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Tomas Rosicky’s energy and perseverance drives Arsenal past Spurs

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Arsene Wenger’s decision to acquire Mesut Ozil on transfer deadline day has been identified as the spark that’s led to Arsenal’s formidable form this season. The signing displayed the North London side’s title ambitions, and his presence has influenced his teammates to raise their overall game – but initially, it put Tomas Rosicky’s place in the squad at risk.

Rosicky, who most recently celebrated his 33rd birthday, has struggled to solidify a place in Arsenal’s XI throughout his eight-year spell in North London. Injuries have hampered the Czech’s ability to reach his expected potential, and with Arsenal possessing an abundance of creative players, his role within the squad was questionable.

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Here, the 33-year-old midfielder started alongside Santi Cazorla and Serge Gnabry in Arsenal’s attacking trio, behind Theo Walcott. Walcott aimed to attack space behind the fullbacks, Gnabry stuck to the touchline to provide width and isolate defenders – a logical approach based on Spurs’ fullbacks willingness to surge forward, while their centrebacks lack pace – whereas Cazorla drifted centrally to provide a creative spark.

Rosicky has occasionally slotted into the no.10 role behind the striker this season, opposed to Cazorla or Ozil, and it’s because the Czech midfielder provides a different element to Arsenal’s attack. Rosicky isn’t renowned for his sleek penetrating passes, or ability to take control of games – he’s an energetic direct threat that drives Arsenal forward, when their intricate passing is ineffective.

When Arsenal drew Everton at the Emirates this season, Wenger made a triple-substitution, which included Walcott and Rosicky replacing Cazorla and Jack Wilshere. It took 10 minutes for the duo to influence the match, as Rosicky’s long diagonal ball into the box met Walcott, and he nodded it towards Ozil, who gave Arsenal the lead from close range.

On two separate occasions, Rosicky drove Arsenal forward from deep positions in midfield, with swift, sleek combination play. Quick intricate passes with Cazorla and Wilshere enabled the 33-year-old to push forward and play a pass into Walcott, whose curling effort swerved inches wide of the net. Five minutes later, Rosicky dropped towards the halfway line to receive the ball, play a quick one-two with Wilshere, then inventively combine with Cazorla, who drifted infield and also curled his shot wide of the net.

The interesting feat about Rosicky is his admirable work-rate – he scampers around the pitch with the energy levels of a 20-year-old, quickly closing down the opposition, and breaking into tackles. Wenger’s decision to place him behind Walcott was with the intent of preventing Spurs from playing out of the back. For the most part, they were successful, and Rosicky was rewarded for his tireless running.

In the 61st minute, Rosicky closed down Danny Rose at the halfway line – the Czech subsequently dispossessed the Spurs left back, and shrugged off Kyle Walker, before cleverly chipping the ball over Hugo Lloris. Rosicky’s ability to drift into pockets of space and push runners forward is often overlooked, yet pivotal in an attack that can occasionally lack guile and penetration.

Although Rosicky could improve his goal-scoring/assist tally, the 33-year-old still offers a positive blend in Arsenal’s attack. His consistent dynamic style of play that involves direct running, and quick intricate passing has seen Rosicky quietly become one of Arsenal’s key men this season. Trophies have become a distant thought in the mind of Arsenal supporters, but Rosicky’s energetic play from midfield can play a decisive factor in ending their prolonged title drought.

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Posted by on January 4, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal

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Manchester City moved three points behind Arsenal with a convincing victory at the Ethiad Stadium.

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Arsene Wenger made five changes to the side that Napoli defeated at the San Paolo. Nacho Monreal, Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Bacary Sagna were in the starting lineup.

Manuel Pellegrini recalled Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Negredo, Yaya Toure and Samir Nasri to the starting line up.

Arsenal’s complacent approach without the ball led to City’s dominant performance, as Pellegrini’s men were devastating in the final third.

Shape

Coming off a midweek loss to Napoli in the Champions League, many questioned how Wenger and his men would respond. It’s uncertain as to whether their conservative approach without the ball was down to fatigue, but it allowed City to assert their dominance on the match.

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Wenger’s men dropped into two banks for four, but like their press was non-existent. They allowed City’s midfielder’s time on the ball, while Silva and Nasri freely roamed between the lines.

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Arsenal invited pressure into their third, but they didn’t prevent City from asserting their dominance in these areas.

On the other hand, while City also dropped into two banks of four, their approach was pragmatic. City minimized space between the lines for large portions of the match – Toure and Fernandinho sat closer to their back four, and the midfield pressed Arsenal’s creative players when they approached dangerous areas.

