Arsenal given a taste of their own medicine as West Brom cruise to win
Arsène Wenger remains puzzled. Just how did a well drilled but not entirely spectacular West Bromwich Albion side manage to score three goals past them? And his team, he says, were “unrecognisable” in attack as well as Arsenal failed to close the gap on leaders Chelsea who similarly succumbed to a loss at the weekend. “Overall everything was difficult for us today – passing the ball, winning the ball back, winning the one against ones – and we got what we deserved which was zero points,” said Wenger. “We didn’t deserve more.”
While West Brom played exactly to Roberto Di Matteo’s game plan, Arsenal’s fell apart. The Baggies were zestful and Arsenal had no spark. It added to a frustrating day which at half-time didn’t look all that ominous but the warning sides were there. West Brom won a penalty as the live wire Peter Odemwingie was brought down by Manuel Almunia but the goalkeeper redeemed himself with a fantastic save while much of Arsenal’s moves broke down too easily. Wenger will have a sit down to analyse his team’s performance but if he remembers keenly enough, the West Brom tactics will remind him of one of his own from last season – that of the 4-1 defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League.
Lessons from Camp Nou
In a strange way, West Brom successfully mirrored the tactics Arsenal failed with at Camp Nou in that night in April. The Baggies were set-up in a 4-1-4-1 with Youssuf Mulumbu holding and Odemwingie leading the line and they pressed the Gunners back line high up the pitch, not letting them pass the ball out from the back. Odemwingie, by playing close to the two central defenders, denied the pass back while he was aided by a shield of four which made it hard for Arsenal to pass through. The success of the tactic was exasperated by the technical deficiencies of Alex Song and Abou Diaby who really failed to exert themselves in the centre of midfield. As it was, it was Diaby who was whipped off fairly on in the second-half for Jack Wilshere.
The issue of technique is a pertinent one because the use of two holders who are not famed for their passing abilities was always going to hold Arsenal’s ball circulation back. The other point is the failure by Arsenal to override the blue and white shield in front of them because as displayed when they used it against Barcelona, it wasn’t really pressing. (Read this article by Jonathan Wilson to find out more). West Brom created a barrier and although they hounded the Gunners in possession, didn’t sustain it long enough. It was “false-pressing” if you will because there was gaps to exploit in between their defence and midfield could Arsenal play the ball quickly enough as Mulumbu would surely have been isolated. Alex Song realised this in the first-half and kept driving forward, to his credit, in the second period as he saw the need for Arsenal to get men into this are and support Samir Nasri.
“We pressed them very high, in their half, all over the pitch,” said West Brom manager Roberto Di Matteo. “We managed not to let them play their usual way, and on top of that when we had the ball we passed it very well. It wasn’t like we were just lucky — I thought we played some tremendous football and defended well as well. It was a generally good performance.”
<Figure 1> How West Brom stopped Arsenal from passing out from the back.
With West Brom playing a 4-1-4-1, they successfully stopped Arsenal, particularly in the first half, the ability to build from the back. Here Song has the ball and his options to pass become limited. He needs to find one of the more attacking players who have more space against the isolated Mulumbu. Diaby could offer a passing option but to break the barrier, he would have to make a run beyond the West Brom midfielders. Song did that better than the Frenchman and a second-half header highlighted his determination while Diaby was quickly taken off.
Laurent Koscienly the gambler
The numbers are piling up. He was sent-off in his first match for Arsenal, beaten for pace and/or power – whichever way you look at it – against Blackburn, made a weak back pass against Bolton, blocked a clearance at Sunderland and was culpable for a handful of goals for West Brom. Laurent Koscielny, to be fair has looked fantastic at most times for Arsenal but he plays on the edge and that creates the chance of a mistake happening. His style, get close to the opponents when they attack so as to give no space was to help aid Arsenal’s pressing game by winning the ball back quickly but it is also very risky. It means a high line and if he’s beaten, given Vermaelen’s penchant to attack the ball, the whole backline is likely to be beaten. Almunia may not have helped his cause trying to save a Gonzala Jara shot like a cricket fielder at long-on, but he looked hesitant and Wenger had no choice but to whip him off.
Arsenal lack spark
“We had lost a generator and then it becomes difficult to play football,” said Wenger and you couldn’t help but feel that generator was Cesc Fabregas. Watching on from the the sidelines he would have expected Samir Nasri to continue where he left off but the Frenchman was unable to penetrate West Brom’s backline. Wenger realised this and shifted Andrey Arshavin to the centre and with Nasri on the left, the midfielder was more direct and beat his man on a number of times. The last changed moved Nasri more centrally in an attacking 4-2-4 and his drive gave Arsenal a sniff of a comeback with two goals.
by Guardian Chalkboards
<Figure 2>Samir Nasri’s pass attempts leading up to the first substitution.
Nasri has a hectic week after playing 120 minutes against Tottenham and was expected again to provide the ammunition for Arsenal. However, before his move to the left, he failed to get the ball past an obdurate West Brom backline but looked better as the urgency increased.
West Bromwich Albion 3 – 2 Arsenal: Odemwingie 50, Jara 52, Thomas, 73 Nasri 75, 90
|Arsenal||Team Statistics (OPTA)||West Bromwich Albion|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|6||Shots on Target||5|
|11||Shots off Target||2|
Filed under: Match Analysis
Tagged: Match Analysis
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