Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Robin van Persie 2010/2011

Season Stats:

26 starts + 7 sub apps
22 goals
7 assists
1 key pass

Premier League Stats:

18 goals
-Highest at Arsenal; 3rd highest in PL (Berbatov/Tevez 20)

3.4 shots per game
-Highest at Arsenal; 3rd highest in PL (Sturridge/Suarez 3.6)

7 assists
-3rd highest at Arsenal (Arshavin/Fabregas 11)

1.8 chances created per game
-3rd highest at Arsenal (Fabregas 2.9)

0.7 successful dribbles per game
-Highest of Arsenal strikers

1.1 clearances per game
-Highest of Arsenal strikers

High Point

Scored the equalising goal at home against Barcelona in the Champions League 2nd round. Going into the game on the back of a rich vein of goalscoring form, van Persie proved his big-game credentials with a superb near-post volley that caught Victor Valdes by surprise and gave Arsenal the belief to go on and grab the winner, which they duly did.

Low Point

Sent off in the return leg of the Champions League 2nd round tie at the Camp Nou. The Dutchman had endured a frustrating evening as Arsenal struggled for long periods to pass the ball out of their own half, and after being booked for a push on Alves in the 1st half, van Persie received his marching orders in the 56th minute when he kicked the ball out of play a second after the ref had blown for offside. Arsenal's remaining 10 men buckled under the waves of Barcelona attacks and went out 4-3 on aggregate.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Marouane Chamakh 2010/2011

Season Stats

27 starts + 17 sub apps
11 goals
4 assists
5 key passes

Premier League Stats

7 goals
-4th highest at Arsenal (RVP 18)

1.4 shots per game
-6th highest at Arsenal (RVP 3.4)

4 assists
-5th highest at Arsenal (Arshavin/Fabregas 11)

1.4 chances created per game
-6th highest at Arsenal (Fabregas 2.9)

78% pass success rate
-2nd lowest of Arsenal outfield players (Arshavin 75%)

47% aerial duel success rate
-Highest of Arsenal centre forwards

1 tackle per game
-Highest of Arsenal centre forwards

0.7 interceptions per game
-Highest of Arsenal centre forwards

2 turnovers per game
-Highest at Arsenal

High point

Scored both goals in a tough away win at Wolves in the Premier League. Chamakh set a Premier League record by finding the net in both the 1st and 90th minute of the game, the 1st a trademark header from a cross, the 2nd a composed finish from a quick counterattack.

Low point

Partially at fault for Arsenal's comical home defeat to Tottenham in the league. After scoring in the 1st half to help put the Gunners two goals up, Chamakh twice spurned good goalscoring opportunities by turning back away from goal and passing to teammates, a feature of his game that was to become more apparent during his loss of form in the second half of the season.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Jack Wilshere 2010/2011, Part 2

Highlights of the young Englishman from January to March:

Friday, 26 August 2011

Wojciech Szczesny 2010/2011

Season Stats

24 starts
25 goals conceded
9 clean sheets
72 saves

Most saves in a game: 9 - Newcastle 0-4 Arsenal (LC)

High point

After spending a season on loan at Brentford, made a wonderful return to Arsenal duty with an incredible all-round performance away at Newcastle in the League Cup. His combination of aerial prowess, big frame and cat-like reflexes ensured that Arsenal left with a clean sheet and - more importantly - demonstrated that he was ready to establish himself as the club's no.1.

Low Point

Partially at fault for Arsenal's inability to see out their lead in the 3-3 draw at Tottenham in the league. Although the young Pole dominated his box and made some excellent saves throughout the match, he could have done better for Spurs' first two goals and gave away a cheap penalty for their equaliser.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Arsenal Funny Moments 2010/2011

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Real Madrid Attacking Statistics 2011/2012

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)

Standout attacking performances:

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals, 1 key pass
Real Zaragoza 0-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Cristiano Ronaldo
3 goals
Real Madrid 6-2 Rayo Vallecano (La Liga)

Gonzalo Higuain
3 goals
Espanyol 0-4 Real Madrid (La Liga)

Gonzalo Higuain
3 goals
Real Madrid 4-1 Real Betis (La Liga)

1 goal, 1 assist, 1 key pass
Real Zaragoza 0-6 Real Madrid (La Liga)

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

Barcelona Attacking Statistics 2011/2012

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Arsenal Attacking Statistics 2011/2012

(Click on tabs underneath to see different categories)

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Alex Song 2010/2011, Part 2

Season Stats

39 starts + 3 sub apps
5 goals
3 assists
7 key passes

Premier League Stats

79 tackles won (77% success rate)
-11 highest in league; 2nd highest at Arsenal (Clichy 90)

48% aerial duel success rate
-3rd highest of Arsenal midfielders (Rosicky 63%)

