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.