball and pass it, and suddenly he goes up to 4.5, I can say to him, ‘Listen, you keep the ball too much, we need you to pass it quicker.’ If he says ‘no’, I can say look at the last three games – 2.9 seconds, 3.1, 3.2, 4.5. He’ll say, ‘People around me don’t move so much!’ But you have the statistics there to back you up, too.” Former Arsenal midfielder, Stewart Robson is in agreement also: “The key to Arsenal playing well, being penetrative and dynamic, is when players turn on the ball,” says former Arsenal midfielder Stewart Robson. “When they’ve got their back to goal, suddenly they turn and look to play the next ball forward. Van Persie is brilliant is that, he can turn and run with the ball. He makes goals, he scores goals and with that left foot he is a constant threat.”

In midfield, Alex Song carries the same get-and-give efficiency that convinced Wenger to splash out on Gilberto Silva after the 2002 World Cup while love him or hate him, Abou Diaby’s transition from defence to attack will be a key weapon in years to come. But much still depends on captain Cesc Fabregas’ influence and whose tug of war with his heart-strings Arsenal must win. The notion that he will not get into the Barcelona side is wrong as there is not a more penetrative central midfielder in world football as Cesc Fabregas (although he is at the moment not Pep Guardiola’s first choice recruit).

Certainly with the uncertainty surrounding Fabregas’ future and Marouane Chamakh’s arrival, much anticipation surrounds the way Arsenal will line-up next season. Chamakh could certainly slot into the right side of the three-pronged attack although it is not his best position while a popular move would be to push Andrey Arshavin behind the main forward to boost penetration should Fabregas not remain. “You see that a guy never loses the ball, so you look at the number of times he passes the ball forward,” says Arsène Wenger. “You can get to the point where you can say, ‘I prefer the one who loses the ball a bit more but tries to play it forward.’” Wenger is adamant, however, that the Russian’s one-on-one skills aid the team better on the flanks.

Nevertheless, just as Carlos Alberto saw key earlier on, how Arsène Wenger sets out his side next season will just as much be about a team which produces his love for endless triangular passing as the ability to break away from such intricate patterns.

*Correction: The initial draft highlighted Carlos Alberto Parreira as commenting on Theo Walcott’s usefulness. That indeed was actually Carlos Alberto, former Brazil captain.

**NB: With the World Cup approaching, the blog will be switching its attention to matters regarding the tournament, providing analysis and features, and where relevant, an Arsenal focus. Stay tuned!

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Ten conclusions to make from Arsenal’s season

Despite another implosion late in the season, the Gunners have plenty of positives to take forward to next season.
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1. Arsenal have learned how to defeat the “lesser” sides

The fact that Arsenal remained in the title race for as long as they did, despite losing both times to Manchester United and Chelsea, and falling away at Tottenham and Manchester City, was very much due to Arsenal’s new-found ability to beat the bus. In previous seasons, sides who set out with ten men behind the ball knew full well that the tactic could seriously decrease the Gunner’s effectiveness. Arsenal only wanted to play through them and that made it easier to defend against.

To counter that, Arsene Wenger sought his side to be more dynamic. His idea – borrowed from the philosophies of Dutch Total Football and adapted by Johan Cruyff at Barcelona – was to stretch play to create more space and hence more angles to attack from. The result saw the making of Robin van Persie in a hybrid striker role and the midfielders late runs, particularly at the start of the season, disrupting the opponents marking systems. “I believe the midfield was not a problem this year because we created so many chances from midfield and we dominated nearly all the games in midfield,” said Wenger at the end of the season.

The goal tally dipped towards the latter stages of the campaign yet Arsenal’s increasing  mental strength allowed them to turn adverse situations into positive ones by scoring a number of late winners. “The manager trusts us to do the job,” said Alex Song. “If the referee says we have four minutes or two minutes left then the boss says ‘don’t panic, be confident and play’. That means if the opposition team drop we have the chance to score. The mentality has changed for us.”

2. Robin van Persie may just be world-class

Arsene Wenger believes Robin van Persie is on par with the likes Lionel Messi and Xavi and indeed, the coming World Cup may prematurely bring forward that assertion but the Dutchman feels that can only be justified on the back of an injury-free season. And certainly, the stats do highlight another case of “what could have been” as in the sixteen games he has played in the league, van Persie has scored 9 goals (a conversion rate of 17%) and made 7 assists – meaning he has made a direct contribution to the result at least once in every game. Arsenal felt the brunt of his absence also as in the 17 games he did play in all competitions before his injury, the club scored 51 goals, an average of 3 goals per game. In the middle period without van Persie, 53 goals were scored in 30 games – the average dipping to just over 1.5 goals per game. (There are two keys factors in this stat; the fact that Nicklas Bendtner returned helped boost the goal tally somewhat while a small period where Arsenal had fought their way back in to the title race also saw an upturn of goals. But for the most part, the Gunners lacked a forward which seriously hampered their goal threat).