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Arsenal’s approach without the ball enabled City to get into better positions, whereas Pellegrini’s men displayed impressive work ethic to prevent Arsenal from penetrating in the final third.

Full backs freedom

Nonetheless, the two teams had different approaches when they dropped into two banks of four, yet there shapes were identical. Both sides were fairly narrow when the opposition was in possession, and this encouraged fullbacks to push forward.

Arsenal’s enjoyed a different element of attack this season through Sagna’s crossing ability from the right, while Pablo Zabaleta is renowned for driving into advanced areas. Gael Clichy was the least active fullback from an attacking sense, and this was logical, as he was the only fullback that was matched up against a legitimate wide player in Walcott.

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Zabaleta constantly pushed forward, attacking space behind Wilshere, as the Englishman was often caught in central positions.

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With Wilshere and Monreal dragged into the centre of the pitch, Zabaleta was a preferred outlet for Pellegrini’s men – coincidentally, it led to City’s second goal.

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Here, we see two issues with Arsenal’s approach – one, Toure is allowed too much time on the ball, and once again Zabaleta is free on the right flank. Arsenal’s midfield failed to close the Ivorian down, and he found Zabaleta on the right flank, which resulted in a well-weighed ball for Negredo to tap in.

Sagna, also received space on the right to deliver crosses into the box, but unlike previous matches, the quality of the deliveries were poor – and when they did get into the box, Kompany did well to clear his lines.

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Arsenal struggled to create legitimate goal-scoring opportunities in the first half, but they did find an equalizer against the run of play. The goal was significant because it was one of the few times an Arsenal player pressed a City midfielder, and it highlighted Ozil’s use of half space.

Ramsey stepped forward to dispossess Toure, and he drove forward to play a ball to Ozil on the left flank.

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Ozil ran into half-space after receiving the ball from Ramsey. He can now chose to go forward and continue to penetrate or look for an option. His run into half space forced Yaya Toure to track a forward run into the box, when he/or a midfielder should be looking to intercept a potential cutback.

Ozil did well to attack the half space, and he played a cutback ball to Walcott, who placed his shot into the right corner.

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Ozil decided to make the cut back pass to the advancing Walcott, who is unmarked at the edge of the box. This is down to Ozil penetrating half space.

Ramsey’s tackle was pivotal, but Ozil’s ability to efficiently utilize the half-space led to the goal, as it drew Toure and the rest of the City defenders into the box, thus leaving the edge of the area vacant.

Silva/Nasri

Another issue Arsenal encountered was their inability to contain Silva and Nasri. City’s fluid system is maximized when both players are in the XI, and they were a constant threat against Arsenal.

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The duo was City’s most proficient passers – alongside Toure – as they constantly buzzed around the final third. They dropped deep to help City push forward as a unit, but quickly found space between the lines to spring City attacks.

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Nasri and Silva roaming around between the lines

Silva drifted around the final third, weaving in and around the edge of the area, yet he also ignited swift counter attacks.

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Whereas Nasri was more direct with his approach – he provided intricate passes, and nonchalantly drifted past his opposition at every opportunity.

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Here Yaya Toure isn’t closed down, while Nasri and Silva are free between the lines

The Frenchman improved when moved into the no.10 role, but failed to score against his former side.

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Shockingly, Arsenal struggled to close down the duo’s passing lanes or close them down – Nasri and Silva dominated Arsenal in the final third, leaving Wenger’s men to chase shadows.

Arsenal improve

Arsenal’s best spell of the game lasted 13 minutes. Fernandinho increased City’s lead in the 50th minute, which led to Arsenal’s brief resurgence.

In fairness, City should also be held responsible, as their lackadaisical approach saw them drop deeper towards their box and avoid their defensive duties. Ozil became a prominent figure as he dropped deeper into midfield to receive the ball and began facilitating passes, while aiming to create overloads in wide areas.

Olivier Giroud received wonderful chances to bring Arsenal back into the match, but his poor finishing let him down.

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No City player closes down Ozil and Ramsey is free to receive the ball

Luckily for Arsenal, City continued to sit off, opposed to applying pressure, and as you can see below Ozil and Ramsey received ample space to create Walcott’s second goal.

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Ramsey is still unmarked between the lines. He’s free to receive the ball, and play a pass into Walcott, which leads to Arsenal second goal.

