Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Arsenal 3-1 Chelsea - Wenger gets his tactics spot on

After 13 failed attempts, Arsenal have finally beaten a Chelsea side containing Didier Drogba. Arsene Wenger spoke about the threat posed by the Ivorian before the game, and refreshingly his team selection was geared as much towards nullifying Chelsea as it was towards aiding Arsenal's passing game.

Wenger had several big selection decisions to make and he got all of them spot on:
-Johan Djourou came in for Sebastian Squillaci, adding more physical and aerial presence against Drogba
-A fully-fit Robin van Persie was preferred to Marouane Chamakh and resumed his role as a false 9
-Theo Walcott started on the right to reduce Ashley Cole's influence and provide a threat in behind Chelsea's defence
-Samir Nasri's work rate and economy in possession was preferred on the left with the more lackadaisical Andrey Arshavin dropped to the bench


Arsenal's 4-2-3-1: Song (17) and Wilshere (19) sat behind the front four, covering the right and left flanks respectively.
Van Persie (hidden behind 2) played his usual false 9 role, dropping back into midfield & creating space for Fabregas (4) and Walcott (14) to advance into the box. Koscielny (6) brought the ball out of defence while Djourou (20) stayed back.

In the same fixture last year, Ashley Cole set up two goals from left wing crosses and repeated the feat again at Stamford Bridge this season when he set up Didier Drogba for the opener. In both games Nasri started ahead of Walcott on the right, and the latter goal arose as a direct result of Nasri failing to track Cole's run down the left. Walcott played in the return fixture at Stamford Bridge last season and managed to keep Cole reasonably quiet, so perhaps Wenger had this in mind when deciding to start the young Englishman on the right.

In theory it makes a lot of sense, Walcott has tremendous pace and his diagonal running in behind opposition defences is a major threat - one which requires left backs to play more conservatively. This was the case in the game last night, with Cole barely venturing into the final 3rd of the pitch. Not only did Walcott pin back Cole for the majority of the time he was on the pitch, he also displayed excellent defensive awareness in tracking the runs of the left back (and of Malouda) on the few occasions that space did develop on Chelsea's left side - as this following video shows:



Ashley Cole's passing chalkboard: In the 73 minutes that Walcott was on the pitch, Ashley Cole managed just one (unsuccessful) pass in the attacking 3rd.

Walcott will have got a lot of plaudits for his role in Arsenal's 2nd and 3rd goals but his defensive work was equally excellent. With Cole/Malouda on the left and Ferreira/Kalou on the right, it's clear which side was Chelsea's strongest, and indeed there was a clear passing bias to the left throughout the match.  Walcott's defensive diligence - along with Bakary Sagna and Alex Song's excellent performances - helped to shut down Chelsea's entire left flank.

Arsenal's right-sided dominance: Alex Song (6/6) and Bakary Sagna (5/5)
completed all of their attempted tackles.

Chelsea's left flank shut down: Despite showing a clear preference for passing to the left flank, Chelsea were unable to penetrate into the final 3rd on that side - amazingly not a single pass was played from that zone. They had better luck down the right against the defensively-weaker trio of Clichy-Wilshere-Nasri, but Kalou and Ferreira lacked the ability to take advantage, and their teammates didn't seem to have much faith in them.

Not only did Arsenal defend well in their own half, they also pressed well in Chelsea's. Up until the 3rd goal, Chelsea's keeper and centre backs were put under constant pressure by the closing down of van Persie and Fabregas (and occasionally the 2 wider players), with the fullbacks and deeper midfielders pushing up to close down the gaps in behind. This was a much more co-ordinated form of pressing than has been seen in recent weeks from this Arsenal side, and it paid dividends. Chelsea were unable to build from the back and resorted to numerous long balls forward, which the Arsenal back 4 dealt with fairly comfortably. In addition, Arsenal were able to win back possession several times inside Chelsea's own half, the most prominent example being Walcott's robbing of Malouda in the build-up to Arsenal's 3rd goal.


While the defending was excellent, there was still the small matter of breaking through Chelsea's deep-lying defence. It's been a problem area for Arsenal in recent encounters between the two sides, with Chelsea keeping clean sheets in each of the previous 3 games. But this time it was to be different. In an attempt to break down stubborn defences, Wenger has given Alex Song more license to get forward this season (facilitated by a change in the midfield set-up from a 1-2 to more of a 2-1). The decision paid off against West Ham, and it did again yesterday as the Cameroonian started off an attack from deep, driving into the box before calmly shooting into the far left corner of the net.

