Arséne Wenger has recast his side following the departure of Cesc Fábregas

Few teams have such an idealogical slant as Arséne Wenger’s Arsenal. In a video commemorating the Club’s 125th anniversary, the official website implores fans to explore the “passion, visionary philosophy and belief in youth that the Club inspires.” And certainly, Gus Hiddink believes that Arsenal are still one of the best sides in the world, less perhaps because of their reliance on youth, but mainly due to the attacking way they play football. “It’s true that, today, Barcelona leads the way — as Arsenal has done in the past,” he said in Issue Zero of The Blizzard. “And, in my opinion, still does, even if things haven’t worked their way in the Champions League so far.” However, that was five months ago, before Arsenal’s season imploded in their face like a birthday cake from Sue Sylvester.

Since then, Arsenal have sold off their most distinctive player, Cesc Fábregas. He was the one who was the most synonymous with their style and one who validated their game. Wenger built a system around him to get the best out of his ability to find team-mates that no-one could. Samir Nasri is set to follow and it seems that ideological slant is about to deviate somewhat, focusing less on the tippy-tappy concentrating more on the dynamic.

Arséne Wenger has recast his side following the departure of his captain. They are less focused on possession although it remains a key part to their strengths. However, Wenger’s aims this season are primarily to get the ball forward quickly and pass it with speed. It translates to a more direct approach; in the two games this season against Newcastle and Udinese, Arsenal essentially played with three strikers. Robin van Persie was backed up by Gervinho and Arshavin either side of him in a 4-3-3 formation in the first game and Marouanne Chamakh lined up alongside Theo Walcott and Gervinho at home to Udinese. The result was less passing through the middle and more focus on wing-play. Of course, the upshot of that is that Arsenal’s passing becomes less accurate as shown by the statistics against Udinese. UEFA.com list that The Gunners attempted a total of 546 passes, however, only 69% reached their target; way below their average of around 80%. They also made more fouls than Udinese and took less shots indicating that there may be an ugliness about Arsenal’s play this season.

On the other hand, they were markedly more accurate with the ball against Newcastle but as was often the case last season, they had trouble breaking down the opposition defence. Without players like Fábregas, Samir Nasri and the injured Jack Wilshere, Arsenal not only lose some of their ability to retain possession but incisiveness too. At St. James Park, there was an evident split between midfield and attack highlighting the need for a link player but also the change in emphasis for Arsenal away from the middle and to the flanks.

In the last couple of seasons, Wenger has tended to balance out the wings with one creative player –sometimes referred to as a “half-winger” — and a more dynamic winger the other side. His options this season, though, seem less varied; if Nasri departs it only leaves Arshavin as a player vaguely described a creative winger while Tomas Rosicky will probably get more time in the centre. By playing “strikers on the wings”, Arsenal’s aim is to try and get those two wide forwards behind as quickly and often as possible in an attempt to break down typically obdurate defences they face. One goal thus far in 2011/12 perhaps indicates it is still very much a work in progress but again, for the tactic to work, it is very reliant on the central midfielders to link up the attack. At Newcastle, the distance between midfield and attack was often too large. Aaron Ramsey, playing the playmaker role, likes to drop deep to pick up possession but in doing so, somebody else must occupy the space that he leaves. Tomas Rosicky didn’t and it must be noted Jack Wilshere does this very well therefore the cohesiveness of the whole unit was a bit disjointed. On the plus side, however, the rotation between the three central midfielders does give Arsenal a lot of ambiguity and fluidity and perhaps one of the arguments against Arsenal with Fábregas, no matter how brilliant he was, was that the side were too reliant on him. Now, the three can alternate responsibility.

One of the key differences between the Newcastle and Udinese encounters was Arsenal’s possession and passing accuracy statistics. While The Gunners held the ball for longer in the league, that may be down to the cautiousness of Alan Pardew’s side and the superior tactical nous of the Italians who came to exploit any Arsenal weaknesses.

