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

Yossi Benayoun selection epitomises Arsenal’s philosophy in derby win

At 34 minutes, it seemed like the balance of power had indubitably shifted towards the white of North London. 34 minutes later, it had appeared as if it had never moved. Tottenham Hotspur had taken a two goal lead and confirmed that the difference between the swashbuckle of the two sides was the end product. However Arsenal, often too ready to accept their role as beautiful martyrs and they had full right to be aggrieved when they fell behind further to a dubious penalty won by Garethe Bale, did not wallow in their adversity and responded emphatically. Everything went right for them with Arsène Wenger claiming it was a “perfect performance”.

This was how Arsenal always wanted to win. Perhaps it was not part of the plan to fall two goals behind to Tottenham Hotspur but that seems to get the best out of them – they drew inspiration from the 3-2 win against Aston Villa for their latest comeback. But they played with a refreshing desire and togetherness, set on the backdrop of Robin van Persie’s heartfelt promise to fans to expect better in Sunday’s The Sun, that should set the benchmark for a strong end to the season. They’ve felt this before, though, when they defeated Barcelona 2-1 at home but as Paolo Bandini said on Football Weekly, it was probably The Emirates’ “signature moment” as Arsenal delivered a strong performance for lengthy periods. “Today we gave a performance that on the spirit side, the technical side, the drive of the whole team, on the style of the game we want to play everything was perfect despite a very bad start,” said Arsène Wenger. “I felt in the first five minutes Tottenham started well, after that it was all us for 85 minutes.”

In some respects, there was nothing new about Arsenal’s performance. In fact, you might even described it as their “gung-ho” style working perfectly because while it, at times, left them exposed at the back, such as the build up for Spurs’ opener, it was the right mix of intensity and technical level. If they want to concede less goals, they’d probably have to demand an even greater share of the possession and/or compress the space quicker when they lose it. Arsenal’s rapid and intense brand of football is resource-heavy and creates undue strain at the back. But as the rest of the game foretold: if Arsenal attack like this, it is their defence. In that sense, it was strange to see Tottenham cut off so much of their attacking threat in the second-half as while they probably did the right thing, congesting the middle of the pitch by moving to a 4-5-1/4-3-2-1 with Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart roaming, it narrowed the space for their key player – Bale, who was superb in the first-half – to cause damage. (And it was even more strange to see him shunted to the right for the majority of the second-half; it was probably a case of Harry Redknapp looking to get more of their best player by giving him freedom but he sacrificed the rest of the team to try and squeeze more out of one).

Arsenal were excellent – pulsating at times. Robin van Persie led by example and he confirmed his status as the most hard-working player in the league with another tireless shift (he runs on average 6.148 miles a game). He dragged Arsenal to their feet when on another day it might have dropped. Certainly, there was a noticeable shift in Arsenal’s mentality while Alex Song could be seen geeing his team up when they fell behind on four minutes. The midfield swirled and snarled at Tottenham’s attackers to try and win the ball back and then kept the ball brilliantly to sustain the pressure. And while Mikel Arteta probed and prompted, Tomáš Rosický gave a direction to Arsenal’s attacks and his goal to put Arsenal in the lead, epitomised their philosophy. As Theo Walcott played the ball into the box following a furious counter-attack, The Gunners had four men waiting to receive the pass.

Talk of “philosophy” implicitly imbues it with a kind of moral superiority that tends to irritate but this performance gave it back to Arsenal when it had seemed as if it had deserted them this season. The selection of Yossi Benayoun epitomised that, signalling Arsenal’s intention and their ideologue for the match. He wasn’t starting by default just because Andrey Arshavin had left. No, this is a player who has finally got his chance – his deserved chance. In his short period at Arsenal, Benayoun has shown a willingness for the fight and a refreshing patience to wait for his opportunity. He scored a header in the last minutes against Aston Villa and the reaction of his team-mates said it all; they were wishing it on him to score. Add to that he was thrown in in not too favourable conditions away to Borussia Dortmund (and Swansea City), in the unfamiliar position of central midfield and was tasked with taking a creative mantle in the Carling Cup. It’s just a shame in the past few seasons, his talent has never been rewarded with starting spots. At Liverpool, he had an in-out relationship with Rafael Benitez while Andre Villas-Boas wasn’t willing to take the punt with him, in either the wide striker roles or in the centre in his 4-3-3. It’s a similar scenario at Arsenal where, if he had come in another season where the ideological slant hadn’t shifted slightly away from the intricate towards the direct, then he surely would have played more often.

