Arsenal win , despite “Song”

After a dismal display against West Brom forced me out of the “internet arsenal life including visiting other good sites” like many others, I was looking forward to team’s reply. Arsene made 6 changes to the side that lost to West Brom with Fabianski, Denilson,Wilshere,Rosicky,Eboue,Djourou,Gibbs coming in for reasons varying from injury, form,rotation. Over all it was quite a strong Arsenal side. First time in the season impressive Wilshere started in his supposedly future “Cesc’s ” role backed by Song and Denilson.

Arsenal started slowly, struggling to keep possession and was under attack for few minutes. With West Brom still fresh in mind  fear of similar performance loomed high. But Arshavin had different ideas today, got our attack up and running and duly scored the first goal.  Song played a through ball to Arshavin who was staying in between in the lines , got quite a bit of space in front of him to run at the defenders. Arshavin played a neat pass to the onrushing Wilshere , Wilshere was surrounded by 4 Partizan players still managed to find Arshavin whose first time shot was in the back of the net.

Arsenal created quite a few chances after that but as usual failed to finish those off. Denilson handled a totally harmless ball inside the penalty box gifted  a goal to a confident less Partizan.  Goal and the crowd lifted Partizan’s confidence and belief. Last 15 mins of first half went on without any highlights as Arsenal became a subdued team. This was mainly due to the fact Arsenal always tried to play through the middle and tried to break down the compact two banks of 4 and failing miserably.

Arsenal started the second half better playing at a higher tempo and most likely team to score next goal. Arshavin was in the midst of the things again. Arshavin moved slightly inside and took up the traditional No.9 role and found a through ball to Chamakh. Though Chamakh had beaten the defender , decided to go down instead of going for the goal and won a penalty and got Jovanovic sent off . Arshavin took the resulting penalty shot straight and Partizan keeper saved with his legs. I would prefer Chamakh staying on the feet in these situations since in EPL penalty may not be given for these.

In the second half Rosicky was more involved probably the result of the half-time talk, provided the second goal. At 71st min Rosicky played an inch may be mm perfect cross on to Chamakh’s head whose first time header was saved brilliantly saved by the keeper. But Chamakh had a second chance off the rebound which he coolly put it in the back of the net. Seems like Rosicky is the biggest benefactor of Chamakh’s arrival , he can use that ball with a better hope of it being converted. It is just one of the amazing qualities of Rosicky, he even managed to find  Vela’s head in the carling cup game . We will see more of that kind of goal. Once Arsenal went ahead against 10 players it all became too easy and was just a matter of keeping the ball. Arsenal went 3-1 after Squillaci nodded home from Nasri’s corner. After that we still had time to typical Arsenal moments at the back, Gibbs gave away a penalty. Fabianski stood confidently and did an absolutely good save and made sure the score line stayed the same. Our non-existent defense and midfield again generously gave one more chance to test Fabianski. Fabianski made another absolutely stunning save. At last there is a few glimpses of the “training ground Fabianski”

Few observations from the game:

  • Arsenal leave huge gaps between the full backs and center backs with full backs pushing on par with the holding midfielders. This has been the best chance for any teams to score against us , so far in this season. Think of Blackburn , Bolton, Tottenham games. A simple ball through that space opens up our defense all too easily. If this is not rectified i am sure Chelsea will be able to use it to great effect.
  • Denilson is the heartbeat of our midfield. Arsenal had control of the midfield as soon as he entered the field in the previous games. This game also he controlled the midfield almost alone as Song was playing in  his fantasy world.
  • Song is a liability. Looks like he assumed he is the next Cesc and was always ahead of our better creative players.  He was simply useless in attack and his tackling is just awful , even Wilshere tackles better than Song. He always committed fouls instead of winning the ball.
  • Our team is built entirely on the assumption that the midfield will have control and keep the ball. When this assumption fails our whole team crumbles. For this reason we cannot afford to have an off form player or misbehaving player in midfield. Diaby falls in the former and Song falls in the next category. In this game also misbehaving Song left the midfield to all sort of forward positions made us vulnerable in defense. This directly resulted in a collapse of defensive shape and a panic.
  • Our best midfield in few months time seems to be Denilson-Wilshere-Cesc or Denilson-Ramsey-Cesc.
  • We are most vulnerable to short passing game than any other team. Simple passes near edge of the box pulls all players out of the position.
  • Our use of wing play was non-existent. Using width was required to stretch the compact Partizan’s defense . Our lack of wing play was mostly due to Song’s attacking urge which forced Gibbs to stay back and denied the space to overlap/cut in. This combined with how vulnerable Song made us defensively is the reason for the headline. Denilson is also another one to blame for this, he should distribute the ball better especially to wings.  Wilshere did this excellently when he played the second midfielder in our midfield trio.