2.6 interceptions per game
-Highest of Arsenal midfielders; 4th highest at Arsenal (Vermaelen 3.6)

2 clearances per game
-Highest of Arsenal midfielders

0.4 shots blocked per game
-Highest of Arsenal midfielders

2.2 fouls per game
-Highest at Arsenal

0.9 opposition dribbles allowed per game
-4th highest of Arsenal midfielders (Denilson 1.6)

1 chance created per game
-8th highest at Arsenal (Fabregas 2.9)

1.1 successful dribbles per game
-5th highest at Arsenal (Diaby 2.3)

2 times dispossessed per game
-4th highest at Arsenal (Fabregas/Nasri 2.4)

High point

Grabbed a late headed winner against a stubborn West Ham side at the Emirates, after a good all-round display in the box-to-box role. Having started the move by spreading the ball out wide, Song made what was to become a trademark surge into the box, and nodded in Clichy's inswinging cross to the delight of Arsenal fans.

Low point

Sent off away at Sunderland in the league, forcing Arsenal to (unsuccessfully) defend an aerial onslaught with 10 men for the remainder of the match. Although the yellows seemed harsh, Song's habit of persistently conceding niggling fouls finally caught up with him, and Arsenal caved in when a high ball into the box in the 5th minute of stoppage time wasn't dealt with adequately.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Tomas Rosicky 2010/2011

Season Stats

19 starts + 15 sub apps
1 goal
5 assists
11 key passes

Premier League Stats

1 assist
-10th highest at Arsenal (Arshavin/Fabregas 11)

1.3 chances created per game
-7th highest at Arsenal (Fabregas 2.9)

0.5 accurate throughballs per game
-2nd highest at Arsenal (Fabregas 1.5)

0.7 times disposesssed per game
-11th highest at Arsenal (Fabregas/Nasri 2.4)

0.8 successful dribbles per game
-8th highest at Arsenal (Diaby 2.3)

63% aerial duel success rate
-3rd highest at Arsenal (Vermaelen 73%)

High point

Filled in expertly for Cesc Fabregas in the 6-0 demolition of newly-promoted Blackpool, with a master display of creativity. In a display that was reflective of his early season performances, Rosicky tore the Seasiders apart with his throughballs, providing key passes for 2 goals and a penalty which Arshavin converted.

Low point

Put in a shambolic defensive performance when subbed on during Arsenal's embarassing 4-4 draw at Newcastle. After Diaby's 2nd half dismissal, Rosicky was brought on to shore up the midfield but instead played Leon Best onside for a (disallowed) goal, gave away a penalty and conceded the freekick that led to Newcastle's equaliser.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

Alex Song 2010/2011, Part 1

Highlights of the defensive midfield stalwart from the first half of the season:

Friday, 5 August 2011

Laurent Koscielny 2010/2011, Part 2

Season Stats

43 starts
3 goals
1 assist
1 key pass

Premier League Stats

47 tackles won (78% completion rate)
-Highest of Arsenal centre backs

53% aerial duel success rate
-Joint 3rd highest of Arsenal centre backs (Vermaelen 73%, Djourou 58%)

2.8 interceptions per game
-2nd highest of Arsenal centre backs (Vermaelen 3.6)

1.5 offsides won per game
-Joint 3rd highest of Arsenal centre backs (Vermaelen 2, Squillaci 1.7)

6.9 clearances per game
-Highest of Arsenal centre backs (Djourou 6.2)

0.5 opposition dribbles allowed per game
-Highest of Arsenal centre backs (Djourou 0.3)

0.4 shots blocked per game
-Joint 3rd highest of Arsenal centre backs (Djourou 0.7, Squillaci 0.5)

High point

Thwarted Barcelona's attackers time and time again in the 1st leg of the Champions League 2nd round. Stepping up from his defensive line regularly, Koscielny set the pace for Arsenal's pressing game and a key interception inside his own box started the move for Arshavin's winning goal.

Low point

Cost Arsenal the chance to end their trophyless streak with his last minute blunder in the League Cup final. A routine aerial ball into the area should have been Szczesny's but Koscielny swung a leg out, missed, and in the ensuing confusion allowed Obafemi Martins to tap in an easy winner for Birmingham City.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Cesc Fabregas 2010/2011, Part 3

Season Stats

29 starts + 7 sub apps
9 goals
15 assists
12 key passes

Premier League Stats

11 assists
-3rd highest in PL (14), joint highest at Arsenal (Arshavin)

2.9 chances created per game
-3rd highest in PL (3.1), highest at Arsenal (Nasri 1.9)

1.5 accurate throughballs per game
-Highest in Europe

3.1 accurate long passes per game
-Joint highest of Arsenal outfield players (Wilshere)

2.4 times dispossessed per game
-Joint highest at Arsenal (Nasri)

1 successful dribble per game
-6th highest at Arsenal (Diaby 2.3)

High point

Put in a real captain's performance in Arsenal's morale-boosting 3-1 win over bogey team Chelsea, scoring a goal and setting up two more. The result put Arsenal right back in contention for the title and gave them the belief that they could go toe to toe with the biggest teams.