Van Persie’s involvement as the spearhead of the attack will surely also mean any evaluation of where the team goes will take into account his vast improvement. Becoming the focal point of Arsenal’s style and it could be argued he revolutionised the dual role up front. His movement created space for the midfielders to run into while developing a goalscoring instinct in the box. “Robin Van Persie, when he played we always scored three or four goals,” said Wenger earlier this season. “He didn’t score too many [himself] but he made a lot. Not only with passing, but with movement and the quality of that movement. Strikers open walls for the deeper players. That is a big part in the modern game.”

3. Gunners must make more of wide positions

A key aspect of switching to the 4-3-3 is that it gives Arsenal more natural width. That may seem a problem, however, given that Arsenal do not play with traditional wingers in the outside forward roles but in the modern game, wide players are expected to perform a number of different functions. The current trend is for teams to play “inverted wingers” giving them an added dimension in the attack. That means goals are more likely to be scored by wingers by cutting in on their preferred foot while it also creates more unpredictability in the team’s movement and the decision to cross the ball or dribble.

The Gunners wide men, given that the ball has reached the channels more than ever this season, must realise their importance in providing greater dynamism and variation to the attack. Arsenal’s crossing success, before the 4-0 at Fulham was the lowest in the league at 16% (the Premiership average is 21%) with the cross success from the right hand side at 18.5% and the left, 12.7%. Bakary Sagna has visibly improved his crossing this season and upon the recommendation of William Gallas, told to make more runs on the inside similar to Emmanuel Eboue. But given the slight lack of movement and willingness to get in the box – especially seen in the middle stages of the season where the Gunners lacked a natural forward – there is still a slight apprehension in delivering the ball into the box quickly.

4. Arsenal must invest in their own Milan Lab

You can blame the part-artificial turf on the Emirates pitch, the movement the players have to exert in a typical matchday or just plain old bad tackling but whatever the reason, there is no doubt Arsenal need to develop their own injury-assessment centre. The most famous of which is the Milan Lab (interestingly enough also situated in Milan) which has successfully prolonged the careers of a number of players so much so that they feel maximum age for a top-class footballer is now 40 (as opposed to the 34 previously thought).

Bruno Demichelis, now at Chelsea, and his team pioneered the ground-breaking work at the fitness lab by analysing data to see how they can predict and therefore reduce injuries suffered by their players. Non-traumatic injuries have now decreased (that means muscle pulls etc.) to around 80-90% and are looking to identify structural problems in players by using chiropractic techniques that may lead to injuries (Tomas Rosicky could benefit greatly from this). In 1996, Arsene Wenger revolutionised the club, from everything from the diet to the way they play, and seemingly the next step is to develop a fitness reasearch centre of their own to make Arsenal a truly modern superclub . “The first step to prevention is to analyse the problem and keep stats,” says Jan Ekstrand, Head of UEFA’s medical committee. “The second is to evaluate the mechanisms behind injuries, the third to introduce preventive methods, and the fourth to evaluate these methods have worked.”

5. Gunners yet to get their heads around pressing in the 4-3-3

Pressing has always existed in Arsenal’s system but not more important has it been upon the implementation this season of the 4-3-3. In previous seasons, the framework in the flexible 4-4-2 was provided in the form of zonal-marking – the positions and when to press were more or less rigidly defined. The current formation, as Denilson has particularly found out, can seem to fluctuate between a number of systems and that defeats the desired organisation of the side. Typically, pressing is done according to the Dutch framework of “through-marking” on account of the need to stretch the play. For example when a midfielder pushes out and presses an opponent, his team-mate(s) must back him up by getting tight and eliminate all other passing options. However, in moments where the opposition bypasses the first wave of pressure and commit numbers forward, that could often leave gaps ripe for exposure and the system of through-marking itself then become exposed. A good pre-season, correcting the faults of the pressing system is very much-needed to give the side the “defensive efficiency” Wenger is looking for.

