The Arsenal Column

Arsenal Analysis and Tactics. All views expressed are those of Pat Rice. (Disclaimer: they are actually not his words).

Arsenal 3-1 Partizan Belgrade: Functional Arsenal invigorated by Theo Walcott

Arsenal’s defenders can do nothing right. Never mind the weak cover given by the two holding midfielders and the lack of pressure on the left midfielder, Sasa Ilic; for the goal, Laurent Kosicleny and Sebastien Squilacci were left exposed to one through ball down the centre. Granted Squillaci was bamboozled by Almani Moreira’s run before Cléo shot to equalise, but the pair were untroubled before then yet still find themselves to blame for a labouring Arsenal performance.

Andrey Arshavin, before the game, indicated the work being done by his attacking team-mates has not been of a satisfactory level to provide protection to his defenders but this time round, it was their lack of penetration that was the issue. Arsene Wenger’s romantic ideals mean the defence is likely to be exposed more than their credibility deserves so this time he was compelled to start Denilson ahead of Jack Wilshere. The key reason, with Arsenal needing a win, was because of the return of Robin van Persie to the starting line-up playing just behind Marouanne Chamakh. A balancing job was required and the youthful thrust of Wilshere was sacrificed for the stability of Denilson – thereby allowing van Persie to play with the freedom to inspire Arsenal through. However, the selection didn’t have the desired effect as play was stale and the interchange too slow.

“It was a bit of a low-key game because we didn’t find our pace in the game,” said Wenger. “We couldn’t find openings in their defence. They defended very well, they were focused on closing us down everywhere. We were just below our normal pace. You have to give them credit, they defended very well and on every single ball they closed us down. I felt our speed of passing was not incisive enough and it was a bit nervous as well.”

Robin van Persie had a key role to play as the link-man between midfield and attack but all too often sought a compromise between the two. Whether pressing as a third midfielder or a second striker, he was unable too find the correct balance and found himself drifting between the two. As a result, the two holding midfielders of Arsenal were forced to drop back rather than press as Wenger wanted to in home Champions League matches. As an attacking element, Arsenal as a whole were stifled by Partizan’s two holding midfielders – the rangy and uncomplicated Radoslav Petrovic was particularly impressive. Van Persie himself would have himself been disappointed by his impact. It seems the geometry in his passing is more suited higher up the pitch but with match sharpness always improving, it is obvious his quality brings an edge to Arsenal’s game. ”I was not completely happy with our offensive game tonight,” said Wenger. “But I will have to watch that again. Maybe it was down to the quality of Partizan’s defending because I felt they defended in a very intelligent way and very well. I will have to analyse that a bit better.”

Indeed, Partizan did defend well although Arsenal did contrive to making it easier for them. Chamakh was unable to get in behind the Belgrade defence while Arshavin found himself surrounded by three black shirts every time he received the ball. The combination of Samir Nasri and Bakary Sagna seemed most likely to be where the two goals would come from in the first-half. In the end, it was Theo Walcott’s substitution which invigorated Arsenal. Suddenly there was a direct threat for Partizan to contend with and someone who stretched Arsenal’s play from the narrow to the wide. His goal was taken with great composure as Sagna’s cross was headed foolishly to his path by Marko Jovanovic. Nasri finally tied things up with a neat finish as good work between Song and the Frenchman opened up space for him to shoot. The attacking impetus provided from the two central midfielders is often understated this season and Song’s drive was what Arsenal were lacking in the first-half. Jack Wilshere’s contribution in that part of the pitch was perhaps a bigger miss than it would have seemed when the line-ups where announced as Arsenal understandably went for a top heavy approach.

The construction of a great football team takes into equal consideration every facet of the team’s dynamics and Arsenal has found, it must function as a unit to be most effective.

<Figure 1>Arsenal’s average positioning shows how Walcott’s introduction helped stretch the game. The main striker, Marouanne Chamakh’s touches occurred too deep to pull Partizan’s defence around. Walcott gave much needed penetration although Nasri was lively and his pace gave the left-back and left-midfielder a different proposition altogether. (Note; this formation is not a 4-4-2, rather containing features of the system but more closer to a 4-2-3-1). Graphic courtesy of ESPN Soccernet.

Numbers: 21. Lukasz Fabianski, 2. Bacary Sagna, 28. Kieran Gibbs (27. Emmanuel Eboue, 24), 6. Laurent Koscielny, 18. Sebastien Squillaci; 17. Alexandre Song, 15. Denilson; 8.Samir Nasri, 10. Robin van Persie, 23. Andrey Arshavin (14. Theo Walcott, 67); 23. Marouane Chamakh (52. Nicklas Bendtner, 76),

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2 Responses to “Arsenal 3-1 Partizan Belgrade: Functional Arsenal invigorated by Theo Walcott”

  1. drwtw says:

    I felt the game was crying out for Rosicky and Walcott.

    Arshavin isn’t renowned for tidy play and Partizan really forced his play and by the time he came off was becoming a bit of a liability in our attempts to control the game and break through the defence. Walcott, as we’ve seen throughout this season, has been the natural replacement in these situations, offering directness but stretching the play, getting in behind and it paid off once again.

    RvP was struggling to define his role and seemed unsure as to whether he should be playing as a shadow striker or an attacking midfielder and ended up not really playing either. So while it wasn’t a bad performance I think Rosicky would have brought a level of calmness and structure to our approach, with the added benefit of being capable of similar driving dribles between the midfield and final third that Arshavin contributes.

    My biggest concern of late has been our inability to impose our passing and control the game, we haven’t looked assured in possession over a whole 90minutes for a while now.

    On the positive side of things Sagna was excellent right up until he was sent off (I think he had to make the challenge at that point) and I think is finally hitting his 07/08 form, which is quite vital to the role he has in the team given his greater involvement in the build up play. He’ll be really missed in the first leg of the knockout stages, especially if we face Barcelona or Real Madrid.

    Denilson really grew into the game after a largely anonymous start, really enjoyed his performance and hope he can start upping his game again. It’s just a shame he seems to have genuinely lost all pace, he was never particularly fast but he now seems very slow (this season and last), as it’s one attribute that you can’t really ignore in the EPL.

    What struck me was how well Partizan played, I think they’ve been genuinely unlucky not to have picked up a single point and have made Arsenal’s group look far easier than it was. It will be interesting to see how Shaktar do in the next round (and Braga in the UEFA cup) but they are certainly a solid team capable of giving any of the second place teams a run for their money.

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    The Brain Reply:

    Your analysis on Roiscky is spot on. He has been subbed the last few games, maybe due to fitness and part his dynamism, but he does have a presence and know-how which the team needs. His individual impact may not have been so obvious recently but it has a strong effect on team. Arshavin particularly seems to revel in the movement he makes.

    Sagna has been perfect thus far although that is now spoilt by the red card. Denilson has an assuring presence on the ball but off it, needs a bit of work. His pace is not great as you say, but with Arsenal’s system, it;s going to demand him to use it because a move breaking down will mean he needs to conjure up intensity to track back. A weakness.

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