Low point

Gifted Barcelona a crucial goal in the Champions League with a careless backheel on the edge of his own box. Although clearly unfit, his act of recklessness gave Barcelona the lead just before half-time, undoing all of Arsenal's good work in preserving their aggregate advantage.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

Gael Clichy 2010/2011 - Farewell

Season Stats

40 starts + 4 sub apps
1 goal
2 assists
1 key pass

Premier League Stats

90 tackles won (81% success)
-Highest of PL defenders, 4th highest overall (111)

3.2 interceptions per game
-3rd highest of PL defenders, 4th highest overall (3.6)

0.8 opposition dribbles allowed per game
-Highest of Arsenal defenders (Koscielny 0.5)

51% aerial duel success rate
-3rd highest of Arsenal fullbacks (Sagna 67%, Gibbs 55%)

0.6 chances created per game
-2nd highest of Arsenal fullbacks (Sagna 0.7)

0.5 accurate crosses per game
-2nd highest of Arsenal fullbacks (Sagna 1.0)

High point

Set up an 88th minute winner at home to West Ham in the league, ending an afternoon of frustration for the Gunners. Having cut inside his marker from the left flank, the Frenchman delivered a teasing right-footed cross onto the head of the lurking Alex Song to send the Arsenal fans into raptures.

Low point

At fault for Shakhtar's winning goal in Arsenal's 2-1 loss in the Champions League group stage, a result which ultimately would cost the Gunners top spot. From a seemingly routine clearance situation on the left flank, Clichy managed to gift the ball to Darijo Srna, who crossed for Gunners' old-boy Eduardo to score.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Manuel Almunia 2010/2011

Season Stats

13 starts + 1 sub app
16 goals conceded
4 clean sheets
40 saves

Most saves in a game: 8 - Barcelona 3-1 Arsenal (CL)

High point

In the FA Cup 4th round tie against Huddersfield, kept out a header from Alan Lee with a world-class fingertip save following an acrobatic dive.

Low point

Heavily at fault for the 2-3 home defeat to newly-promoted West Brom, a performance which saw him lose his status as no.1.

Sunday, 17 July 2011

5 reasons why Samir Nasri isn't suited to the no.10 role

Given the recent injury problems of Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, one of the major areas of concern for Arsene Wenger is who best to replace him with in his absence. A fair proportion of Arsenal's midfielders favour the role, and one such player is the twinkle-toed Samir Nasri. But does he have the necessary qualities to deputise for the Spaniard, in a role that requires tremendous creativity and vision? Here are 5 reasons why I believe he's ill-suited to the position, demonstrated with the following video:

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Bacary Sagna 2010/2011, Part 1

Highlights of Mr. Consistent from August til December:

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Cesc Fabregas 2010/2011, Part 2

Highlights of the captain from the middle third of the season:

Thursday, 2 June 2011

What makes Barcelona such a formidable team? - Part 2

Continuing on from part 1...

6. Lack of counterattacks

A particularly interesting feature of Barcelona’s attacking play is how often they turn down quick counterattacking opportunities from within their own half. If possession is regained inside the opposition half they will of course look to exploit the space (which ties in to the pressing game as will be discussed later), but box-to-box counters are a rare sight.

Rather than speed up the play on such occasions, Barcelona look to use the opportunity to regain shape and restart their patient passing game. This gives the opposition time to get men back behind the ball, and perpetuates a constant state of Barcelona being camped in their opponent’s half. With so many men back, the opposition have no out-ball and this enables Barcelona to suffocate them inside their own half. In addition, it avoids the game descending into an open, end-to-end battle where Barcelona may be susceptible to counter-counterattacks. (As was the case when Barcelona tried to force a quick goal in the last 10 minutes of their away match vs Arsenal this season).

A potential problem with this strategy is that by compressing all the play into the final 3rd of the pitch, Barcelona are effectively also shutting off their own space too. Normally this would be a hindrance to a passing side – Arsenal fans know all too well how frustrating it is to see a team knocking the ball harmlessly from side to side in front of a 9-man defence. But Barcelona are perhaps the best side in the world at functioning in tight spaces. Notice how many of the following team goals are scored by cutting though 8/9-man defences, especially from 2:20 – 4:15):

7. Tactical flexibility

Barcelona are often accused of lacking a plan B, but this ignores the fact that the plan A itself is versatile and allows for several different formations which take advantage of different areas of the pitch.