In fact, Wenger will have been delighted with all 3 goals yesterday because they were a perfect demonstration of his attacking philosophy, and of the capabilities of Arsenal's 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 formation:


Overall, a very positive performance for the Gunners. Not only does it keep them in touch with the league leaders, it also provides a tactical blueprint with which to approach future big games. One of my main criticisms of Wenger has been that, while he may be an expert technician, he is not necessarily an expert tactician. On last night's evidence I am beginning to believe he may also be the latter.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 19th December 2010

Freezing temperatures have been playing havoc with the fixture schedule across much of northen Europe, so only 5 assists are worthy of inclusion this week. Diego Milito's clever backheel to Javier Zanetti stands out as the best of an average bunch.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 12th December 2010

Three assists stand out for me this week - Kabangu's brilliant standing flick for Mazembe; Lennon's clever reverse pass for Spurs; and Moras' precise first-time throughball for Bologna. If I had to pick one winner, it would be Moras for the fact that he's a defender and his assist gave Bologna a late 2-1 win over Chievo.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

10 ways to break through a parked bus

The parked bus - scourge of attacking teams worldwide. Two rows of deep-lying defenders designed simply to frustrate the opposition into submission. Initially used to transport players to and from grounds, football managers later discovered its usefulness as a defensive tactic on the pitch.

Much like attacking, defending can be an art, and coaches can spend hours planning how best to set up their bus. There are many types of parked bus, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Here are 5 examples:
 
 
The 4-4 bus: In a 4-4-2, midfielders track back and form 2 compact lines, with wide players helping full-backs to double up on opposition wingers. It stops crosses being delivered into the area but can be sliced through centrally by quick passes and box overloads.
 
The 6-2 bus: In a 4-4-2, full-backs tuck in and wide midfielders are responsible for marking the opposition wingers. 6 central players can disrupt the opposition's passing game, and even if the wide players are beaten one-on-one, the central mass of players should be able to sweep up any crosses into the area. However flat lines of defence can be breached if one player strays from the line and plays opposition attackers onside (e.g. Pique goal vs Inter, CL Semi 2nd leg 09)

The 5-3 bus: Slightly rarer due to the decline in 3-man defences in the modern game. A spare centre-back allows for close marking of any free players, and 3 narrow midfielders help block the spaces in front of the defence. The wide areas are conceded in the expectation that any crosses into the box will be cleared by the mass of players. However this can be exploited if the wide player decides to shoot instead (e.g. Maicon goal vs North Korea, WC 10 Group Stage) 

The 4-5 bus: A 9 man bus, this is incredibly effective as it covers the wide areas and the space in front of the defenders. Commonly used by 4-3-3/4-5-1 teams such as Chelsea, Inter and Man Utd, who have had great success with this bus against Barcelona in the Champions League recently.

The last minute bus: This is the sort of bus you employ when you're leading 1-0 in the Champions League final in stoppage time. While its numbers are strong, it lacks in organisation and can self-destruct through mass panic.

Those are some specific examples of parked buses with their own particular strengths and weaknesses. But regardless of bus shape or organisation, certain attacking strategies can be employed effectively against all types of bus. Here are 10 ways to break through a parked bus:

1. Patience

Sometimes breaking down a stubborn defence is a waiting game. Through composure on the ball and methodical passing, defenders can be drawn out of position and gaps created momentarily for a pass to exploit.


2. Move the ball into space quickly

Much like a literal parked bus, a group of 8 or 9 defenders doesn't accelerate very well. Shifting the ball around the pitch at pace can help to transfer the point of attack from a densely-packed crowd to a slightly less suffocating area of the pitch, forcing the defenders to chase and opening up gaps in the back line.


3. Quick passing exchanges

Parked buses are designed to congest the middle and shut down passing teams. Which is why it's all the sweeter when the opponent rebels and decides to slice straight through the middle of the defence with surgical precision. Quick one-twos are a very effective instrument in this case.


4. Defence-splitting pass

Very rarely the opportunity will arise to bisect the entire defence with a single pass. Obviously it takes a very special player to pass accurately through a crowd of players, which is why the first 3 clips in the following video all feature Dennis Bergkamp. Notice the off-the-ball runs of the goalscorers too, which create attacking avenues that previously didn't exist.


5. Dribbling

Defenders hate pace and trickery, particularly when it's inside the box and they can't risk a foul. Beating a player not only takes him out of the equation, but also forces other defenders to rush out and cover the gap, creating space for a pass or shot.


