Monday, 30 August 2010

Blackburn 1-2 Arsenal Analysis

There was a lot of talk before the match about how Arsenal would cope with Blackburn's long ball and set piece-orientated style of football, particularly after comments made by both sets of managers. In the end it was fairly comfortable for the Gunners as they defended their box well and exposed Blackburn's lack of possession retention.

With the return of van Persie and Fabregas to the line-up, it was interesting to see how it would affect the (vaguely) 4-2-3-1 setup of the previous 2 games. Indeed there was a change with van Persie resuming his role as the "false 9", dropping deep to draw the centre backs with him, then looking to thread in the 2 wide forwards who made diagonal runs inside. Fabregas provided an additional threat, making plenty of forward runs to exploit the gap vacated by the Dutchman's movement, and on many occasions he found himself the furthest man forward.

Arsenal's brand of 4-3-3 - Van Persie (10) and his replacement Chamakh (29) dropped deep, the wide forwards played high up against the opposing full backs and Fabregas (4) constantly made runs beyond the centre forward. (The image is mirrored for some reason, Walcott was in fact playing on the right and Arshavin on the left, ditto Sagna and Clichy).

Van Persie departed after only 35 minutes but by then he'd already made his mark on the game, setting up Walcott for the opener with an excellent pass in between the opposing fullback and centre back. It was exactly the sort of goal that Arsenal's 4-3-3 formation facilitates, and with an intelligent runner like Walcott who's always looking to make that penetrating diagonal run, it should be a regular occurrence this season.

Van Persie was replaced by Chamakh, who performed a similar role. For the 2nd goal, Chamakh dropped back to the halfway line and spread the ball out to Sagna; meanwhile Walcott drifted into the centre forward role and drew the left back with him; this left Sagna with space to bomb forward and his cross found its way to Arshavin after Fabregas' shot had deflected off Walcott's rear end. Arshavin finished with typical finesse. Again, this was a goal made possible by the 4-3-3 formation, or rather Arsenal's version of the 4-3-3, in which the fullbacks bomb forward, the centre forward drops deep, and the wide-forwards make runs inside. It's all about movement and interchanging of positions, it confuses opponents and makes it harder to mark individual players.

As with the previous 2 games, the defending was again a strong point. Blackburn's long goal kicks and throws were handled with relative ease. Almunia came for the ball confidently, Koscielny and Vermaelen won many aerial balls, and Song was on hand to sweep up any spills.

According to OPTA, Arsenal won 55% of duels which is very impressive against a team that bases its game on aerial and physical superiority. It was a great display of collective commitment and should give Arsenal fans encouragement for the trip up to Stoke at the end of the season.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Arsenal 6-0 Blackpool Analysis

This game didn't reveal anything particularly new from an attacking point of view - Arsenal may have scored 6 goals but they were up against a newly-promoted side who were reduced to 10 men early on and failed to close down properly. It was too easy for Arsenal and unlike last week against Liverpool, the attack wasn't really tested with a watertight defence.

What we have learned over the last 2 games is that Arsenal have adopted a new defensive ethic this season, partly facilitated by a change in formation. Diaby and Wilshere continued to play deep, shielding the defence but also breaking forward on occasion to take advantage of the space afforded by Blackpool's lax marking. The 2 wide forwards pressed slightly higher than they did against Liverpool, giving Arsenal a much more natural 4-3-3 shape. As this average position diagram shows, the 3 forwards played on the same line, with Rosicky sitting just ahead of the 2 deep midfielders.

Arsenal's almost perfectly symmetrical 4-3-3

The most impressive aspect of the performance was the way Arsenal harried the opposition from start til finish, recording an amazing 33 interceptions in the process. Of those, 9 were made by the interception king Clichy, and 7 by Vermaelen, who's pro-active approach to defending was criticised last season following several costly positional errors.

Arsenal's 33 interceptions throughout the game,
concentrated along the left side of the pitch

And a video of the interceptions (in case you doubted the accuracy of the Guardian chalkboards!):

It's encouraging that the team maintained its' shape and width even against such lowly opposition (with all due respect to Blackpool). Diaby and Wilshere have struck up a good balance in the middle, but with Song returning and Wilshere unlikely to be a regular starter when everyone's fit, we might see a different system in place over the course of the season.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 22nd August 2010

This week's selection is heavily dominated by Barcelona and Chelsea players, with Xavi making his customary appearance.