There’s no pressure applied on Ozil and Ramsey, and they were able to find pockets of space to exploit. However, Arsenal’s lead was short lived, as City stormed forward on the attack once again, and negligence to Silva’s movement in the final third restored City’s two-goal lead.

Substitutions

The way both managers utilized their substitutions was pivotal in the latter stages of the match, yet it also displayed an issue Arsenal possess.

Pellegrini was forced to introduce Jesus Navas for Aguero, who suffered a calf injury. Subsequently, he also replaced Silva with Milner, thus pushing Nasri behind Negredo, as City became 4-2-3-1. This forced Arsenal’s fullbacks deeper due to City’s threat in wide areas, and it also injected more pace into the home side’s approach. Milner was fouled for City’s sixth goal, while Navas’ direct approach, led to his cross for Silva’s goal.

More so, with the game now stretched, the injected pace constantly troubled the Gunners backline. The onus was on Arsenal’s their tired legs to search for a goal, and it let to mistakes that Fernandinho pounced on, which contributed heavily to his improved second half performance.

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As for Arsenal, they made a player swap by introducing Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud, while Serge Gnabry replaced Flamini. Wenger conceded defensive solidity in midfield for a direct wide threat, but neither Wilshere nor Ramsey were capable of completing their jobs. The match had slipped away from the Gunners, but Pellegrini’s substitutions preserved the result.

Conclusion

City produced another superior performance at the Ethiad, and Arsenal’s feeble approach ensured that. They allowed City’s midfield to dictate the tempo of the match, Wilshere failed to track Zabaleta’s runs, and Wenger’s options on the bench failed to change the match. 

“It’s very important to be an entertaining team but I would prefer we won 6-0 rather than 6-3,” Pellegrini said. 

“It’s possible to [win in attacking fashion without conceding] but the whole team must know how to defend. I will watch the game again but I don’t remember Arsenal having that many chances to score more than three.” 

Pellegrini should be wary of City’s defensive frailties – while they do score a lot of goals, there were periods in the match where his men lost awareness, and were exposed by Arsenal.

However, Wenger’s reluctance to tinker the squad is finally catching up with his side. This will be an interesting period for the league leaders, as the fixture list picks up, and failure to rotate the squad can lead to individual burnouts, and dropped points.

 
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Posted by on December 16, 2013 in EPL, Match Recaps

 

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Manchester United 1-0 Arsenal

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Robin van Persie continued to haunt his former employers, as his first half header pushes Manchester United within five points of league leaders Arsenal.

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Van Persie returned to the starting eleven to lead the line ahead of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Shinji Kagawa. Michael Carrick and Phil Jones formed a midfield duo, while Jonny Evans partnered Nemanja Vidic at centre back.

Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that defeated Borussia Dortmund in midweek. Mathieu Flamini returned to the lineup to join Mikel Arteta in the double pivot, whereas Thomas Vermaelen formed a centre back partnership with Laurent Koscielny.

This was a vintage Moyes display – United’s reactive approach saw the Red Devils concede space on the flanks, as they sat in a narrow shape to nullify Arsenal’s threat in central areas.

United without the ball

One of the main feats in Arsenal’s success over the past few weeks has been their fluidity and quick interchanges in midfield, so the battle in central areas was always going to be pivotal. David Moyes’ men were impressive without the ball – when they lost possession, they quickly closed down the Arsenal defenders to retain possession, and when Arsenal were building play they maintained an extremely high-line.

Space was at a premium in midfield, and Arsenal’s attacking three were unable to receive the ball between the lines, as United sat extremely narrow to close down their passing lanes. Arteta and Flamini dropped deeper between the centre backs to provide an outlet for their defenders and build play – which was odd considering Rooney’s impressive defensive display against Arteta last season – but majority of their passes were sideways. Ozil and Ramsey also attempted to receive the ball in deeper positions, but Valencia and Kagawa pressed them once they received the ball.

United’s wide men played an integral role in their success for large portions of the match. Kagawa and Valencia sat deeper than usual to help Jones and Carrick in midfield. Space was available out wide – which was risky based on Arsenal’s recent success in wide areas – but United’s wide men quickly closed down Bacary Sagna and Kieran Gibbs whenever they received the ball, and the Arsenal duo didn’t offer any threats going forward.

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United’s initial approach without the ball was excellent – they minimized space between the lines, pressed Arsenal’s fullbacks, and kept their creative players quiet.

