RSS

Tag Archives: wenger

Cesc Fabregas’ tactical stagnation results in Chelsea conundrum

Embed from Getty Images

Chelsea’s 2014-2015 title triumph was heavily associated with Jose Mourinho’s efficient summer transfer activity. What was supposed to be a shift from the initial squad Mourinho built a decade prior challenged the Portuguese manager to build a dynasty around young, technically gifted players.

Mourinho’s main signings that summer, though, addressed some of the personnel issues Chelsea encountered subsequent to the Special One’s initial sacking. Thibaut Courtois was maturing into one of the best goalkeepers in the world, rather than the aging and error-prone Petr Cech. Filipe Luis was the best left-back in La Liga and was expected to be the left-back to continue in Ashley Cole’s footsteps and possibly enable Cesar Azpilicueta to play in his preferred right-back position.

But the biggest transfers simply catered to the biggest fears regarding the undergoing evolution at Stamford Bridge. Replacing Didier Drogba was difficult – to an extent that he returned as a third striker that season – but the club took one of many risks on Diego Costa: a key figure in Atletico Madrid’s title-winning campaign the year prior, who enjoyed his first top-class season.

Costa’s a powerful all-round striker that willingly worked through the channels, whilst combining his poacher’s instinct and pace to run beyond the defence to notch 20 league goals in his debut campaign. Stylistically, the Spanish international fit the mould of a centre-forward capable of dominating English football and easily settling into a Chelsea side that required his presence.

Cesc Fabregas, on the other hand, was the antithesis: more interestingly, he developed into one the top midfielders in the Premier League during his spell with rivals Arsenal as a youngster. Where Chelsea’s midfield of the past was physical and direct, often bullying Fabregas in central areas, the Spaniard represented a slimmer, yet technical craftsman that was capable of connecting passes from deep, or the final pass around the box to create legitimate goal-scoring chances for his teammates.

If the decision to acquire Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Oscar didn’t highlight the stylistic shift at Stamford Bridge, Fabregas move from Barcelona did. Still, Fabregas’ familiarity with the league ensured it was less of a risk for Chelsea, and his ability to dictate matches from deep was pivotal to the Blues success subsequent to his arrival.

Although a role in a deeper midfield position was beneficial to Fabregas due to his positional versatility in central areas, the Spaniard also suffers from tactical indiscipline. Perhaps his rapid growth at Arsenal overshadowed these issues, but to be frank, Arsenal’s lack of discipline prevented Arsene Wenger’s side from challenging on a domestic and continental front in recent years.

Despite previously playing a deep role in a midfield two, Fabregas’ best seasons for Arsenal witnessed the Spaniard playing in an advanced position – 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 – with defensive minded players like Alex Song and Abou Diaby operating ahead of the back four. Fabregas’ recorded a team high 15 league goals and the most assists during his final season at the Emirates thus proving his threat closer to goal.

Likewise, something similar occurred during his final season at Barcelona under Tata Martino’s direct approach. Barcelona were renowned for their patient buildup and extensive spells of ball possession, but Martino was eager to add a quick, but direct element to their game which Fabregas preferred.

“This coach [Martino] lets me play the way that suits my qualities and I’m very comfortable, very happy,” Fabregas told FourFourTwo magazine following Martino’s arrival.

“On the first day – well, not the first day, but maybe the third or fourth, early on – he called me over and told me: “I want you to be the player you were at Arsenal.” And I thought: “Wow!”, because I’d always felt so good at Arsenal, so important. I’m not the No.10 exactly because things aren’t so clearly defined positionally as with Pep [Guardiola] and Tito [Vilanova], who were very focused on that. When we attack, Tata likes things to be a little more anarchic – just a little – which means that with the ball you can move away from a set position without any problems.”

Ultimately, Fabregas’ joy regarding the positional freedom he received at Arsenal and under Martino has led to his downfall at top-sides with elite managers. Fabregas’ move to Barcelona was specifically based around helping Guardiola evolve the Catalan side, opposed to the Spaniard becoming Xavi’s successor.

Sergio Busquets cemented his role at the pivot, Xavi offered similar passing and tempo-setting traits further up the pitch, while Fabregas couldn’t connect midfield and attack with his dribbling like Andres Iniesta. Nonetheless, Fabregas’ ability to locate space between the lines and goal-scoring threat around the box provided the perfect outlet to create space for the wide players and Lionel Messi, along with making late runs into the box to score goals.

Guardiola’s shift to a 3-4-3 saw Fabregas shuttle forward, and continuously interchange positions with Lionel Messi upfront. When Messi dropped deep into midfield, Fabregas received space to charge into the box, which explains why only his final season at Arsenal offered a higher goal and assist return.

But Barcelona struggled to maintain the incredible levels that led to their historic league and European title triumphs, and Fabregas received ample criticism due to willingness to instantly play forward passes. Guardiola’s teams are often maligned for their use of possession, but they heavily rely on positional and tactical structure in both phases, and Fabregas was a liability in that respect.

“We like the fact that he [Fabregas] is so mobile, but it has to be done sensibly. In the end, there is a ball and people who move, but they should move to where they need to be. We do not have a remote control to direct them from the bench,” said Guardiola.

The second half of the 2014/2015 campaign at Chelsea presented a similar challenge for the Spaniard who started the season superbly. With Nemanja Matic suffering from fatigue due to lack of squad rotation, Chelsea were being exposed and overrun in midfield zones when Fabregas pushed forward to link play.

Opposing teams located the Chelsea midfield as a weak point and targeted Fabregas’ lack of mobility and inability to maintain his position ahead of the back four, thus virtually exposing Matic. Mourinho swiftly reverted back to a 4-3-3 and a deeper defensive block, which led to a string of slow-burning one goal victories, as the freedom Fabregas and the attacking Chelsea players received was quickly sacrificed for silverware.

Guardiola and Mourinho encountered difficulties maximizing the Spaniard’s strengths due to his tactical limitations, and playing to his strengths didn’t provide silverware at the Emirates, so it’s unsurprising that Fabregas is currently fighting for a starting spot under Antonio Conte. In the past, Conte’s teams have been built to attack and renowned for their high-octane pressing, but the Italian is a pragmatist that instantly identified the personnel issues in the Chelsea side he inherited.

Chelsea sit deeper under Conte, and rely on Matic and Oscar to press opponents and maintain the side’s structure ahead of N’Golo Kante. The Blues’ transitional vulnerability has decreased and they have become much harder to breakdown, with majority of the goals conceded have been via individual mistakes and wonder-goals.

