Tag Archives: Arsenal

Man at the pub, Chary: Set piece lapse gifts City draw

Poor marking at a corner in the last ten minutes of the game allowed City to equalise and prevent the Arsenal from grabbing their first league win since the opening day of the season after the home team appeared to have come from behind to defeat the League Champions.

Circumstances prevented me from attending today’s Ashburton Grove lunchtime kick off so I found a pub in my hitherto unnamed London satellite town where the audience gathered around the screens were split 50-50 supporting Arsenal and non football fans having lunch, hence “Man at the pub”.

Lunchtime drinking - a thankless task but someone has to do it

Lunchtime drinking – a thankless task but someone has to do it

Noteworthy points on team selection being Arsenal’s fifth signing, Danny Welbeck, starting in the middle up top, the prospect of Sanogo being there may have sent the goonersphere into a post interlull induced tailspin, and Monreal keeping his place while consigning Gibbs to the bench.
For the visitors the omission of Yaya “Birthday boy” Toure weakened the City midfield with the down grade Fernandinho taking his place, otherwise both teams were at full strength bar a few (Theo/Giroud for arsenal; Toure/Jovetic for City).

Pellegrini – whose appearance and style far from being that of “The Engineer” comes across as being more like a supply teacher – must have felt he had sufficient resources to avenge City’s last league outing, a defeat at the paws of the Orcs of Staffordshire.

Refreshingly Arsenal started the game with little of the usual hesitancy that had become a feature of some of their early kickoffs with the extremely robust front three of Alexis, Welbeck and Rambo leading the high energy pressing against the visitors, suggesting that the Arsenal were not overawed by City.

This urgency led to Welbeck running onto a loose pass from the the City defenders and chipping over the dandruff free Hart, the watching Gooners in the bar expecting the net to ripple. Sadly a Dulux coat of paint was enough to send what would a been a deserved opening goal for Arsenal and Welbeck back off the post into the grateful clutches of a grateful keeper.

Arsenal’s early dominance rattled the visitors and there then emerged a pattern of rotational fouling which broke up our attacking play, Fernandinho and Milner guilty of a couple of potentially yellow card tackles on Jack and Debuchy respectively.

Jack’s upswing in form seemed to continue as he exerted a degree of control on midfield and, to my eyes, was therefore targetted for fouls, however he hadn’t completely shed his habit of hanging onto the ball a little too long before releasing.

Emboldened by City’s lack of control in midfield Arsenal began to commit more men forward with Monreal being a little too eager to stay upfield, and this would lead to the sucker punch. Navas on the City right used all his pace to keep a ball seemingly destined to go into touch in play. The out of position Monreal was unable to defend his rampaging run to the Clock end penalty box where an onrushing Aguero expertly applied the finish.

Undoubtedly a blow but thankfully not one that seemed to knock the Arsenal out of their stride too much and they soon resumed their aggressive attacking approach.

This continued from the start of the second half, which saw Fatty Lampard withdrawn, possibly due to him picking up a yellow as well as looking off the pace, proving that Arsenal’s forward line is one of the better aspects of the squad.
Özil was feeling his way back into match fitness with some, although probably not enough, decisive interventions in our forward play and some smooth, slick passing.

At last Fernandinho joined Fatty and Zabaleta in the book after one lunge too many, even by referee Clattenberg’s somewhat lax standards, although shortly afterwards he just had to “even” things up by booking Flamini.

Eventually a particularly pacey combination of passes in front of the City penalty area, started by Özil winning the ball in the Arsenal half, allowed Jack to run onto Rambo’s pass then chip Hart delightfully for the equaliser.
An exquisite goal that heartened the team and the supporters, who may have started to fear a home league loss for the first time since last season’s opening day debacle made. The celebrations were made funnier by Aguero being booked for dissent in the aftermath of our equaliser and then subbed shortly after.

Continued Arsenal pressure led to the highlight of the game, Jack flicked on a cross to Alexis who lined up a right foot volley that arrowed into the top corner of Hart’s goal with the accuracy of a laser guided exocet – what a world class finish!

As our Chilean wheeled round in celebration I could see him bursting to take his top off, he unpeeled the Puma skinny fit top as I realised ruefully he was going to get a yellow, but to be fair the adrenalin of scoring such a goal would do that to many a player.