6. Mature heads needed in a learning environment

The impact of Sol Campbell translates far greater than his exerts on the pitch. Off the pitch, he is a wise head who offers years of experience and know-how in the game and that is very much-needed in Arsenal’s environment of learning. Arsene Wenger’s desire is to breed an organic connection between each player to create an almost telepathic understanding but imaging the benefits of having a senior member of the “Invincibles” around – someone to give crucial advice in situations not yet experienced.

Wenger has blamed the maturity of the players in key games this season and indeed, that developing mental strength means it hampers his tactical flexibility. The young players have made huge strides this season and the experiences they’ve encountered will make them stronger for next season but mature heads could mean – whether a part-time coach like Martin Keown or a seasoned-pro – a quicker transition from a player of potential to one of great substance.

“It is important you have players like Silvestre, Sol Campbell and Almunia, who are very influential,” says Wenger. “They have done it before so players listen to them.” In short, Arsene Wenger can’t afford to see the back of one of Gallas and Campbell, and certainly not the both of them.

7. The Joy of Song

It’s difficult to praise Alex Song this season without treading in the vicinity of a pun. Put simply, his performances in the centre of midfield have been unsung. Quite why that is the case may be because of his seemingly languid style and certainly, in the first parts of the season, his tackles may have seen to be a bit clumsy. However, the stats show that is not the necessarily the case, as he has the highest success rate of tackles won in the side (83.9%), making 87 tackles and 89 interceptions. But the Cameroon midfielder is much more than an enforcer as he plays with an almost beastly grace, often seen pirouettes and tip-toeing away from markers and passing with great assurance. Probably Arsenal’s most improved player this season, making a metamorphic rise and the greatest example of Wenger creating an environment to allow the embryonic development of his players.

8. Cesc Fabregas is still king

Anything that happens in the summer concerning the club will no doubt revolve around Arsenal’s talismanic skipper. There is news already that Barcelona are preparing a bid to bring back their prodigal son to Camp Nou after landing David Villa but there is a club that need him more. Cesc Fabregas has had another stupendous season, weighing in with 15 goals and 13 assists in the league and at the ripe old age of 23, carries much burden in the way Arsenal play. No player has made as much forward passes in the championship as him and that highlights the creative responsibility and balance weighed on Fabregas’ shoulders. “I believe in them [the players] because if you compare them two years ago and this year they are tremendously improved,” evaluates Wenger, before adding. “And if they continue to play together, especially with Fabregas, they have a good understanding.”

9. Goalkeeping gloves in uncertain hands

It’s an over-simplistic view that the goalkeepers are to blame for the number of goals shipped in (as our analysis shows that the quality of chances the Gunners allow is far greater than opponents allow due to the expansive style of the team) but neither Manuel Almunia or Lucasz Fabiasnski commanded the presence and confidence in the defence that is required. How you achieved that is almost mythical as Jens Lehmann’s career has always been clouded with mistakes and calamities but somehow rose to the respect of his team-mates.

“As a player, I learnt very quickly that, when you are at Arsenal, Manchester United, Liverpool and now Chelsea, you have to be more than just a good technical goalie,” says former Arsenal goalkeeper and coach, Bob Wilson. “You can`t really coach presence. It is an indefinable thing, but I believe in it so much. Once you have passed the first exam to prove you can play – and Manuel and Lukasz have – then the bit you have to pass is that extra dimension. It`s the bit that marks you out from the rest. That is the one area that is lacking.” What is certain, however, is that goalkeeping is very much a confidence thing and neither first choice or second are in that zone yet.

10. Arsene Wenger still the right man for the job

Now that the debt clouds are clearing we should see a more proportional Arsenal and despite the increasingly uncertain environment, Arsene Wenger has navigated the club admirably through and kept them competing year after year. Signings will have to be made and are going to be made – and no one has a better eye for talent that Wenger. Arsenal will compete next year…

Analysing Arsenal’s pressing system

Arsenal’s pressing game has suffered since the start of the season mostly due to a matter of distances.
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Shortened names are all the rage these days. From Subo (Susan Boyle), R-Pat (Robert Pattinson) and Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie), it’s a wonder they still haven’t thought of one for Babyshambles front man Pete Doherty. And after Barcelona swept all before them to bag six trophies last year, with Bordaeux and Chile prevailing as underdogs doing it, Arsenal became the latest side at the start of this season to adopt football’s trendiest tactic – that of “high intensity pressing.”