Nonetheless, Fabregas’ is definitely missed from an attacking perspective. Chelsea struggle to build attacks from deeper positions – which ultimately led to the deadline day purchase of David Luiz – and creativity is non-existent in the middle third of the field. Oscar and Matic’s pressing can create swift transitional breaks, but Conte’s side remain unconvincing when the opposition freely concedes possession.

While many had suggested Fabregas could slightly play the deep-lying playmaker role Andrea Pirlo revolutionized at Juventus, Chelsea simply don’t have the midfield shuttlers or competent defenders behind the Spaniard to provide such freedom.

“Cesc is in my plans and in Chelsea’s plans,” said Conte. “In my opinion he’s improving a lot on many aspects, above all the defensive situations. If he continues in this way, it’ll be very difficult for me to choose my midfield. But I want this from a player, putting many doubts in my mind over choosing someone else. I’m very clear with my players: when a player deserves to play, I put him in the team.”

But Fabregas’ influence in Diego Costa’s winner at Watford, along with his two goals at Leicester in Chelsea’s midweek Capital One Cup win over Leicester, mounts pressure on Conte’s decision to start the Spaniard. However, the latter scenario involved Fabregas struggling throughout the match until Conte pushed him behind Costa and relinquished the Spaniard’s defensive duties.

Fabregas’ versatility could see Conte experiment with the Spaniard in an advanced role, but until he improves in the defensive phase – in terms of positioning, work-rate and concentration – he doesn’t merit a spot in the Chelsea XI. It appears to be a recurring issue throughout the Spaniard’s career, but it’s the key issue that’s deprived Fabregas from excelling at the biggest clubs in the world.

Throughout the span of Fabregas’ career, the 29-year-old has experienced significant changes – elite managers, proactive and reactive philosophies, and positions – but nothing is more intriguing than this upcoming showdown against Wenger’s Arsenal. It’s been five years since the Spaniard and Arsenal manager have parted ways, but with the former desperately fighting for a place in the XI and the latter still unable to mount a legitimate title challenge, it appears that very little has changed.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 23, 2016 in Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Arsene Wenger’s late transfer signings won’t save his job unless trophies are delivered

Embed from Getty Images

Arsenal’s vain start to their 2016/2017 Premier League campaign indicates that perhaps some things don’t change.

We’re less than a month into the season and many were classifying Arsenal as a team in crisis, which in truth, is extremely harsh. The Gunners have been down this road in recent years, and though their opening fixtures were testing, many believed Arsene Wenger would learn from past mistakes and have his side prepared for the most intriguing Premier League season ever.

Only Granit Xhaka joined last year’s runner-ups at the Emirates prior to the season’s commencement, leaving many to once again question the manager’s ambition. This has developed into classic Wenger: a man not eager to join in on the “splash the cash culture,” but rather prefers to identify the best financial deal for his club.

Where potential contenders Manchester United and Manchester City concluded their summer activity swiftly, Arsenal were still seeking reinforcements that would convince many that they’re capable of materializing a proper title challenge. However, this has been an issue for several managers within the league as well. Antonio Conte has most recently expressed his discontent regarding the current state a player’s valuation.

“At this moment it’s very difficult to buy because, also, if you ask a player of the medium level, a club might ask for £55m. For this reason, it’s a crazy market. It’s very difficult to enter the market with these prices and in this condition,” said Conte.

“I’m not comfortable [paying over the odds]. I don’t like to pay a lot of money. If a player warrants us paying [lots of] money, then it’s right. But for a medium player, it’s right only to pay the right price, not £20m-30m over. That’s not right. The money is not mine, but I don’t like it the same. I don’t find it right.”

But where Conte is joining a new league with the aim of building a new squad, Wenger’s duties are simply straightforward. The Frenchman has maintained the same core squad over the past few seasons, and though many wholeheartedly believe that a world-class striker and centre-back are required to guide the Gunners amongst Europe’s elite, most late transfer window purchases tend to backfire.

Essentially some of those late window transfer purchases have been successful. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil both joined the Gunners for hefty price tags and equally represent the quality Arsenal supporters expect at the Emirates. Wenger’s frugal policy, and the fact that these players were surplus to requirements at Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona, may diminishes Arsenal’s transfer achievement, but most Premier League clubs, if not all, have encountered difficulties attracting the best players in the world to move to England.

But apart from Jose Mourinho’s recent spending at Chelsea and Manchester United, Kevin De Bruyne’s move to Manchester City’s represents the sole move by a Premier League club for a top-class player since Robin van Persie moved to Old Trafford. Yet when the opportunity was presented to bolster his striking options, Wenger’s economical view towards player valuation may have proved costly.

Certainly Jamie Vardy’s decision to resign a new contract at Leicester was inexorable, but the manner in which Wenger handled Luis Suarez’s desire to claim silverware was poor. Here was a genuine world-class striker capable of winning games on his own sharing the same ambition as the club supporters and the players, yet Suarez slipped through the cracks and subsequently played a key role in Barcelona’s historic treble winning season afterwards.

Perhaps wages played a factor, and Arsenal may have cooped Sanchez to cope with such failure, but that is a prime example as to why Gunners supporters are enraged. Where Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho sought after targets and quickly closed deals, Arsenal’s deadline day deals for striker Lucas Perez and defender Shkodran Mustafi represents a desperation move.

Perez is a quick, tricky striker that scored more La Liga goals than any other Spaniard last season, whereas Mustafi’s contributions for Germany at Euro 2016 regained the defender’s prominence and will aid a wounded Arsenal back-line. Nonetheless, considering Wenger didn’t initially sought after the duo as potential targets, you can only assume that the signings were mainly to please frustrated fans.

In truth, Wenger did quickly snatch Granit Xhaka off the market, yet the fact that he’s not a world-class star may serve as a defence. Frankly, the days of world-class talent competing in the Premier League during their prime years are gone, as many now turn to England when they’re no longer wanted or can’t break into an elite side.

Arsenal’s current squad was more than capable of winning last year’s title, and can equally challenge this year – even without their deadline day moves. You can’t question any fan base’s ambition regarding their side being strengthened, but Arsenal’s issues rest within the side’s structure rather than the personnel.

