Keep-Ball v Play-Ball: Striking The Balance
Unlike previous years, Arsenal’s start to the 2012-13 season has generated much tactical discussion. For a while now, Arsene Wenger has been accused of devising strategies based solely on his team’s strengths and not the opposition’s. But whereas before you could bet your house on Arsenal playing recklessly attacking football in every game, a different approach is noticeable from one match to another this season.
While the defensive input of Steve Bould is apparent, Arsene Wenger appears to be still trying to find the balance between threatening the opponent’s goal and controlling play. Arsenal have shown themselves prone to losing the ball much more at the start of this season but at the same time we have displayed resoluteness in dealing with the loss of possession by dropping deep and defending in numbers.
Perhaps it’s this lack of balance in the squad which is manifesting itself right now. On Tuesday, Arsenal fielded the same team which drew at Stoke. But gaining and retaining possession at the Britannia was relatively easy as Stoke rarely displayed any desire to attack themselves. Crouch was the only outlet for Tony Pulis’ team so the Gunners were untroubled when they lost the ball.
In the second half at Montpellier though, the home team created more problems. Their movement was excellent, their passing slick and they used wide areas to good effect. Arsenal came under sustained pressure in the first 20 minutes of the second half and for once, it was the Gunners who lacked an outlet to relieve the pressure.
Ideally, Arsenal should have kept the ball more in order to disrupt the momentum of the home team, even if we were not creating chances ourselves. Although we managed more possession than Montpellier over 90 minutes, the Gunners were unable to frustrate the opposition by denying them the ball during that extended spell of pressure at the start of the second half.
Granted, Montpellier’s pressing had an effect on our possession of the ball. But equally, I believe part of the reason was because we had too many direct players in attack. Giroud’s hold up play is good but whereas Van Persie liked dropping deep and almost playing like a midfielder at times, Olivier likes to lay off quickly. Gervinho moves very vertically as well, trying to find gaps between the channels to burst through. And while Podolski is capable of playing on the inside left, almost like Yossi Benayoun did last season, he too prefers to give and go.
Add Santi Cazorla to this mix. The Spaniard’s performances have been likened to those of Cesc Fabregas’ but Cazorla’s a very different player. While Fabregas was undoubtedly a midfielder who was adept at going forward, Cazorla is a winger adept at falling back into midfield. Santi is much more positive going forward and his build up play is quicker than we were used to seeing from Fabregas.
So with an attacking four that like to move quickly up the field, Arsenal have looked very dangerous on counter attacks. And with players that possess skill and pace, the Gunners will continue to trouble teams on the break.
However, it’s a double-edged sword, this counter attacking tactic. Against Montpellier, with many Arsenal players visibly fatigued, the Gunners’ attempts at breaking quickly only led to surrendering possession to the home team. The introduction of Aaron Ramsey was a reaction to this and although Montpellier’s tiredness also played a part, Arsenal did look more in control of the game after the Welshman’s introduction.
Arsene Wenger will want to strike a good balance against Manchester City. While the manager will appreciate the benefits of playing on the break, he will not wish for either Aguero or Tevez to find themselves in the position Belhanda did towards the end of the match. The Citizens have far too much quality for Arsenal to rely too heavily on defending deep.
In my opinion, the player we miss the most right now is Tomas Rosicky. When the Czech captain becomes available, and assuming he displays pre-injury form, Arsene could move Cazorla to the right flank and continue with Tomas as the central attacking midfielder. I believe Arsenal would control more of the possession with Rosicky in midfield while still posing a threat on the break.
In summary, perhaps the Gunners’ seemingly flexible tactics are simply a case of being pragmatic. Last year’s horrendous start put paid to any hopes of mounting a title challenge and although we stormed back later in the season, the points dropped during those first two months meant third place was the best we could aim for. This season, while Arsene Wenger attempts to find the right balance, Arsenal have focused on the results and are accumulating precious points.
Post your thoughts. Until tomorrow.