Perhaps at first glance, Benayoun’s selection doesn’t seem as significant as it is being made out in this article. But Arsenal have struggled for fluency this season, with Arsène Wenger admitting that the team is a “little bit less good than last year with possession of the ball.” And he has admitted that the three-striker system was almost an experiment; one which has surely now ended or at least, shown it’s limitations against the top sides. “When we played for a long period with Gervinho, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott we were dangerous, basically, always through our wings, but a little less in control possession wise,” he said. “It was not a conscious thing but it’s just we found Gervinho, who did well, and we tried to find a system that can accommodate Walcott and Gervinho.”

With Arsenal suffering in past derbies from a lack of control, Wenger got it correct tactically by playing the Israeli midfielder. With Benayoun frequently involved in the build up, Arsenal refound their control and swagger. No longer did Robin van Persie remain exclusive to a poacher’s role; he roamed around the pitch, dropped off his marker and was allowed to spontaneous again. His goal to equaliser was the perfect expression of his new-found freedom as he curled the ball into the corner from the edge of the box. And Wenger knew, with Benayoun’s presence as a half-winger on the other side, it would eventually see Theo Walcott come good. Indeed, Arsenal’s set up changed slightly in the second-half with Benayoun tucking in and Alex Song dropping deeper thus allowing Walcott to push up; it’s something they have experimented during Thierry Henry’s brief spell at the club. But with Spurs playing more narrow, it allowed Theo Walcott to get behind constantly and Arsenal’s formation flitted in and out of their 4-3-3 to a slanted 4-4-2. Walcott profited and punished in a match where, not only did Arsenal wrestle back the balance of power back to red and white of North London, but they also rediscovered their identity.

Arsenal 5-2 Tottenham Hotspur: Saha 4, Adebayor (pen) 34, Sagna 40, van Persie 43, Rosicky 51, Walcott 65, Walcott 68.

Some Chalkboards….

1. Arsenal squeeze the space

If Arsenal played with a spirit and desire to get the ball back quickly, it can be showen by the graphic for their interceptions. The ball was rarely won in their defensive third but in the middle third of the pitch. Arsenal began with a fervour and while the lack of interceptions in defence might show how well Tottenham stretched play in the early periods – Arsenal 11 of those interceptions in the first-half alone – it also showed Arsenal’s determination to compress space and play up the pitch. Perhaps Arsenal were a bit nervous at the start abecause once they gained their composure, they were imperious and could sit back and soak Tottenham’s meek pressure. (As ever, click to enlarge).

2. Bacary Sagna v Kieran Gibbs

The return of two natural full-backs saw the return of Arsenal’s right-side bias with 42% of attacks stemming from that side (the average has been 36% down the right and 31% down the left). This means the two full-backs play slightly differently. Bacary Sagna plays a supporting role, always looking to make himself available in possession while Kieran Gibbs is generally more reserved; his forays forward are often more selective (he was involved in the build up for the first, coming forward late).

3. Theo Walcott makes his presence felt in 2nd-half

Wenger admitted he was thinking about taking Theo Walcott off at half-time but decided against it; the momentum was with Arsenal and that increased the likelihood, especially as Spurs might have to push forward now, to release him. It happened – three times in fact – all in the second-half and of course, he got the two goals (and had a 100% pass accuracy too).

And while Tottenham nullified Walcott in the first-half as shown by the tackles on the right, the change of shape in both sides meant that it happened less in the second. Theo Walcott got behind easily as the Spurs formation narrowed.

4. Thomas Vermaelen’s no-nonsense approach

Thomas Vermaelen had a difficult opening period. He was constantly sucked out of position as his impetuousness can often leave him exposed. Too often, he tried to attack the ball too early and Spurs got away on a couple of occasions (although Laurent Koscielny was also guilty of that for the first goal). Vermaelen has played much of his recent games at left-back so over-zealous approach will need time to curb. Nevertheless, he showed that he has the all-round ability to replace Per Mertesacker – who was beginning to come into his own before his injury  – as he completed the most clearances for Arsenal – ground and aerial (3/5 headed clearances and 4/4 aerial duels won).

5. Alex Song pivotal

It’s argued Alex Song’s forward runs can sometimes be detrimental to the team balance but that’s untrue because it’s usually selective when he gets up the pitch. This can be shown by the assist he made for Arsenal’s fifth but in the second-half, he almost completely reigned his attacking instincts and just sat in front of the back four – often very deep – to allow the other midfielders to play. He was probably the most underrated of the six attacking players yesterday but just as pivotal.

