Tag Archives: Premier league

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)

Tactical preview: Everton v. Arsenal

What will Roberto Martinez Do?

EPL Game 1: A Solid Base and a Fluid Approach

Roberto Martinez showed quite a bit of flexibility in his approach against Arsenal last season. In their first Premier League encounter, at the Emirates, Martinez played something similar to how Arsenal played against Napoli. Martinez’s 4-2-3-1 had a defensive box of two center backs and two central midfielders. By allocating four players in a 2-2 manner, with one of the midfielders dropping a bit deeper in possession to allow Everton to play out easier from the back, Everton allocated enough resources properly to the defensive side of the game to combat with Giroud, Ozil, and the forward runs of Aaron Ramsey.

That allowed Everton to allocate the rest of their players towards attack. Not only did they allocate more resources for the attack, but the certainty in the positioning of the defensive box allowed them to have uncertainty in the allocation of those resources. This fluidity in attack helps to create information asymmetries, where players, familiar with one another, know where their teammates are, while the opponent struggles to properly allocate defensive resources to counter the attacking threat. Essentially, fluidity makes the dynamic resource allocation problem for the defense much more difficult. The defensive box allowed them to mitigate the costs of fluidity, in particular the cost of being out of position when possession is lost, by having players in position to defend Arsenal’s counterattacks.

Two stand-out performers for Everton were Steven Pienaar and Brian Oviedo, who filled in for Leighton Baines at left-back. With Jack Wilshere operating as the right-sided midfielder, or Cazorla for stretches, Arsenal lacked a counterattacking threat on that side¹. This gave Oviedo license to get forward, as the marginal cost of his forays was relatively small. Clearly, they did not perceive Carl Jenkinson as much of an attacking threat. This allowed Everton to move the ball down Arsenal’s right side easily and create 2-on-1s against Jenkinson. While this occurred late in the game with Everton searching for an equalizer, making a more attacking approach more valuable, one can see how Oviedo’s willingness to go forward creates a 2-on-1 against Jenkinson, giving Pienaar time and space to deliver a cross into the box.

With Pienaar free to cut inside from Everton’s left and Ramsey taking up quite advanced positions, Mikel Arteta had to worry about the threat of both Pienaar and Ross Barkley without much help (if help came it would have to come from Mertesacker and Koscielny, but that would leave Lukaku 1-on-1) . Barkley freely roamed the area, looking for space, and driving forward with the ball. Despite not registering a goal or assist in the match, Ross Barkley was the outstanding player for Everton in possession.

EPL Game 2: A False Nine and Wide-Forwards

I view football matches as dynamic resource allocation problems. You want to optimally allocate your resources and you want to prevent your opponent from optimally allocating their resources. To that end, one of my favorite tactical approaches is the use of two wide forwards with a deep-lying central player (I’d be all for Arsenal trotting out Walcott and Sanchez up top with Ozil behind them). Chile operated in this fashion under Jorge Sampaoli at the World Cup. The value of this approach is the ability to pin back four defenders with two attackers.

First attacking the CB/FB gap can often be more valuable that attacking the CB/CB gap. Center-backs generally stay put and have a good understanding with one another. The cohesion between the two and the certainty of position allows them to better allocate themselves to kill a threat to that gap. Fullbacks, who operate as attackers and defenders, often have less of a relationship with the center-back on their side and have much more uncertainty in their positioning. When a wide forward attacks that gap, there seems to be an increased probability for some confusion between the fullback and the center-back on that side, as to how they will deal with the threat.

One of the best outcomes from this confusion can be the ability to pin both fullbacks into defensive roles. In modern football, with fullbacks playing such a crucial role in attack, often solely responsible for providing width, the ability to pin the fullbacks deals a serious blow to the opponent. Not only does it prevent the opponent from allocating their attacking resources the way they desire, but it also can simplify the dynamic resource allocation problem for the defenders. If the only threats out wide are pinned back in their own half, a defense can narrow their shape, allocating more resources to limit the success of the central attackers.

The wide forward can also exploit the space in behind an attacking fullback (or a fullback positioned too far up the pitch), and can force a center-back into a wide area. For many center-backs, being pulled into a wide area represents a pretty terrible scenario. A lack of experience in those situations can lead to a lack of knowledge about how to use one’s attributes to defend the situation (or the center-back simply lacks the necessary attributes to defend that situation) and can lead to panicky and ineffective defending. Also, by dragging one of the center-backs out wide, the wide forward may have also forced the other center-back, and the fullback on the opposite side (if he is even in position) towards him. This can create quite a bit of space for the other wide forward to make a free inside run toward the back post.