Individual player performance:

Fabianski: Saved a penalty and made a crucial save in the dying minutes. Great performance from our reserve keeper. This was a match winning performance considering the saves the score could easily have been 3-3. Hope this helps his confidence and keeps giving such performances.

Sagna: Caught out of position few times. Did decently well in defense and offense.

Squillaci: Had a good game defensively few very good tackles also got a goal to his name.

Djourou: He has beaten himself again and again.  Got into all sort of wrong possible positions . Bumped into other Arsenal players and left us wide open. Surging forward runs does not seem necessary. Over all i could not find positives for Djourou , probably it is down to his “long term injury” and he will improve with few more games.

Gibbs: Had a good game defensively but gave away a penalty in the end. Did not have chance to attack as already the left side was crowded also due to lack of distribution. Took very good attacking positions only to be ignored by his teammates.

Song: Disastrous performance, i know i am biased but i am sure i am not that far off the truth. Absolutely no reason for him to be occupying the positions our better attacking players should be taking. Was clueless when in advanced positions, denied Gibbs any chance of attacking . Always was at the wrong position defensively. Denilson had a good game also Partizan did not look at attacking or else this could have been easily another Sunderland or West Brom.  And if anybody thinks he is good at attacking he took 3 touches within the penalty box where he was supposed to play a 1-2. Hope Arsene comes down hard on him. I wish he had injured himself and not available for Chelsea.

Denilson: Another great display from the brazilian. By far the most consistent Arsenal player this season. Broke up the play pretty well , always available for defenders and other midfielders. Did his best to make up “Song’s absence ” in midfield. He could do better in his distribution. Especially to wings.

Wilshere: Had a very good game, nice piece of skill and awareness for the first goal.  His defensive game is amazing , even told his team mates to track a midfield runner. Got lesser service from midfield than he should have. I still feel he is much better at the second midfielder role with his discipline in defense and passing ability .

Rosicky: Worked hard for the whole game, absolutely world class cross for the second goal. Did not do much in the first half when most of our play has been through the left. Got more involved in the second half, got into good positions inside the box it is just matter of time before he starts scoring goals.

Arshavin: He has been the difference maker in the past few games. Great performance by our little magician, wish he showed same amount of interest , desire and leader ship in all games. When he drifts into the No.9 position he is altogether   a different beast and finds through balls at will. Penalty miss was the only blip.

Chamakh: Usual hardworking self. As usual earned a penalty. As usual got a goal with his head. His first touch is really letting him down in tight spaces. Other wise it is the usual Chamakh as expected.

Subs: Did not do anything special, all subs were due to precautionary “save from injury” type.

Will cover a slightly more in-depth analysis of our defensive part of game tomorrow.

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Arsenal dominate but need Arshavin’s sparks to win.