6. Crossing

Usually a parked bus can deal comfortably with a cross into the box thanks to its numerical superiority over the opposition attackers. But crossing to the back post can yield results, especially if there's a wide player drifting in un-seen and un-marked. Notice how the first 3 goals in the following video are all scored by left back Ashley Cole.


7. Ball over the top

A parked bus is by definition deep-lying. But certain situations can attract a defence a few yards forward and create space for the ball in behind. Most defences usually advance forward after a set piece or cross has been cleared to try to win any 2nd balls and put pressure on the recipient of the loose ball. Those few seconds provide a window of opportunity for diagonal balls to be quickly hit in behind, onto the head or feet of attackers making forward runs against the momentum of the defence.


8. Shooting

Probably the best anti-parked bus strategy of all. Not only is there a chance a shot will sail through the mass of bodies and ripple the back of the net, it's also possible that the keeper will parry the ball into the path of quick-thinking attackers to score or square across goal for a tap-in.


9. Win a penalty

With so many feet and hands on display, there are plenty of potential sources of mis-timed tackles and handballs. Unfortunately a lot of referees shy away from making big calls inside the box, so this is probably the least effective strategy of all.


10. Send the ball into the box

With so many bodies in the box, there's always the chance of getting a lucky break. A weak clearance, a deflection, an own goal ... or maybe even a sneaky handball. Sometimes you just need to get the ball into the box and see what happens.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 5th December 2010

With only 5 assists to choose from this week, for me the winner is obvious. Lionel Messi's diagonal ball to Villa for his 2nd goal against Real Madrid is a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

What's the best way to score against Manchester United?

Data from all 57 goals conceded by Manchester United in the Premier League and Champions League games since the start of the 2009/2010 season. A break-down of goals conceded at Old Trafford alone is included in a separate tab:

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Ronaldo vs Messi Attacking Statistics 2009/2010

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)

Real Madrid Attacking Statistics 2009/2010

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)



Standout attacking performances:

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 5-0 Xerez (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 key pass
Xerez 0-3 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
1 goal, 2 assists, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 6-2 Villarreal (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals
Real Mallorca 1-4 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 key pass
Zurich 2-5 Real Madrid (Champions League)

Gonzalo Higuain
2 goals, 1 assist
Tenerife 1-5 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Gonzalo Higuain
3 goals
Real Valladolid 1-5 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Kaka
2 goals, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 6-2 Villarreal (La Liga)

Rafael Van der Vaart
2 goals, 1 assist
Real Madrid 6-0 Zaragoza (La Liga)

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 28th November 2010

Lots of variety in this week's assists, but the backheels stand out in particular and for me Lucas Barrios' pass was the most difficult to pull off. That's why it's called the beautiful game.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 21st November 2010

Bunesliga features a lot this week, and my pick of the bunch is Christian Fuchs' 2nd assist which gave Mainz a late 3-2 victory over Monchengladbach.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Ronaldo vs Messi Attacking Statistics 2010/2011

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)

Real Madrid Attacking Statistics 2010/2011

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)



Standout attacking performances:

Angel di Maria
2 assists1 key pass
Real Madrid 6-1 Racing Santander (La Liga)

Angel di Maria
3 assists, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 8-0 Levante (Copa del Rey)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 2 key passes
Real Madrid 6-1 Deportivo (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 2 assists
Malaga 1-4 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
4 goals
Real Madrid 6-1 Racing Santander (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals
Real Madrid 5-1 Athletic Bilbao (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals, 1 assist
Real Madrid 8-0 Levante (Copa del Rey)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals, 1 assist
Real Madrid 4-2 Villarreal (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 4-1 Real Sociedad (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 7-0 Malaga (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
4 goals
Sevilla 2-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Emmanuel Adebayor
3 goals, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 8-1 Almeria (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals
Real Madrid 4-0 Getafe (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 2 assists
Real Madrid 8-1 Almeria (La Liga)

Gonzalo Higuain
1 goal, 2 assists
Real Madrid 6-1 Deportivo (La Liga)

Gonzalo Higuain
3 goals, 2 assists
Valencia 3-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Kaka
2 goals, 2 assists
Valencia 3-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Karim Benzema
3 goals, 2 assists, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 8-0 Levante (Copa del Rey)

Karim Benzema
2 goals, 1 key pass
Racing Santander 1-3 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Karim Benzema
1 goal, 1 assist, 2 key passes
Valencia 3-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Marcelo
1 goal, 2 assists
Real Madrid 7-0 Malaga (La Liga)

