Arsenal ready for the new season
Another pre-season tournament, another trophy. But apart from the silverware, what can supporters take away from Arsenal’s Emirates Cup and Amsterdam Tournament successes? What clues has manager Arsene Wenger given us about how the team will play going into next season? I’ve highlighted some important points to take away from what has been a fascinating pre-season at the Arsenal Football Club.
Clichy holds the key to Arsenal’s structure
Make no mistake, Gael Clichy will be more important to Arsenal than any other left-back in the Premiership will be to their respective club. Manager Arsene Wenger seems to have settled on a virtual 4-5-1 formation for the side going into the new season but the roles of the left and right-sided midfielders could not be more contrasting. Whilst Emmanuel Eboue or Theo Walcott will play more like an out-and-out winger down the right, looking to push wide and receive defensive support from Bacary Sagna – the left side of midfield will function in an entirely different manner. With a lack of left-footed players in the squad, Wenger will look to deploy either Tomas Rosicky or Alexander Hleb on the left and it is because of this that Clichy is so important.
The Frenchman’s remarkable stamina and determination means that he is able to tear up and down the left side and act as a virtual winger when Arsenal goes into attack and a full-back when they are under the pump. Clichy allows players like Rosicky and Hleb to play where they are more dangerous – centrally – by providing the width on the left side of the park. Just as Daniel Alves has revolutionised the right-back position at Spanish club Sevilla, Clichy looks set to do the same with Arsenal. His assists for Niklas Bendtner and Robin van Persie against PSG and Ajax respectively gave a taste of what he can provide from this position. That, along with his improved defensive abilities underline his newfound importance to the team.
Wenger has a ‘Plan B’
There’s no question that in previous seasons Arsenal have been criticised for their one-dimensional attacking play. When things go well Wenger’s side look like world-beaters, tearing apart opposition teams with free-flowing, attacking football. When things don’t go so well, Arsenal’s attacking ability seems to hit a brick wall and so often their defensive opponents will snatch a draw or even sneak a win. It is a relief that Wenger has finally come to grips with the fact that Arsenal have lacked variety in attack and has altered his squad to ensure they are capable of dealing with the differing styles of their opponents.
Van Persie is a player who will start every big game but it is the manner in which he can now be supported that is encouraging for Arsenal. Whereas previously the side relied on ex-captain Thierry Henry to get the goals in a very particular manner, Arsenal is now equipped with attackers who can get them in a variety of ways. Eduardo da Silva has been brought to the club with a reputation as a penalty area poacher and Niklas Bendtner provides a physical presence up front that Wenger’s side has always lacked. The fact that both of these players scored from corners during pre-season is even more encouraging. One mustn’t forget Emmanuel Adebayor either, a player who has an ability to lead the line on his own and really take games by the scruff of the neck. If he can improve his finishing ability then he has every chance of scoring over 15 goals next season.
Perhaps the most interesting change to Arsenal’s attacking shape has been Wenger’s choice to use of Alexander Hleb in a more central role. When Hleb arrived at Arsenal from German club Stuttgart he came with the reputation of being able to create space with his amazing dribbling when attacking through the middle of the pitch. In hindsight, it seems unfair that Hleb has received so much criticism for failing to do so when Wenger has consistently played in a restricted position on the right. Wenger seems to have realised his mistake and played the Belarussian as a support striker or a left-sided midfielder to devastating success during pre-season. In van Persie, Eduardo, Bendtner, Adebayor and now Hleb, Arsenal have a variety of ways to trouble their opponents next season. Wenger doesn’t just have a ‘Plan B’, he seems to have a ‘Plan C’ as well.
Gallas and Toure can play together
There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that individually, William Gallas and Kolo Toure are exceptional footballers. Both possess the attributes necessary to succeed as a modern-day defender; pace, a good ability to read the game and the ability to be comfortable with the ball at their feet. But when Toure and Gallas have played together at the centre of Arsenal’s defence the two have previously struggled to work as a partnership. Thankfully, this seems to have changed as the two have had time to get to work together.
It is no coincidence that the two games during pre-season where Gallas and Toure started as the central defence pairing – against Inter Milan in the Emirates Cup and Ajax in the Amsterdam Tournament – Arsenal looked at their most secure. Phillipe Senderos has looked sharper than ever before and Johan Djourou remains an exciting prospect, but if Arsenal are to challenge in England and the Champions League next season then Gallas and Toure need to form a partnership as effective as Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic and Chelsea’s John Terry-Ricardo Carvalho pairings. Gallas and Toure have shown in pre-season that they can work as a pair and with both players possessing the necessary experience the two can provide a basis of inspiration for the young players around them.
What do you think?
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