AFCB’s new tactics guru Andrew Enloe gets the chalkboards out for the very first edition of ‘The Short Corner’…
In the world of Arsenal blogging, it seems the tactical side gets put on the back burner with most articles focused on team spirit and Arsene Wenger’s much-vaunted “mental strength.”
This has its place of course, but I also believe it is incredibly important to look at how the manager’s tactical approach affects how the team plays.
So we start the season off with a belter at Anfield.
What stuck with me from this match was the midfield setup.
Wenger’s preferred midfield lineup is Song, Denilson, and Cesc and with good reason; those players provide the balance in midfield required to disrupt the opposition, start attacks, and hold possession.
In this first game of the season, they were replaced with Diaby, Wilshere and Nasri respectively.
Few would argue that Diaby is a very effective defensive player, but Nasri looks like he could nail down a regular first-team spot this season. The final midfield spot remains unclear.
Most would agree that Song and Cesc are undoubtedly first-choice players. Denilson, though, is a bit of an enigma, with many struggling to find out what he actually does.
A lot of people would prefer to see Diaby, Wilshere or Ramsey in that remaining midfield spot. But the truth is that neither of those players can match up with Denilson’s passing completion rate.
I hear you say, “but they’re all sideways and none of them are killer passes.” That’s not the point.
When the best players are available, Arsenal’s style of play emulates the tiki-taka of Barcelona and Spain.
Essentially, tiki-taka is using possession as a means of defense; if you have the ball, the opposition can’t hurt you.
When you don’t have the ball, you aggressively press high up the pitch to force misplaced passes (remember how the team did this in the first games of last season). So possession is key.
For all Diaby’s skill, he takes too many touches before releasing the ball, allowing opponents to settle, thereby nullifying the purpose of moving the ball around. Wilshere showed on Sunday that he doesn’t have the discipline to function consistently in such a system as of yet.
And while Denilson doesn’t quite have the best positional discipline when defending, that’s a complaint you could probably level at the entire team (that will surely come in a later installment. I’m looking at you, Andrey).
Denilson allows the move to continue ticking over. He allows the team to patiently wear down opponents, which is actually one of the team’s great strengths.
Wilshere doesn’t have the passing ability that Denilson does. We missed Denilson’s easy passes on Sunday, with a few players (Diaby and Nasri in particular) taking too many touches before releasing the ball.
The introduction of the more direct Rosicky helped, but I’m convinced that Denilson’s composure would have made a considerable difference.
For all the supposed predictability of Denilson’s passing range, it is interesting to compare Diaby’s passing map with Denilson’s in last season’s first fixture, away at Everton (Diaby on top, Denilson on bottom):
What I’m most curious to see this season is whether Wenger will decide to play a 4-2-3-1 (as we saw at Anfield) with Song and Denilson as the two defensive midfield players or a more direct 4-1-2-3 with Nasri and Cesc in more attacking roles.
Most likely Wenger will use Nasri in home games against the lesser lights of the league, while Denilson will feature in the tougher fixtures.
- One of my favorite sights from last season was William Gallas bombing forward. We won’t see that this time around, but it looks like Thomas Vermaelen is more than willing to take up that mantle.
- Koscielny looks a better reader of the game than his Belgian partner, who often goes to the ball too quickly and leaves space behind him.
- Marouane Chamakh is a much more classic No 9 than Van Persie. While I don’t think he can play the deep role Van Persie does consistently, I can see him in home games against weaker opposition if Wenger wants to give the classic 4-4-2 a go.
- I have to say I’m OK with missing out on Joe Cole. He wasn’t good enough when he was on the pitch and Liverpool only started to play well when he was sent off and Gerrard took a little bit more of an advanced role. Look at what Tomas Rosicky, who would have been one of Joe Cole’s rivals in the team, accomplished in his short time on the pitch (Joe Cole on top, Rosicky on bottom):
- Both Kuyt and Jovanovic had very good defensive performances. One of the reasons Arsenal struggled to break down Liverpool was down to those wingers keeping Sagna and Clichy from getting on the ball in wide areas.
- The good news from this game is that we’re not going to encounter many defensive performances as good as Liverpool’s was on Sunday and it’s probably impossible that we’ll run into a defensive midfielder as good as Mascherano was.
- Going to Anfield with a midfield comprising players I would describe as second-choice and subsequently dominating possession is no bad thing either.
Have your say on Andrew’s tactical analysis of Arsenal v Liverpool by leaving a comment.