Possession, as I’ve argued many times, is a form of defence for Arsenal. Indeed, it is for any ball-hungry side. Against Newcastle, by keeping the effectively ball, Arsenal stifled any hint of ambition the Toon Army had. As a result, they looked more secure as a unit although to be fair on the defence, they have been supremely organised these last two games. Wenger, though, lamented the “speed of our passing” in the 0-0 draw as one of the reasons for failing to break Newcastle down so perhaps as a reaction, they tried to raise the intensity of their game against Udinese. They made a breathtaking start, taking the lead in three minutes, but a little concerning was that they never let up. If possession is as much a form of defence as it is attack, they were unable to take the sting from game by holding onto the ball. The fast-paced football inevitably impacted on their ability to keep it for prolonged periods and that always gave Udinese a chance on the break. Perhaps most culpable was Alex Song, who more than just being overly exposed and heavily dependent to maintain Arsenal’s shape, had a pass success of 63%.

The presence of a Wilshere or Fábregas may have helped Arsenal keep Udinese at bay by way of keep-ball and as it turned out, they finally realised the error of their ways and killed off the game in the last twenty minutes. The introduction of Emmanuel Frimpong in that period cannot be understated as he helped Arsenal maintain a 4-2-1-3 shape. Indeed, structure has always remained Arsenal’s biggest weakness as their over-attacking approach tends to require more resources to push forward, leaving gaps at the back and that’s why effective use of the ball is ever more important. It can suffocate teams up the pitch and deny them from springing a quick breakaway. On the other hand, being less reliant of possession does increase Arsenal’s counter-attacking potential and in the absence of so many key players against Liverpool, it may be Arsenal’s best outlet of scoring.

We can probably put down some of the indecision and inaccuracy to the newness of the team and the need to get used to each other. Indeed, one of the reasons Wenger so wants to keep Nasri is that there would be no need to adapt as an understanding is already in place. Nevertheless, if Wenger is hoping to get Arsenal to be more dynamic again, it would still need a heavy dose of technical accuracy therefore the return of Wilshere and possibly a new signing to augment the new approach, cannot come soon enough.

Advertisements

The Cesc Fábregas dependencia

If Cesc Fábregas does leave Arsenal this season, it would be without any notable legacy. He should go down as one of the legends. Indeed he is one of Arsenal’s greatest individuals; the statistics and archive footages will testify to his outstanding ability but crucially, the trophies do not. He has, of course, won the best of the lot: the World Cup but it’s the manner of his involvement which is precisely why he hankers for more silverware. Coming off the bench to set up the winner, as he has done numerously for Spain, Fábregas showed his unparalleled ability to open teams with his penetrative passes but there’s a feeling inside him, that despite that genius, he hasn’t shown enough for it. At least, not at club level which should reaffirm his status back home. When the chance came to prove himself when Arsenal went to Barcelona, he was non-existent and at home, he was overshadowed by his heir, Jack Wilshere.

His ambition has been hampered by the youth development policy and one that, at 24, thrusts Fábregas into the role of a reluctant leader. Encapsulating what Arsenal is about since the “Invincibles” team broke up: skilful, spontaneous and confident in possession – the type of player that makes Arsenal a joy to watch – he has had to mature and lead a generation without the presence of big name players and that has left a bit of fragility in him that can occasionally frustrate. Indeed, that is the argument some have made against Wenger’s handling of the transition. That the youth, fluidity, intelligence, pace and swagger in possession – have effectively taken over the team. And the other qualities that made them great – ruthlessness, power, organisation and experience – have been seen as an after-thought. It all displays the delicacy of the project the team has embarked upon since the move to The Emirates but the thread keeping Fábregas at the club is seemingly what is holding it all together.

