The Arsenal Column

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

Six points on Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle United

1. We’re witnessing the real Arsenal now

Some of the crowd left early but for the rest who stayed, there was a sense of expectedness about Arsenal’s last-minute winner. It came in the fifth minute of injury time as Thomas Vermaelen bundled in a cross from Theo Walcott; never mind that it came from the right-hand side or that Vermaelen constantly got forward, this was another example of Arsenal’s mental strength. With the victory, Arsenal have become the first Premier League side to win four consecutive matches having fallen behind initially. Perhaps, it’s not the most desired recognition because it means Arsenal have teething issues within but for a club which hasn’t consistently faltered in the final stages in the last few season, this shows a quality which Arsenal have, in the past, lacked.

But back to the deficiencies and it seems The Gunners can’t seem to find a balance between their typical “gung-ho” style and playing a little bit cautiousness from the start. Indeed, it must be noted that when they went unbeaten in eight games from October to mid-December, Arsenal typically won by low scores, usually delivered by Robin van Persie. Against Newcastle United, van Persie wasn’t required to be at his best (although his movement continues to be superb) and it was the same against Milan but Arsenal still produced a performance of great character and substance. Perhaps Arsenal are finally coming to their own with only 3rd place to concentrate on. Because now they can take the risks that their play wants as they know they have more recovery time if they expend all their energy. And certainly, it showed as Arsenal pressed more proactively against Newcastle than they generally have this season, usually winning the ball higher up the pitch.

Arsenal's zealousness can be shown by where they won the ball and subsequently the fouls they made - which were generally up the pitch. In that instance, Tomas Rosicky was key in setting Arsenal's tempo when the ball was turned-over, contributing to nine of the tackles and interceptions Arsenal made.

In the match programme, Arsène Wenger said that Arsenal ”can play at a pace that, arguably, nobody (else) can sustain” and as we’ve seen this season, that involves taking full advantage of the side’s speed. In a sense, the game reasserted the new way Arsenal  look to break down sides now, shorn of a central creative figure like Jack Wilshere of Cesc Fábregas, as they’re always looking for the quick release behind otherwise, everything goes down the flanks. Theo Walcott was superb, dovetailing with Bacary Sagna while van Persie’s movement was always sought, either from a ball over the top or through by Alex Song or a cross from out wide. But the reason why Arsenal have found such a holistic style this late in the season, might probably fall down to the fact that the team is now settling into habitual patterns and the cautiousness that we saw early season, having stemmed from a certain unfamiliarity with each other. Because, as much as the signings might have been reactionary, it takes a lot more time and integration to alter mindsets and get a team to properly know each other and finally, Arsenal look in tune.

Arsenal produce 9.4 successful dribbles per game – the most of any club in England.

— Arsenal Statman (@ArsenalPortal) March 12, 2012

2. Arsenal profit from a right-side bias

Tactically, much of Arsenal’s success came from the flanks, especially on the right-hand side. Arsenal gave a glimpse of that tactic early on, by aiming goal-kicks at Bacary Sagna and twice he freed Theo Walcott behind. The focus on that side – as it has been for much of the season – was paying off as Jonas Gutierrez was often forced all the way back and even as the defensive winger, he was not getting any joy out of it. Theo Walcott dovetailed with Sagna superbly as they constantly took on their man and aimed in crosses – most encouragingly, low ones too. On the other side, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, couldn’t force himself into the game as Tomáš Rosický – the midfielder who tends to drift left – was similarly dragged to the right. Indeed, it was more discernible on Monday night that Arsenal favour the right side because of the pace of their attacks but this season, the majority of play has tended to operate towards that side. (The season  average is at 37% for attacks origination from the right, and 30% from the left).

3. Van Persie scores when he wants

Arsenal only needed a minute to cancel out Newcastle’s goal with Robin van Persie putting the finishing touches to a equally swift move. Actually, it required three touches to be precise and each one was as devastating as it was expert; his first was to kill off Theo Walcott’s fizzing cross and open up his body, his second to take it away from the defender and the third, a powerful shot into the corner. The nature of Arsenal’s winner overshadowed the quality of the first and again van Persie showed why he is the best striker in the world at the moment. Indeed, his evolution is slightly going against convention in the fact that he’s playing more conventionally because the two best players in the world, Ronaldo and Messi, have scored all their goals unorthodox roles. It must be admired then, how van Persie has refined his game to resist his natural urges to continually drop deep and now all his instincts have gone towards getting onto the final ball. His movement was superb – wizardy almost – as he continuously spun off his marker to find space. Michael Williamson will attest to that when he was beaten for the first.