Mesut Ozil
3 assists, 1 key pass
Sevilla 2-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Mesut Ozil
1 assist, 2 key passes
Real Madrid 8-1 Almeria (La Liga)

Sergio Ramos
2 assists, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 8-1 Almeria (La Liga)

Xabi Alonso
1 assist, 2 key passes
Real Madrid 6-1 Deportivo (La Liga)

Friday, 19 November 2010

Xavi Hernández Career Assists

Currently the world's best playmaker (and arguably one of the greatest ever), Xavi Hernández has led both club and country to unprecedented levels of success. In the space of just 2 years, he has managed to conquer every single major trophy on offer: World Cup, European Championship, Champions League, Primera Division and Copa del Rey, in addition to several other domestic, continental and intercontinental titles.

Under the management of Pep Guardiola, Xavi has been given far greater freedom of the midfield and without the presence of Deco and Ronaldinho he has flourished. Not only a fantastic technician and ball hoarder, he also possesses a deadly killer ball and over the course of his career has directly set up over 150 goals for club and country.

Here is a 3-part video celebrating his fantastic vision and creativity:





Lionel Messi One-Two Goals

Following Lionel Messi's brilliantly-worked first goal against Villarreal last weekend, here is a video showcasing one of the strongest aspects of his game, the one-two (or give-and-go if you're American).

Assists of the Week - Sunday 14th November 2010

Some outstanding choices this week, including Angel di Maria's outside of the boot cross, Samuel Eto'o's mazy footwork, Pedro's brilliant one-touch passing and Matt Phillip's backheel.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 7th November 2010

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Barcelona Attacking Statistics 2007/2008

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)



Standout attacking performances:

Bojan
2 goals, 2 assists
Barcelona 4-1 Real Valladolid (La Liga)

Giovani dos Santos
3 goals
Murcia 3-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 key pass
Barcelona 4-1 Real Zaragoza (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
1 goal, 1 assist, 2 key passes
Barcelona 6-0 Valencia (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 assists, 1 key pass
Murcia 3-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Ronaldinho
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 3-1 Athletic Bilbao (La Liga)

Samuel Eto'o
3 goals, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-1 Levante (La Liga)

Samuel Eto'o
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Murcia 3-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Thierry Henry
3 goals
Levante 1-4 Barcelona (La Liga)

Thierry Henry
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 6-0 Valencia (La Liga)

Thierry Henry
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Murcia 3-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Monday, 8 November 2010

Barcelona Attacking Statistics 2008/2009

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)



Standout attacking performances:

Andres Iniesta
1 assist, 2 key passes
Barcelona 4-1 Numancia (La Liga)

Andres Iniesta
1 goal, 3 assists
Barcelona 4-0 Sevilla (La Liga)

Bojan
2 goals, 1 key pass
Basel 0-5 Barcelona (Champions League)

Dani Alves
1 goal, 2 key passes
Barcelona 4-0 Valencia (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist
Sporting Gijon 1-6 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 assists, 1 key pass
Barcelona 3-2 Real Betis (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
1 assist, 2 key passes
Barcelona 6-0 Real Valladolid (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
1 goal2 key passes
Barcelona 5-0 Deportivo (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 4-1 Numancia (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
1 goal, 2 assists
Basel 0-5 Barcelona (Champions League)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Barcelona 4-0 Bayern Munich (Champions League)

Lionel Messi
3 goals
Atletico Madrid 1-3 Barcelona (Copa del Rey)

Samuel Eto'o
3 goals
Barcelona 5-0 Almeria (La Liga)

Samuel Eto'o
4 goals
Barcelona 6-0 Real Valladolid (La Liga)

Samuel Eto'o
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 6-0 Malaga (La Liga)

Samuel Eto'o
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 4-0 Wisla Krakow (Champions League)

Samuel Eto'o
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-2 Lyon (Champions League)

Thierry Henry
3 goals
Barcelona 4-0 Valencia (La Liga)

Thierry Henry
2 goals, 1 assist
Atletico Madrid 4-3 Barcelona (La Liga)

Thierry Henry
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Barcelona 4-0 Sevilla (La Liga)

Thierry Henry
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 5-2 Lyon (Champions League)

Xavi
1 goal, 1 assist, 2 key passes
Sporing Gijon 1-6 Barcelona (La Liga)

Xavi
2 assists, 2 key passes
Barcelona 6-1 Atletico Madrid (La Liga)

Xavi
1 goal, 3 assists
Barcelona 6-0 Malaga (La Liga)