4-3-3 – Barcelona’s standard formation features 3 midfielders to control possession, a false 9 in the shape of Messi and 2 wide forwards making out-to-in runs.

3-4-3 v.1 – With Busquets dropping back in between Pique and Puyol, this allows the team to break free of aggressive pressing of the centre backs by opposition forwards. The fullbacks can then push on and provide width higher up the pitch, allowing the three forwards to narrow and link up with each other at close quarters.

3-4-3 v.2 – When Alves pushes forward on the right flank, Pique and Puyol shuttle over to the right, with Abidal tucking in off the left to become in effect a third centre back. The front three can again narrow, with Iniesta providing a more cut-inside wide threat on the left.

Diamond 4-4-2 – Against teams that look to match Barcelona’s trio in midfield, Messi can drop off to play as a no.10 on a more full-time basis. The opposition can either pull a man back to deal with him (freeing up space for one of Xavi or Iniesta), or ignore him and allow him space in between the lines to wreak havoc.

This versatility gives them a great advantage – they can shift easily between different shapes at any stage of the game, without having to waste any substitutions.

8. Dual-function players

Perhaps one of the greatest difficulties in replicating Barcelona’s system is that they have a couple of phenomenal players in Lionel Messi and Dani Alves who can essentially play in two positions at once.

Dani Alves is on paper a full-back, yet his incredible pace and stamina allows him to patrol a whole right flank by himself. You could say that his presence is like having an extra man, allowing Barcelona to play a 4-4-3 formation. Note how much of the pitch he covers in the heatmap below – almost the entire length and half the width:

In the attacking phase he’s one of the most potent wingers in the world (recording 12 goals and 48 assists in his last 3 seasons), in the defensive phase an aggressive presser. During opposition transitions, he can be seen hurtling back towards his own goal, making some fantastic last ditch tackles in the process (granted he does also get caught out on occasions, such is the risk of the role he plays): 

Although he was already a brilliant individual artist and an intelligent teamplayer, Lionel Messi’s redeployment to the “false 9” role mid-way through the 2009/2010 season allowed him and Barcelona to reach even greater heights. It was a tactical masterstroke from Pep Guardiola, who managed to find a way to make his side even more possession-orientated without losing any of the attacking potency that they’d had the previous season with Eto’o in the centre forward role.

The value of a false 9 usually lies in their ability to drop deep and link-up with the midfield, utilising good passing and ball control skills to control the ball tidily and maintain the flow of the attack. The theory is that centre backs – not being comfortable marking empty space – will advance forward and close down the false 9, creating space in behind for one of the wide forwards to run into. (Good example here)

The problem with such a tactic is that it relies on intelligent movement by the wide forwards, and the assumption that the centre backs will close down. If this doesn’t happen, the team can be left with no presence inside the box and no penetration.

However, this isn’t a problem with Lionel Messi in the false 9 role. He has the complete skillset as an attacking player, combining superb dribbling, passing and shooting into one devastating package. He can drop back into midfield and help to build attacks from deep, but his ability to accelerate and to dribble past players with ease means he’s never too far away from goal to not be a threat. He can poach goals; he can slalom his way through to goal; he can score from range; and he can provide defence-splitting passes. In the last 2 seasons, he has scored 15 goals from outside the box in open play, and provided 36 assists for teammates - wherever he is in the opposition half, he’s a threat.

9. Pressing

As well as being the best attacking side in Europe, Barcelona are probably also the strongest defensively. What they lack in conventional 18 yard box defending, they more than make up for with their aggressive pressing game higher up the pitch, stifling opposition attacks before they have a chance to come to fruition.

Barcelona’s pressing game is aided by several factors:

(a) They dominate possession high up the pitch, forcing the opposition to get men back behind the ball. With their opponents penned back inside their own half and lacking an outlet for pressure, Barcelona can often close in for the kill and either win the ball back quickly or force an aimless long ball which the defenders can sweep up easily.

(b) The majority of their passes tend to be short, so Barcelona’s players are nearly always in a position to press once play breaks down, as Johan Cruijff explains:
"Do you know how Barcelona win the ball back so quickly? It's because they don't have to run back more than 10 metres as they never pass the ball more than 10 metres."
(c) They conserve energy while in possession, enabling them to expend more while pressing. It’s often thought that Barcelona work harder than the average team, but their distance covered figures from this year’s Champions League are quite revealing. On average they covered 110.465 km per game, compared to 110.644 km by 2nd-placed Man Utd. This was less than the 112.040 km average of all teams in the competition. Barcelona’s season-high distance covered was 116.624 km, which was dwarfed by the overall competition high of 124.503 km. Clearly, the long periods spent playing a relatively low-intensity passing game help to balance out the high-intensity pressing.