He is the talisman; the highest profile player at the club and a leader of his generation. If he, who embodies it, ceased to believe in Arsène Wenger’s project then what hope does a youth development policy have?  One of the first products of the project, Gael Clichy, has already departed to a team which must be considered an antithesis of Arsenal, showing that winning matters most if you want to foster a sense of loyalty. Even coming through the ranks of your boyhood club is not reason enough to stay and Arsenal fans will be hoping Clichy’s expected successor, Kieran Gibbs, will not follow the same route of Ashley Cole. Samir Nasri is reportedly next to want a way out but if Fábregas departs, it must surely signal the end of youth project.

If already the transfer seems as if it will be a monumental one, consider the difficulties that Arséne Wenger will have to face in trying to replace his star player. Because the issue is not merely one of changing personnel; it’s also schematic one as Arsenal have built their system around the man who they feel is the most effective player in the game.

Fábregas makes the passes, he breaks down opposition defences and general makes Arsenal dynamic. In the last five seasons, the Spaniard has made 60 assists – no player has made more in the top five leagues. The official Premier League statistics has it at 71 but they tend to count indirect or passive assists (i.e. penalties won or deflections). Nevertheless it underlines his all-round contribution to the team. In that period, he has also created the most chances in the Premiership at 466 and most frequently too – last season he made a chance every 28.6 minutes from open play. The team shape is moulded so that it can make full use of Fábregas’ ability to find gaps that others can’t, fitting him in the playmaker role of the 4-2-3-1. It underlines his immense improvement that he is able to play this role now because it was once thought he was too slow and too weak to play with his back to goal but he has since added a robustness and directness to his game as shown by his frequent cameos off the bench for Spain. Even so, he has mastered the art of evading from his marker and ensures he doesn’t have to play as a typical number 10 would. Rather, he drops deep to pick up the ball, often making a midfield three and is the main man in the press. As a result, Arsenal also concede less goals because they keep the ball better. For them, possession is a form of defence and if they are to improve next season, it’ may be wiser to strengthen the areas that they are best at as opposed more trivial matters.

But despite playing a central role as a team’s chief chance creator – something which he manages to do unselfishly as he is overwhelmingly a team player – this means it comes to a situation where the other ten players are effectively looking to play everything through him. They depend on him to make the final pass – as one team-mate said this season  –  so what this results in, is the player himself landing a hat full of assists while his team-mates assists/key chances per game ratio can be unimpressive. Wenger realises that Fabregas is crucial to the team if they are to a land a trophy – no-one does what he does better – and until others mature quickly, they will continue to depend on him. The statistics weigh heavily in Cesc Fábregas’ favour: In the 22 games he started in 2010/11, Arsenal won 64% of their matches but that figure plummets to 34% when doesn’t feature. To put this into the context of last season, Fabregas missed 13 games and Arsenal lost 4 of them – such form is not title-winning and is unlikely to inspire him much confidence in the team.

With thanks to 7am Kickoff for the statistics. The dependence on Cesc Fábregas is shown last season by Arsenal’s results when the captain doesn’t play and when he does.

Letting Fábregas go is unquestionable at the moment but history is not against teams that have prospered when talismanic figures leaves the club. When Michael Owen left, Liverpool instantly won the European Cup. Likewise Marseille when star striker Jean-Pierre Papin departed. Perhaps the style of relying on a goalpoacher is unsuited in Europe and it took their main player to leave for Liverpool and Marseille to realise a holistic route is more fruitful. Certainly that was the case with Manchester United and Ruud van Nistelrooy.

It was, in 2006, a clash with their future talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, which forced van Nistelrooy out of the club at a time when it was felt unthinkable. But despite his brilliant record of goals, ultimately the club’s trophy haul during his five years at the club suggests he wasn’t success. The team was imbalanced towards him and essentially for Sir Alex Ferguson, engineering a fallout with his ‘star’ striker was one of his best ideas as United haven’t looked back. The rigid 4-4-2 became a flexible and dizzyingly high-tempo 4-3-3 which at times became “strikerless” – unfathomable given van Nistelrooy’s legacy – as Manchester United progressed past the quarter-finals for the first time between 1999 and 2007. Indeed, the secret of Sir Alex’s success has been his ability to scrap and evolve sides, especially when it seemed key individuals departing had left them in limbo. For a while, the Scotsman had trouble replacing Roy Keane – perhaps one of the reasons why the 4-4-2 system didn’t work with van Nistelrooy – looking to bring an enforcer type in a similar mould to him and no doubt inspired by Patrick Vieira. But later he realised that it would be difficult to recreate Keane’s qualities so instead of looking to replace him with one outstanding and possibly costly individual, found two, dropping Paul Scholes back and using him in a double shield. Arsenal had similar trouble replacing Vieira but unlike United, they initially went backwards.