Embed from Getty Images

Injuries to Gabriel and Per Mertesacker have left Wenger’s centre-back options scarce, and while neither Calum Chambers nor Rob Holding represent a long-term competent partner for Laurent Koscielny, they could’ve sufficed until the former returns. Still, Mustafi provides additional quality to the back-line, but he’s more of a proactive defender than a natural ball-player, which simply doesn’t offer the correct balance at the back – the competition with a returning Gabriel could prove beneficial, though.

Likewise, for all of the squabble regarding Olivier Giroud’s form, the Frenchman still remains integral to the Arsenal attack. Giroud’s holdup and link up play invites midfielder runners forward and drags defenders out of position, while his aerial presence around the box is unmatched. Surely Giroud’s finishing isn’t on the level of the league’s elite forwards like Sergio Aguero or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but he still guarantees you 10-15 Premier League goals per season.

Perez, however, doesn’t appear to be the player capable of significantly changing Arsenal’s fortunes upfront nor cementing a permanent place in the XI. Danny Welbeck’s injuries have hampered Wenger’s options upfront, as the England international’s pace stretches back-lines, whilst offering a divergent direct threat. A Welbeck-Giroud partnership, or the ability to summon the former off the bench is promising, yet Arsenal have coped well without Welbeck available.

“He’s [Perez] not only a goalscorer, he’s a guy who combines well with partners, who can give a final ball and makes good runs,” Wenger told Arsenal.com.

“He’s got a good eye for goal and had an outstanding season last year.”

While the traditional title challengers have improved their squad and manager, the latter should be the biggest fear surrounding Arsenal’s title and top four challenge. Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola have already offered the required signs of improvement regarding their sides’ defensive shape along with their pressing scheme, whereas Jose Mourinho has arguably inherited the strongest and already proved successful in this competition.

Wenger must follow suit, which could explain the signing of Xhaka: a great passer of the ball that’s also possesses a physical side to his came by breaking into tackles to win possession throughout midfield. Arsenal’s overall squad can dispatch of inferior opposition with ease, but they tend to drop points against the top half of the tables – tactically astute sides that emphasize the importance of defensive structure yet equally possess a shrewd attacking plan.

Although Wenger’s men recorded four of a possible nine points to start the season, it’s still premature to decipher whether they’ve improved in this phase either. Their pressing nullified Liverpool’s threat in the first half of opening weekend, but fatigue forced them to sit back in the second, which enabled Liverpool’s nifty attackers to bypass the midfield and exploit a makeshift back-line.

The following week, Xhaka’s debut and the return of Laurent Koscielny witnessed a stark improvement, as the latter’s pace proved pivotal in preventing Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy from scoring. Last year, Arsenal defeated Leicester in both encounters, and though the Gunners are stylistically suited to take on the champions, their ability to limit counter-attacks shouldn’t be overlooked.

Although Watford clearly lack a calculated attacking ploy, Arsenal from a defensive aspect: Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain were disciplined in wide areas, Mesut Ozil stuck tight to Valon Behrami, while Xhaka’s ball-winning skills ensured the Gunners maintained control of central areas. Alexis continuously drifted towards the left flank to exploit Younes Kaboul’s lack of pace, while the return of Ozil offered Arsenal the precise passing and creativity the Gunners lacked in previous matches.

On the other hand, there’s no doubt the Gunners can “win ugly,” the worry lies in Wenger providing consistency to his side’s reactive performances. For instance, last season Arsenal bypassed United’s sluggish pressing, with Ozil serving as chief creator between the lines – space behind Bastian Schweinsteiger – Alexis dominating Mateo Darmian from the left, and Theo Walcott breaking forward in transition.

A similar home win against European giants, Bayern Munich, offered optimism. The Gunner’s remained narrow and compact out of possession to thwart Bayern’s attempt to dominate the centre of the pitch, and broke forward quickly via Ozil combining with wide players to create overloads on the flanks. But Arsenal’s inability to consistently defend in this manner has developed into an extremely frustrating dilemma.

Nevertheless, its still too early to set Arsenal’s fate. With so many key players unavailable it only appears logical that results will improve. Ultimately this all rests on Wenger – regardless if late signings completed ahead of the window’s conclusion, it appears anything less than a title triumph would be deemed a failure. In what could be a defining season for the future of Arsenal Football Club, minor modifications regarding Arsenal’s work-rate out of possession and overall structure could provide a fairy-tale.

Wenger practically has two players for every position, and various options to adjust to several threats, but simply can’t seem to identify a competent manner to defend that provides consistent results. Its evident Arsenal can compete, and beat the best teams in the world, but the lack of preparation and direction has been their downfall over the years, thus providing yearly stagnation and a potential decline as others evolve.

Where other clubs were forced to spend excessive transfer fees to return to their expected status, Wenger simply has to grasp the evolution of the modern-game and channel the inner pragmatism that separates the fine margins between champion and runner-up.

Against some of the best coaches of our generation Wenger’s Arsenal faces an arduous battle between his footballing beliefs and success, and how he fares will certainly determine the North London club and Frenchman’s future at the Emirates.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on September 2, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: Leicester City – Arsenal

Neither Leicester City or Arsenal were pleased with their opening weekend results, as last year’s champions and runners-up suffered defeats.

Arsenal’s makeshift defence were easily exploited by a dynamic Liverpool attack, whereas the champions have yet to fill N’Golo Kante’s void in midfield. However, the nature of this match should favour a Leicester side that prefers to sit deep and launch quick counter-attacks.

Last weekend, Claudio Ranieri’s men struggled to break down newly promoted Hull City, whereas Andy King struggled to provide adequate protection for the back-line alongside Danny Drinkwater. This shouldn’t be an issue against a Gunners side who largely dominate possession, thus enabling Leicester to maintain a low defensive block.

Oddly, Arsenal completed a league double over the champions last season with two contrasting performances: the initial showdown witnessed Arsene Wenger’s men fluster Leicester on the counter-attack, whereas Ranieri’s men conceded a late lead during last year’s run-in at the Emirates following a Danny Simpson dismissal.

In terms of shape, neither side has abandoned their philosophy. The key talking points rest around whether Wenger will welcome back key figures who returned to training camp late due to international duty. Laurent Koscielny appears certain to add experience to a back-line that self-destructed last weekend, but Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil’s return remains unknown.