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During Arsenal’s impressive start to the season, Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil’s form has overshadowed the underlying importance of Olivier Giroud in Wenger’s set-up. The French striker has improved vastly over the past few months, and has been a significant cog in Arsenal’s attack, which is why Moyes was keen on limiting his impact on the match.

Giroud’s developed a better understanding of playing as a lone striker using his brute strength and impressive work rate to thrive as Arsenal’s main man. The French striker struggled in the first half due to great defensive work from Evans and Vidic. The United centre back duo stuck tight to Giroud whenever he received the ball, and the Arsenal striker was unable to sustain possession.

One of the main feats in Giroud’s game this season has been his ability to link play with Arsenal’s midfielders, and allow runners to attack space behind him. But Giroud was outmuscled off the ball – often conceding possession or losing out in duels against the United centre backs. There was no space in midfield for Giroud to tuck into – United’s midfield pushed higher up the pitch swiftly to catch the Frenchman offside on numerous occasions, and his frustration was evident.

Vidic departure/Arsenal improve

Vidic was forced to leave the match at the interval, due to his late collision with David De Gea in the final moments of the first half. This forced Phil Jones to drop into centre back as Tom Cleverley joined Carrick in midfield. Although Cleverley didn’t produce a poor display, United’s lack of a double screen meant Arsenal would receive more opportunities to stamp their authority on the match.

Giroud’s influence on the match grew in the second half, and this was odd because Evans still featured in the match. As gaps began to build between the lines, Giroud was presented with more space to receive the ball and spread play, as Evans and Jones sat off the French striker. There was also a distinct dip in Kagawa’s performance – this could’ve been fatigue based, as he was involved in Wednesday’s midweek draw against Real Sociedad.

Ramsey started the second half on the right touchline stretching the play, and he played a key pass to Giroud in the 47th minute in ample space, and Cleverley was forced to foul him as he ran past the United defence. Three minutes later Ramsey won a loose ball at the halfway line, and played the ball into Ozil who combined with Giroud, but was unable to produce the final ball.

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Ozil had brief glimpses of positivity in his play as he drifted laterally into pockets of space on the right flank behind the United defence to receive the ball, and Santi Cazorla also dropped into those pockets of space to push Arsenal forward.

In the latter stages of the match, Arsenal continued to penetrate pockets of space in wide areas. Ramsey picked out substitute Serge Gnabry, who made a run behind Evra and Ryan Giggs. The Arsenal youngster played a ball across the edge of the box to Giroud, who skipped past Jones, but Smalling made a timely tackle to clear United’s lines.

A minute later, Sagna played a pass to Jack Wilshere, who moved forward and found Ramsey in a pocket of space behind Evra. Ramsey surged into the United box but was crowded out by Cleverley, Evans and Evra, and the ball fell to Giroud who flashed his deflected shot wide of the net.

Although it may have been Moyes’ idea to hit Arsenal on the break, Vidic’s departure and Kagawa’s inability to protect Patrice Evra  gave Wenger’s men a lifeline in the second half. Giroud and Ozil improved slightly, and as a unit Arsenal were getting into better positions.

Sagna

As stated earlier, Arsenal experienced joy down the right flank during the second half, and their star performer was Sagna. The Arsenal right back has been a key contributor in Arsenal’s attack over the past few weeks, as he played a pivotal role in goals in home fixtures against Napoli and Borussia Dortmund.

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Sagna was Arsenal’s bright spark in the second half as he constantly found space behind Kagawa, leaving him free to get forward and play crosses into the box. Majority of Arsenal’s best moves came down the right flank, and Sagna’s crosses gave Moyes’ men a few scares.

  1. 57th minute: Ozil’s corner kick was half-heartedly cleared, and Vermaelen played the ball backwards to Sagna. Sagna sprayed a ball across the box to an unmarked Ozil, but the German maestro fired his shot into the side netting.
  1. 72nd minute: Kagawa was caught out in a central position and Arteta picked out an unmarked Sagna on the right flank. Sagna played a precise ball across the six-yard box, but Evan’s nicked it past Gibbs, Smalling and Giroud for a corner.
  1. 91st minute: Sagna throws the ball into Giroud, and the Frenchman laid it off to Gnabry. Gnabry plays a pass to Sagna – who’s behind Giggs – and he delivers a venomous ball into the box that evades Evans, Jones and Nicklas Bendtner.

Sagna created three clear-cut opportunities for Arsenal to equalize, but his teammates were unable to connect with his fantastic deliveries into the box.