Xavi
4 assists
Real Madrid 2-6 Barcelona (La Liga)

Xavi
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Basel 0-5 Barcelona (Champions League)

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 31st October 2010

This week's assists feature a few solo dribbles, but for me the best set-up was made by Fernando Torres with his excellent flick through the legs of Bolton's Gary Cahill for Maxi Rodriguez's goal. Mark Noble a close 2nd with either of his two great assists.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Barcelona Attacking Statistics 2010/2011

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)



Standout attacking performances:

David Villa
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
3 goals
Barcelona 4-0 Sevilla (Supercopa de Espana)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-0 Sevilla (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 5-1 Panathinaikos (Champions League)

Lionel Messi
1 goal, 2 assists
Getafe 1-3 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
3 goals, 2 assists
Almeria 0-8 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 assists, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist
Osasuna 0-3 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-0 Real Sociedad (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 assists, 1 key pass
Espanyol 1-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
1 goal, 2 assists
Deportivo 0-4 Barcelona (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
3 goals, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-0 Real Betis (Copa del Rey)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Barcelona 5-0 Almeria (Copa del Rey)

Lionel Messi
3 goals
Barcelona 3-0 Atletico Madrid (La Liga)

Lionel Messi
2 goals, 1 assist
Barcelona 3-1 Almeria (La Liga)

Pedro
2 goals, 1 key pass
Espanyol 1-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Thiago
3 assists
Barcelona 5-1 Ceuta (Copa del Rey)

Xavi
1 assist, 2 key passes
Barcelona 5-1 Panathinaikos (Champions League)

Xavi
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Espanyol 1-5 Barcelona (La Liga)

Arsenal 1-0 West Ham: Analysis of Arsene's new-look midfield

For the 2nd Premier League game running, Arsene Wenger chose to field a Denilson-Song-Fabregas midfield three but unlike the City game last weekend, Arsenal had to make do with playing against the 11 men of West Ham in a fixture that has been quite tight and low-scoring in recent years.

As such, this was the first true test of this new midfield's ability to break down a deep-lying defensive team. A similar system was in place against Partizan with Denilson the deepest midfielder and Song more box-to-box, but on that occasion Jack Wilshere played as the attacking midfielder in place of the injured Cesc Fabregas. Wilshere was of course suspended for this fixture and the one at Eastlands, had he been available it's likely we may not have seen this novel midfield system in place.

Arsenal's midfield setup vs West Ham: Denilson (yellow) held, Fabregas (blue) attacked and Song (green) alternated in between. It should be noted though that Denilson was subbed off after 67 mins, after which Arsenal set up camp in the final 3rd. The average positions of Fabregas and Song may therefore appear to be higher up than they actually were while all 3 players were on the pitch together.

With Denilson holding the midfield and Fabregas supporting Chamakh in attack, Song was free to roam in between and contribute to both defence and attack. Much like Yaya Toure, Song is a player valued for his physical and defensive qualities but with the technical ability and intelligence to play higher up the pitch in a more direct and creative role. Potentially he's the best box-to-box player in the squad given his all-round abilities, intelligence and discipline (although Wilshere has also impressed so far this season), but the problem for Arsenal is that he's also by far the best holder. The question is which is better - Song holding/Denilson passing or Denilson holding/Song box-to-box? Wenger has opted for the latter in the last few games they've played together. Song brings added dynamism to the attack compared to Denilson, but at the same time still gets back to form a double defensive shield when the opposition have the ball in Arsenal's own half, so his re-deployment further forward may not necessarily weaken the defence.







Although each of the midfield trio had individual roles, there was considerable interchange with all 3 being comfortable playing deep or closer to the opposition box (Denilson less so). This seems to be a conscious decision by Arsene Wenger in an attempt to find new ways of breaking down the dreaded "parked bus" which has often been the scourge of this possession-based Arsenal side. With players moving out of their natural zones, they can lose their markers, draw players away from team-mates, and arrive un-noticed in dangerous areas. In particular, if the deepest midfielder - who often has no specific marker - is given the license to get into the opposition box, then that adds a whole new attacking dimension to this Arsenal side.

Of course this requires discipline and understanding between the midfielders in order not to leave the defence uncovered, this was painfully apparent against West Brom but on Saturday this didn't seem to be a problem.