Arsenal’s superior attacking play had been rewarded and the game settled into possession football by the home team till the turning point of the game.
An aimless cross field ball in the last ten minutes of the game was chased by Debuchy who got his studs stuck in the turf and ended up turning his ankle – the “oofs” and groans heard around the bar when the slow mo showed the awkward angle the right back’s ankle landed confirmed the severity of the injury.

Now we could be down to five senior defenders covering four spots, only Bellerin looks ready for the first team at a push, so let’s all hope he is not out long term.

Chambers came on and soon after conceded a corner which was to provide the denouement – the inswinging corner saw Chesney flap a little and fail to claim with Demechelis rising to prod the ball goal ward.
Chesney got a hand to the ball but was unable to keep it out, in fact he seemed to divert the ball away from Flamini who was at the back post all set to clear, Mathieu slapping his forehead in frustration knowing that he could have prevented the goal.

The remaining minutes, plus six minutes of injury time, saw a helter skelter finish to the game during which it was Arsenal’s turn to be saved by the post when Dzeko’s effort was kept out by the woodwork.

An amusing moment in the closing minutes was Nasri poking in the net after the off side flag was raised and being given the bird by the Arsenal supporters. You could just see him itching to start his Adebayor-like celebration for the winner he thought he’d scored. Plenty of middle finger salutes from the Arsenal supporters in the pub.

Eventually time was blown and the feeling was predominantly of relief at not losing but slight disappointment that the lead could not be kept.

Negatives – the old failings of the inability to defend from set pieces and being vulnerable on counter attacks, especially on our left side, however today this could be more due to Özil’s lack of protection of the left back when he plays wide left than anything. The injury to Debuchy means we are now using an inexperienced teenager to cover centre back and right back spots which is a worry. Being young and inexperienced means we are going to see a few mistakes from Calum but we can only hope they won’t be regular or costly.

Positives – an encouraging debut for Welbeck which combined with our pace up front means opposition defences won’t be able to expect continued slow sideways passing in front of their penalty area to give them an easy game. We genuinely looked like we could go toe to toe with any other teams forward line and with the return of Walcott next month things look good up top.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Man at the match; Chary: Just deserts to time-wasting Palace served up by Arsenal

A long three months have passed since your humble scribe last made his way to Ashburton Grove and how the mood around the club and its supporters has changed. News of ManUre’s home defeat to Swansea brought a spring to my step as the much lauded, by the British media at least, Loius Van Butt Head (any fans of MTV of the 80′s and 90′s will know) started off his reign in calamitous fashion.

Walking up Gillespie Road

Walking up Gillespie Road

This is in no small measure due to this very significant addition to the in-stadium signeage.

Shove your nine years up ...

Shove your nine years up …

Of course this has been up for a while yet for those of us travelling to the Grove for the first time this season it’s worth highlighting.

I took my seat in the North Bank lower and guess who was a few rows in front ?

Bully

Bully

As the teams trundled out the only minor surprise was the selection of Sanogo ahead of Olly and as we attacked the Clock End goal away from me I saw very little of Sanogo’s efforts but he did appear to be a touch ineffectual.

Callum Chambers, however, confirmed his composed performances in the Emirates Cup were no fluke; whether he should be third or fourth choice centre back is the question for the rest of the season.

Very quickly it became apparent in the stands that the Palace manager’s hastily devised team tactic was ‘everyone behind the ball and defend in two banks of five.’ The Pulis stand-in’s dishevelled appearance on the touchline wreaked of a man who’s barely started the job and is in a bit of a muddle.

Smart manager, scruffy manager

Smart manager, scruffy manager

While Wenger was in a smart suit his counter part decided to try the “Brit on a beach holiday abroad” combo of t-shirt and shorts, nice.

As the Arsenal started to make inroads into the massed ranks of the opposition defence Alexis’ was the major threat with his quick starting, darting runs from deep. Granted, he sometimes overshot the final cross/pass but I could almost see the brown trails showing on the shorts of the opposing defenders. That’s what having pace in your attack does – it stops opposition defences sitting back as we no longer have to endlessly dilly dally laterally on the pitch.

Barely twenty five minutes into the game and Speroni, the Palace keeper, decided he would take his goal kicks with all the urgency of a baboon with hemorrhoids. This, allied to the 8-1-1 formation told you all you needed to know about the attitude of Pullis’ successor.

As expected with virtually their first upfield excursion, towards me in the North bank, a misplaced pass amongst our left flank defenders resulted in a corner which Palace duly scored from.