On paper both the teams started with 4-2-3-1. Arsenal first time clearly played two pivots, in earlier games we played one DM and a box-to-box MF and AM . In this game Arsenal had both Wilshere and Denilson playing on the same level. Where as spurs midfield was more towards 4-5-1 than 4-2-3-1. Spurs tried to do what Sunderland did on Saturday by pressing our deep lying midfielders. But unlike Saturday we had two midfielders stayed together and was available for a pass, so we were not struggling too much to keep possession. Numerical advantage in the midfield meant both Denilson and Wilshere had almost 2 Spurs players when they got the ball , but both of them came out with flying colors in keeping possession. Denilson went forward at every opportunity , Wilshere mostly stayed back on the left . Deep position of Wilshere meant he had space to run and pick a pass. Once our midfield kept the possession it automatically pushed the Spurs players deep into their half. Spurs defended with two banks of players in a 4-5 formation. see the screen shot below. This meant Pavlyuchenko was isolated upfront.

Spurs defending with 9 players in two banks 4-5

Spurs defending with 9 players in two banks 4-5

Full backs:

Both of our full backs had lots of freedom to attack, in particular Gibbs took advanced positions too often and made very good use of it. Rosicky and Lansbury had lots of defensive responsibilities and they did really well in those situations. Spurs defended deep but could not construct a counter attack fast enough to trouble Arsenal . Gibbs showed great dynamism in attack his attacking was as good as a winger . Gibbs did not just try to hug the touch line he made very dangerous runs into the box.  Another slightly different thing we did was to switch wings very effectively this directly resulted in the goal. Rosicky and Lansbury moved central often and created space for the full backs.

Gibbs with huge space in the flanks which lead to goal.

Gibbs with huge space in the flanks which lead to goal.

Denilson won the ball in midfield held off pressure from two Spurs players and passed it onto Eboue. Eboue spotted Gibbs in space and switched the wings. Gibbs played it to Rosicky on the edge of the box who played it on to the rushing Wilshere who delivered a low cross in to the box. Lansbury ran into the crowded box to apply the finishing touch. It was a typical Arsenal goal.  After the goal although Arsenal dominated with possession could not create many chances. This is where we were missing Cesc , without Cesc we were afraid of loosing the ball . Nasri who is supposed to be the one who had license to loose the ball chose more conservative option every time. It could also be because Nasri was failing to see the runs made by Vela and Rosicky , even when he made great runs into the box he eventually made a simpler pass back. For this reason i feel Rosicky would have been a better choice for the AM role.

Since Spurs defended deep and in two banks we struggled to break them down . Often runs from midfield from Wilshere and Denilson were more dangerous .  Also we had lots of space to try few long range shots (see screen shot below) . I was a bit disappointed that this was not used.  I would have liked Denilson to have had more shots.

Opportunities for long range shots.

Opportunities for long range shots.

Spurs’ most likely attack was down the right and exploiting the space between Eboue and Djourou.  Theoretically the same thing could have happened in the left hand side also but there was nobody who is going to beat Koscielny yesterday. But this did not happen too often since they were chasing the shadow most of the time. Spurs meaningful attack in the first half was through a ball down the right between Eboue and Djourou  . Djourou was skinned by Pavlyuchenko and Arsenal were 1 vs 3 with only Koscielny holding but thanks to Bentley’s selfishness it came to nothing. Koscielny’s positioning and calmness in that situation was impeccable.

Same pattern continued in the second half, Spurs got a goal thanks to Ref and to some extent Fabianski. Once Chamakh and Arshavin entered the field it was more likely we will get a winner. Chamakh was always ready to make runs into the box but Nasri was not picking him . The most likely source for an assist was Arshavin since he was the one who likes to lose the ball 😀 . Arshavin spotted runs from Chamakh and Nasri, both were felled in the box and we got penalties which Nasri confidently converted. Arshavin made one goal for himself the game was over.

Individual player comments:

Fabianski: Could have pushed the ball away for the goal. Made a good save after Nasri’s goal line clearance. Did not have anything else to do.

Eboue: Was decent in offense and defense. Got into promising positions couple of times and his touch let him down.

