Based in London and writing for a global audience our aim is to produce EliteFootballTalk. Enjoy the site and feel welcome to join in our discussion on the beautiful game.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Wenger must act to remedy recurring flaw

So Arsenal can again count themselves unlucky in an away match against one of their two legitimate rivals for the championship. A one-nil defeat courtesy of an offside-shinner is a ridiculous way to decide a big match but at least it didn’t break a massive unbeaten record.

Didier Drogba's lucky touch in the 73 minute broke the deadlock in an otherwise equal match-up that still had a touch of the pre-seasons about it. Mourinho admitted as much post-match, and it is a shame that these two excellent footballing sides had to meet on only the second weekend of the season with preparations interrupted by international matches.

Focusing on the Arsenal, this match again showed-up a problem which Arsene is struggling to solve. That problem, which has been highlighted previously on these pages, is that Arsenal struggle to penetrate the best teams in football.

While Arsenal had 60 % possession and yet again put on a consummate display of flowing passing football- with Alexander Hleb showing tremendous potential in only his second Premiership match- there was a lack of cutting edge that separates the very good teams from the truly exceptional. They were restricted by Chelsea's awesome defence to a couple of speculative Henry efforts and an early Ljungberg toe-poke that went just over the bar.

Such limited returns from good possession represents a black mark that Arsene admitted as much in his post-match interview.

Unfortunately, this is becoming the customary feature of Arsenal when playing away at the likes of Chelsea, Man Utd, Bayern, etc. Because we only play away to teams with such defensive quality once in a blue moon, this problem is in danger of being missed.

I hope Arsene does not fall into that category!

Last year at the three teams mentioned above we scored only one goal- a last minute consolation in Bayern from Arsenal's best player so far this season: Kolo Toure. Otherwise, in all three matches, Arsenal barely created a goal chance worthy of the name. The same pattern repeated in the FA cup final: no goal threat.

The season before, Arsenal drew another blank at Old Trafford in a match that we played for a nil-nil. In fact, it is 18 months ago when Arsenal last convinced against a top side away from home: Chelsea in a 2-1 victory with goals courtesy of Pat and Edu.

A feature of Arsenal's attacking flaw in these matches is that we simply don't attack the penalty box in numbers. Yesterday, as against Bayern, we played with Thierry as the main striker with five midfielders supporting. The pattern then becomes familiar: Thierry gets isolated by a strong defence and a holding midfielder, so he comes deep or wide to receive the ball, which consequently leaves no expert attacker in or around the box.

In effect, we are left with zero six-yard box strikers and six or seven attacking midfielders. The world's tightest defences are repeatedly showing they can handle this. This lack of cutting edge against the best teams away from home leaves us vulnerable to sucker-punches like a Rooney dive or a Drogba shinner.

In 95 per cent of matches our system of attacking play seriously works. And at Highbury it is very rare for us to be stifled. It is the matches away from home against our biggest competitors where this problem is becoming endemic.

Two options come to mind.

One is to buy a pure penalty-box predator who may not be a great team-player but will stay in and around the box and be an ever-present goal threat. Michael Owen immediately comes to mind. When Thierry came deep yesterday it would surely have been an advantage for him and the team to know that Owen was waiting to pounce in the goal area. RVP, supreme talent that he is, did not offer this particular potential yesterday.

Second is to buy a Didier Drogba type-player who can physically barge defences and create openings for himself and others simply by having a heavyweight presence. When Drogba was at Marseille I told people that Arsenal should buy him. Whatever the critics may say about his lack of co-ordination- he is effective and has a fighting character. His physical presence was the main reason why Chelsea knocked Bayern out of the Champs League- and represented a significant contrast to the relatively lightweight physical presence that Arsenal's attack had against the German champs.

When Arsenal went after Baptista, I saw this as Arsene wanting to get an option two player. He is a muscular player who can knock defenders out of his way- an option that Arsene would have liked against Bayern.

This Chelsea defeat will be positive if it is the final wake-up call needed to spur Wenger on to buying an option one or option two striker, with the Vieira money. Otherwise, based on recent history, we will continue to come out second best when away from home against teams with top defences, due to the lack of an effective attacking edge.


Blogger RedsMan said...

No doubt TS, an honest Gooner fan from the heart, has touched on an issue within the team that I too noticed. Henry coming deep or going wide and then there is, as a result, little presence in the box to attack the ball thoroughly, Chelsea were allowed on numerous occasions to get the ball away. MOTM was given to Lampard, who for me wasn't as active and creative as either Terry, who practically allowed nothing to hinder the defence, and Del Horno, who seemed determined to sacrifice flesh if it meant denying Arsenal. Either of those two deserved MOTM.