Filed under: Match Analysis

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30 Responses to “Yossi Benayoun selection epitomises Arsenal’s philosophy in derby win”

  1. Ario says:

    Would it be a bit dense of me to take from this article that basically, Arsene has decided to play last years system again, but with Benayoun instead of Nasri, and a choice of Gervinho/Theo/AOC on the opposite wings, and Rosicky/Ramsey instead of Cesc?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 2

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Ario,

    Yes! It’s been long coming though. The three-striker system can be deadly on it’s day but we neither possess the horizontal creativity nor the ability to keep the ball for long periods against the TOP clubs to be used all the time. This gave the best balance.

    Even in the last North London derby with Gervinho and Walcott flanking, we saw the danger when one cut in. It just doesn’t happen often – and understandably so when you have two wide players – with the three striker system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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  2. Jared says:

    Theo looked so much better pushing up and coming through the center.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Jared,

    But I don’t think anyone should be hasty and say this shows he can play as a number 9 (not that you are). It was a slanted 4-3-3 that allowed the release to Walcott behind often (although Spurs played into our hands somewhat. However, that may indicate an opportunity to use it against Milan although I’m sure they won’t push up as much as Totts did – unless we force them to, that is).

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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    Woolwich Peripatetic Reply:

    @Arsenal Column,
    We’re only going to force Milan to open up if we put five past them without reply. I’m expecting some extremely negative football from Milan, as let’s face it, a four goal lead and no Away goals conceded is an invitation to sit back and defend for ninety minutes. They aren’t Barca, they aren’t going to attack from the outset and get picked off on the break in a Keegan-esque manner, although for the good of football (if not Arsenal) them going for an away goal to seal the tie would be perfect.
    A quick skim of the “Book of Pulis” suggests our players force their LB into possession and then pressure him mercilessly. Concentrating all our offensive play into that zone would give their defence some real problems.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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  3. Wombledin says:

    You’re reading too much into one game. See what happens in the next four tricky games v Liverpool, Milan, Newc & Everton, then we might have some idea. Then we’ll know more whether some kind of corner has been turned or this is just another false down like the Chelsea game earlier this season.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 3 Thumb down 15

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  4. SJTGooner says:

    Would have preferred some facts to go with the theory. Benayoun was missing for most of the game. Doubt he contributed half as much as you think. Might have offered more defensively though.

    On a broader point, agree with you on the need for another player who can hold the ball and move it around. But Benayoun just seems like a poor man’s Nasri. Will never get too many starts as he just isn’t good enough. Don’t expect him to stay at Arsenal at the end of the season.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 2 Thumb down 20

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    anonymous Reply:

    I thought Benayoun played wonderfully the other day. He gave us more technicality and intricacy, as well as a greater drive and incision through the middle. He is very industrious and his defensive contributions should not be understated as well.
    I hope Arsene starts him from now on because, as stated in the article, he gives us a balance between the technical and the direct.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

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  5. gary says:

    Just to make sure credit is given were its due. Bacary Sagna set up Rosicky’s goal, not Theo. Theo was superb though. Don’t think anyones ever doubted his pace and finishing however. Just his overall game!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

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  6. Daniel Wong says:

    So Wenger has redeemed himself but it won’t happen all the time.The next time another team may stop the gunners from playing ie.clog the md.Then Arsenal as has been in past games are unable to impose their superior technical skills and will be beaten by a pack of journey men or artisans.
    Now Wenger says bad pitches stop the gunners from competing for trophies. Well what about other good teams?Its’the same for every team .The sooner he admits his tactics are the cause the better. He got them right against Spurs but against counter attack teams like Sunderland,Mu, etc.he won’t be so lucky.
    So the gunners made a healthy profit. I thought a successful team will generate profitsif they are winners..If the gunners keep on selling their best players,it shows they are unable to compete.This will impact on quality player s who may decide to join other teams.
    Don’t believe that if the gunners are unable to get the cl berth,they will get it the next season.No team has a divine right to cl qualification. The moment you exit,it will be that much harder to get back into it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 7

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    Alex Reply:

    You should become an Oracle Daniel or maybe a prophet, your name suits it. You dont need coaching badges, just get into club management. Also do buy lottery tickets, you may know the winning numbers in advance such are your skills in forecasting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

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  7. Ahmad says:

    I know that Arsenal have not won a trophy in 7 years and it is very frustrating for most fans. However, people need to remember that this season is one of transition. No way was Arsenal ever going to challenge for the League Title or Champions league after the loss of Fabregas-the icon of Arsenal’s new philosophy.

