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.