In this game, Martinez used his wide forwards to great effect, particularly on the counterattack. He played a 4-3-3, with Steven Naismith as a false 9, Romelu Lukaku as a right wide forward, and Kevin Mirallas as a left wide forward. Naismith dropped into midfield, effectively forming a diamond, giving McCarthy and Barkley a player to pass the ball to, who could link-up with the wide forwards. Naismith also did well to attract Thomas Vermaelen onto him.

In Everton’s first goal, we can see the potency of this system. Although Flamini could have probably dealt with Baines 1-on-1, Bacary Sagna stays up, but does not close the ball down. Mirallas runs into the space that Sagna has not occupied, dragging Per Mertesacker with him. Naismith’s run draws Thomas Vermaelen.

wide

This leaves Lukaku all alone with Nacho Monreal, against whom the Belgian has a significant physical advantage. Lukaku gets a shot on goal, and it is saved.

shot

However, Vermaelen is caught watching Lukaku and loses Naismith, who has looked to make a run around Lukaku. The ball falls to Naismith, and he buries it.

late

On the second goal, Naismith starts with the ball after Mikel Arteta blocks an aimless Ross Barkley pass, an opportunity that comes about due to his deep positioning. The ball falls to Mirallas in a central position with Lukaku in acres of space on Everton’s right side. Mirallas plays the ball to Lukaku who faces Monreal in a 1-on-1. Vermaelen does not commit to helping his left-back as he is worried by the run of Naismith (watch him look behind him to check on where Naismith is, as he runs back). Lukas Podolski does not seem to care on this play, jogging back, even though his fullback is in an undesirable situation. Lukaku cuts inside; he shoots and scores.

The third goal starts with Mirallas wins the ball off of Bacary Sagna, which happens when you ask Sagna to advance the ball by dribbling. Now, the break is on. Barkley, who is already ahead of the play on Everton’s left, makes a run down the sideline. While he does not keep Mertesacker on him, his run prevents Mertesacker from ever committing to stopping Mirallas. Arteta cannot dream of catching up to Mirallas, meaning the Belgian has plenty of space and time to dribble, shoot, or make a pass. Vermaelen decides to focus on the man with the ball more than 25 meters from goal, and he is caught flat-footed as Naismith runs behind him. Mirallas plays the ball to Naismith, and Wojciech Szczesny comes off his line, successfully getting the ball away from Naismith. However, the ball falls in an ideal place for Mirallas to run onto the ball and score. Mertesacker and Arteta cannot accelerate quickly enough from their slow jogs to clear the danger. And Monreal, throughout all of this, is worried about his positioning relative to Lukaku, given the threat of the Belgian making a back post run. This prevents him from helping out his teammates on the play.

Two games, two completely different game plans, and both were effective. Whatever Roberto Martinez attempts to pull off on Saturday, there is a good chance it will be well thought out and effective.

What Arsenal May Want to Do

With Nacho Monreal starting at left-back, and Martinez aware that the Spaniard will start at left-back, he may look to isolate Lukaku on Monreal as much as possible. This may call for Lukaku taking up the wide forward role again and to make diagonal runs from a central position into the LCB/CB gap. If Everton do employ this tactic, Arsenal may wish to allocate another man to that territory, to help Monreal deal with the Belgian. Had Arteta not picked up an injury in Turkey, Arsene Wenger may have opted for a defensive box of Mertesacker-Koscielny; Flamini-Arteta. By having two deep-lying midfielders, one can help defend a wide area without leaving the area in front of the center backs unoccupied. Obviously this tactic has its downside, as having two players with a tendency to sit deep, can give the opponent’s deeper midfielders (probably McCarthy and a lucky-to-not-have-received-a-red-card-and-been-suspended-for-this-match Gareth Barry), though the absence of Ross Barkley would make this tactic less costly.

When it comes to defending wide forwards, Mathieu Debuchy’s ability and willingness to sweep behind his center backs may play a key role in this match. This is an advantage of having Debuchy at right-back over Sagna; however, Wenger may need to allocate even more resources to defend Everton, in these wide areas.