Ronaldinho Goals + Assists 2004/2005

In his 2nd season at Barcelona, Ronaldinho scored fewer goals than in his 1st but showed exactly why he'd been voted the best player in the world with some fantastic individual efforts against Milan, Chelsea, Real and Valencia. He developed an excellent partnership with the newly-acquired Samuel Eto'o and it proved to be one of the main reasons behind Barca's La Liga success, as this video shows.

04/05 season stats: 42 games, 13 goals, 14 assists

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Balázs Dzsudzsák Goals + Assists 2009/2010

Balázs Dzsudzsák enjoyed an excellent season in 09/10, finishing as his side's top scorer and assister. Playing on the left of a front 3, the Hungarian was a constant menace for opposition defenders with his pace, dribbling and accurate crossing. He's an excellent set piece taker and his powerful left foot is a dangerous weapon, both from open play and dead ball situations.

Unfortunately he finished the season without any silverware as PSV slipped from their 1st place position in the league following an awful run of results.

09/10 season stats: 47 games, 17 goals, 19 assists

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Assists of the Week - Sunday 15th August 2010

Assists of the Week returns for the brand new season, featuring a lot of Ligue 1 and German players.

Liverpool 1-1 Arsenal Analysis

The draw against Liverpool was a typical Arsenal performance - dominate possession but struggle to create chances, concede a soft goal, try to pass your way through the resulting parked bus and finally grab a goal in injury time.

The same issues were present from the last few seasons attacking-wise. The build-up was too slow, there was a lack of width provided by the front players, and on the occasions that the fullbacks did get forward their crossing was generally wayward. On the plus side, Arsenal's defensive game seems to have improved in time for the new season and there's a return of the collective pressing that was evident at the start of last season.

First up, the lack of width. The 2 wide forwards Eboue and Arshavin constantly looked to come inside, Eboue in particular has a habit of cutting inside from the wing and embarking on marauding runs through the middle, congesting the area in front of the box and making it easy for the opposition simply to defend narrow.

Eboue and Arshavin take up central positions, with all 5 forward players crowded in a small zone

Eboue and Arshavin both central again
With the congestion of the central areas, you'd have expected the fullbacks to advance into crossing positions, but they were rather subdued in the 1st half, Clichy in particular saw very little of the ball in the attacking 3rd. Sagna got forward better, possibly due to Eboue's ability to drop back to cover the space vacated (which he did quite well), but none of his crosses threatened. Indeed, Arsenal struggled to produced quality crosses throughout the 90 minutes, even with one of Europe's best headers as a target inside the box.

Poor crossing throughout the game
Things improved in the 2nd half, partly through the introduction of Rosicky and partly because Arsenal had to throw the fullbacks forward in search of the equaliser to N'Gog's early goal. Rosicky provided a much-needed directness to the midfield, and his combination of quick, forward passes into feet and direct running helped create a little bit of space in the box for Nasri and Walcott to have shots (albeit blocked), and a golden chance for himself after getting past 2 defenders. His spreading of the play to the fullbacks also helped to stretch the play, although at this stage Liverpool were content to sit back with 8 men. In the end it was his cross that led to the own goal in the 91st minute, and it was the first time throughout the match that a player had found Chamakh inside the box with a cross (Walcott also did a couple of minutes later but Chamakh headed across the face of goal).

Rosicky's introduction added much-needed directness and penetration
that was somewhat lacking with Nasri as the primary playmaker
Defending-wise, it was an encouraging performance from Arsenal. In the defensive phase the formation loosely resembled a 4-4-1-1 with Diaby and Wilshere covering the space in front of the centre backs, and Eboue and Arshavin tracking back in the wide areas. The fullbacks were protected well although expecting someone like Arshavin to do that throughout a 50 game season is a bit of an ask.

Diaby and Wilshere in white, Eboue and Arshavin in black, Nasri in green, Chamakh in red
Same again
And again
Chamakh himself tracked back on occasions and was a vital component of Arsenal's team-based pressing game. Here's a short video highlighting Arsenal's recovery of possession and closing down of Liverpool defenders to prevent them passing the ball out from the back.