Enter the first game and a swirling cloud of red, snapping and snarling at the heels of each Everton player, giving them no time to rest, was a welcoming surprise from a jittery pre-season campaign trialing the same tactics. Somehow such usually difficult opponents were swatted away with great ease and efficiency also, and it was not just defensively Arsenal had found improvements on – the Gunners put six past Everton. Arsenal were voracious in attack, averaging around three goals per game and even though they leaked the odd goal, it seemed at last Arsène Wenger had found the right balance and the players were tactically maturing. But fast-forward to defeats at Barcelona, Tottenham and Wigan and that pressing system has started look fragmented, no less exposed by the Catalan side and their pressing standards.

Why Pressing is Important in the 4-3-3

As Barcelona have shown, pressing is as much an art to them as a through ball, with Pep Guardiola claiming that his side would not be as effective as they are were it not for the mechanism put in place of pressing the ball when it is lost. And after watching Barca’s dismantling of Arsenal in this year’s Champions League, many felt that that was the key difference between the two teams – that Barcelona had a more thorough defensive system in place to complement their attacking style. The need to press in either sides variant of 4-3-3 is a pertinent one as it allows allows the side to remain compact in a way not offered by most formations. Typical formations are more concerned with zones therefore when possession changes hands, they can more easily fall back into a defensive block to retain their shape and press within. “There is less high-intensity pressing from the front in advance areas (in top-level European football),” says Fulham boss Roy Hodgson. “This is partly because concern of the interpretation of the offside law has led to teams to play deeper. Sides are sill compact, but this is mainly in their own half of the pitch.” Teams who played a similar style – the Ajax sides of the late 60’s0/early 70’s, Dynamo Kyiv and Holland in ’74 – were able to do this because the interpretation of the offside law meant they could play in a small area of the pitch to squeeze the opponents.

The 4-3-3 deployed by Barcelona and Arsenal is unique in that, when in possession, in order to be dynamic in attack and offer more angles in the pass, the side is required to stretch play up the pitch. However that is also what makes it such a specialised formation in the modern game because the danger is, when you lose the ball, the distances between your players will be large and thus presents a great opportunity for opponents to exploit. Therefore, the need arises for the team to compress space and that is best served by pressing the opposition when the ball is lost. Which sounds simple enough, however, pressuring still requires a structure –  a framework –  which all players should be willing to conform to. And that, in essence, was the gulf in execution between Barcelona and Arsenal in both legs of the quarter-final.

A Matter of Distances

Much of Arsene Wenger’s talk early in the season was one of maintaining correct distances and indeed the different defensive assignments he gave to his players led him to label the formation as a 4-1-4-1. The midfield four behind Robin van Persie as it were, were to pressure along the same band as each other with Alex Song the self-titled stopper of counter attacks.

The auxiliary left central midfielder was to have a stabilizing role – one to cover for the left forward (who was usually Andrey Arshavin because of his tendency to drift infield) and the other, to drop slightly more deeper to help out Song.

That ploy would of course allow Cesc Fabregas to push further up the field and enable the captain to exert greater influence between the lines and pressure higher. However, slowly but surely, as Arsenal’s goals dried after van Persie’s injury, Fabregas was pushed closer to the main forward in order to create goals but rather than it multiplying his impact, it proceeded to inadvertently upset the balance of the side.

That problem was in part highlighted in the 2-1 defeat against FC  Porto, where Swansea manager Paulo Sousa, commentating for ITV Sport, mentioned that Arsenal’s problem with pressing was in balancing their intensity. The gap between attack – the first line of pressure – and defence was too large and that made it a difficult transition from the attacking phase to the defensive phase. So if Tomas Rosicky, starting on the left in that game, pressured the right-back high up the pitch – of which he attempted on a number of occasions – his hard work would invariably fall flat as one pass could essentially free the defender from the Czech’s advances. And that made it all the more difficult for Rosicky to track back as the ball is hit forward quickly.

In truth, that was only half the story as Porto purposely made it difficult for Arsenal by looking to stretch the game as much as possible, defending very deep and stationing the three forwards in direct confrontation with the Gunners defenders at all times. Nevertheless the idea was to expose burgeoning problems in Arsenal’s defensive phase which, after a good start to the season, was feeling the strain of chasing silverware.