Substitutions

Wenger was forced to turn to his bench early in the second half, and he decided to introduce Wilshere for Flamini. Prior to the substitution, Arsenal lacked penetration in the final third, and struggled to get behind United’s defence. The move was made to add guile, energy, and penetration into Arsenal’s attack and from an attacking perspective the Gunner’s were brighter.

Bendtner and Gnabry also made appearances in the latter stages of the match, as Arsenal became a 4-4-2. Gnabry had a positive impact on the match with his direct approach and his ability to combine with Sagna, and Arsenal’s attacking players. Bendtner’s introduction was peculiar, as he took up a position on the left flank. The Danish striker isn’t renowned for his ability to beat players, but Wenger was hoping that he could get on the end of Sagna’s crosses.

Moyes’ substitutions reflected United’s approach in the final minutes of the match. Giggs replaced Kagawa in hopes that he could provide better protection for Evra. While Marouane Fellaini replaced van Persie, as United became a 4-5-1 without the ball to preserve their lead.

Conclusion

Arsenal improved in the second half as United sat deeper, but Moyes’ reactive approach was successful, as van Persie’s first half winner claimed maximum points.

The gap between United an Arsenal is now five points, but it’s difficult to assess the progress of Moyes’ side. Nonetheless, It was a vintage big match display masterminded by Moyes  – United were organized as a unit, and once they went ahead they cautiously attacked on the break.

Similar to their away draw against West Brom and loss against Chelsea, its been proven that an organized narrow shape can frustrate the Gunners – thus emphasizing the importance of their injured direct attackers. Arsenal weren’t at their best today, but dropping points at Old Trafford doesn’t necessarily inhibit their title aspirations. How the Gunners respond to this defeat heading into the Christmas period will be vital.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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Arsenal’s fluid midfield knocks Liverpool back to reality

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Arsene Wenger was a calm figure in his pre-match press conference Friday afternoon. Arsenal was in their darkest hour since their opening day defeat to Aston Villa, as they lost consecutive home matches to Borussia Dortmund and Chelsea in cup competitions.

However, the Arsenal manager didn’t show a sign of fear. He was confident his men would show up to the occasion. And a big occasion it was. Although Arsenal hasn’t encountered stern opposition yet, they hosted a Liverpool side in hot form. Liverpool’s success has been down to Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge’s great run of form, and Arsenal’s main goal was to keep them quiet.

While there aren’t many people buying into Arsenal’s great start this season, Wenger is confident that his men will prove the doubters wrong. He’s developed an ‘us against the world mentality’ within his squad that’s proved to be quite successful thus far. The media’s doubt in Arsenal’s title credentials has been Wenger’s fuel to motivate his men, and once again they produced a scintillating performance.

The Gunners’ superiority in midfield proved to be pivotal, as they aimed to get runners from midfield to attack space and latch onto the final ball. Their attacking midfielders dropped deeper to sustain possession, Aaron Ramsey continued to impress on both ends and Bacary Sagna is proving to be a sensible outlet on the right flank.

Similar to Olivier Giroud’s goal against Borussia Dortmund, Sagna got into an advanced position down the right flank, and delivered a wonderful cross towards Santi Cazorla – aided by Giroud’s movement, which dragged Kolo Toure and Martin Skrtel out of position. Cazorla nodded the ball off the post, but quickly reacted and smashed the rebound into an open net. From an attacking sense Sagna’s role can become prominent with Arsenal fielding a narrow midfield, depending on his ability to consistently deliver quality balls from the right flank.

Liverpool did present Wenger’s men with a few scares, mainly through their direct play on the break between Sturridge and Suarez. In the early moments of the match, both men dropped deep to receive the ball and got past Mikel Arteta on a few occasions. But as the match progressed, Laurent Koscielny mirrored Arteta’s defensive responsibilities – as it was evident he needed assistance – and stayed tight on the forward that dropped deep.

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Ultimately this hampered Liverpool’s attack, as they lacked invention when Arsenal had players behind the ball.

Brendan Rodgers’ men were stifled when trying to play out of the back as Arsenal pressed higher up the pitch, winning possession in Liverpool’s third. Liverpool could have benefitted from pushing higher up the pitch as a unit, and getting their wingbacks forward, but they preferred to do neither, despite Jon Flanagan getting into decent positions.

Rodgers attempted to turn the tide in the second half, by reverting to a 4-4-2 and introducing Philippe Coutinho on the left. Although Coutinho looked a bit off pace – considering he returned from injury – Liverpool maintained a better shape without the ball. Coutinho’s impact on the match was less eventful from an attacking perspective – the Brazilian’s movement was positive, but he was unable to complete his precise passing in the final third.

