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.