So how does the pressing game actually work? Work rate is obviously one factor, but intelligence and organisation are very important too. It’s telling that Barcelona’s defensive record has improved with each passing season under Guardiola, as players have gained more experience and take up better positions while pressing:
2008/2009 – 35 league goals conceded, 55 conceded in 62 games overall
2009/2010 – 24 league goals conceded, 40 conceded in 59 games overall
2010/2011 – 21 league goals conceded, 38 conceded in 62 games overall
Barcelona have several different systems of pressing which they employ depending on which area of the pitch the ball is at.

When an opposition keeper or defender has the ball, one player (usually Villa or Pedro) will sprint at him and force him into rushing a pass, while the players behind him employ a system of through marking to cover all the nearby passing options. If they do it correctly, then the player should have no choice but to punt it long, allowing Barcelona’s defenders to read the flight of the ball and move in to intercept.

At 0:57 in the following video you can see this type of pressing in action. Pause it at exactly 1:09 and you will see that all 6 white shirts are being marked by nearby Barcelona players – the ball is hit long and possession is regained:

If you also skip to 2:00 in the video above, you can see a different type of pressing in action. When an opposition player has the ball close to the flank, Barcelona players will attempt to surround and outnumber him, suffocating him and stealing the ball. At the exact moment possession is stolen (around 2:12), Barcelona have 3 players ganging up on just 1 Real player.

A more dynamic type of pressing can be seen in the opening 30 seconds of the following video. With Espanyol passing quickly from point to point, Barcelona players have to take it in turns to close down the man on the ball (usually the one nearest by), with players from behind coming in to replace the previous marking duties of the presser:

Immediately after losing possession in the final third, the Barcelona players in close vicinity – no matter whether they’re a defender or attacker – will attempt to close down and win it back quickly (as can be seen in this video of the Arsenal-Barcelona tie at the Emirates last year). This form of pressing is perhaps the most aggressive, and least organised. Opponents who can bypass this first wave of pressure stand a chance of launching a successful counter.

10. Universality

One of the key concepts that underpins Barcelona’s positional fluidity is that every player should be comfortable operating in any part of the pitch, and contributing to the 3 main aspects of Barcelona’s game – defence, possession, and attack.

It’s not uncommon for instance to see Xavi dropping back to become the deepest outfield player on the pitch, popping up on the right flank, or advancing to the centre forward role when Messi drops deep.

Here’s a clip of Javier Mascherano dribbling into the opposition area from centre back (while Xavi takes over his position):

Here’s Pique scoring a goal from a marauding run forward:

Dani Alves making a trademark poacher-like run to score a header:

And best of all, the forward trio of Messi-Villa-Pedro defending like rabid dogs:

In Summary

Barcelona’s playing style owes a lot to the above principles, but without long-term grassroots investment it’s not possible for any single club to build a collection of footballers with the required technical skills to implement such a gameplan.

Team chemistry plays a big part too, and Barcelona’s core group of players have that in abundance. The likes of Xavi-Iniesta, Messi-Alves, and Pique-Puyol have had years (helped by a lack of rotation) to build up their understanding of each other’s movement and passing patterns, such that it has become second nature.

It’s likely that we may not see another Barcelona in our lifetime, so we should savour every moment of the current one while they’re still around.

Credit to allas4 for majority of videos.

Tuesday, 31 May 2011

What makes Barcelona such a formidable team? - Part 1

On Saturday night Barcelona beat Manchester United comfortably to secure their third Champions League victory in just 6 years, and their second under Pep Guardiola. The manner of the victory – against undoubtedly their biggest European rivals over the last 5 years – has left many in no doubt that this is a special team up there with the best in history. Even the traditionally insular English media had to hold their hands up and admit that Barcelona’s blueprint was the way forward, after seeing their nation’s top club humbled on home soil.

While Frank Rijkaard’s 2004-06 team was itself an excellent unit, Guardiola has taken dominance to a whole new level with a brand of suffocating possession football that has earned admirers around the world. Incredibly, his side has managed more than 50% possession in each of his 183 games in charge. You have to go all the way back to May 2008 to find a game where Barcelona were outpassed (a 1-4 loss away to Real Madrid in the league).

Barcelona have the ability to remain at the top for a few years yet, and in the meantime a lot of clubs must be wondering how they can catch up and compete toe-to-toe with the Spanish champions. With largely the same group of core players that existed during the Rijkaard era, Guardiola has transformed Barcelona into an almost-unbeatable side. Clearly, his impact on the team’s strategy and mentality has been a large contributing factor behind their success (contrary to claims that anyone could do a similar job managing such a group of talented players).