The Gunners could slot Santi Cazorla into his preferred no.10 role, but Giroud’s absence upfront appears to be a bigger blow at the moment. For all of Alexis Sanchez’s countless attacking qualities, his impact as the main striker is fairly subdued. Theo Walcott’s pace upfront is also an option if Arsenal intended on playing on the break, as he flourished ahead of Alexis in last season’s 5-2 win at the King Power Stadium.

But if Alexis starts upfront, Wenger would likely field Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the flanks, thus offering pace and direct running in wide areas. With that being said, the other major decision Wenger must make regards is midfield pairing. Rushing Ozil back to the XI could see Santi Cazorla return to the deeper role the Spaniard thrived in last season, but Granit Xhaka’s big money summer signing should merit his first start for the club.

Screen Shot 2016-08-19 at 12.05.24 PM

Projected starting XI.

Last week, Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin offered grit and protection of the back four, but Xhaka offers ball-winning skills, and a source of creativity from deep. Surely Wenger will be wary of Leicester’s transitional threat, but he’s certainly deprived of genuine passers if Ozil is unable to start – to be frank, Xhaka offers a two-way threat in a deeper role.

Ranieri’s men should be relishing their first home game of the season, and the Italian manager’s main decision is probably based around the ideal strike partner for Jamie Vardy. Shinji Okazaki’s work-rate and discipline would be significant in preventing Xhaka from freely distributing the ball from deeper positions, but Ahmed Musa’s pace alongside Vardy would torment Arsenal’s back-line.

Both Musa and Vardy displayed their willingness to charge into the channels to receive long diagonals at Hull last weekend, which is why Koscielny’s return and cautious positioning from the Arsenal full-backs is required. Despite winning a penalty last weekend, Demarai Gray struggled to impress, which could see Musa also utilized on the right.

Ranieri, however, would likely prefer discipline from the opposite flank of Mahrez, who drifted centrally aiming to take on defenders and occasionally combining with Danny Drinkwater, last week. This opens up the possibility of last season’s consistent performer, Marc Albrighton returning to the XI.

Leicester also looked particularly feeble in central areas, where Andy King filled the void of N’Golo Kante in midfield. King doesn’t possess the ball-winning skills of Kante, and against an Arsenal side containing multiple technically gifted players in advanced zones, Ranieri would be wise to find a new partner alongside Drinkwater.

Similar to Xhaka, Nampalys Mendy is being eased into the Premier League, but King’s exploited defensive deficiencies should see the Frenchman partner Drinkwater in midfield. Although Mendy doesn’t offer Kante’s dynamism and running, he still boasts the necessary physical presence, ball-winning skills and additional protection Leicester lacked last weekend – it’s no coincidence Wes Morgan endured one of his worst performances for the club over the past 12 months.

Ultimately, the match hinges on whether Arsenal aim to dictate the tempo of the match, but Musa and Vardy’s threat upfront may force Wenger’s men to be cautious, here. Offensive transitions will be key, but both managers will aim to address their issues at the back, and a lack of defensive discipline across the pitch.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 19, 2016 in Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tactical Preview: Arsenal – Liverpool

Embed from Getty Images

While the Manchester clubs dominated the headlines with their high-profile managerial appointments and player acquisitions, Liverpool and Arsenal – mainly the former – have endured positive summer transfer windows.

Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 12.18.19 PM

Possible Starting XI’s.

With the window still open and managers still aiming to add players to their roster, it’s difficult to make bold statements regarding big games in the opening weeks. But the stability displayed at both clubs this summer ensures a predictable pattern at the Emirates: Jurgen Klopp’s high-octane gegenpressing against Arsene Wenger’s possession-based Arsenal outfit.

Klopp’s first full season at Liverpool provided the manager an entire pre-season to get his methodology across to his players, whilst bolstering a squad that may have not been of his preference prior to his arrival. Georginio Wijnaldum and Sadio Mane were the marquee Premier League-based signings that thrive via direct play, which ultimately epitomizes Liverpool’s newfound identity.

Wijnaldum is likely to play closer to Can, here, in attempts to utilize sheer physicality against Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla’s tricky movement. Liverpool could use a natural-ball winner in midfield, but Klopp’s preference to athletic all-rounders could be a decisive factor throughout the season.

Both Mane and Wijnaldum featured in Liverpool’s pre-season victory over Barcelona where Klopp fielded arguably his strongest XI. Wijnaldum and Adam Lallana sat ahead of Emre Can, with the former making late runs into the box, whereas Mane’s ability to play across the front-line and willingness to engage in take-on’s offers flexibility in the final third.

Mane’s best Premier League performances witnessed the attacker playing in a central role where he was able to pick up the ball in deep positions and run at the opposition or making runs behind the defence. However, it’s likely Mane will start from the right at the Emirates, while Roberto Firmino’s willingness to make inwards runs into half-space and combine with his teammates via intricate passing will likely be preferred over Divock Origi’s pace upfront.

Philippe Coutinho will aim to cut infield from the left to shoot on goal, but his defensive discipline will be put to the test against the speedy Hector Bellerin. Meanwhile, Adam Lallana will drift into pockets of space and attempt to link play within the final third.

In contrast to Liverpool’s multiple signings, Arsenal’s transfer activity has once again been remotely inactive. While the general consensus insists the Gunners are far off from a title-winning side – their second place finish last season is genuinely overlooked due to the decline of several top sides and Leicester City’s remarkable campaign – apart from a possible upgrade in the centre-forward position, Wenger possesses one of the better squads in the league.

The arrival of Granit Xhaka will boost Arsenal’s combative presence in the box, while Mohamed Elneny and Francis Coquelin are equally imposing defensive midfielders.

“[Xhaka brings] his passing ability to play through the lines from deep positions, his work rate, and he’s good in the air,” Wenger told the Arsenal website. “He’s a young boy as well, 23 years old. There’s a lot to come from him.”

Cazorla’s success in a deep role last season, combined with the arrival of Xhaka, should push Ramsey into an advanced role on the right that will see him drift centrally to overload the midfield, but equally create space for Bellerin to run at make-shift left back James Milner. Liverpool’s clear weakness rests at the left-back position where Alberto Moreno’s defensive deficiencies has forced Klopp to turn his trust to Milner.

More so, Liverpool’s make-shift back-line could encounter issues with Alexis’ movement in the final third. The Reds still lack adequate protection of an unconvincing back-line that requires time to build a solid foundation, and they could encounter difficult moments coping with Arsenal’s movement between the lines.