Arsenal, under Wenger, would normally play a double pivot – two disciplined midfielders in front of the back four – but with Fábregas breaking through and making himself undroppable, it meant finding a way to utilise a box-to-box midfielder whose creative tendencies would see him get involved further up the pitch thus disrupting some of the balance. Vieira and Fabregas didn’t work so Wenger made the difficult decision to let his captain go. However, the solution, a split midfield with Gilberto solely holding was too inefficient. At the same time, it was becoming more and more evident that Fábregas needed greater freedom to  because, as Henry once said: “If you let Fábregas play he can kill a team.” In the Champions League, Wenger switched to a 4-5-1 which the midfielder to get forward with more security nearly reaped instant rewards. In 2007, Wenger discarded Gilberto and brought in the highly energetic Mathieu Flamini to cover the ground that Fábregas would be leaving. It so nearly worked at a master-stroke but ultimately it proved to be too exhausting to last the season, the manager eventually switching to the 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 we see now. Perhaps Wenger has learnt from this past, not only utilising Fábregas high up because they need his vision, but it’d be much more efficient to have him as high up the pitch as possible without affecting the defensive balance of the team.

If Cesc Fábregas leaves, this does not instantly mean Arsenal are doomed. To the contrary, the “Ewing Theory” (when a team prosper after their biggest star – or in Arsenal’s case, perhaps a couple if Nasri also departs – leaves the club) may see that that as soon as Cesc walks away, Arsenal will start winning things again. Indeed, their best performances last season were when they took a holistic route. We’ve already said last season, from the months from the middle of December to the end of February, Arsenal were the best team in the league. That’s scant consolation perhaps to Arsenal ending up fourth but it showed, when the parts start to function as a unit, The Gunners can be unstoppable. Fábregas was a key member his dependence wasn’t overwhelmingly evident: Samir Nasri pitched in as a wide playmaker, Jack Wilshere continued probing as did Alex Song graft. Theo Walcott stretched the defence on the right, creating and profiting from the runs Robin van Persie made. Certainly the Dutch striker rising to the occasion has been one of Arsenal’s plus points, helping take the load off Fábregas.

A taster of Arsenal might play without Fábregas was in end-of-season clash with Manchester United when the holistic route was at it’s best. In that game Fábregas’s anticipated successor, Jack Wilshere, who represents the new Arsenal with his rapid “change-of-direction” and glide on the ball, stepped up to the occasion and was given more freedom in a more natural 4-3-3 to wreak havoc. Perhaps that’s the lesson Arsenal can take from the game: that they shouldn’t be fearful of losing their best player and worry about how to replace him directly – that may be nigh on difficult with someone of his vision – but they can certainly reshape. It’s not impossible. When Patrick Vieira departed in 2005, it was thought he would by leaving a huge hole in the midfield but Cesc Fábregas stepped up. When Thierry Henry left, it was not just their greatest ever player that was leaving; it was an icon. But Cesc Fábregas stepped up, nonetheless, to become the main man. Arséne Wenger will be hoping there are plenty of other Cesc Fábregas’ in the team waiting take up the mantle whether he departs in the near future or not.

*Statistics courtesy of OPTA and @Orbinho.