As usual, some video evidence to summarise the key features of the new-look midfield:

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 24th October 2010

Another fine selection of top assists from around this Europe, with quite a few chipped passes over the top of flat-footed defences. But for me Francesco Totti is the clear winner with a quite brilliant, first-time, sweeping, chipped, reverse through ball ... or whatever it's called.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Henry + Pires - The Perfect Combination, Part 2

Following on from part 1:

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Henry + Pires - The Perfect Combination, Part 1

Two of Arsenal's greatest ever players, Thierry Henry and Robert Pires were responsible for much of the success that the Gunners enjoyed in the first half of this decade. Along with Ashley Cole they formed one of the most potent left flanks in world football, but they were a formidable partnership in their own right.

In an age where strikers scored goals and wingers supplied them, Henry and Pires helped re-define these roles with their brilliant interchanging of positions. In their 6 years at the club together, Pires directly assisted his compatriot 22 times, while Henry returned the favour on 17 occasions.

Here is the first of a 2-part video celebrating the partnership between the 2 Frenchmen:

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Assist of the Week - Sunday 17th October 2010

Monday, 4 October 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 3rd October 2010

This week's best assists feature some nice flicks and trick passes, my personal favourite being Marco Streller's perfectly-weighted backheel to set up strike partner Alexander Frei against Bayern.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 26th September 2010

Serie A dominates this week's selection, my personal favourite being Andrea Lazzari's delightful outside-of-the-boot throughball in Cagliari's 2-4 defeat to Juventus.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Manchester United Attacking Statistics 2007/2008

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)



Standout attacking performances:

Carlos Tevez
2 goals, 1 assist
Man Utd 6-0 Newcastle

Cristiano Ronaldo
1 goal2 key passes
Sunderland 0-4 Man Utd (Premier League)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals
Man Utd 6-0 Newcastle (Premier League)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 assist
Newcastle 1-5 Man Utd (Premier League)

Cristiano Ronaldo
1 goal, 3 assists
Man Utd 4-0 Villa (Premier League)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 assist
Man Utd 4-1 West Ham (Premier League)

Cristiano Ronaldo
2 goals, 1 key pass
Dynamo Kiev 2-4 Man Utd (Champions League)

Nani
1 goal, 2 assists
Man Utd 4-0 Arsenal (FA Cup)

Wayne Rooney
1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Man Utd 4-0 Wigan (Premier League)

Wayne Rooney
1 goal, 2 assists
Man Utd 4-1 Middlesbrough (Premier League)

Wayne Rooney
2 goals, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Newcastle 1-5 Man Utd (Premier League)

Monday, 27 September 2010

Arsenal 2-3 West Brom - A Comedy of Errors

Not much to say about this defeat really, for 70 mins Arsenal put on a textbook display of how to lose a football match in a game that they were really expected to win quite comfortably.

Some grim stats:

-Eboue completed 8/15 passes in 56 minutes

-3/10 of Arshavin's corners found a teammate

-Nasri completed 1 pass into the box (a corner)

-Song won 5/11 tackles

-Eboue and Rosicky attempt 0 tackles; Koscielny and Diaby lost the 2 tackles they each attempted

-Clichy lost 6/7 aerial duels

-Nasri attempted 10 shots; the next highest was Sagna with 4; Chamakh and Arshavin managed 3 apiece in 90 minutes

-West Brom had 5 shots on target during the match, they scored from 3 of them; Arsenal had 6 shots on target despite having 30% more possession

-Arsenal conceded 2 goals within the space of 3 minutes
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Sit back and admire the incompetence on display:

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Athletic Bilbao 1-3 Barcelona - Midfielder Goals

Last night's away fixture vs Bilbao saw Barcelona face a resolute team who looked to defend deep and narrow with two banks of 4 (sometimes 5+3 or 4+3). This tactic generally works well against Barcelona as it denies the attackers space to receive the ball and run at the defence, and it invites them to cross into the box, where tall centre backs will win aerial balls with ease against Barcelona's diminutive front line.

Rather than play into Bilbao's hands, Barcelona fullbacks circulated the ball back into the middle where, due to Bilbao's very deep midfield line, Barcelona's own midfielders had time and space on the ball. Fielding a 4 man midfield with Keita, Iniesta and Xavi in a close triangle ahead of Busquets, Barcelona were able to build attacks from the middle and use the momentum of their midfielders to open up space for shooting opportunities.

Keita opened the scoring after playing the ball wide to Iniesta and making a surge into the box, where he received the ball back after a neat one-touch pass from Villa. Xavi doubled the lead after a masterclass in patient passing from Barcelona, Maxwell drawing several defenders deep before circulating the ball back into the middle for Xavi, who'd gained several yards of space to fire off a (deflected) shot into the back of the net.