Aside from the obvious technical qualities such as touch, ball control, passing and awareness which are taught from a young age at La Masia, what makes Barcelona’s system such a force? Here are 10 points which I believe to be key:

1. Patience

One of the most fundamental aspects of Barcelona’s play is a calm, methodical approach to build-up play. By moving the ball around the pitch and changing the angle of attack, the ball is eventually worked into the space just outside the 18 yard box, and gaps will develop as impetuous opposition defenders attempt to close down.

It sounds simple but with 90,000 fans urging you on to get forward, especially when you’re chasing the game, it can be difficult to stick to your principles. However that’s what Barcelona do best, and here are two examples of their patience paying off:

2. Technical defenders

A common tactic used to prevent a team playing the ball out from the back is to close down the centre backs with through marking employed to cover the players immediately to the front and side. With no options and limited time on the ball, they are forced to hit it long, but not at Barcelona. Their holding midfielder, centre backs and even goalkeeper can dribble out of tight spots, enabling the team to stick to their building-from-the-back principle.

It’s not just enough that the defenders be able to break away from pressure, they also need to be able to take advantage of the resulting space. Gerard Pique in particular is adept at advancing into the midfield zone and playing accurate passes, including raking cross-field balls. See 0:44 in the following video:

3. Defensive pivots

One of the novel aspects of Barcelona’s play is the use of the keeper and holding midfielder as outlets for pressure. Victor Valdes is an excellent passer by goalkeeper standards, and takes advantage of his deep positioning to receive the ball from one fullback/centre back and switch it to the other:

Note his role in initiating Pedro’s goal in the following clip (skip to 10:30):

Sergio Busquets does a similar job in midfield, sitting behind the Xavi-Iniesta pairing and redirecting passes from one to the other. A tidy player, his one-touch play stands out in particular. Notice how often he redistributes play from left to right and vice versa in the following clip (starts at 0:59):

A great example of this one-touch play can be seen in his pass to Keita leading up to the following goal. It may seem a simple pass, but it gave Keita just a little bit more time and space to advance forward and link up with Messi:

4. Lack of crosses

Aside from the fact that the tallest member of the Barcelona frontline measures less than 6 feet, the fullbacks generally don’t look to play high balls into the box because it’s quite simply a highly inefficient strategy. Crossing is a low percentage game which relies on a fair amount of chance, and as such it doesn’t fit in with the Barcelona mantra of possession, possession, possession.

Instead, the width of the pitch is used intelligently to draw out opposition fullbacks and stretch the backline horizontally, with the ball then being circulated back into the middle to take advantage of the channels that have developed between the defenders – as can be seen here (1st goal):

...or indeed to set up a shot from the edge of the box:

And again here (1st goal):

5. Set pieces

For Barcelona, set pieces are usually an extension of their open play passing game. Of course, with the likes of Pique, Puyol and Busquets in their line-up they have aerial prowess and are not afraid to take advantage of it from time to time, but by and large they prefer to play it short and keep possession high up the pitch.

An interesting feature of Guardiola’s reign has been the increased usage of rehearsed set plays, with the side taking advantage of the 10 yard rule and often creating 3 vs 2 situations from corners.

Here are several examples of beautiful team moves and goals resulting from corners (you can ignore the Spain footage if you want...):

Free-kicks are also a source of innovation:

Credit to allas4 for the majority of the videos. Part 2 can be found here.

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cesc Fabregas 2010/2011, Part 1

Highlights of the captain's first 3 months of the season:

Monday, 9 May 2011

Stoke 3-1 Arsenal: Chalkboards

For the 3rd time in four visits to Stoke since 2008, Arsenal have ended up on the losing side and yet again after going behind to an early set piece goal. Here are a few interesting chalkboards courtesy of the Guardian.


Stoke were quicker to the second ball throughout, recovering possession with 27 of their 38 clearances (71%). The home team were constantly able to break out of danger zones, and consequently Arsenal were unable to exert extended pressure on Stoke's backline.

Arsenal on the other hand only managed 10 successful clearances out of 26 (38%). This proved costly when Walters scored Stoke's 3rd to kill the game off, pouncing on a poor clearance from Djourou before any Arsenal defender could react.


Stoke's interception chalkboard sums up their defensive strategy well. They were quick to get men back behind the ball (Arsenal's tempo also played a part), defending their 18 yard line well and looking to block Arsenal's passing lanes through the middle. Overall they made 20 interceptions to Arsenal's 12. Only 1 of them was in Arsenal's half, though it proved vital - Pennant latched onto Ramsey's lazy backpass and exploited the space in between the lines to fire in Stoke's second.

Stoke's passing

As with most opposition sides, Stoke targetted Arsenal's left flank, which was even weaker than usual due to Clichy's absence. Kieran Gibbs had an average game, and for Stoke's 3rd goal he failed to deal with a diagonal ball out wide, allowing Stoke to build an attack down that side and score.