The Cesc Fabregas Question

Arsene Wenger once stated you are more worried about correcting the creative side of a team than the defensive balance and indeed as Arsenal’s attacking play started to become stale, Cesc Fabregas was pushed higher up the pitch. The game against Liverpool, following successive defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United, saw Arsenal attempt to revert to a more pragmatic approach to balance both sides and it proved successful. The full-backs got tighter to their opposing wingers and likewise the two central midfielders to their opposite numbers while Fabregas and Arshavin led the way in closing down aggressively high up the field. And just as that re-found stability looked set to reignite Arsenal’s title challenge, old habits soon kicked in.

The biggest problem is seemingly in the centre where teams, especially during December and January, where able to profit from the gaps in the centre. On paper, it looks like pushing Fabregas higher may have had an adverse impact on the balance. Yet, Barcelona, in their new variant of 4-3-3, whereby Guardiola has deployed Messi in an interior role similar to Fabregas indicates that is not necessarily the case. The difference comes in how rigidly Barcelona stick to their individual and collective assignments and press aggressively not just the ball carrier, but to eliminate all passing options completely. That means when the forward presses, he will continue all the way even if the ball is passed backwards while his team-mates back him up by looking to get tight and at times, get in front of potential passing options. That tactic may in part explain why opponents are not so willing to go direct as confidently against Barcelona and of which enables the Barca defenders to be more assured in taking the risk to push up. Because it is true that, if teams go direct more quickly, as Inter did in their 3-1 win, Barcelona can be exposed from the ball over the top. Indeed, Aston Villa, Burnley, Everton, Fulham and West Ham have displayed similar tactics against Arsenal, stopping the Gunners from passing the ball out from deep and profiting through gaps in the channels.

If one uses the example of Rafael Marquez in the second leg, four or five could go and press him as they did in Arsenal’s 4-1-4-1 in the defensive phase but that would surely result in inefficiency. It may theoretically claustrophobe the target but not necessarily stop him making a pass to an opponent were he was in space. So when Marquez had the ball, having the vision the Mexican has and the movement his teammate’s do, all it took was for Xavi or Buqsquets to drop into a pocket of space and an opportunity opened up. And on the occasions that one player did press Marquez, the others did not quite follow up and get tight on the potential passing options on offer. What that will inevitably lead to is inefficient pressing, which if not followed through correctly will become false pressing – which is not exactly pressing at all.  The different defensive assignments Wenger has given to his players are there for a reason and are there to help balance the side defensively – the 4-3-3 can feel like chain reactions and one player’s movement can impact on the effectiveness of another. Simon Kuper, writing for the Financial Times, wrote of how Bayern Munich’s strikers, under Louis Van Gaal, “harries their defenders, not in order to win the ball but to pressure a pass to central midfield, where Bayern will win it.”

It is an area Arsenal must improve upon otherwise repeats of how Denilson was exposed in the centre during the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United are likely occur again. It seems at the moment, the Brazilian is stuck in transition of which system of marking to follow – zonal, man-marking or neither. Gael Clichy’s indifferent early form goes some way to suggest this is also indicative of more than one of his team-mates. “With 4-3-3 it’s all about choosing when to go and when to stay rather than just going for the sake of it,” says the left-back.

Final Thoughts

In that respect, Alex Song has been a vital cog in Arsenal’s pressing system as he has looked the one who has most benefited from closing down early. His presence in the middle often results in a better team performance for the Gunners and allows Arsenal to win the ball back quickly. Robin van Persie is also arguably a better presser of the ball than Nicklas Bendtner but it also must be stressed the importance of the role the Dane played early in the season on the right hand side of the attacking trident. That Nasri and Rosicky have had more game time later on in the season in wide areas may have also had an adverse effect on the pressing game as their tendencies are not so forward thinking and quite lackadaisical. Arsenal have also been bad starters of games, only scoring twice in the league in the opening fifteen minutes which can again explain that Arsenal need time to adjust to the distances.

Pressing however, is best realised by a good attacking game, and that Arsenal have not been as dynamic in attacking in the second part, nor as obsessive in possession of the season has probably undermined their confidence in pressing the ball high up. Nevertheless, as a team collective, there is no doubt that the pressing game has been for the better for Arsenal and with the players maturing each time. They have less been exposed on the break as previous seasons and the strain their expansive style causes on the back is not as apparent. Thomas Vermaelen has improved Arsenal’s winning back of the ball and that Arsenal are the best utilisers of the offside trap indicates an effective back line which only needs greater synchronicity with the midfield. “I think we all want to get the ball back very quickly,” explains Bakary Sagna. ”Everyone is defending quicker and the forwards are doing more. It helps us play as a team. We worked a lot on this in pre-season because we changed the formation and we have to keep working on it.”