    I am satisfied that the team currently seems united and that we are in fourth place at the moment.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

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  8. craig says:

    Benayoun was fantastic, he seemed much more like the epic player he was with Liverpool and looks to be on form again.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

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  9. david says:

    Benayoun had the best passing% of our team on Sunday with 94% (Arteta was arguably better with 93% as he made 50 more passes) so it shows you what he offered, and it would back up the argument that he added the control in possession that Gervinho wouldn’t.
    I think the other thing that needs to be appreciated was the experience we had in midfield. Arteta/Rosicky/Benayoun is an average age of 30 and they aren’t players that are slowing.
    I feel we need to look at the system that Wenger wants to play which is 3 forwards Gervinho/RVP/Walcott but we have lacked that spark from midfield that Fabregas and Wilshere provided last year. Wilshere coming back will make us more offensive in the middle and i think it will be then, that we’ll see the front 3 be a lot more effective.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

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    Jared Reply:

    @david,

    I think that Arsene should abandon the three striker system.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

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  10. D says:

    There has been very little coverage on this blog (or anywhere else for that matter) on the amazing progression of Song this season. He has come from literally nowhere (Bastia via Charlton) to become, in my opinion, one of the best box-to-box midfielders in Europe. People have said that Parker is a better, but Song’s pass for the fifth goal was Fabregas quality and he consistently produces top level through balls that set up dangerous situations for the team.
    He only has two years left on his contract…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @D,

    Hi. Just in time, I’ve just added chalkboards to the piece. I’ve been thinking about Song myself recently: Is there any player comparable to Alex Song (past and present)? He plays as an enforcer but still threads through passes with alarming regularity. I was think Frank Rijkaard.

    Imagine Alex Song played a “floating” playmaker role in front of two ball-players. Probably too stylistic to try but it’d be interesting. I don’t think he’d be suited to special demands of the playmaker hence the ‘floating’ tag. Can offer drive and ability to win ball high up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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    Jared Reply:

    @Arsenal Column,

    Is he our version of a Regista ?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    D Reply:

    @Arsenal Column, The only caveat I have with playing Song further up the pitch is that, as you suggested, he doesn’t appear to have the right level of finishing you need, plus currently Arsenal desperatly need his drive and power in defensive phases. It will be very interesting to watch his development however and fingers-crossed if he continues to develop like he has been, he could turn out to be the real (un-Song) star of this Arsenal midfield.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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    david Reply:

    maybe he compares a little bit inthat way to Pep Guardiola?, he isn’t as good a passer as Pep was, but he’s a deep lying player that makes a lot of throughballs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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    The Brain Reply:

    @david,

    Like this:

    Although, this is why I was going for Rijkaard. Not the most technically accomplished but given a shared role, he’d make his fair share of passes:

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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  11. kaneprior says:

    Arsenal were the better team in this match. They got here fullbacks forward through out, and sagna in particular was one of the best players on the pitch, he helped overload BAE and was key in three of the goals. Arteta and Song in deep positions helped dominate possession, neither were pressed well by Spurs and found space easily. Arteta in particular was fantastic, never putting a foot wrong. Song has improved massively on the technical side of his game, but actually today didnt defend that well, he should have pressed Modric more in my opinion – especially in the first half, as he was the player getting the ball forward.

    They key attacking wise, was Rosicky, Benayoun and Van persie creating triangles around Parker, with modric no where to be seen. This forced Harry to bring on Sandro, but they were still outnumbered in that zone, and if anything they sacrificed the advantage they had over the arsenal CB’s. Van persie was fantastic, I have been wanting to to return to this role all season, where he allowed to drop deep more and get involved in build up play. I think this also gets the best out of walcott, who can then make runs into the centre to get into goalscoring positions. Though this can face problems when up against team sitting deep, they would still fare better defensively by having more of the ball.

    The best players on the pitch were Van persie and Sagna, never stopped running and gave Arsenal the advantage in their zones.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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    kaneprior Reply:

    @kaneprior,

    Also, read my blog if your interested http://economicinterest.wordpress.com/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    Jared Reply:

    @kaneprior,

    Right, then Walcott can run from deep to get on to a through ball, that way he won’t have to think to much and rely on instinct to finish.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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  12. Misho says:

    I have a hard time figure out what is the reason, for us not pressing like this all the matches. It can be

    1) intensitive pressing drops the players stamina and they cant perform like this in a series of games.
    2) high pressing makes the team vulnerable against fast, counterattacking and direct football.

    What do you think, ArsenalColumn?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    [Reply]

    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Misho,

    It’s a strange one. I tend to rule out any conclusions to do with stamina because all clubs tend to succumb to it in a match and it all depends on who has the strongest will-power.