Olivier Giroud and Mesut Ozil’s absence should see either Alexis start upfront considering his goal-threat in the final third. Wenger is also faced with the decision of handing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott on the opposite flank of Ramsey — nonetheless, both serve as useful impact substitutes.

Wenger’s main issue ahead of Sunday involves three injured first choice centre-backs, and will turn to Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal at centre-back – the duo coincidentally started together in the same fixture last season – thus explaining why the club is linked with Valencia defender Shkodran Mustafi. Arsenal have been exposed by top sides in the past due to their poor structure out of possession, and they’ll be fully tested against Liverpool’s swift transitional attacks – this may result in a cautious Gunners approach.

“Maybe they will bring a few other players in and Koscielny is back in one or two weeks, or this week — I don’t know. But defensive problems only play a role in a game when the other team is really strong and offensive,” Klopp said.

“They have a lot of wonderful players for their offensive play and it’s only one game. It’s not that they have to play with this team the whole season or we have to play this team season — then we could talk about advantages or not. For this one game, it’s not a big role.”

Where both sides battled to a score-less draw in last season’s early clash, the return fixture was a six-goal thriller that highlighted the need for a ball-winner in each midfield. Sunday’s showdown should follow the former: neither side will be at full-strength, additional physical midfielders have been acquired, whereas a lack of match fitness can be decisive – in particular, Liverpool’s pressing over extensive periods will be scarce.

Where Wenger must find a solution to bypass Liverpool’s pressing, the Reds must do a better job in protecting space between the lines. In a league that’s welcomed top managers that are value organization and defensive structure, this would be the ideal platform for either side to display their improvement in this area, as it will be a significant component in any possible attempt at a legitimate title challenge.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 12, 2016 in EPL, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arsenal 2-1 Manchester City: Ozil exploits Manchester City’s feeble defensive shape with simple movement

Ozil vs City

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 21: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal challenged by Fabian Delph and Yaya Toure of Man City during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on December 21, 2015 in London. (Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

Arsenal scored two goals in the final 15 minutes of the first half to defeat Manchester City.

Screen Shot 2015-12-22 at 1.54.10 PM

Arsene Wenger was still without Alexis Sanchez so he made no significant changes to his starting XI.

Manuel Pellegrini welcomed back Sergio Aguero to lead the line, while Fabian Delph started on the left over Raheem Sterling. Delph played alongside David Silva in the no.10 role, and Kevin De Bruyne operated on the right.

Recurring issues with tactical discipline witnessed Arsenal overwhelm Manchester City at the Emirates following a positive start to a match where they simply lost control.

Identical approach

One of the key feats heading into the match was how either side would approach the match. City have showcased their pragmatism in big domestic games – this led to a dull goalless draw at Old Trafford – whereas Wenger employed reactive tactics to defeat Pellegrini’s men at the Etihad last season.

At the Emirates, neither side was willing to push forward. Despite dominating plenty of possession, City quickly dropped into two banks of four with Delph tucking centrally to help Silva press Aaron Ramsey, and quickly shifting towards the flanks to prevent Hector Bellerin from pushing forward.

The partnership of Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini deprive Arsenal of creativity and astute passing in deeper positions, so the intent to stifle the former was logical. With Aguero left with the responsibility of harrying both Arsenal centre-backs, Laurent Koscielny often pushed forward to play passes into midfield – though they were often misplaced, the Frenchman’s passing was eventually decisive.

Arsenal, on the other hand, were more of a 4-5-1 with Ozil joining Ramsey and Flamini in midfield, opting to minimize passing lanes in central areas. Olivier Giroud’s work-rate was occasionally useful as well, as he dropped off to apply pressure on Yaya Toure and Fernandinho, who had ample time to spread play to the wings as the hosts dropped off into their defensive base shape.

Ultimately this lead to a dull opening half hour of football, as neither side was keen on allowing the opposition space between the lines.

City’s issue

There was a sense of caution in City’s approach from the opening whistle – Delph’s inclusion on the left justified the notion – as they dominated possession throughout the first half but failed to create chances from open play. Wenger’s men deserve credit for remaining compact and limiting spaces between the lines, but City are also culpable for their lack of conviction in the final third.

They preferred safe sideways passes with Toure and Fernandinho within close proximity of each other leading the charge at the half way line, while De Bruyne and Silva were stifled between the lines. Aguero lacked match sharpness and was contained well by the Arsenal centre-backs, and City’s attacking full-backs lacked options in the box when they pushed forward to play crosses.

Nevertheless, prior to Walcott’s opener it was De Bruyne who created the best chances of the match. The Belgian delivered plenty of crosses that were easily cleared throughout, but initially, he comfortably glided past Arsenal left back Nacho Monreal and forced Petr Cech to make a near post save.

The game-defining moment however, came seconds prior to City conceding. Coincidentally it was Eliaquim Mangala – another centre-back igniting a positive move – that located Aguero, and the Argentinian dropped off Koscielny and instantly flicked the ball into space behind Walcott and Monreal for De Bruyne.

De Bruyne drove into the box, and opposed to passing to Silva – in fairness Per Mertesacker did well to cut off the lane to the Spaniard – the Belgian flashed his shot wide of the net. It appeared that City’s dominance was beginning to fluster Wenger’s men, but City’s possession was predominantly bland, and a moment of brilliance from Walcott changed the match.

Silva vs. Ozil

The exciting element to this match involved the Premier League’s star creative midfielders, and it was fitting that both men started in their preferred no.10 role. David Silva has been the key man for City in recent years, and arguably the league’s best performer over the past 24 months, but Ozil’s 13 assists heading into the match represented the German rediscovering his best form.

However, the contrast in how they were marked prove decisive. Both prefer to drift laterally between the lines to receive the ball, but neither playmaker did so with ease in the opening stages. Silva was man-marked across the pitch by Flamini and was unable to receive the ball in tight spaces.

Apart from one moment at the edge of the box when Silva skied his shot over the net, the Spaniard’s best moments stemmed on the break where he had enough space to freely play forward passes to the wide players. In open play, the City playmaker was restricted to dropping deeper towards the halfway line to influence the game.

City’s approach didn’t have the same impact on Ozil, but initially it was simple and effective. The German’s attempt to bypass City’s midfield block involved movement towards the flank, but Pellegrini instructed the closest holding midfielder to shuttle over to apply pressure.

Ultimately, Pellegrini gambled with his midfield pairing, as on countless occasions Toure has been guilty of leaving Fernandinho exposed with his reluctance to quickly retreat into shape. Yet, to no surprise, Arsenal’s best moves in the first half involved Ozil recording two assists by exploiting space behind the Ivorian.