Wenger may choose to start Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out wide. Not only do both have the athleticism to recover from advanced positions and help out their fullbacks, they have also shown a willingness to do so. In particular, Sanchez is quite adept at defending his position, especially when it comes to pressing while simultaneously keeping a passing angle closed. Not only could fielding these two help the fullbacks combat the potential threat of wide forwards, but it could also help defend against attacking intentions of Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines. While this tactic would put them farther away from goal when Arsenal win possession, they do have the athleticism and the dribbling ability to still be threats on the counter. In fact, given Leighton Baines lack of recovery pace, Arsenal could look to draw the left-back forward, so to run into the space behind him on the counter.

Arsenal may also have to curb the advanced positioning of Aaron Ramsey. With Mesut Ozil possibly coming back into the side (who, by the way, was Arsenal’s best player by a considerable distance in the 1-1 draw at the Emirates) Ramsey probably does not need to play so close to goal for Arsenal to have the same level of attacking production. However, with Flamini probably playing as the holding midfielder, Arsenal need to allocate more resources defensively into the central midfield zone, compared to when Arteta plays. This also means that Ramsey must find his passing touch, which evaded him against Crystal Palace and Besiktas. Turnovers in central midfield could very easily turn into goal-scoring opportunities for Everton.

For those keeping score, it appears my preferred XI is Szczesny; Debuchy, Mertesacker (if match fit), Koscielny, Gibbs; Flamini, Ramsey; Sanchez, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, X. When it comes to the center-forward position, the choice comes down to Wenger’s opinion on Giroud’s match fitness. The Frenchman has not played well to start the season. If he continues to play poorly, he can turn into a real liability, as his poor play would give Everton an incentive to push their back line further up the pitch. This would help them pin Arsenal into their own half.

Sure, Arsenal would have counter-attacking threats in Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain in my XI, but they may have quite a bit of defending to do, taking them further away from goal. Arsenal could position either further up the pitch, but then we run into another issue of trade-offs.

While there is a marginal benefit in attacking by having Sanchez or Oxlade-Chamberlain higher up the pitch (possibly in defending too, but defending high up the pitch has the potential to be high-variance which can make it undesirable depending on one’s preference and the incentives with respect to risk), the marginal cost (or at least of them) is the increased likelihood of 2-v-1 situations for Everton on the flanks.

Therefore, if Wenger does not feel that Giroud can provide a good performance against Everton, then Yaya Sanogo is the obvious choice, unless Wenger wants to start using Sanchez up top. Even if Sanogo does not perform well, he can provide a vertical threat that can allow Arsenal to keep Everton’s back line deeper, without having to risk pushing one of the wide men forward and playing a high risk game on the flanks.

Conclusion

In Chapter VI² of the Art of War Sun Tzu writes about how an army should operate in battle:

Thus I say that victory can be created. For even if the enemy is numerous, I can prevent him from engaging. Therefore, determine the enemy’s plans and you will know which strategy will be successful and which will not; agitate him and ascertain the pattern of his movement. Determine his dispositions and so ascertain the field of battle. Probe him and learn where his strength is abundant and where deficient. The ultimate in disposing one’s troops is to be without ascertainable shape. Then the most penetrating spies cannot pry in nor can the wide lay plans against you.

With Roberto Martinez’s flexibility in approach and with Arsenal going away to quality opponent, Arsenal may want to spend the first 10-15 minutes figuring out what the Toffees game plan is and play a more reactive game. If an opportunity to get forward on the counter presents itself it may be taken, but Arsenal must focus on not conceding and learning as much as they can about their opponent. They may also wish to not give anything away as they discover how to best attack Everton. It is fine to not win the game in the first 10-20 minutes. Football is a game of 90 minutes; you need to be able to solve the dynamic resource allocation problem as well as you can for the whole game.

Naveen — @njm1211

¹it was also their 2nd match in a 3 matches in a 7-day span that ended with a match against Napoli…they probably did not want to burn themselves out before a crucial match to help decide which team progressed out of the group.
²I have seen the chapter titled “Weaknesses and Strengths”, “Weak Points and Strong”, “Illusion and Reality” or “Vacuity and Substance” depending on the translation.

Ramsey-winner

Arsenal 2-1 Crystal Palace: fear of leg cramps

When was the last time you woke up in the middle of the night with a cramp? You know what I’m talking about, you’re lying there dreaming of Arsenal winning the League at Old Trafford, the players dancing in wild abandon, the ticker tape falling all around, and maybe in sympathetic rhythm your muscles start twitching as you dream that you’re dancing with Koscielny. Then before you know what hits you your calf is harder than knotted pine and you’re wide awake, screaming and stretching, praying that’s the only muscle that will cramp.