Tweaked Arsenal aim to capitalise on Cesc Fábregas’ craft

Arsene Wenger has made three slight adjustments to his side following key defeats in the league, one of them pushing Cesc Fábregas higher up.
______________________________________________________________________________

Oscar Wilde once wrote, “experience is simply the name we give our mistakes” but following the defeat to FC Porto in the Champions League where two errors gifted the tie, Cesc Fábregas has had enough of experience. Defeats to Chelsea and Manchester United where avoidable goals had put Arsenal out of the contest had already irked the captain enough, his body language in those matches displaying an air of resignation and Arsène Wenger has seemingly caught Fábregas’ drift – and responded by playing him higher up the pitch.

The need for slight adjustments had been somewhat displayed before those crucial matches, with Everton, Aston Villa and Bolton not just stifling Arsenal’s fluency to certain extent but also creating their fair share of dangerous opportunities. Wenger could not use the excuse, conceding chances is the “consequence of our philosophy a bit” which at the start of the season was compensated by the effectiveness in which Arsenal tore apart teams, as those sides had already took the game to Arsenal. Cesc Fábregas had already shown his importance to the side by coming off the bench to inspire the Gunners to a 3-0 win over Aston Villa at home although Arsenal had already put in a good team performance but lacking bite and has been the main benefactor of tackling high up the pitch. However, with much of Arsenal’s best success this season based on a holistic culture, could alleviating someone’s role disrupt the balance of the team?

In the past three matches, Wenger has sent his side out in an asymmetric 4-3-3 formation which could almost be described as a 4-2-Fábregas-3 given the amount of freedom the Spaniard has been granted and entrusted to do that higher up the pitch. Unlike last season in which Fábregas looked lost at times in the role, this season he has added greater penetration to his game, scoring 12 goals in 23 games and making 13 assists to boot. “He has become a complete midfielder because he can defend now, he has kept his vision and I believe he has added some physical power to his game,” said Wenger. “If you compare Fabregas two years ago and today, physically they are completely different. He has got that injection of power to his body and that makes him a different player.”

Playing asymmetrically is much to do with granting an euphoric mind-set and defensively is all about chain reactions. The two midfielders behind Fábregas do not play as a double shield but one slightly slanted to the left and pushing on a bit. In recent games, that role has been engaged by Diaby and Ramsey and tellingly they have been instructed to be more disciplined. This is so the flanks are less exposed in the defensive phase and Arsenal are not under-manned in the centre. Alex Song though remains the glue in an attempt to keep the side compact and his intensity, interceptions and anticipation help stem the oppositions raids. He has also against Liverpool and Sunderland allowed Emmanuel Eboue to flourish and as Slaven Bilic so expertly analysed, when playing with two covering midfielders the side must allow the full backs to bomb forward. The Ivorian’s urgency has been a plus in defensive transitions as Wenger looks to instruct his full-backs to get more tighter to the winger while curiously, unlike most defenders who profit from being initially unmarked by attacking on the outside, he has benefited from Arsenal’s stretching of play to cause havoc by foraging inside. One would wonder how even more devastating Maicon of Inter Milan would be if a similar ploy could be replicated at his club.

The tweak however is not just a reactionary fix; it is hoped it will rekindle the early season mentality where it was all about collectivism and will give Fábregas the chance to play more naturally, where eventually he starts deep and pushes on ‘between the lines’ as offered by the re-discovered balance. “Cesc likes to be at the start of things and then get on the end of things,” said Wenger early on in the season, explaining his desired intentions. “And he can push forward more this season because he has two players around him who can defend.”

Fabregas still the key in Wenger’s quest for domination

The Gunners are still ever reliant on Cesc Fabregas to pull the strings with Arsenal’s passing game having suffered this season, especially against the stronger clubs.
______________________________________________________________________________
fabregas-v-gerrard

The passing stats after the thrilling 4-4 draw at Anfield read Arsenal 281 successful passes and 44 unsuccessful. Contrast that to Liverpool and they made 327 successful passes and only one misplaced pass less at 43. Last season, the 1-1 draw on the same ground saw the Gunners culminate a massive 432 accurate passes compared to Liverpool’s 201. The Red’s made it hard to play with their direct style but how different was it to last season? Nevertheless it is marked difference from the possession kings that is known as Arsenal.