I dislike the lone striker, and I sense Henry does too. Playing him with either Bergkamp, RVP or even Reyes is Arsenal's way forward. Unfortunately Ljungberg came off early, otherwise a midfield of the Swede, Fabregas, Silva and Hleb was doing reasonably well. With someone like Reyes who follows after Henry's instincts, his left foot and his vision could have furthered Arsenal's cause yesterday.

Arsenal seem to form a huge aura of confidence when at home, so TS stating that this flaw happens away to certain teams has a point. Senderos enjoyed blocking out Crespo but as soon as Drogba was introduced, it must have sent shivers to the Swiss. Once again the ball is sent over, once again Drogba is marked by Senderos, once again Drogba gets ahead of Senderos and once again Drogba got to score. The touch was indeed fortuitous but Senderos should have been tight goalside of Drogba, if not have gotten to head the ball away.

I too found that both sides practically cancelled each other out, possession turned to lost possession to the other side and there were few chances to speak of on target of concern. The game got off to a flying start, and then a streaker had to come on, to disrupt the flow. Amusing to some, sexual gratification to others, perhaps??!? Nonetheless, when your team are in a good rhythm, and it is then unceremoniously disrupted, you'd feel quite aggrieved.

But of course the streaker was not Arsenal's problem for losing yesterday. Other than Ljungberg's effort behind Del Horno, Henry on occasion (possibly twice), Arsenal didn't have those moments of picking and teasing goal from which they usually would carve out a goal eventually. They came at Chelsea enough as you would expect but the final finish wasn't there, owing to not enough presence in Chelsea's box. Henry is formidable but he shouldn't be on his own.

Quick stubborn Gallas, strong and bullying Terry, a tidying Ferreira and an inspired Del Horno, with an equally stubborn Makelele holding will take something special to break down.


8/22/2005 11:19 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes! we need a shearer type player who is strong physically, good heading ability, and fast.

8/22/2005 2:44 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree about Henry playing too much as a midfielder. I'm blaming it on the armband as he now seems to observe what the others are doing and not concentrating on his striking (running, creating space for others). He's also seems to stop the play when he gets the ball, much like Vieira did last season. It's not helping either.

8/22/2005 2:57 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Disappointing loss yesteday.

On the bright side, Kolo Toure was, far and away, the man of the match for Arsenal. Solid defending. Timely clearances. Steady at the back. And disappointingly, outside of Alex Hleb, our only real threat to dribble through the Chelsea defense.

Jens Lehmann also had a very good game and couldn't really be faulted for the flukish goal.

And it was nice to see Hleb show off his pace, dribbling skills, and instincts.

But many players had poor games. Robert Pires was practically AWOL, except for his perpetually crappy corners. Ashley Cole had a mediocre game, capped off by a disgusting foul that earned him a well deserved yellow card. Lauren was also poor. Although he and Cole did well to shut down Chelsea's dangerous wingers, his crossing was lousy and he was responsible for (almost) playing Drogba onside when the goal was scored.

I also thought that Cesc Fabregas had a subpar game, never really getting into it. As did Thierry Henry, who drifted all over the park without really threatening.

Oh, well. At least it's only the second game of a long season.

8/22/2005 2:57 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree with a lot of what has been said, especially about Henry being too wide and too deep. It seems to happen too often and he can't get away with it against the big teams with tight defences.

The tight approach is legitmate for big matches, but we have completely lost our counter-attacking zip that must go with it. Henry is much more frightening pulling central defenders around than sitting on the wing. We missed Ljunberg in this respect as well - a player who hits the box and can finish. We don't necessarily need another striker, although I'd gladly take Michael Owen!, just the "umph" for at least one player to get themselves in the box.

Particularly agree with the comment about corners - why are they so AWFUL. Even if we're no longer the tallest team around, decent balls fizzed in around the six yard box and penalty spot will always cause problems. We never look like a threat from corners any more. (And why does Henry take a lot of them...I remember a great header he scored against Spartak Moscow a few years back from a corner.)

8/22/2005 3:14 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i agree with everything said but have we got any money?.

8/22/2005 3:24 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

RedsMan, why do you blame Big Phil for the goal? Yes, Drogba had a head start on him, but it was because Swiss TOny was trying to play him offside. Had Lauren been a bit more attentive, he would have followed suit and the linesman would have had no choice but to raise his flag. Once the flag stayed down Philippe was always going to lose the race, but overall I think he managed to keep Drogba under much better wraps than two weeks ago.
Also, regarding Option 1 or 2, we have been screaming our lungs out for an effective in-the-box striker and/or a competent header of the ball for the last two years. Do you really think that AW is going to change his mind now? Not after his post match comments: "no I am not concerned...".
Should we start worrying?
Xav T

8/22/2005 3:26 pm

Blogger Kim Stian Ervik said...

