Alex Song lays the platform for young Gunners to dominate
They say that all formations are neutral; it’s the application that decides their failures and success. And indeed, in Arsenal’s 1-0 win over Manchester United, the subtleties of the two systems played a key part in the outcome of the game.
Arsenal started with their usual 4-2-3-1 shape but were handed a blow before kick-off when Cesc Fábregas was ruled out in the warm-ups. Aaron Ramsey was drafted in – ahead of both Abou Diaby and Andrey Arshavin – which indicated that Arséne Wenger wanted control both on and off the ball. They did as it happened, as The Gunners monopolised possession for two-thirds of the game and while that was expected, Manchester United’s system, perhaps, gave Arsenal more respect than it ought.
Of course, how the system functions is down to the players but United’s 4-4-1-1 proceeded to stifle their game rather than assist it. The two wide men were, in the end, too preoccupied in defensive duties to provide support to Javier Hernandez and Wayne Rooney. Certainly, that’s expected of Ji Sung Park but Luis Nani? It just seemed a waste of his talents to have him endlessly track back. In the reverse fixture earlier this season, Sir Alex Ferguson deployed a 4-3-3/4-5-1 which not only allowed United to match up in the centre but also gave the wingers freedom to attack and close down Arsenal’s propensity to commit full-backs forward. Here though, with Nani and Park filtering back to make two straight lines, Gael Clichy – the weak-link in Arsenal’s backline – was allowed to get forward in the first-half and only troubled till much later in the game.
The game’s most intriguing tactical encounter, though, was in the centre of midfield between Wayne Rooney and Alex Song as both players effectively took turns to try and wipe each other out of the game. Rooney dropped back to make an extra man in midfield while the Cameroon midfielder tried to stop Rooney influencing. But Arsenal have faced this sort of situation before therefore Wenger detailed his midfielders to push forward when they had the ball at the back. United weren’t pressing very hard and while Rooney attempted to mark Song, it meant he was forced ever deeper to track his runs. It was, perhaps, for the best that he eventually gave up the ghost rather than being tied up in a game of cat and mouse because Arsenal just had more options.
Aaron Ramsey, starting the highest, dropped deep to pick up possession and this gave Jack Wilshere the space to get forward. Both alternated getting forward and as a result, Arsenal’s game was very fluid with lots of options around the box. There was something menacing about Arsenal’s willingness to spray the ball wide and get men around the box – more than in recent games. You can argue that there was a lack of end product but at least there were options for Theo Walcott to aim at while Wilshere’s powerful running was a huge problem for United. Robin van Persie rarely played in an orthodox manner, dragging Vidic and Ferdinand out of position and was denied a goal when the former used illegal measures to stop a Walcott cross. It was a most mature of Arsenal performances led by Robin van Persie.
Arsenal’s general shape flitted in and out of a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-3-3 with Alex Song usually the deepest. He shuttled left and right to cover space while Ramsey played a more disciplined box-to-box role as opposed to an attacking midfielder as he did against West Bromwich Albion – his only start in this season. (It must be noted that Arsenal’s best performances have come when Cesc Fábregas performs this duty but seemingly, the pressure at times, to score an extra goal can have a negative effect). Jack Wilshere revelled in the extra space he was afforded and often got beyond United’s static midfield. It was almost the “England problem” again for Sir Alex Ferguson as Michael Carrick and Anderson were limited to marking zones. Ultimately, their formation was too rigid in its practice while Arsenal’s young schemers worked in tandem to play around the lines. The fluid roles gave the midfield and ambiguity and that made it hard for United to mark. Rooney tried to mark Song out of the game but every time he got close, Ramsey or Wilshere dropped deep (see figure 1) to negate his own negating tactics. In a week which Wenger admitted that Fábregas has carried too much of a burden, Arsenal’s midfielders rose to the occasion to carry some of the weight off him.
<Figure 1> With Rooney looking to mark Song and make a 4-4-1-1 shape, Ramsey constantly dropped short to pick up the ball to nullify United’s tactic. Ramsey was often the out-ball for Arsenal’s defence and while he wasn’t the same creative spark Fábregas is, added his own quality, namely spreading the ball wide and knitting Arsenal’s play. He made 29 passes in the opponents half – the most in the game (via Orbinho).
by Guardian Chalkboards
<Figure 2> Arsenal held more of a 4-3-3 shape against United, with Song the deepest. This layout was similar to the role he played last season, being the blocker of counter-attacks and holding Arsenal’s shape. Song made five tackles, all won and 4 interceptions, the graphic showing how across the pitch he covered. He also committed five fouls, two in dangerous positions; one rather unlucky and one not. Perhaps, there’s an element of strategic fouling in his part as he stopped dangerous United attacks from developing. His passing was also very assured. (OPTA).
Filed under: Match Analysis
Tagged: Man Utd, Match Analysis, Ramsey, Song, Wilshere
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