Putting the performance into perspective (key attacking players still to return), if the team can maintain this sort of defensive ethic throughout the season (unlike last year) then there is a good chance the 5 year trophy drought may end come May. Here's hoping.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

Xavi Hernández Goals + Assists 2004/2005

Another solid season for Xavi as he helped Barcelona to their first league title in 6 years following several turbulent seasons.

04/05 season stats: 45 games, 3 goals, 11 assists

Song: Did You See Me Coming by Pet Shop Boys

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Ronaldinho Goals, Passes + Assists 2005/2006

Quite simply an extraordinary season from one of the most talented playmakers of all time. The goals, the dribbling, the impossible passes... it was a joy to watch him that year. On the biggest stage, against the best defences, he was the king. Fabio Cannavaro won WPOTY and Ballon d'Or in 2006 but no-one came close to matching Ronnie's level of performance throughout the club season.

05/06 season stats: 49 games, 26 goals, 21 assists

Song: I'm Not Alone (Deadmau5 remix) by Calvin Harris

Antonio Valencia 2009/2010

Antonio Valencia had big boots to fill when he was bought in the summer of 2009 to replace the outgoing Cristiano Ronaldo. In truth though, the Ecuadorian is a totally different player to his predecessor and necessitated a change in formation from 4-3-3 to 4-4-2, where he was able to maintain width, link up with the right back and deliver accurate crosses. His first season has been fairly successful on an individual level, and next season he should be aiming for more goals and assists as the understanding between him and his teammates (particularly Rooney) grows.

09/10 season stats: 49 games, 7 goals, 13 assists

Saturday, 7 August 2010

Mesut Özil Goals + Assists 2009/2010

Mesut Özil has been hot property ever since he starred at the World Cup this summer, but for those who've watched him play over the last 2 years, his talent has been apparent much earlier on. He enjoyed an excellent season in 08/09 as Werder Bremen reached the final of the UEFA Cup, but following the departure of Diego last summer, Özil has managed to step up his game another level.

Despite being just 21, Özil plays with the maturity and delivers the end product of someone far more experienced. Unlike most traditional playmakers, Özil's game isn't about sitting in the hole and spraying passes around. His movement off the ball is exceptional and he's a master at exploiting gaps in the opposition defence with his direct runs. On paper he plays centrally but in reality he drifts all over the attacking 3rd, finding pockets of space to shoot or square the ball to teammates. His combination of movement, composure, passing and set piece ability makes him one of the top creative players in the world. There's definitely more to come from him in the future, and he has the potential to be one of the leading players of his generation.

09/10 season stats: 46 games, 10 goals, 25 assists

Song: Offshore (Ambient Mix) by Chicane

Friday, 6 August 2010

Marko Marin Goals + Assists 2009/2010

At 21 years of age, Marko Marin is part of a generation of bright young attacking talent being produced in the Bundesliga. He plays mainly as a left-sided attacking midfielder, although he's comfortable across the field and usually looks to move into central positions onto his stronger right foot. He's a tricky dribbler with good vision and an improving goalscoring game. Watch out for him in the Champions League and on the international stage over the coming years.

09/10 season stats: 50 games, 7 goals, 14 assists

Song: Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana

Monday, 2 August 2010

David Beckham Goals, Passes + Assists 2005/2006

This wasn't one of Beckham's best seasons, but as usual he managed to hit double figures in assists and his set piece ability proved valuable on many occasions for a Real side that was struggling in transition.

He played quite a few games in a central position as Real experimented with various formations, but the highlight of his season arguably came against Zaragoza while playing on the right. Trailing 6-1 from the Copa del Rey semi-final 1st leg, Real needed a miracle to come back but within 15 minutes of the start they were 3 goals up. Beckham contributed an incredible assist for the 3rd goal, delivering a swerving 40 yard cross from deep that evaded everyone except Ronaldo. Real scored another in the 61st minute but couldn't find the crucial 5th goal to level the tie.

For anyone interested, all 4 goals in that incredible match can be seen here.

05/06 season stats: 41 games, 5 goals, 18 assists

Song: Young Folk by Peter, Bjorn and John