  • 5th min: Koscielny’s pass finds Ozil in space behind Toure, but the German’s ball to Walcott was slightly over-hit.
  • 31st min: 1-0 Walcott. A similar pass from Koscielny finds Ozil again in acres of space behind Toure, but this time he connects with Walcott, who cuts back to the edge of the box and curls a splendid strike beyond Joe Hart. This wasn’t a traditional assist, but nonetheless, who was Toure marking?
  • 46th min: 2-0 Giroud. A series of errors from Eliaquim Mangala and Fernandinho enables Walcott to pick up a loose ball at the half way line and locate Ozil in space behind the Brazilian. Ozil quickly slid a pass into the box for Giroud to double Arsenal’s lead.

Arsenal’s productivity in City’s third was scarce, but the difference in defending the opposing playmaker proved costly for City. Silva’s threat was thoroughly negated due to Flamini’s work-rate – despite it creating space for De Bruyne and Toure to drive into, which in fairness wasn’t a first half issue – while Ozil patiently waited for City’s midfield duo to get caught out of position to impact the match.

Arsenal second half chances

Pellegrini quickly reacted to his side trailing by two goals by turning to Sterling in place of Delph on the left. City still encountered issues going forward with Toure and Aguero still moving languidly, while Bellerin kept tight on Sterling to nullify his threat from the left. Apart from two near post Aguero headers from set-pieces, and a tame toe poke towards Cech, City offered no threat in the final third.

The same can’t be said about Arsenal, as their full-backs were increasingly proactive. Likewise, Joel Campbell ran across Aleksandar Kolarov twice in the box to blast his initial effort over the net, and force Hart into a simple save that once again stemmed from a Koscielny diagonal.

Ramsey posed a threat with is deep runs from midfield, but equally displayed the discipline issues he possesses considering there was no need to risk a City counter in this situation. A break ignited by Bellerin’s willingness to outfight Fernandinho resulted in Ramsey running beyond both centre-backs into the box, but once again he was denied by Hart.

Then, one move in the dying moments epitomized City’s poor defensive play in two phases. Both Mangala and Nicolas Otamendi failed to cope with Giroud, thus enabling the Frenchman to lay the ball off to substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and the England international picked out Ramsey who charged past Toure into the box only to clip his shot wide of the net.

Arsenal created countless chances in the second half with City eager to throw players forward, but poor finishing, and Hart’s heroics provided City with a lifeline.

Substitutions

Pellegrini’s initial attempt to rescue the match was unsuccessful, so he sacrificed two of his three underperforming stars in Silva and Aguero for Wilfried Bony and Jesus Navas. The formation remained the same, but it essentially gave City a new dimension with Bony serving as an aerial threat, whereas now the away side offered pace and natural width on both flanks.

The latter’s introduction appeared peculiar initially considering Wenger made his favourite substitution when ahead, introducing Kieran Gibbs for Campbell to ensure adequate protection down the flanks. Wenger also decided to move to a natural 4-5-1 replacing Ozil with Oxlade-Chamberlain, and pushing the England international alongside Ramsey and Flamini for additional protection in midfield.

The hosts now appeared content to protect their lead with an additional midfielder – even as a duo Mangala and Otamendi failed to negate Giroud’s influence and there was no need for a floater behind the Frenchman – but Pellegrini reverted to the shape that was successful in the early stages of the season, introducing two wide players and shifting De Bruyne to his preferred no.10 role.

City push for equalizer

City’s resurgence followed shortly after, with De Bruyne’s movement and Arsenal’s energy levels decreasing. Toure instantly played a pass into De Bruyne between the lines thus leading to Sterling receiving the ball in the box to cut in on Bellerin and curl a weak effort at Cech.

de bruyne arsenal

LONDON, ENGLAND – DECEMBER 21: Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium on December 21, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill – AMA/Getty Images)

De Bruyne varied his movement to the flank to receive service, but it should also be noted that Flamini maintained his position opposed to tracking the Belgian’s movement. Along with Navas breaking past Monreal on a clear break-away and opting to pass rather than shoot – a typical error in decision-making from the Spaniard that’s displayed frequently – De Bruyne was the catalyst behind a potential City recovery.

Subsequent to Toure’s wonder-goal, De Bruyne ran beyond the defence to combine with Bony resulting in the Ivorian’s shot being blocked for a corner. Then, Toure surged through the Arsenal midfield to receive De Bruyne’s lay off in the box but the 32-year-old poked the ball wide of the net.

Arsenal’s persistence to seek a third goal left them vulnerable on the counter, but Wenger’s alterations didn’t necessarily improve their situation. De Bruyne was lively in a no.10 role, and it must be said that both wide players were handed a quality opportunity to score, which emphasizes that this is City’s most effective set-up going forward.

Conclusion

Arsenal claimed the most important fixture of the title race thus far, with the simplicity in the buildup to both goals once again exploiting City’s fragility in midfield and the centre-back positions. In ways, the manner in which Ozil and Silva were marked display the contrast in preparations between the two managers.

In what was building up to be a slow-burning cagey encounter, Walcott’s goal led to an open match that frankly could’ve ended as an Arsenal blowout. City’s approach was fairly conservative, but they simply looked out-of-order going forward, and enjoyed their best moments when Pellegrini reverted to an expansive shape.

The sides that focus on organization and compact shapes out of possession have prospered in the current Premier League season, and here, Arsenal followed suit.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on December 22, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work, Uncategorized

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Arsenal 0-0 Liverpool: Rodgers alters formation to stifle Arsenal’s passing and break with speed

Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool takes a shot at goal under pressure from Hector Bellerin of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool at the Emirates Stadium on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom. CREDIT: JULIAN FINNEY

Liverpool and Arsenal played to entertaining draw at the Emirates Stadium.

Screen Shot 2015-08-26 at 7.11.12 PM

Arsene Wenger was forced into forming a make-shift centre-back partnership of Gabriel and Calum Chambers, as first choice defenders Per Mertesacker (illness) and Laurent Koscielny (back issue) unavailable. Wenger persisted with the same front six that started a week prior at Selhurst Park.

Brendan Rodgers tinkered with the system that earned Liverpool two wins to start the season, moving to a compact 4-3-3. Roberto Firmino made his official Premier League debut from the right, while Emre Can and Lucas Leiva joined James Milner in midfield.