See 0:45 in the following video: (credit to Arsenalist)

                      stok2131h68 by arsenalist

Laurent Koscielny

In general Koscielny has been a very good performer this season, forming a good understanding with Djourou and doing an excellent job in closing down opposition attackers early.

When playing a high line his value cannot be questioned, but when forced to defend inside his own 18 yard box he has displayed a certain level of vulnerability. His natural game is to win the ball early, getting tight and  nicking the ball away with an out-stretched leg, but inside the box this approach is something of a liability. Therefore, when defending deep he has at times been reckless, trying to win the ball at all costs and leaving gaps/conceding several penalties in the process. At other times he's been unsure of himself, wary of conceding fouls but not understanding some of the positional requirements of defending deep/soaking up opposition pressure.

This flaw to his game was evident again during Stoke's 3rd goal (skip to 0:50 in the above video), where he chased the ball out of the box and in the process ended up leaving a gap for Walters to exploit a couple of seconds later (granted it was a poor clearance from Djourou).

2nd half substitutions

At the start of the 2nd half, Wenger threw on Bendtner and Chamakh, giving Arsenal a very attacking 4-4-2 shape with Bendtner coming in off the left. Van Persie dropped deeper and Chamakh assumed the centre forward role, looking to play with his back to goal as usual. The Morroccan completed 26 out of 29 passes, and won 3 out of 4 tackles, adding a different dimension to Arsenal's attack.

This gave van Persie much more freedom than he had in the first half (where he only recorded 1 shot). After the break he managed to fire away 4 shots, 3 of them on target (including the goal) - all straight down the middle.

Chamakh was vital in creating space for van Persie. His tendency to drop deep, control it neatly (the Morroccan has a great touch, which is often overlooked) and lay the ball off quickly - drawing a marker towards him in the process - was very useful, and led to 2 great chances for the Dutchman, one of them a goal.

The first was on 73 minutes - Chamakh controlled the ball well from a goal kick, drew Stoke's right back out, and laid it off to Wilshere. Wilshere spotted the gap in behind Wilkinson and threaded the ball into the space for Bendtner, creating a golden chance for van Persie which was saved at point-blank range. See the following video:

                      stokrvpchance467 by arsenalist

The goal (see first video) was a culmination of the effect of the 3 Arsenal substitutes. Rosicky - twisting, turning and probing as usual - played a good forward pass between the lines. Chamakh, with his back to goal and drawing the attentions of Wilkinson, flicked the ball quickly to van Persie. Bendtner made a run to the left, dragging a centre back with him and giving van Persie enough room to fire away his 6th right-footed goal of the season.

Unfortunately the comeback was short-lived, but the one positive that can be taken out of this game (as with the 2-2 draw against West Brom and 2-1 win over Everton) is that a modified, attacking 4-4-2 is a decent plan B.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Lukasz Fabianski 2010/2011

2010 was a very mixed year for Lukasz Fabianski. After some high-profile errors in the second half of last season, his ability as a goalkeeper was called into question, but he managed to turn it around after injury to Manuel Almunia saw him thrust back into the limelight. Prior to his season-ending injury this January, he had established himself as Arsenal's no.1 with several top-class displays, demonstrating why Arsene Wenger had brought him to the club in the first place.

His shot-stopping is among the best in the league and he has directly earned Arsenal several points with some fantastic reflex saves, perhaps the most obvious example being his stoppage time save in the 2-0 away win over Wolves in November. Unlike Arsenal's other two first-team keepers, Fabianski's distribution is one of his strong points and he has put it to good use, being one of only 6 Premier League keepers to have directly assisted a goal this season. However his command of the 6 yard box and ability to deal with aerial balls remains slightly suspect, although to his credit he has clearly worked on these weaknesses.

Here are his season highlights:

Season stats:

-20 games
-22 goals against
-5 clean sheets
-42 saves

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Laurent Koscielny 2010/2011, Part 1

Since joining Arsenal at the start of the season, Laurent Koscielny has been an almost-permanent fixture in the centre of defence. Despite some inconsistent performances early on (due mainly to an unstable partnership with fellow newcomer Sebastian Squillaci), he has generally been an excellent acquisition and fits in seamlessly with the club's defensive ethic, pressing high and winning the ball back early. These are some of his highlights from August til December:

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Jack Wilshere 2010/2011, Part 1

Jack Wilshere has been one of Arsenal's top performers this season, showing a remarkable level of maturity and consistency at the heart of the Gunners' midfield. Here are his best moments from the first 5 months of the season:

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Who should start as centre forward in Van Persie's absence?

Source: Press Association Images
So once again Robin van Persie is out injured at a crucial period during Arsenal's season. His absence means that progression through to the Champions League quarter finals will be an uphill struggle, and in the FA Cup a daunting game at Old Trafford awaits the Gunners should they advance past Leyton Orient in their 5th round replay tonight. On the positive side he will only miss 2 Premier League games should his recovery go to plan, with Arsene Wenger estimating that the Dutchman will be out for at least 3 weeks.

