February 23, 2012
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I read ZonalMarking.net’s preview of Milan vs Arsenal last week with interest, as there were comparisons drawn with the tactics that Spurs deployed at the San Siro last year (I note that Wenger sneered at our counter-attacking wingers set-up!). Wenger’s decision to start with a relatively narrow team and end with a very narrow team was quite bizarre given Milan’s issues defending against pace in wide areas, as Michael Cox highlighted. Milan took advantage of Arsenal’s tactical chaos, dominating the game themselves with Ibrahimovic’s constant deep movement bamboozling first Vermaelen and Koscielny and then Vermaelen and Djourou after Koscielny was forced off through injury.
The Milan thrashing was followed by a tricky trip to in-form Sunderland in the FA Cup, where Arsenal were again forced into a defensive re-shuffle. Vermaelen started alongside Djourou at centre back, with Coquelin at left-back (although Coquelin went off injured early on, meaning that Vermaelen switched to the left, with Squillaci coming on at centre back). Rosicky and Walcott dropped out of the side, with Gervinho brought back in on the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain preferred on the right. Whilst the wide men were probably Arsenal’s best players, they struggled to find them with any regularity and this was largely down to a superbly organised midfield display from Sunderland.
Sunderland were largely content to allow Arsenal possession in deeper areas, encouraging passes inside to Arteta, Song and Ramsey. At this point, Colback, Gardner and especially the tenacious Cattermole aggressively closed down Arsenal’s midfield players and cut off the supply line, leaving van Persie isolated and the wingers frustrated.
Given both of these matches, whilst also remembering that these were both away matches for Arsenal, I would hope that Spurs take note of Arsenal’s apparent sudden reliance on width to break teams down. On Sunday I would expect Parker to do a similar job to Cattermole – pressing hard in that final third, but otherwise maintaining shape and staying disciplined. I would personally bring in Sandro alongside Parker and Modric to add physicality and another defensive barrier.
Some fans will claim that going in with three central midfield players is a negative approach to the game, but personally I think it is also a good route to a goal. Arsenal are susceptible to goals on the counter, and we saw with Sunderland’s second goal on Saturday how best to play counter-attacking football against them; let them have the ball in “safe” areas, but when they get toward the final third and more players have joined the attack, try to nick it with aggressive harrying and then attack at pace.
Another element to note from both of the matches highlighted above is Arsenal’s centre back problems. Due to injury, they have been chopping and changing the pairing and now even Vermaelen – largely assured previously – is looking vulnerable. Adebayor will hopefully have watched Ibrahimovic’s clever movement last week, and will drop-off, dragging one of the two centre-backs away and leaving space for Bale and Lennon to run into.
Koscielny and Gibbs are doubts for Arsenal, with Djourou and Jenkinson standing by as potential replacements – they would clearly weaken the team significantly. Although I have suggested that Rosicky will start (with Ramsey out injured), I actually wouldn’t be too surprised to see Walcott play inside and Oxlade-Chamberlain again start on the right.
James McClean had another good game in the Sunderland match – working hard defensively, but breaking forward with direct running and causing problems. Hopefully Harry Redknapp will have seen his display and will start Gareth Bale in his favoured wide-left position, where he is best-placed to inflict damage.
Finally, if you have not yet read Spooky’s wonderful battle-cry on Dear Mr Levy, I urge you to do so immediately!