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The tactical shift allowed Suarez more space to attack when he dropped into deeper positions, but it left Sturridge isolated. Suarez scampered around the final third causing mayhem with his intelligent movement, but his decision making let him down massively. With Ramsey pushing forward to join the attack, Arteta was left vulnerable, thus providing Suarez with more space to penetrate

Ramsey put the match out of reach when he received a clever pass from Ozil at the edge of the 18-yard box. The Welshman let the ball bounce and confidently struck it on the half volley past Simon Mignolet.

Liverpool failed to impress on their first legitimate test of the season, while Arsenal continued to focus on their superiority in midfield. Arsenal’s fluid, canny, relentless and patient, yet when you add in the improvement of Giroud’s overall game and their manageable schedule thus far, you can understand why the Gunners are top of the table.

Regardless of what their defensive statistic’s state, Wenger’s men still look vulnerable at the back, and it’ll be interesting to see how they develop in the latter months of the season. Nonetheless, this result should boost Arsenal’s confidence ahead of a week that sees them travel to Dortmund and Manchester United.

The Gunners have been imperious thus far, but we’ll get a better sense of their overall strengths next week.

Analysis

  • Chelsea missed an opportunity to go top of the table for a few hours, as they fell to Newcastle at St. James Park. Jose Mourinho’s men struggled to move forward a unit in the opening minutes, due to Newcastle’s early pressure. Chelsea’s fullbacks were quickly closed down, while Frank Lampard and Ramires were also unable to push forward.

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Lampard’s inclusion in away matches or against top class sides is quite bizarre considering his limited impact on the match. Due to Lampard’s inability to play penetrating forward passes, David Luiz proved to be a vital cog in Chelsea’s attack, as he played balls between the lines for Oscar and Juan Mata to receive. Newcastle was complacent in the first half, and despite Chelsea’s dominance in possession, the Blues were dull in the final third.

The onus was on Mourinho to make changes in the second half, to give his side a slight advantage. However, it was Pardew who made the most of the personnel on his bench. Vurnon Anita was superb upon his arrival, allowing Yohan Cabaye to push forward, and the movement of Loic Remy improved massively in the second half. Remy dropped deeper to help Newcastle push forward – a feat neither striker completed in the first half – while Yoan Gouffran and Moussa Sissoko were threatening on the counter, as Chelsea pushed more men forward. Coincidentally, it was Gouffran who was on the receiving end of a wonderful Cabaye delivery, which gave Pardew’s men the lead.

Samuel Eto’o, Willian and Andre Schurrle were introduced in the second half, as Chelsea gradually improved, but their passing tempo was still slow and penetration was at a minimum. Loic Remy put the match out of reach for the Blues as they fail to end their week on a high note. Chelsea missed a great opportunity to keep pace with Arsenal at the top of the table, and they now sit five points behind the league leaders.

  • Manchester United won their fourth consecutive match in all competitions, as they easily dispatched of a poor Fulham side. United scored three goals in the opening 30 minutes to earn three valuable points ahead of a monumental showdown against league leaders Arsenal next week. Fulham’s overall shape without the ball was shambolic, as Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie found it relatively easy to receive the ball between the lines. United’s notorious strike force tormented Fulham’s makeshift centre back duo, as they played a key role in all three United goals. The Red Devils were in full control of the opening 45 minutes – Phil Jones was given time and space to dictate the midfield, whereas Fulham was dismal in central areas. There was a vast improvement in Fulham’s second half performance as United were content with the result. They now await a trip to Spain midweek, and host Arsenal at Old Trafford, in a match that can truly define their season. Moyes’ men can’t afford to lose another match at home, especially when it can put them 11 points behind Arsenal.
  • Tottenham and Everton wasted the opportunity to climb to second in the table as they played to a dire draw at Goodison Park.  Andre Villas-Boas’ men were dominant in the first half pressing Everton and preventing them from playing out of the back. Aaron Lennon, Jan Vertonghen and Andros Townsend were rampant down the flanks causing the Everton fullbacks nightmares. Villas-Boas’ men struggled to play out of the back in the early periods of the match, but relied on Michael Dawson’s cross-field diagonal balls to push the North London side forward. Yet, despite Spurs’ superiority in possession, Spurs didn’t provide Roberto Soldado with quality service.