Robin van Persie is of course a top class player, but his effect on Arsenal's system extends far beyond his own individual contributions. His appreciation for space, intelligence in his movement, and ability to retain and distribute the ball high up the pitch, all make him the ideal candidate to act as the "false 9" within Arsenal's attack. His presence brings the best out of the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Theo Walcott, players who thrive on the space that van Persie creates for them in behind defences.

Van Persie's injury last year saw Arsenal transform from free-scoring high-fliers to a team that ended up limping, trophyless, over the finishing line in May. It was clear that his injury disrupted the team's attacking flow, and although Wenger experimented with several different players in the centre forward roles (Bendtner, Eduardo, and more radically Arshavin), none of them were able to replicate the influence of the Dutchman.

With Wenger looking unlikely to stray from his 4-2-3-1 setup this season, it's important that whoever fills in for van Persie is as similar as possible in terms of style of play. Step forward Marouane Chamakh. The Morroccan was signed on a free from Bordeaux last summer, and although he's struggled for form since December (not surprising given his lack of starts since the return of van Persie), his performances in the first few months of the season were excellent. Although lacking the creative talent and individual goalscoring game of van Persie, Chamakh was an effective deputy because vitally, he was able to replicate the intelligent movement and the hold-up play of the Dutchman, which is so vital in dragging markers out of position and facilitating the other attacking players in breaking into space.

The following table shows the overall team's attacking performance as well as individual goals/assists stats of the players who have started as centre forward since Arsenal switched to a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 at the start of last season*. Realistically Arshavin will not be playing in the middle again this season, but his stats are shown for reference.

(*Only Premier League and Champions League proper games have been included, as other competitions tend to include weakened teams. Further breakdown of home/away performances as well as game-by-game stats are available by clicking on the other tabs at the bottom.)

What's evident is that the team scores at an amazing rate with van Persie as starting centre forward (obviously), but despite appearing to be individually the weakest of the club's 3 centre forwards, Chamakh does a much better job than Bendtner in preserving the attacking flow and goal average. The Morroccan lacks movement into goalscoring positions, directness, and killer instinct, but he more than makes up for it with his teamplay and overall positive effect on the team's ability to ripple the back of the net.

Source: Getty Images
I have speculated previously on the reason behind Bendtner's apparent negative effect on team performance despite seeming to do well on an individual level. I believe that the role of the centre forward in Arsenal's 4-2-3-1 should first and foremost be to aid the flow of the attack and to create space for the 3/4 players behind him. The individual goalscoring/assists performance of the centre forward comes secondary to the team's overall attacking performance. In that respect, van Persie and Chamakh do a far better job than Bendtner, who seems to stifle the team's fluidity with his (relatively) poor touch and movement. This trend is evidenced by the superior team performances when the centre forward role was occupied last season by Andrei Arshavin. The Russian, a natural attacking midfielder, contributed next to nothing in terms of goals/assists but enabled the team to score at an average of 2 goals per game, highlighting the importance of having a player who can drift about, take passes in his stride and keep the ball moving within the final 3rd.

One of the arguments in favour of Bendtner is that he very often pops up with vital goals and assists (this was particularly true from February onwards last season). However, you could say that Bendtner's ability to provide important match-saving contributions is a self-fulfilling prophecy. By making the system less geared towards fluidity and interchanging of positions, and more geared towards serving an orthodox no.9 (relative to other Arsenal centre forwards), the team's goal output is decreased, but the likelihood of Bendtner being the one to score or assist increases. And therefore he appears to be bailing Arsenal out, when in fact his presence was probably the root cause of Arsenal struggling in the first place.

In fact, the only game where Arsenal have scored more than 3 team goals with Bendtner as starting centre forward, was the 5-0 win over Porto. Bendtner was surprisingly clinical that game, netting a hattrick from 2 predatory finishes and a penalty. A system with Nicklas Bendtner as the single centre forward would only work in the long term if he could improve his finishing. In a more orthodox attacking system, less chances are created, and it therefore becomes vital that the focal point inside the box (i.e. Bendtner) makes the most of the chances that come his way. Unfortunately this has rarely been the case in the past.


Unless Wenger switches to a 4-4-2 or another formation that facilitates 2 centre forwards, Marouane Chamakh remains the ideal candidate to take over van Persie's false 9 role. The Morroccan was given his chance at the start of the year and proved that he was able to fill the void that would otherwise have cost Arsenal a chance at the title, as it did the previous season. Nicklas Bendtner remains a decent plan B, but Chamakh's qualities are more in tune in with Arsenal's plan A.