If you’ve ever had a night cramp, the second night cramp is always worse than the first because somewhere between the actual knot and the pain there’s a moment of sheer panic, you know what’s coming and you’re helpless to stop it. And even worse is that for weeks after your last cramp, you wake up periodically from your slumber, scared you’ll get another cramp.

I get the sense that for some folks, watching Arsenal is like those few weeks after your last leg cramp. You sit there, watching the game with a feeling of doom “they are playing well,” you’ll say “but I know Arsenal are going to concede now, probably off a set play.” Or “well, there went the chance, this game is lost, the season is lost, Wilshere is lost, Sanogo is lost, it’s all over, leg cramps take me away!”

I know because I was like that. I was conditioned by the Cesc era Arsenal and that feeling of inevitability that whenever Arsenal were playing a team that we were “supposed” to beat something would happen, Denilson would switch off, and some player who hasn’t scored a goal since St. Swithins day would kick in a wonder goal and we’d be crushed. Chiek Tiote, all those players from Spurs, they were all garbage on legs and yet they all scored on us in some unimaginable fashion. And it seemed to happen so often that the unimaginable became real.

So, it makes sense to carry that sense of doom for a while when watching Arsenal. Just like when you had a cramp and for the next week you live in fear of that cramp coming back. But I wonder how long we have to live in fear of the next Arsenal collapse?

For me, I stopped worrying about Arsenal cramps a while ago. I tried to pinpoint when it happened and I think it was the Bayern Munich away match, where Arsenal scrapped their way to a 2-0 win and came within a goal post of their own unthinkable result: beating Bayern 3-0 in Munich and advancing in the Champions League.

I say all that knowing that Arsenal can still collapse in spectacular fashion. As much as I wish I could blot out those losses to Chelsea, Man U, City, and Liverpool they are always going to be with me. But as I sat there watching Arsenal on Saturday I knew the whole time that they were going to win.

I knew they would win partly out of that sense of calm that they have given me but also because my rational mind told me that this team is chock full of talent. Arsenal started with Yaya Sanogo, a hard worker but hardly a polished center forward. In midfield, there was the trio of Arteta, Wilshere, and Ramsey all of whom seemed to lack a little bit of sharpness. On the wings there was Alexis and Cazorla, with the former looking like he wanted to do too much and the latter looking well off the boil, spraying passes all over the park to no one. And at the back, Arsenal are bedding in two new defenders, which is usually a recipe for disaster because defense is a team within a team and disrupting half that team almost always has dire consequences.

I’ve just given you every reason to think that team shouldn’t win, and yet, I saw that collection of talent and thought that of course they were going to win. Alexis is going to take time to get used to the speed and power of the English Premier League but you can already see that he’s one of the most talented players on the pitch. He’s going to pull off something brilliant at least once a game. Which is what he did, sailing in a cross that dipped perfectly for Koscielny to score the equalizer.

And in Aaron Ramsey Arsenal have a budding superstar. I lost count of how many times the pundits have said that Arsenal need a midfield powerhouse, someone who can dominate the game in the middle of the park. And I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve said that they have that guy already and his name is Aaron Ramsey. He’s a tireless worker: tackling, positioning himself to take an errant pass, running without the ball, demanding the ball, looking to move the ball up the pitch, and since last year he has decided to add “scoring the game winning goal” to his overflowing tool kit. That’s what he did on Saturday, he scored the winner. Like he did in the FA Cup Final. And like he seems to be doing with some regularity now.

Sure, it was only Crystal Palace and sure they were missing their manager who left the club on the eve of the kickoff to their season. But Arsenal, for their part, were missing their record signing, the creative force in midfield, their starting center half and defensive rock, their starting center forward, and many of the players who were on the pitch looked sorely out of shape and clearly lacking that telepathic communication necessary for a team like Arsenal, a team dependent on slick passing and fluid movement, to break down a team like Palace who sit back and have little interest in actually playing a game of football.

But that’s what made me so calm. They were missing all those players and yet, they still had a team full of talent in almost every position and a team with a self belief generated by winning tough games like the 2-0 over Bayern and the FA Cup Final. So, of course they won.

Qq