Djourou: Easily the weakest link the team. Got beaten by Pavlyuchenko all day . Very suspect positioning gets pulled by ball all over. Made some nice tackles.

Koscielny: As good and important as Cesc , enough said. I dare say he is the best CB in the league.

Gibbs: Almost flawless game. Was great in attack and took up his defensive game once Lennon came on.

Denilson: Typical Denilson simple, effective. Made some attacking runs but could have tried to stay on feet in those positions since Refree was not going to give fouls for Arsenal. Should have tried for few more long-range shots he had enough opportunities.

Wilshere: Too good for Spurs midfield . Great maturity , skills, tactical discipline. He surely has come off age. He is going to have few more Sunderland like games but he is going to be frighteningly good.

Nasri: Could have been bit more risk taking. Well taken penalties . Once we have led we need Nasri in the team to kill off time 😀 .

Lansbury: Great engine . Great run , finish, anticipation for the goal. Defensive part of his game was top-notch. Made few yellow card tackles.

Vela: Isolated upfront . His role became tougher when nobody was tracking his runs also by the ever filled flanks.

Rosicky: Had a good game. Great cross to Vela , where Vela’s header went wide. Let Gibbs attack freely and covered him well in defense.

Chamakh: Typical Chamakh, hard work + won a penalty.

Arshavin: Lost few balls and misplaced few passes. But his willingness to lose the ball and play risky passes created 2 goals and one he made for himself.

Wenger: Great touch by dedicating this victory to the Jack chester . This is why i love this club it is much more than a football club.

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Possession stats Arsenal 35% – 65 % opponents are not Barca

In the past 3 years,  there was only one match in which Arsenal were dominated and made to chase the game “without the ball”. That match was against Barcelona in the last years quarter finals. We were made to chase the shadows by a technically superior team with intense pressing.  Even against ManU and Chelsea we had superior possession and created decent chances in the first half of the match at least.  Yesterday Sunderland showed after all Gunners can be dominated in possession too.

Steve Bruce set out his side by packing his midfield with tall physical players and with a lone target man. Sunderland were very clear in their plan , crowd the midfield and press our deep lying mid fielders and forced them to harry the passes. The tactic was very successful and completely unsettled Arsenal and very successful in isolating the forwards and the midfield. Song’s impatience and his new found intent to push forward was not helping Arsenal. Too often Wilshere was left all alone in the middle of Arsenal’s half , Wilshere’s inexperience came to the fore he either made wrong decision or hoofed the ball up and lost possession.

The image below shows how effective Sunderland’s pressing was. They won so many balls in Arsenal’s half especially down the left. Combining this with Arsenal midfield’s inability to win the balls compounded the problem for Arsenal. In Fabregas’ 28 mins on the field , not once Song could find him with a pass. Fabregas touched the ball just 6 times in that time which is too less for Arsenal captain for 1/3 rd of the match. Another shocking piece of stat shows the problem with Arsenal’s midfield yesterday, Song in the first 45 mins passed only once to Wilshere . The advantage of the double pivot system it helps the team keep possession with an extra easier midfield option , but this was simply not used yesterday.

In the middle somewhere Arsenal captain magically lobbed above the Sunderland keeper from 30 yards out. Arsenal’s only moment of the half was that and luck ended there. Song’s inability to break up the attack and win the ball, forced him into fouls and inevitably got a booking. I do not want to talk about the refree, but his inconsistency in showing the cards was tough to miss out.  Cesc’s departure with injury did not help matters much either, Rosicky could not gain the control of the midfield.

For all their possession and domination of midfield sunderland had very little to no clue on attack. All they had to offer was high balls into the box, Koscielny and Squillaci was good enough for the balls in the air. Especially Koscielny was proactive in defending was covering Clichy excellently . Koscielny almost invariably won every ball in the air.  Sunderland could not bother the solid Arsenal back five including Almunia.  It was quite strange to attribute the above lines to some other team than Arsenal. Notably the solid defense to which Arsenal are not associated with.