There was some talk around of me of why was Alexis marking the leviathan that is Hangaland however the team and supporters dusted themselves down and got on with the business of getting back into the game.

Arsenal pressed forward, predominantly on the right hand side where Debuchy and Alexis were combining together in the manner of team mates who had playing together for a season and not just a few weeks. it reminded me of our previous right sided partnership of Walcott and that French bloke we signed from Auxerre; what was his name again ?

On the stroke of half time a well deserved equaliser was headed in by Kozzer (from an Alexis free kick), who is popping up with important goals time and time again so the tone of the half time break would then take on a different flavour. I’ve always found the North Bank lower to have more than it’s fair share of pessimistic Gooners so it was good to hear that most felt confident of a winning goal coming up in the second half.

Soon after the second half kicked off Gibbs was subbed and Nacho came on; those saying he should be shipped out should take note of just how often Gibbs is injured and therefore why we need him as experienced back up. To my eyes he went on to have a good game and in fact our attacks on the left started to get better from his introduction onwards.

Soon after the initial flurry of attacks it became apparent that Palace were planning to hang onto the draw by slowing down play by a combination of Speroni’s slow motion goal kicks and assorted defenders collapsing with cramp to eat up more time. Sadly the referee was not keeping a lid on the time wasting and he let it go.

Other things worsened the mood of the home support, for example Arsenal were awarded a free kick they wanted to take quickly but as the referee turned his back a Palace midfielder kicked the ball away – a yellow card all day long, something the lino should have flagged to the referee but didn’t.

Something else that summed up Palace and their approach was when another delicate defender of theirs, Dann I think, was being subbed off, instead of walking straight off the pitch(of course he was proceeding at funereal pace) he not only didn’t take the shortest roue off the pitch, but he arced his walk as he approached the touchline and walked parallel to it so it took even longer for play to restart.

Earlier on just as Arsenal were about to take the corner the Pulis stand in decided to bring on a sub just then ! No waiting for a later break in play as is customary.

As full time approached Puncheon finally got his second yellow after a number of niggling fouls and we got the huge advantage of playing against ten men for a couple of minutes of normal time plus injury time.

Due to the time wasting already seen the five minutes of injury time flagged up was the minimum expected and Arsenal kept on pushing forward, but with renewed urgency.

Another attack resulted in a cross that Olly flicks on and just in front of the North Bank goal, yards from me. I can see someone swivel round to latch onto the flick. Next thing I know Speroni parries and somebody else has tapped in the rebound.

What relief and total justice that Palace concede a goal scored in injury time that their time wasting created.

The winning goal

The winning goal

Through the sea of arms I can just make out Rambo rushing to the corner flag to celebrate, the thing I notice most vividly is his fists pumping in triumph, fist pumps of vitality and strength, not the “couldn’t break a wet paper bag” fist pumps of our dear manager.

By now my row of the North bank lower has taken on the character of a thrash metal mosh pit as the delirious celebrations resulted in yours truly being hurled several seats to the right.

How sweet an injury time winner is and how different the mood at this seasons opening fixture compared to lasts.

UTA !

By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)

Tactics column — Two-Nil over Napoli, close to perfection

From time to time, 7amkickoff likes to add fresh new writers. Sensible writers who can write clearly and have a point they need to express. We had a tactics columnist two years ago but he found that the time required to write the column in the way that he loved was interfering with his real life. So, we waited and along came Naveen. He immediately impressed me with his perspicacity, with his understanding of Arsenal’s tactics. So, I invited him to write us a tactics column about his favorite match from last season. This is that article. Enjoy, and let’s hope Naveen has time in the coming year to provide us with a few more gems like this. – Tim 

Rarely does a team dominate a match for all 90 minutes. Even the weakest side can wrest control of a match for 20 minutes against the best team in the Premier League. That is why certain performances (like 2010-11 Barcelona’s 5-0 victory against Real Madrid) are so special. During the 2013-14 season, Arsenal had a performance that reached such heights, their 2-0 victory over Napoli in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. While Arsenal’s players executed better than Napoli’s on the night, the game represented a tactical battle that Arsenal dominated as well.

