Friday, 16 April 2010

Same Old Arsenal, Always Losing (against well organised teams)

Arsenal once again proved that as a team they do not function well against a well-organised, defensively minded, team.  Yes the goal from Danny Rose was a beauty but that was only the first sting in the tale.  The second goal from Bale was more indicative of the game as a whole.  Arsenal have once again been highlighted as a team with both a soft centre and an impossibly irritating tendency to over play in the attacking phase - regardless of whether this is a cliche or not.
Football Fans Know Better

The game started at a typically fast pace with Arsenal once again dominating possession.  However as with Chelsea, Man Utd, and Man City, Tottenham were more than happy to let Arsenal keep the ball.  They knew that as long as they kept their shape and pressed Arsenal they would be able to deal with their overwrought possession.  Tottenham, to their credit, performed their allotted task admirably until they started to be stretched late in the game.

When the game was in full flow time and time again Tottenham took full advantage by attacking at pace after gaining the ball from Arsenal.  Bale looked very dangerous going forward and Arsenal looked toothless.  It goes without saying that Arsenal missed RvP (for most of the match), Fabregas, Arshavin, and Song but even with these players Arsenal have been found wanting at the highest level for the last couple of seasons.  Their tendency to fail to use width for crosses, the need to pass the ball in squares around the box, and the lack of directness means that Arsenal get swamped by decent defensive units and then when they lose the ball their attacking players are in no position to help out defensively.  This puts extra pressure on the Arsenal back four who unfortunately are nowhere near strong enough to cope with pace and power on the break.    

Arsenal are a team that loves to keep possession and yet good teams (apart from Barcelona) always let them keep the ball because they know that quick, direct counter attacking will penetrate their (defensively) fragile midfield and defence. Here is the reality from this season alone: Arsenal 0 - Chelsea 3, Chelsea 2 – Arsenal 0, Man Utd 2 – Arsenal 1, Arsenal 1 – Man Utd 3, Man City 3 – Arsenal 0, Tottenham 2 – Arsenal 1, Man City 4 – Arsenal 2.  All in all those results, along with their demolition at the hands of Barcelona, makes for a shocking reality for Arsenal fans:  have Arsenal actually beaten any decent team this season?   

In the excellent Zonal Marking article on the match ( the point was made that Arsenal are often compared to Barcelona in the English press for their love of possession but that there is a key difference: Barcelona's commitment to keeping possession across the park and utilizing their centre-backs if the attack breaks down.  Arsenal, however, seem to like keeping possession in the final third but rarely use all the players in the systematized approach of Barcelona.

I also think that the other key element separating Arsenal and Barcelona (as evidenced by their matches this season) is that Arsenal do not press when they lose the ball.  This is key because when Barca lose the ball they have players pushed high up the pitch who press in order for the ball to be reclaimed efficiently.  Arsenal do not press in the same way and when they lose the ball their attackers do not track back very often (as we see Pedro doing week in week out).

Effectively this means that Arsenal are half the side of Barcelona - they focus on cute possession but have none of the discipline and work rate that marks Barcelona out as one the greatest ever club sides.  I think that next season should be interesting for Arsenal and I, even as a Chelsea fan, hope that they keep all their players fit.  Wenger needs to show that he has the ability to adjust his tactics because time and time again when a decent team sets out to negate Arsenal they always seem to come up short which does not bode well for winning any important competitions no matter how much more "mature" his side becomes.


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