Arsenal started the second half well keeping the possession and started moving the ball forward nicely.  Song’s miserable day ended with a second yellow a deserved one. Totally useless Arshavin was replaced by Denilson. Denilson calmed things down in the middle winning the ball without committing fouls. And his simple play allowed Arsenal to keep possession. Arsenal were playing much better with 10 men, keeping the balance between defense and offense. Sunderland started tiring at this point. Arsenal looked quite comfortable to hold on to the lead.  Nasri was felled in the box in the 75th min and let Rosicky take the penalty. Rosicky duly shot over the bar as he has been doing in his last few matches.

Arsenal defense held on well for 20 more mins, with a 5 second lapse in concentration and not playing for the whistle costed 2 points for Arsenal. Although ref was inconsistent in calling fouls and issuing cards he had little bearing on the result. It was Arsenal’s game to loose with a penalty miss and loosing concentration did us in. Yet there were quite a few positives for Arsenal from the match. Had we won the game it would have been one of the best result of the season.

On to individual performance

  • Almunia: Was excellent , saved all those when he had to. Swept up when needed especially when Denilson made that awful back pass. Was confident and organized defense. Overall nothing more to ask from.
  • Koscielny: Won every header . Always cleaned up the mess left by midfield. Also covered Clichy well. Looks solid as good as any CB in the league. We have got a gem.
  • Squillaci: Silently did what he had to. Played perfect foil for Koscielny’s proactive defending. Actually the pair played as if they are one player. So synchronized and covering each other well. Dare i say this is our best CB pairing, Vermaelen affects the balance.
  • Sagna: Solid as ever , could not get forward as Song was always in advanced positions. Did well in defense when asked for.
  • Clichy: Same old, stayed back a lot. Panicked inside the box and with few mishaps as usual. I would not blame him for the goal though.
  • Song : Easily the worst player in both the teams combined. Stupid fouls , could not win any ball in the middle of the park failed to control the tempo as a DM. Played too many forward passes /through balls when we were struggling to keep possession. Should have played more sensibly as Wilshere is totally inexperienced.
  • Wilshere: Should not have started the game, was brushed aside of the ball too many times. Made all sort of wrong decisions and with that atrocious back heel near the box. Songs staying too far away did not help him too much either.
  • Cesc: Anonymous till he was in the pitch , should have dropped deeper and took control over the midfield . As a captain atleast should have asked Song to shut up and stay back.
  • Nasri: Very anonymous in the first half, second half grew into the game. With entire midfield malfunctioning he could not have done much. Should have taken the penalty. Played very well to kill time off.
  • Chamakh: Worked his socks off. Did well in defense. There was no offense in the first half. Should have finished off that chance in first half.
  • Arshavin: Nothing to tell about him. I am not sure why he should be in the team. Lost balls every time he got the ball and missed few chances Vela could have finished those off i guess. Fingers crossed on when Wenger will finally have the guts to drop him. We were much better team after he left the field and Arsenal were with 10 men.
  • Rosicky: Failed to show he is an experienced player and to take control of midfield in the first half. Had a very good second half , keeping the possession well and also creating few chances.
  • Denilson: Calmed down things in the mid once he came on, excellent cameo as good as his Barca game. Made that awful back pass which would have been easily a goal but for Almunia other wise he was refreshing should be automatically ahead of Wilshere. He has a very calm head and won lots of balls in the middle.
  • Wenger: I feel Wilshere is being given too much importance may be he is trying to please the English press. Wilshere does not deserve to start so many games. Otherwise good subs.

P.S: Though i have used guardian stats so many times, i do not feel they are accurate and also it is inadequate. I am thinking of making stats on our own for Arsenal at least , it is impossible for me alone to collect the stats if anybody is interested we can together have a decent stats bank i guess. I will try to post some initial stats.

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