A Lack of Pace Leading to High Lines

Napoli played this match without Gonzalo Higuain and Arsenal played this match without Theo Walcott, both out due to injury. These two losses hurt both sides ability to stretch the pitch vertically, as neither Goran Pandev nor Olivier Giroud are particularly fast center forwards. This incentivized both teams to play with higher lines than they normally would, as their opponents were less able to punish such a tactic. For Napoli, the higher line was an attempt to keep Arsenal away from their goal and to give them a better chance to win back possession closer to Arsenal’s goal. For Arsenal, the higher line allowed them to use both center-backs in the build up without forcing the team to leave advantageous attacking positions and drop deeper, in order to provide options (other than long balls) for the center-back in possession. It also allowed them to press more effectively.

Arsenal’s Pressing

A note to any English side playing an Italian side in a match that matters…press, press, press. Games in Serie A are played at a snail’s pace compared to the Premier League. Italian teams have a greater preference to slow the game down, pack the center of the pitch, and kill the space available in their final third. Rarely do teams look to aggressively press in the midfield third or the opponent’s final third. This leads to many Italian sides struggling against sides that employ aggressive pressing strategies in those two areas of the pitch.

With the high lines from both sides, the amount of pitch where the play occurs shrinks; that plays right into the hands of a pressing side. Regardless of the type of the pressing, it is more effective if the players have to travel a smaller distance. The shorter the distance players have to cover, the more quickly they can apply pressure. The closer the 22 players are to one another, the easier it is to deny passing lanes. Therefore, when Arsenal lost possession, they could win the ball back quickly. At the very least, they could slow Napoli’s counter attacks, allowing them to get back in defensive positions (especially important for the attacking full back on the weak side) and/or force a long ball from the Italians.

The most obvious example of Arsenal’s pressing potency came in the build-up for the second goal. Arsenal had just lost possession deep in Napoli territory due to a poor cross field pass by Aaron Ramsey. Carlos Zuniga takes the throw-in on Arsenal’s right side about 15 meters from the byline. The ball goes to Napoli center-back Miguel Britos, who is put under pressure by Giroud. With Ozil in position to intercept a pass back to Zuniga, Britos volleys the ball forward. Marek Hamsik, Napoli’s central attacking midfielder, tries to control Britos’ volley, but the pressure from Mathieu Flamini prevents the Slovakian from controlling the ball. Instead it bounces off him, into the path of Giroud. With one touch, he moves the ball to Mesut Ozil. At this point, both Gokhan Inler and Zuniga find themselves completely out of position as Ozil goes forward (with Zuniga acting as if he could not be bothered). Once Ozil gets behind the back line, Napoli lose all positional discipline. Raul Albiol, the weak-side (opposite of the ball side) center-back, races over to cut Ozil off at the pass (I hate that cliché), while Britos finds himself in no-man’s land. By getting behind the back line, Ozil forces Britos to defend 360 degrees of space instead of 180 (this is why cut backs are so effective at creating quality shots on goal). Britos, mentally preoccupied by Ozil, fails to track Giroud’s run into the giant hole left by Albiol (I have no idea what Giandomenico Mesto is thinking as he fails to position himself to defend against the cut back or Giroud’s run). Ozil executes the right pass perfectly (shocker) and Giroud puts it home.

For the first 20 minutes of the match, Arsenal’s pressing pinned Napoli inside their own half, suffocating the Italians, who seemed incapable of stringing three passes together. In fact, the entire first half was dominated by the success of Arsenal’s pressing, and another aspect of Arsenal’s game Benitez and Napoli did not expect—their fluidity.

Arsenal in Possession

Arsenal’s pressing was not the only aspect of their play than surprised Napoli. Their fluidity up front seemed to catch the Italian’s off guard as well. Maybe Napoli did not do their due diligence scouting Arsenal and/or assumed a side playing five midfielders who tend to play centrally would try to force the play down the center. That would explain why Benitez opted to have his players defend rather narrowly and kept his attacking quartet higher up the pitch, particularly Lorenzo Insigne. Against an Arsenal side with Cesc Fabregas, this tactic made more than enough sense. Those Arsenal sides did get bogged down in the center of the pitch, making them predictable.

However, against an Arsenal side with Mesut Ozil, this tactic becomes much less profitable. For all of Ozil’s gifts, his most important is his willingness and ability to drift into pockets of space out wide. This allows him to find space to receive the ball, but it also creates space for his teammates in the center of the pitch. He does this by removing himself from the center of the pitch, with the potential of dragging a central midfielder out of position (see Aaron Ramsey’s volleyed goal vs. Liverpool). So while Mesut Ozil may never become the play who can carry a “meh” side by scoring individualistic goal after individualistic goal (like Gareth Bale in 2012-13), he is the perfect player to pair with other elite attacking talents. He is the ultimate teammate, a player that helps others play their game.