The abundance of attacking players in the starting XI combined with shaky back-lines suggested that there would be goals at the Emirates, but this action-packed, open affair shockingly concluded with neither side converting their chances. The Reds were dominant in the opening half, but as they tired Arsenal gained territorial dominance but were vulnerable in transition – put simply, it was a game of two distinct halves.

Rodgers adjusts

The most interesting story line heading into the match surrounded Rodgers XI. Liverpool kick-started their campaign with two unconvincing displays – albeit claiming maximum points – and with Jordan Henderson unavailable due to a foot injury, the opportunity to include a defensive-minded midfielder was a logical move.

Here, Rodgers moved to a 4-3-3, moving Milner and Emre Can as shuttlers ahead of Lucas. This was significant due to the risk of being overrun in midfield with Henderson and Milner started ahead of the back four, as neither player is a legitimate ball winner.

The 4-3-3’s defensive base shape is a 4-5-1, and Liverpool’s midfield band remained narrow and compact, improving the overall structure of the side. Rodgers was expected to alter his side’s approach against Arsenal’s fluid attack, and the move to a 4-3-3 suited the side, improving their natural balance and defensive solidity.

Liverpool’s quick start

Considering the several new additions to Rodgers’ squad combined with the Reds’ poor displays thus far, their energetic start came as a surprise. Surely, Rodgers most impressive win against Arsenal followed this template, but here, the lack of familiarity within the squad suggested that the home side would dictate the opening period.

Attachment-1

However, within the opening five minutes, Liverpool exploited Arsenal’s inexperienced make-shift back four and their fullback’s advanced positioning. Can was free to charge into left half-space before pulling back the ball for Benteke, but the Belgian slashed his shot wide. A similar move occurred a few minutes later, as Milner played in the Liverpool striker in right half-space, resulting in Coutinho firing the subsequent pullback off the cross-bar.

It’s key to note that Arsenal scored a lovely goal that was wrongly disallowed, yet shortly afterwards Lucas dispossessed Alexis, and clever work from the two Brazilian’s placed Benteke into right half-space, but Petr Cech made a key save. Oddly, Arsenal started poorly, with the Reds dominating half-spaces between both advanced full-backs, but once again, their profligacy in the final third proved costly.

Arsenal’s poor passing

Equally, the additional component to Arsenal’s difficulty in the opening half, and Liverpool’s dominance, involved the former’s poor passing in their half and the final third.

Much credit should be awarded to Lucas who negated Ozil’s threat between the lines and blocked off passes into Giroud. Wenger’s side found it difficult to break past Liverpool’s narrow 4-5-1 – Can and Milner closed down Arsenal’s midfield duo when they received possession, depriving the Gunners a genuine link between midfield and attack.

Attachment-1 (1)

Essentially, teams bypass midfield pressure through service from the back-line, but the inexperienced Arsenal centre-backs proved inadequate options. Chambers, in particular, enjoyed a dreadful half, conceding possession three times to Coutinho alone.

Liverpool’s midfield quintet was also influential via collective pressing, as they harried Arsenal’s duo when they attempted to play short passes through central areas. One incident in the opening half witnessed Lucas, Milner, Can, and Coutinho harry Coquelin and Cazorla, which forced the former to make a desperate last-ditch tackle to halt Benteke’s surge into the box.

At times, Arsenal produce their best football when they play quick combination passes amongst each other, but Wenger’s men failed to gain a rhythm due to Liverpool’s pressing, Lucas’ positioning, and incompetent passing out of their half.

Arsenal improve

As expected, Liverpool were unable to maintain their pressing over the course of 90 minutes, thus reverting back to a narrow 4-5-1 deep in their half. Therefore, the Gunners were free to monopolize possession in the box, and penetrate wide areas to create chances.

Now was the ideal time for Bellerin and Monreal to surge forward, and the full-backs delivered positive crosses into the box. Movement from wide areas led to Alexis hitting the post, and a Bellerin cross resulted in Giroud squandering a glorious opportunity to nick a winner in the six-yard box.

Attachment-1 (2)

Giroud benefitted from the shift in dominance, as he was subdued in the first half due to lack of service in the final third – Lucas’ influence also played a factor. The Frenchman wouldn’t be deemed a prolific finisher, but his superb link-up play virtually makes him an additional playmaker – hence, why he improved once his teammates received space to play passes into him and charge forward.

It’s unsurprising to see Giroud involved in Arsenal’s best moves during their 20-minute spell of dominance, and though he missed a key chance to put the Gunners ahead, it was odd to see the Frenchman replaced for Theo Walcott.

Liverpool swift attacks

With the Gunners pushing men forward, there was ample space for Rodgers’ men to exploit on the counter. Liverpool broke quickly in the first half, but most moves involved the Reds pressing higher up the pitch to win possession.

Contrastingly, Gomez, and substitute Alberto Moreno, won the ball in their own half before charging forward into Arsenal’s half on the counter. The former’s opportunity witnessed Milner fire a shot directly at Cech, while the latter’s poor decision-making saw him overrun the ball opposed to playing in the unmarked Can.

Nevertheless, the away side’s additional method of attack in the final quarter of the match was strictly direct. Lucas located Coutinho between the lines, and the Brazilian evaded a few challenges from deep to test Cech from distance – the Liverpool attacker also skipped past Bellerin to test the Arsenal keeper. Then a simple Mignolet punt resulted in Benteke winning an aerial duel and subsequently combining with Firmino to fire a wayward shot over the net.

Wenger’s late direct attempt

While Rodgers appeared content with the result in the final half hour, Wenger made attacking alterations to introduce pace in the final third. Walcott replaced Giroud upfront, whereas Coquelin was sacrificed for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, pushing Ramsey alongside Cazorla upfront.

The risky change deprived Arsenal of a natural ball-winner, yet the introduction of Chamberlain would have benefited Giroud upfront. Liverpool’s deep defensive line prevented the Walcott from running behind the opposition’s back-line, but Oxlade-Chamberlain merited why he’s due for a starting role, particularly in home games.

Courtesy of: Getty Images/David Price Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Courtesy of: Getty Images/David Price
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal is challenged by Alberto Moreno of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Liverpool on August 24, 2015 in London, United Kingdom.