We could have bought John Carew, that went to Lyon. He sure is big enough and leave room for the rest of the team to shoot or run through.

8/22/2005 3:53 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

Xav T, I had a re-think after your comments and you have a point. I watched Andy Gray's programme after the match, and his evaluation of the game, and picked up Senderos was indeed trying to play Drogba off-side. Lauren was the culprit as Ashley Cole clearly stepped up, though I do believe Drogba was marginally off-side, those have been given. So I take it back but the defence, not necessarily just Senderos, have to have that contingency where the off-side doesn't work. I'm sure they do and perhaps it is here why Wenger was upset with the conceding of such a goal.


8/23/2005 12:02 am

Blogger RedsMan said...

Forgot to mention I watched Andy Gray's programme today, having recorded it.


8/23/2005 12:03 am

Blogger T said...

Thanks as ever for your comments. Against the context of the failure of the Baptista and Viera moves, and the sale of Pat, it would make my transfer window if a striker of the type described above moved in.

I agree Kim that Carew would not be a bad option. He would offer something us different, and all gooners know his effectiveness as he twice knocked us out of the champs league.

You know I have been meaning to write something about our corners. For about two years now they have been consistently the worst in the game- this includes lower league corners. I might dedicate a whole article to it so to try and catch the Arsenal hierarachy's attention. I always say to my brother that a corner for us is as good as a goal kick for the opposition.

EFT experienced severe technical difficulties yesterday from 4pm to a few minutes before midnight. The link to this article led to a blank page- resulting in visitors being unable to access the article or the resulting comments. It halted what was turining out to be an excellent discussion which is the whole purpose of EFT.

I apologise for this problem, it is the first time it has happened to EFT and hopefully the last.

8/23/2005 10:26 am

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dean Ashton anyone?

Cheap, won't mind sitting on the bench, and can score from a cross. Not much of a risk and offers us a decent back up plan.

And how can arsenal be in credit from the summer's transfer dealings?

Vieira out for 13.5mn Hleb in for £10mn.


8/23/2005 1:17 pm

Blogger SKG said...

There is no doubt in my mind that Arsenal are still the best attacking team in the Premiership. Their defence is pretty decent too. I just think they have been unlucky not to sign another striker or someone with experience to replace Viera. If Baptista, and lets say Davids, had gone to Arsenal then I'm sure they would be finding it easier. One question I have for the Arsenal fans - where is Reyes?

8/23/2005 1:46 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are right that we need to solve the problem of teams that pack the defence against us, but it is also a problem for many top teams. Most fans are right about wanting more variation when it comes to breaking these types of teams down, but instead of buying a big lump to hoof the ball to when we are desperate i would like to see us use the tactics brazil employ when they struggle to break down packed defences by using the centre back to make up numbers in attack. Lucio and edmilson do this very well though it does make them very open for a counter. but we have more ball players than players with good arial ability.

8/23/2005 3:20 pm

Blogger RedsMan said...

I've mentioned before to ts and skg about Arsenal's weak throughout the Wenger era. The defence. And that was their only weak link. That is not to say that it comes tumblng down at the first attack but it's the least strongest area in the team. Bould, Adams, Keown had a strong, dogged look to it but when Arsenal have gone on the attack, the midfield and attack look too formidable.

In my opinion, they must employ 4-4-2. Either Reyes or Bergkamp, or RVP off the bench, should suffice to partner Henry. That other forward man could, or should, be the one to go wide to pick up, at least employ himself rather than Henry, who can then drift around the box as a point of entry. Play the ball to Henry there, then the runners come in as Henry holds up the ball.

Remember that goal he could against Man Utd at Higbury, winning the game 1-0? Back towards goal, on the edge of the box, he picked up the ball with a flick and then volleyed it clean into the net. Many times Henry has been the point by the box. If need be, he could drift wide every now and then, chop and change it with the other front man.

However, the plus for Gooner fans is Hleb isn't slouching, quite the opposite and Silva takes the reins in midfield, an experienced sensible international. Also, while Wenger maybe on the look-out for a keeper, Lehmann is looking better. Only a very fortuitous goal, and a poor linesman's decision, separated the teams on Sunday.


8/23/2005 4:06 pm

Anonymous Anonymous said...

one name


8/23/2005 9:28 pm

Blogger Abdul said...

TS, a very honest appraisal of the problems faced by Arsenal at this early stage of the season. The suggestion of Dean Ashton in one of the comments posted in response is, I think, a very intelligent one. He may not be a superstar, but he has great physical attributes and could be a real weapon in Arsenal's armoury.

But I have to say - an Owen - Henry partnership sounds frightening.

8/24/2005 9:51 am


Post a Comment

<< Home


Locations of visitors to this page