Throughout the first half, Arsenal confused the Napoli defense with their movement. We can take a look at the first goal to see that. First, Giroud moves himself to Arsenal’s right side, occupying the space Zuniga had previously vacated, dragging Britos with him. Sagna plays the ball into Giroud. At this point, Aaron Ramsey is hugging the touchline on Arsenal’s right; Tomas Rosicky is between and just in front of the center back and the left back, who are both in the center of the pitch; Mesut Ozil is left of center at the same level at Mikel Arteta, in a central midfield trio. At this point Napoli’s central midfield pair (Inler-Behrami) have no idea who to mark.

Inler, probably expecting to mark Mesut Ozil or Aaron Ramsey in more central positions, winds up marking no one. When Giroud plays Ramsey in behind Britos (Zuniga leisurely jogs back though he is terribly out of position), Behrami sprints in a futile attempt to get to Ramsey. When Mesto follows Rosicky runs, the entire left side of the box is unmarked space for the forgotten Ozil to run into. Aaron Ramsey cuts it back (remember, 360 degree defending is much harder than 180 degree defending); Ozil scores, 1-nil to the Arsenal.

Ultimately, in this case, the advantage of fluidity is that it creates an information asymmetry. The Arsenal players know where their teammates are, but the Napoli players do not (caveat: a fluid system with players who do not know how to play with one another can lead to confusion on both sides, along with a misallocation of resources). That knowledge advantage can be exploited, leading to unmarked players taking shots from good positions.

The other advantage of fluidity is that it allows a side to better allocate attacking resources to the right places on the pitch at the right. Like the world around us, a football match takes place in a dynamic environment. Openings and vulnerabilities often present themselves for brief periods and disappear. Therefore, it is important for teams to identify these weaknesses (intelligence) and quickly coordinate their actions to exploit this weakness (intelligence and cohesion) Teams that can identify these vulnerabilities, think quickly, move themselves and the ball quickly, and have players who understand each other can consistently beat the strongest defense (in other words, be water my friend).

In this match, Arsenal played with such tempo and fluidity (which, combined with their technical ability allowed them to deftly move the ball in close quarters) that they discovered Napoli’s defensive weakness on their left side in the first seven minutes of the match. Insigne did not look to track back, probably due to Benitez’s desire to keep a potent counter-attacking threat closer to the opponent’s goal. This left Zuniga (not the most defensively-skilled left-back) alone to defend that side, and Arsenal were more than glad to invest their attacking resources there. Bacary Sagna advanced and often two of the attacking trio (often Mesut Ozil + X) created a severe overload. Napoli struggled to defend this overload, as it either exploited or forced them out of their narrow defensive shape. And, as the match went on, Arsenal increased their emphasis on destroying Napoli’s left side.

Napoli’s Sterile Possession (2nd Half)

The second half saw Arsenal dominate in a different manner. Unlike the pressing that dominated the flow of the game in the first half, Arsenal had an increased willingness to defend in their half of the field. One of the reasons Arsenal could do this with such comfort came down to the composition of Napoli’s central midfield. Napoli set up to counter-attack Arsenal, as they are wont to do against any side. This led them to field Inler and Behrami in central midfield. This gave them the ball-winners that Benitez would have wanted to win possession and then get the ball forward to their attacking quartet. Forced into a more passages of slow possession in Arsenal’s half of the pitch, the value of these players decreased immensely. If Napoli had two central midfielders who could make plays from deeper positions and punish Arsenal for fielding Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini (two players who like to drop deep, conceding space to deep-lying midfielders) like Morgan Schneiderlin and Jack Cork did in Southampton’s 2-2 draw against Arsenal, then maybe they could have posed a threat. Instead, Arsenal could defend with no fear and focus their efforts on marking a rather predictable attacking quartet and the occasional fullback overlapping with plenty of defensive resources to spare.

Conclusion

This was Arsenal’s best performance of 2013-14. They dominated this match as much as any side can dominate a match. By exploiting Napoli tactically and by executing the plan to perfection, Arsenal dominated the game with the ball and without ball, by pressing or by defending deep. So while the FA Cup Final represents the best moment of the season, this Champions League match deserves a special place in the memory of Arsenal fans too, as it represents Arsenal coming as close as they could to the perfect match.