In stoppage time, with Bilbao chasing the game, Busquets received a loose ball in his own half and with one touch, brought it down for Keita, then proceeded to follow up the attack with a 60 yard run into Bilbao's box, where he was on hand to convert Pedro's cutback.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 19th September 2010

The Barcelona-Panathinaikos game threw up quite a few excellent assists, including my personal favourite of the week, a brilliant flicked pass by Djibril Cisse.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Arsenal 6-0 Braga Analysis

A fantastic display of flowing football from Arsenal, aided by an unusual formation and the deployment of teenager Wilshere in a deep midfield role. The Gunners continued their excellent form in the absence of Robin van Persie - unlike last season - thanks to Marouane Chamakh's typically intelligent play in the centre forward role, which bodes well for the rest of the season.

While Chamakh has been able to fill in for van Persie and perform a similar role as a false 9 within Arsenal's system, Theo Walcott does not have a direct replacement. Against Bolton Rosicky came in, while last night Nasri started in his place. Both are naturally central playmakers, and even though on paper they were playing on the right of Arsenal's 4-3-3, in reality they both drifted infield and acted as extra central midfielders when Arsenal were in possession. See the following average position graph:

The replacement of Walcott (a forward who naturally plays high and wide) with Nasri (a central playmaker) resulted in Arsenal's 4-3-3 morphing into a diamond 4-4-2 that was slanted to the left. Song held the midfield and covered the area in front of Sagna, while Wilshere protected Clichy but had more license to get forward. Fabregas played at the tip of the diamond and wreaked havoc in the final 3rd.

The skewing of the formation towards the left meant that Arsenal were able to focus their attacks down that side, as the following diagrams demonstrate:

Arsenal's attack chart, showing a clear preference for attacks down the left

Arsenal's shots (in yellow), the majority coming from the left

It was therefore no surprise that 5 of the goals (including the penalty) originated down the left side of the pitch, helped by some slack marking from Braga's right back, Miguel Garcia. Andrey Arshavin played a key role, scoring one, setting up two more and playing a part in another. Arshavin is often criticised for being wasteful in possession and in front of goal, but this is exactly what he's in the team for; not to give the ball away, but to be ambitious and expressive without having to feel restrained (within reason of course). His advanced role gives him freedom to try killer passes and shots more often than his teammates, and it's no surprise therefore that he gives the ball away more often than any other Arsenal player - but it also means that he's able to have a direct contribution to quite a lot of Arsenal goals. The same applies to Fabregas' role, to a lesser extent.

While shifting the formation to the left worked wonders for Arsenal, it did of course mean they were slightly vulnerable down the right. It didn't matter in the end though, Braga were guilty of not reacting to Arsenal's unsual formation. Faced with an overload down their right, they continued playing a symmetrical 4-3-3 and didn't look to shift their formation in response. In addition, they focussed their attacks down their right and didn't take advantage of Arsenal's exposed right flank. Braga's left flank was in effect underused, while their right flank was overworked.

Braga focussed the majority of their attacks down Arsenal's left via Alan,
instead of exploiting the Gunners' exposed right flank. In addition, centre
forward Matheus constantly made diagonal runs towards Arsenal's left.

Fabregas and Arshavin did most of the damage in the final 3rd, but they were aided greatly by the quick, accurate and incisive passing of Jack Wilshere. The young Englishman - playing as the link midfielder - was able to keep the ball circulating and to service the more attacking players throughout the game. He got forward often, bagging himself an excellent back-heeled assist for Chamakh's goal and playing an excellent ball over the top in the build-up to Vela's 2nd. He certainly offers something different to Diaby's counter-attacking and Denilson's tidiness, and Wenger often talks about the need for a cultured left footer to provide balance in the centre (think of the Vieira-Petit partnership).

With the intelligent passing of Wilshere from deeper, the probing of Fabregas from further up, and the extra presence of Nasri centrally, Arsenal were able to pass their way through the middle with more ease than they would normally do, and produced some scintillating football in the process. Notice how much Wilshere features in the following video:


This game will live long in the memory of Arsenal fans, and for Wenger, it was further vindication of his stubborn quest to produce a beautiful, yet successful brand of possession football.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 12th September 2010

13 assists to choose from this week, including some lovely chips. Serie A features a lot.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Analysis of Chamakh's movement vs Bolton

Following on from the post yesterday about Chamakh's first few games at Arsenal, here is a very short analysis of Chamakh's movement in the 4-1 win against Bolton and how it created space for others to exploit, particularly Arshavin.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Marouane Chamakh - First Impressions

After just 4 games into the season, I have to say I'm really impressed by the Moroccan. When he was signed on a free in the summer, a lot of fans (Arsenal included) questioned his goalscoring record and some claimed he was no better than Bendtner. But there's so much more to his game than simply being a goal-getter.