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Nevertheless, the Spaniard was poor on the night, failing to connect with his teammates when the opportunity was presented, and his touches were dismal. Everton improved in the second half when Gerard Deulofeu and Ross Barkley sparked energy in Everton’s attack – with Barkley’s movement between the lines and Deulofeu’s pace. Despite Holtby’s positive outing in the no.10 role – pressing the opposition and playing positive passes – the German midfielder, like the wide men, failed to connect with Soldado, which has been Spurs’ major issue this season.

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While Spurs continue to be impressive on the defensive end, their inability to score goals is worrying. Soldado is top-class striker, but he needs service and players to work off of, hence why Christian Eriksen’s arrival was pivotal.

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He’s the only player in the Spurs side capable of playing incisive passes in the final third, and if runners aren’t getting behind Soldado, his ability to play defence-splitting passes will be significant towards Spurs’ and Soldado’s success.

  • Joe Hart was dropped from the Manchester City starting XI, thus handing Costel Pantilimon a spot in the City lineup. The Romanian goalkeeper didn’t have much work to do, as six different City players got on the score sheet in their impressive 7-0 victory over Norwich.
  • Steven Caulker’s second half header earned Cardiff City three points in the Premier League’s first Welsh Derby. It was a cagey affair that saw both sides nullify their opponent’s strengths in midfield. The main source of attack came from long diagonals behind the left back – it led to openings for Swansea in the first half, and the corner that led to Caulker’s goal in the second. Cardiff City manager Malky Mackay stated pre-match that his men had to get it right tactically to earn three points, and that’s what they did.

Results: Newcastle 2-0 Chelsea, Hull City 1-0 Sunderland, West Brom 2-0 Crystal Palace, West Ham 0-0 Aston Villa, Manchester City 7-0 Norwich City, Stoke City 1-1 Southampton, Manchester United 3-1 Fulham, Arsenal 2-0 Liverpool, Everton 0-0 Tottenham, Cardiff City 1-0 Swansea City

Weekend Stats

  • Cardiff City v Swansea City was the first ever top-flight fixture in England not to feature any English teams.
  • Spurs have only conceded one league goal in the first half of Premier League games this season, fewer than any other team.
  • Asmir Begovic’s goal 13 seconds into Stoke City’s match against Southampton makes him the FIFTH goalkeeper to score a Premier League goal and the previous fastest was in the 62nd minute.
  • Manchester United’s total of 14 points after nine matches is seven points less than they had at this point last season.
  • José Mourinho suffers his worst Premier League defeat as Chelsea manager since a 2-0 defeat at Aston Villa in September 2007.
  • Arsenal has lost 28 Premier League matches in the month of November, more than in any other month. Under Wenger, have lost 22 of 67 in November (33%).

Infostrada Sports (@InfostradaLive) provides all the stats in this recap.

Tune into the 2 Guys and a MIKE podcast as it returns this week. Subscribe to it on I-Tunes!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2013 in EPL Notebook, Published Work

 

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Arsenal 1-0 Tottenham

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Olivier Giroud was the difference maker in Arsenal’s slender North London derby victory.

Arsene Wenger made three changes to the side that cruised past Fenerbahce in their midweek Champions League qualifier. Giroud, Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott formed an attacking three, while Tomas Rosicky replaced the injured Lukas Podolski, and formed a midfield trio with Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere. Kieran Gibbs started at left back, and Laurent Koscielny returned from suspension to form a centreback partnership with Per Mertesacker.

Andre Villas-Boas made several changes to the side that dispatched of Dinamo Tbilisi in midweek Europa League action. Roberto Soldado, Andros Townsend and Nacer Chadli led the attack in Villas-Boas 4-3-3, while Moussa Dembele, Paulinho and Etienne Capoue formed a midfield three. Erik Lamela started the match on the bench, while new signing Christian Eriksen was unavailable.

Arsene Wenger learned from previous mistakes in the last North London derby, which proved to be decisive, in a match that contained a few tactical features.

Shape

An interesting feat in this match was always going to involve how both sides were aligned without the ball. In last season’s derby at White Hart Lane, both sides played extremely high-lines. Arsenal suffered due to the pace of Bale and Lennon, along with the space available between the lines for Gylfi Sigurdsson and Scott Parker to exploit. Spurs were able to get behind the Arsenal centre back pairing of Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen, which proved to be the difference.

Wenger learned from last season’s outing that nearly jeopardized Arsenal’s Champions League spot, and ordered his side to sit a bit deeper. Wenger’s men dropped into a 4-5-1 that sat off and minimized the space between the lines. In particular, Ramsey was one of their better players on the defensive end, as he thrived in Arsenal’s midfield five.