With Rosicky and Fabregas out for large chunks of the season, and Hleb  having departed in the summer, Wenger has recast his side to a more quicker team, able to get the ball from A to B swiftly especially with Walcott and Arshavin on either side.

Wenger has always liked his sides to keep the ball; pass quickly with great off the ball movement and dynamism, his ‘Invincibles’ side arguably perfected it. The current side seems to have perfected only half of the formula and while being more dynamic is not a bad thing it means the ball will come back more. Against the lesser sides, the Gunners are comfortable at moving the ball around (although matches against Fulham and Wigan showed their limitations) but when faced up against the stronger sides, Arsenal are more counter-attacking.

As shown by some of the great attacking teams of recent times, keeping the ball is a great form of defence as well, denying pressure on the back line. Barcelona and Manchester United are relentless pressure machines and although they may be open at the back at times, more than balance it out with their ability to keep ball and suffocate space. Liverpool and Chelsea on the other hand are more direct and while capable of keeping the ball, it too means the ball will come back more often than for United and Barca. However that’s why they are the masters of space and efficiency; never giving an inch while looking to make best advantage of what’s available.

When Fabregas is not dictating play from the central midfield role, the Gunners are less possession based and when the skipper is moved higher this means someone must take a greater mantle in circulating the ball. As shown against Liverpool, the side failed to string together a long enough sequence with the ball. Which is not to say Fabregas is not good enough for the number 10 role, he needs the movement around him and capable passers. The modern day game sees the ‘universal playmaker’; it is a team duty just as it is to defend.

Wenger admits his most greatest influence was the “Total Football” Ajax team of the late 60s and early 70s. A team which was built up with a core of players from the academy and played revolutionary football, interchanging positions and keeping the ball.

Samir Nasri may be the player which typifies his vision, which is most likely to be in a 4-4-1-1. The Frenchman’s cameo in a defensive midfield position at Liverpool underlines Wenger’s faith in him, as the manager could easily have put Fabregas back. Maybe it was so that Fabregas could still thread the defence splitting passes but Nasri showed that he has the ability to be a worthy central midfielder or even deeper.

The Bergkamp role seems tailor fit for Van Persie who in that position, has made the most assists in the Premier League and could allow Walcott and Arshavin to play out wide. The team has great potential but one which is still over-reliant on Fabregas to pull the strings but when everything gels, should see a dynamic yet ball-hogging Arsenal side.

There is every chance the Gunners will click with each other very soon but while the team is still young, there is every chance that it may take longer than expected. In the meantime however, Fabregas is still king.

Wenger transplants a more direct approach after losing creative brains

Wenger has recast his Arsenal team to a more direct and quicker side this season after the loss of key creative midfielders.
_______________________________________________________________________________
andrei-arshavin-002

Arsenal received the bad news this week of another set-back to perennial sick note Tomas Rosicky or it would have been even worse had their not been another little figure orchestrating proceedings. The ‘Andrey Arshavin factor’ is in full flow with the Russian displaying the right amount of creativity and dynamism that has so been missing for the last couple of months and indeed maybe even the whole season.

With Arshavin and Walcott operating out wide against Blackburn and Hull City, it is quite a marked difference from the wide men of Hleb and Rosicky of last season, who making up for their lack of directness interplayed with quick, one touch passes. The creative abilities of the wide men often accused Arsenal of being over-elaborate but the movement caused much uncertainty among opposition defences.

“I like to have one behind the striker, and one or two on the flanks who come inside,” said Arsene Wenger. “I always feel that if you have players who can deliver the decisive ball in all areas of the pitch, you have many more chances of being creative. If it’s only focused on one central part, where it’s usually more concentrated, you have more space on the flanks to create.”

With Hleb and Rosicky both preferring to cut inside it resulted into the more pass-focused play and while the ‘Invincibles’ were the original pass masters, with Ljungberg and Pires wide, had greater dynamism and penetration to go with it. For most of this season Arsenal have had to use Nasri and Eboue but as both prefer to come inside, to play such a passing game requires players to play around them and that is where Fabregas has been missed.

