AFCB’s tactics guru Andrew Enloe examines how Theo Walcott helps the Arsenal defence…
Saturday’s match against Blackburn was the first real test of the season; nobody is really expected to win at Anfield, and last week’s match against Blackpool was only going to finish one way. Blackburn have a formidable home record, and winning the match would go a long way to showing how the season would go.
What we got was a tough, gritty, and resilient performance with a good deal of flair. It was a clash between the best passing team in the division and the worst. Overall very pleasing.
Koscielny, Vermaelen, and Almunia were superb in dealing with Blackburn’s high balls lofted into the box and with Pedersen’s long throws. Of the 22 times Sam Allardyce has come up against Arsenal, his teams have only lost 9 of those matches. When you think about that it’s pretty remarkable.
But what really stuck out to me was how Walcott can be used a defensive weapon.
In the past he has been most influential as a substitute. He’s been used to great effect against Liverpool and Barcelona. He has always been extremely fast, and quite simply scares the pants off of defenders, even if the final pass isn’t exactly spot-on all the time. Of course now it looks like he’s gaining in confidence and that he’s perhaps turned a corner, to use a rather worn-out phrase.
The Blackburn game showed just how much the presence of a pacey player like Walcott can affect the way a team attacks throughout the whole game.
Quite simply, Blackburn tried their best to keep from giving up the ball to Walcott. Take a look at this passing graph comparing Michel Salgado (who actually dealt with Arshavin pretty well) and Gaël Givet, who had a horrible time against Walcott:
Blackburn seemed uncomfortable with the prospect of losing the ball when Walcott was in the general vicinity. Of course Arshavin isn’t the most diligent of defenders, but Walcott is no Maldini either. In the past the mere idea of Walcott running at you was as frightening as the real thing. Now it seems the young winger is learning to assert that influence over the course of a full match.
The danger of Walcott takes a bit of the heat off of Sagna and allows him to bomb forward, as he did on Arsenal’s second goal. Walcott made a run to the inside to free up a huge amount of space on the right flank for Sagna to run into. Those who say he doesn’t have a “football brain” (whatever that is) clearly haven’t watched his movement enough.
If Walcott can maintain anything close to the form he’s shown in the past two matches, it will mean that Arsenal can dictate the way their opponents play to greater effect than they have in the past.
The real test is how he does against a player like Ashley Cole or Patrice Evra.
- When Thomas Vermaelen botched up his little lay-off and Kalinic had a sight at goal it was the first pass the Belgian had misplaced this season. That is absolutely remarkable, and it shows just how much concentration Arsenal’s style demands.
- As Andy pointed out in his match report (and linked to Zonal Marking), Koscielny was impeccable at the back. He was totally comfortable with Blackburn’s aerial threat and was flawless apart from the goal (which he’ll learn from).
- Abou Diaby had a better pass completion rate in this match than both Fabregas and Song. He also won 8 of his 11 attempted tackles. I’m still of the opinion that he takes too long on the ball, but on this form he will certainly make himself first choice in the more physical matches.
Have your say on The Short Corner by leaving a comment.