Ramsey’s driving runs from midfield did present a chance that nearly fooled Mignolet, but it was Oxlade-Chamberlain who forced the Belgian into several saves, foiling a weak area in Joe Gomez. Perhaps a pairing of Ramsey and Cazorla left Arsenal susceptible to quick counters, but the Gunners lacked powerful deep runners throughout the match, and Chamberlain’s inclusion improved the balance in the final third and the likelihood of a winner.

Conclusion

Most goal-less draws are quickly classified as dull encounters, but this fixture was fairly open and entertaining despite the poor finishing throughout. Liverpool will feel unlucky not to put the match out of sight in the first, yet Arsenal moved into better positions in the second, and should have executed.

“Performance-wise I was very happy with how we worked. First half in particular we created chances and should have been in front. In the second half you always expect pressure,” said Rodgers.

“Our performance level has grown over time, our defensive organization is good against big teams.”

Rodgers displayed his tactical awareness and flexibility with the inclusion of Can and Lucas in midfield, thus leading to Liverpool’s best performance of the season. They pressed and harried superbly in central zones, maintained a narrow shape when required to do so, and constantly exploited Arsenal’s make-shift back four when they swiftly broke on the counter – inevitably all that was missing was the all-important goal to classify this as a remarkable away display.

The same can’t be said for Wenger, as Arsenal’s entire set-up was peculiar. From the full-backs maintaining advanced positions, to not providing another holding midfield to help Coquelin protect the back four, the home side’s display was appalling. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s direct running from the right was beneficial, but this served as further evidence that Wenger must identify his preferred attacking quartet sooner rather than later.

It appears Rodgers finally has a team that fits his stylistic preference – in regards to funds available – and his decision to move to a 4-3-3 highlights that while he can make mistakes, his side still remains tactically flexible. More so, this could be the Liverpool manager’s approach in big games until Daniel Sturridge returns to the XI.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 26, 2015 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Three Things: Arsenal 0-0 Manchester United

Image

Courtesy of Flickr/Football Nomad

Cautious Moyes

After Sunday’s 2-2 draw against Fulham, many were criticizing David Moyes’ attacking approach. Although United completed 86 crosses in the match, displaying a lack of variety in attack, Moyes’ side was atrocious on the defensive end.

Despite dominating possession for large portions of the match, individual errors led to Steve Sidwell’s opener and Darren Bent’s late equalizer. With a trip to the Emirates Stadium on the horizon, United couldn’t afford to drop points if they had any hopes of finishing in the top four.

United dropped into a 4-5-1 without the ball, as they focused on minimizing space between the lines. Michael Carrick and Tom Cleverley provided astute protection in front of the back four, and Arsenal’s attacking players were unable to get into dangerous positions around the final third.

Image

Moyes instructed his men to sit narrow – identical to their performance at Old Trafford earlier this season – but this time wide players Antonio Valencia and Juan Mata prevented Arsenal’s fullbacks from pushing forward. United was set up to contain Arsenal’s attacking players, and they succeeded. The Gunners created minimal chances from open play, their ball circulation was slow, and they lacked the penetration and guile to break down United’s back line.

The issue with United’s approach was that it sacrificed their threat on the attack. Apart from three squandered efforts from Robin van Persie, United didn’t test Wojciech Szczesny. Rooney was often yards away from the Dutch striker, and when United held possession, he was unable to receive the ball in key areas. Overall, United’s attack was stagnant; van Persie was constantly flagged offside, and with Moyes keen on his central midfielders – and Rooney – sitting deep, the champions lacked runners.

Moyes’ approach was logical, and it earned United an important point. However, while the Red Devils completed a job without the ball, their threat on the attack was languid.

Ozil improves his performance

Mesut Ozil’s form has been heavily critiqued and ridiculed over the past few months, and his performance at Anfield over the weekend was the last straw. Ozil’s involvement in two Liverpool goals left many questioning whether he truly is a world-class player.

While the sudden outrage in Ozil’s status is bizarre, encountering a dip in form in your first season in England isn’t. Nonetheless, the German playmaker took it upon him to silence the critics at the Emirates. Statistically, he was superb, creating the most chances and completing the most passes in the final third.

Image

Although Ozil wasn’t the best player on the pitch, he was certainly the most influential Arsenal player. Laurent Koscielny – Arsenal’s best player on the night – nodded Ozil’s corner towards the back post, but it was cleared by Valencia, and his intricate passing with Santi Cazorla, led to the Spaniard forcing David De Gea to make a key save.

For the most part it looked like the gap in quality between Ozil and his teammates was vast. Ozil roamed around the final third playing passes with his teammates, and creating space for others to penetrate, but nothing came of it. Likewise, when he did attempt to play intricate passes in tight spaces the receiver often couldn’t play a returning pass.

Ozil’s price tag leaves him vulnerable to heavy criticism, but as of late it’s difficult to pinpoint an attacker who’s produced consistent performances.

Giroud or bust?

Arsene Wenger had one job to complete during the January transfer window – purchase a striker. An entire month flew by, and despite a few warning signs regarding fatigue and performance levels, Wenger was reluctant on meeting the wishes of Arsenal supporters.

Apart from their victory against Spurs earlier this season, Olivier Giroud has failed to score against the league’s top-sides. Giroud’s enjoyed a good campaign as Arsenal’s main striker this season, but his inability to provide goals in these matches has affected the Gunners’ results.

With Arsenal’s summer pursuit of Luis Suarez proving to be unsuccessful, and Theo Walcott sidelined for the remainder of the season, many expected Wenger to jump into the January market. The Frenchman, however, fully believes that the squad at his disposal possesses enough quality to end Arsenal’s nine-year trophy drought.

Wenger included Nicklas Bentdner, Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo on the bench against Manchester United, yet the trio witnessed Giroud struggle at the Emirates. Despite outmuscling and pestering United captain Nemanja Vidic in the first-half, the French international’s finishing was poor. In the 76th minute, Sagna created Arsenal’s best opportunity, but Giroud failed to convert the right-back’s delightful delivery into the six-yard box.

Giroud’s lack of pace puts him at a disadvantage, and his link-up play with advancing midfielders has become predictable. It’s illogical to believe the sole purchase of a striker would win Arsenal a trophy this season, but with the Frenchman showing evident signs of fatigue, a competent, alternative option could’ve been beneficial.

More so, Giroud’s poor performance symbolizes the Gunners’ issues upfront, but with three options at their disposal, maybe it’s time Wenger gives his main striker a rest.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on February 12, 2014 in Match Recaps, Published Work

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,