“When he’s there, everything goes through him but when he’s not it can take a while to adapt because the game goes through different ways – it’s plural,” said Wenger. “When it’s Fabregas it is more one-way traffic at the start of the build-up.” As a result their has been an over-reliance on the front four recently which requires quicker build up play and more directness from the wings. The possession keeping when teams have taken the initiative to the Gunners is as of yet not as strong as it can be; a lower percentage of possession to both Fulham and Aston Villa would have been blasphemous last season. The shield of Denilson and Song/Diaby have improved immensely but as of yet not as expansive as the Spaniard however they are slowing gaining in confidence  and the signs are good.

The partnership raises an interesting point; Arsenal have always had a midfield shield in front of their defence but who also had the creative potency but with Fabregas it is always him plus one, maybe leaving the team open at times. He has created plenty of goals and has been the heartbeat of the side but ultimately the club’s trophy haul during his  years at the club suggests he wasn’t success. Of course it is an absurd statement given his talismanic status but if Fabregas pushes up could put a lot of strain on the defence hence Flamini’s impact last season. However both Denilson and Diaby have shown they can match the Frenchman for industry both clocking up 15,000 metres against Roma and are still under the age of 24 (when Flamini made his breakthrough). Fabregas has shown, upon given the captain armband that he can undertake a more dictating role to achieve a greater balance while his tackling has always been understated.

The more direct play have grown naturally but given Wenger’s statement on how Arsenal have had to adapt without the Spaniard, it seems more manufactured. After the match against Hull, Arshavin stated Wenger wanted the team to play more quicker in his half time team-talk. “He told us that while we were doing the right things, we needed to speed up a bit to get the result.” The late Renus Michels, who was former Holland manager during the ‘Total Football’ era feels such a counter attacking style has shown to be most efficient when ‘short term success is desired.’ In his book ‘Teambuiding: The Road to Success’ a team in phase two will usually implement this style as their main style while those in phase three master what he call ‘ball circulation’ something not many teams can do.

The team must master the ‘ball circulation’ component to be able to determine the correct moment to start the attack. However, ball circulation is a means, not a goal in itself! To carry the play on the opponents half of the field places high demands of the build-up. There is not much time and space to work in and you have to deal with high defensive pressure. Fast combinations and excellent positional play are a must. Circulation football!

To lose possession close to the middle line when building-up is almost ‘suicidal’ in this risky style of football. One touch passing is also a must in the building-up team function of this strategy. This demands additional tactical insight from the players as situations quickly have to be surveyed. Each player has to anticipate even more.

To carry the play means that one time you choose to play in a high tempo and the next time you use delaying tactics to slow the play down. A play-making team must take full advantage of the space and must have defenders who can quickly change the point of attack, wing forwards who remain on the outside, etc.

The transition from defence to build-up must be executed very quickly. The team tactical manpower in the centre of the field(central defenders, midfielders and striker) is of great importance.

During the build up, the tactical coherence between the central defenders who must be thinking of playing the ball forward, the attacking midfielders and the central striker is very precise work. When possession is lost, it starts in the opposite direction. Good ball circulation puts high demands on the quality of the positional play, the mastering of the tempo and the speed of action.

In terms of style Arsenal can be classed to be in the middle of the two as they rebuild but with the players Wenger has at his disposal they can offer the correct blend of circulation football and dynamism that the ‘Invincibles’ perfected. Arshavin has only to adapt to English football and the teams understanding, Samir Nasri is still developing his dribbling to be a more effective winger but has the capability to deputise for Fabregas in the near future. Defensively the team is as strong as ever, maybe due in part to the more cautious approach and as the team are young, can get even better.

Arsenal should continue to develop momentum and with a good end to the season and pre-season to adapt to each other, the team has the variety, interchangeability to be potentially beautiful to watch and explosive at the same time.