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It’s key to point out that the constant pressure that Giroud and Rosicky applied on Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson. Both men were able to push forward and play positive forward passes last year, and Wenger instructed his the duo to close them down, when possible – limiting their influence on Spurs’ attack going forward.

However, Spurs played a high-line, but were unable to replicate last season’s success. Arsenal looked most threatening on the break, where they could expose Spurs’ high-line. Their main outlet was Walcott – his pace troubled Danny Rose at times, and it was from this element of attack that handed Arsenal the lead. Ramsey broke forward and played a pass wide to the unmarked Walcott, and the Arsenal winger’s ball met Giroud’s run at the near post and the Frenchman tucked the ball under Hugo Lloris.

Arsenal was conservative without the ball, whereas they took a page out of Villas-Boas’ strategy last season, to harm their North London rivals.

4V3

The midfield battle proved to be the decisive factor in the result. Spurs fancied their chances due to their physical superiority, but Wenger replicated his decision in the second half of last season’s tilt at White Hart Lane – where Arsenal significantly improved – Cazorla was the main man, drifting centrally to overload the midfield.

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Cazorla helped Arsenal push forward in attack – he provided a spare passing outlet in midfield, and also disrupted Spurs’ approach in midfield. Now Tottenham had to worry about the tricky Spaniard drifting infield, and Villas-Boas’ midfield three were constantly dragged out of position. Cazorla was allowed freedom to play key passes in the final third, and was often the distributor in majority of Arsenal’s legitimate goal-scoring opportunities.

Wenger acknowledged the threat Spurs posed in midfield, so the inclusion of Cazorla was logical, based on its success last season and the numerical advantage his side gained.

Spurs’ Width

For all of Arsenal’s success in the middle of the park, Spurs did enjoy some freedom in wide areas. Villas-Boas instructed Chadli to take on the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson, and in the opening moments of the match Jenkinson was being exposed as Rose got forward to create overloads. Unfortunately for Spurs, Chadli didn’t maintain his impact on the left flank, and can be criticized for not assisting Rose cope with Walcott’s threat on the counter.

On the other flank, Townsend looked to be the most influential Spurs player in the opening minutes of the match. With Cazorla tucked in, Walker surged forward, which allowed Townsend space to cut in and take shots from distance, forcing Wojciech Szczesny to make a few saves. It was a recurring theme in the opening 30 minutes, but as the match wore on Cazorla began to track back to provide Gibbs cover.

Soldado

Roberto Soldado has been somewhat of a saviour for Spurs since his arrival from Valencia. In fact he’s scored the winning goal in both of Tottenham’s Premier League victories, leading up to this derby, which is why is performance was pivotal to Spurs’ success. Unfortunately for Villas-Boas, Soldado was marked excellently by Koscielny and Spurs’ midfield lacked guile going forward to provide the Spaniard the service he required.

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Soldado scored two goals against Malaga last season, but there’s a clear difference in where he receives the ball in both matches.

While Soldado was often an isolated figure, it leaves one to question Villas-Boas’ decision to leave a player like Lewis Holtby or Sigurdsson on the bench. It’s evident that Eriksen will play an integral role as Spurs no.10, but Spurs have lacked a link in between midfield and attack this season – and Soldado needs ample service to perform at the highest level.

Conclusion

Arsene Wenger learned from his mistakes in last year’s North London Derby at White Hart Lane, and modified them this year, which gave his side the edge over Spurs. Overloading the midfield, pressing the Tottenham centre backs and sitting deeper as a unit, were key factors in their victory at the Emirates.

Spurs will be disappointed with the loss, and it will take time for Villas-Boas’ men to hit full gear. With several new arrivals, the Tottenham manager and supporters will have to wait for this newly assembled side to find form. They’ve added the pieces over the summer to challenge for a Champions League spot, and despite the loss, are still favourites to achieve that feat.

As for the Gunners, they were able to slip past their North London rivals, continuing their great run of form. Despite purchasing a world-class talent in Mesut Ozil on deadline day, they still possess a thin squad. Injuries, loss of form and suspensions will all play a factor over the course of the season, and if they intend on challenging on four fronts, the squad available isn’t enough. However, they displayed that they still have a lineup capable of showing up for a big occasion – a North London derby – and they did get the better of Villas-Boas’ men.

 
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Posted by on September 3, 2013 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

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