One of the main things that stands out about Chamakh is his heading. According to OPTA, he scored 17 headed goals in his last 2 seasons at Bordeaux. He's scored twice so far for Arsenal and both have been headers. He possesses fantastic leaping and neck power, and he throws himself at the ball instead of waiting for it to come to him. We saw this in action during the very first game, when he challenged Reina for a high ball and resulted in the keeper fumbling the ball into his own net. That sort of aerial threat is needed against teams who pack the box, defending deep and narrow (as Spurs and Man City did last season, knowing that they'd clear any aerial balls into the box). Bendtner, as decent a header he is, is not on the same level as Chamakh in that regard.

The key to getting the best out of his heading is to deliver hanging balls into the 6 yard box close to the keeper. It takes the defenders out of the equation and leaves Chamakh to contest the keeper one-on-one in an aerial duel, which given his bravery, shouldn't be a problem. In the pre-season friendly against Legia we saw how this tactic could work when Nasri delivered a nice tempting ball in to the 6 yard box which forced the keeper to commit, allowing Chamakh to nip in and head past him.

He also offers an outlet for long passes when under pressure. His chest control and first touch are very tidy, and he's much more adept at winning flick-ons than any other striker currently at the club. At the moment the team hasn't yet adapted to take advantage of this, and it's tougher when you don't have a strike partner in close proximity. In time we should expect Fabregas/other attacking midfielder to make the necessary runs to get on the end of his knock-downs, as Gourcuff did for Bordeaux.

Setting aside his obvious aerial prowess, the biggest threat he offers in my opinion is his movement. It's just brilliant. You often hear fans reeling out the "he makes the other players around him play better" cliche when defending a non-prolific striker, but in Chamakh's case it really is true.

When Adebayor was sold a lot of Arsenal fans (myself included) were wondering how the team would cope without a real presence in the box, but what became apparent was that one wasn't necessary. With the 4-3-3 formation, the emphasis was on stretching the play and creating space for runners into the box, whether that be from midfield (Diaby, Fabregas) or from the wider areas (Arshavin, Walcott). Van Persie was brilliant as the centre forward because he dropped deep, drew centre backs out and created that space for others to run into. It was no coincidence that Arsenal averaged 2.9 goals a game with van Persie in the side and 1.8 with him out.

Chamakh is similar in style, but the main difference between the 2 is that in addition to dropping deep, Chamakh also loves to drift wide. Consequently the 2 wide forwards have enjoyed much more freedom to make diagonal runs inside. Chamakh and Walcott seemed to have built up a good understanding in pre-season, and against Blackpool Walcott was able to hit a hattrick thanks to Chamakh's movement. For the 1st goal, Chamakh drifted left, the whole Blackpool defence shifted in that direction, and space was opened up for Walcott to come inside. For Walcott's 2nd, Chamakh drifted to the right and Walcott took up his spot in the centre forward role. It wasn't as dynamic a move as the 1st goal, but it did demonstrate the understanding the 2 have in swicthing positions. When Walcott comes inside, Chamakh moves to the right to avoid congesting the space the in the box.

Against Blackburn, the 2nd goal was initiated by Chamakh dropping deep and picking up the ball on the half way line. A centre back followed him, space developed in the middle for Walcott to run into, the left back was dragged infield and Sagna had space to bomb into, creating a goal in the end.

With Walcott injured, Chamakh was able to turn his attentions to helping out Arshavin yesterday, and his constant runs to the left opened up gaps for Arshavin to run into. Unfortunately Arshavin missed all of his chances but the understanding and movement was there. For the Cahill sending off, where was Chamakh? On the left touchline, drawing defenders out of position towards him and backheeling the ball for Arshavin to run into space.
Last season the quality of Arsenal's play declined after van Persie was injured, the team was unable to play the same fluid football with Bendtner/Arshavin as the front man, and began to struggle against organised opposition at the Emirates, exactly the way they'd done the previous season. But in Chamakh, Arsenal now have a quality replacement for van Persie, a player who allows the team to play the same fluid system in his absence, albeit without the goalscoring capabilities of the Dutchman.