    I think we all look at Barcelona as the blueprint (although recently, by not playing forwards in attack – they use midfielders such as Cesc and Iniesta – they’ve not been as effective, perhaps because forwards offer a different, more forward thinking mentality). Much has been made of how Barca have been taught to pass and move at La Masia but the tutoring of pressing and through-marking must also help to economise energy, one advantage that they have.

    I think Wenger’s trying to find a balance of being compact – this season that has meant dropping back and then pressing rather than up the pitch. I write in this post that Arsenal’s rapid style perhaps makes it harder to press because we commit too many forward , too intensively. Maybe if we keep the ball longer thus having the men in position to press when we lose it (and force the opposition back at the same time) it might be easier to compress the space.

    Pressing is a conundrum (and some ways a myth) that no-one has been able to answer effectively. Some days it can go perfectly right like Germany have shown in World Cup 2010 but others, teams can take advantage. Somehow Wenger is looking to squeeze the space; even if you look at our 2-1 win v Barca, we played like Sacchi’s Milan by compressing space in the middle third of the pitch but they still exposed our high line, showing how hard – even if it was our best defensive performance – it is to keep a progressive shape in defence.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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  13. savagegooner says:

    […] the tactically inclined nature then Chronicles of Almunia has done a piece [I know!] and as always Arsenal Column is worth a […]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. John says:

    Does this mean Hazard will be a high priority signing this summer because he is a similar sort of player as Nasri and Benayoun but a much better version especially of the latter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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  15. Tee Song says:

    Interesting and excellent analysis, as always. For me the most interesting aspect of this victory was Arsenal’s commitment to attacking quickly when possession was regained. While our first goal resulted from a sustained two plus minute spell of pressure in which we pinned the tiny tots in their half, all four subsequent goals resulted from very quick attacks. Van Persie’s equalizer resulted from Song gaining possession just in our half and carrying the ball quickly forward and trying an over the top pass to Walcott which forced the poor clearance for Robin to collect at the top of the box. Rosicky’s go ahead goal came a mere 15 seconds and six passes after Song picked up the ball following Verminator dispossessing Adebawhore. Theo’s first came after Rosicky collected Kaboul’s misdirected header and released van Persie who held it up and passed to the onrushing Walcott. And the last came after excellent pressing by the forwards and midfielders resulted in a hoofed clearance by King, Song getting the ball and playing a first time pass for Walcott to run onto. Yes, we did carve out some decent chances from our possession game but I think it’s instructive that even as we dominated possession, our best chances came from committing to counter attacking football.

    Defensively, ZM had a very interesting observation that Arsenal rarely play against sides with two out and out forwards and that we’ve had problems against sides who set up like that. Playing against two forwards means that our central defenders have no spare man, especially with our fullbacks so committed to attack. Following the movements of Ade and Saha often caused wide gaps which were exploited by late runners. Against Milan’s 4-3-1-2 diamond we suffered similarly, with Ibra’s movement in particular causing problems. In my opinion, Song’s positioning becomes very important against teams which deploy two forwards as he is in the best position to be the spare man. In the first half, the lack of coordination between Song, Koz, and TV5 allowed spurs some good chances. Interestingly, by taking off the extra forward and trying to pack the midfield and win that battle, ‘arry may have actually removed the only tactical advantage he had because I’m not sure we would have been able to make the necessary adjustments. Spurs actually looked much less dangerous after the break. Of course, that may have been due to being smacked upside the head by an Arsenal train! It makes me wonder if Daiglish will try to pair Suarez and Carroll in the upcoming game at Anfield. Poor finishing aside, the buck toothed, racist, hand-balling, ear biter can certainly cause problems with his movement.

    As for Alex Song, he continues to be under appreciated by the mainstream media. He has become a lynchpin of the side. In addition to his defensive prowess (coordination problems vs tiny tots aside), he was significantly involved in FOUR of Arsenal’s goals on Sunday. I believe his contract situation is similar to Theo’s and RvP’s and it’s just as important to get him to agree to a contract renewal as those two. I daresay if I had to choose between Song and Theo, I’d pick Alex.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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    The Brain Reply:

    @Tee Song,

    Hi. I did actually see ZM’s video and it’s a great point that you make on Song’s importance, making sure he is the spare man, although, I do think he can suffer also from a lack of Arsenal’s overall compactness.

    It might be important to note that in the second-half, whether he was pushed back by Spurs possession keeping or Arsenal’s tactical/formation shift towards being more secure/taking advantage of transitions, he dropped very far back, in fact almost as the third defender. I think this flexibility is important and Arsenal could do it more; Suarez’s movement is often superb – and Henderson makes some great runs – that he must watch.

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