4. Newcastle’s approach

Considering that Newcastle United won so many aerial duels (19/28 although Demba Ba never won it in the box and while when they did, it was through a predetermined set-piece aimed at Williamson), it poses the question why they didn’t play two forwards. Of course, that would mean ceding a centre-midfield which they probably wouldn’t have won any way but it would have always gave them an outlet to get away from the battle in the centre. Cheik Tiote did a good job moving the ball and closing Arsenal down but whenever  he did get it forward, attacks often broke down straight away. And that’s because Arsenal squeezed the play well and won the ball back quickly. However, by choosing to go one forward and Gabriel Obertan operating off Ba, they played into Arsenal’s hand as Laurent Koscielny in particular, got to the ball first  constantly while, as we’re going to find out, it meant Vermaelen could get forward often without being a danger to his team (although the winner came when Newcastle switched to a 4-4-2).

5. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta switch roles

As Arsenal looked to press higher, Alex Song was used mainly in a box-to-box role. The truth is, that has been almost his default role this season as he has delivered some telling assists while Mikel Arteta dropped back naturally to pick up possession. But here, Song clearly started off with the brief to try and win the ball back higher up. Arteta on the other hand, kept the ball moving from deep, completing a weighty 52 passes in the first half. In the second half, Song dropped back while Arteta probed. But the Spaniard rarely uses his passing to penetrate and for a while, it looked like his technical ability would be better suited in a more advanced role. As it was, Song broke from his shackles and gave the drive for the move that eventually led to the winner.

6. Thomas Vermaelen leads the way forward

Barcelona’s use of midfielders in the backline points to a wider trend – that of a move to a purer game. Defenders are now required to have an almost faultless technical ability as they tend to have most of the ball and thus start attacks. With Vermaelen though, the centre-back offers more than playmaking because he’s also a goal-threat. So often in the game, he pushed up looking for that space to run into while Song dropped back. And often he was forced to abort his run as Newcastle blocked off the space. But he broke forward in the last minute – strode rather – while the rest ran full-bloodedly into the box. His movement is often superb and it’s no surprise that he found the ball at the back post unmarked – he already has two to his name from such runs and assisted Arteta against Wigan. Indeed, with Arsenal’s game seeking to give as much space to the centre-backs in the build up and the fact that they are usually the “spare” man, it can be such a dangerous weapon. Of course, it carries it’s inherent weaknesses but when you can get forward unmarked – and let’s face it, the striker will rarely track the centre-back – it can be a match-winner. Which it turned out to be.

Filed under: Match Analysis

25 Responses to “Six points on Arsenal 2-1 Newcastle United”

  1. Tim Krul says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

    Poorly-rated. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 83

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    RedCurrant Reply:

    Hey Tim Krul, surprised you have time to post a comment – shouldn’t you be off somewhere dragging your feet?

    tw@!

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 42 Thumb down 8

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  2. kaneprior says:

    I thought defensively Arsenal did well to stop the ball getting to Newcastle’s dangerous players. Obertan and Jonas rarely saw the ball, while Demba Ba was pressured into miss-controlling anything that came his way. Only Ben Arfa looked a threat, and it was him that got the opener for Newcastle by cutting inside Gibbs easily.

    Attacking wise Arsenal looked great. Sagna got forward throughout and it is noticeable that Walcott has looked much better with Sagna back to full fitness. Arteta completely controlled the game, recycling possession and making sure Arsenal kept the ball away from Newcastle, he was my man of the match for he, one of his best games yet.

    Walcott (with the help of Sagna) overloaded the LB, easily getting past him and into dangerous positions. He provided the penetration Arsenal needed and both goals came from his side.

    Van Persie and Rosicky were okay, both had good games, but it seemed they benefitted from the players around them doing better. Van persie scored a great goal and had a few chances, but wasnt heavily involved in build up today, while rosicky drove forward during the match well, but didnt actually create a lot of opportunities and was wasteful in front of goal.

    The downside of Arsenals game today was their left side seemed weak. Gibbs rarely got forward as he was pushed back by Ben Arfa and looked suspect when forced to defend. The Oxe missed Gibbs overlapping and let the game pass him by (not unexpected for a young player). Song was also disappointing for me, because while he kept possession well, his forward play wasn’t as effective as it has been and his pressing was poor. His passing lacked penetration (often picking the wrong choice) and he could have done more to press cabaye in my opinion. Ive really like Song going forward this season, but today he looked a bit off form, maybe the attention he has been getting has gone to his head.

    http://economicinterest.wordpress.com/2012/03/10/is-arsenal-the-economic-role-model-for-english-football/ My article about Arsenal as role models for other clubs, give a read if you like

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

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    Me Reply:

    @kaneprior, I stopped reading your comment because I noticed you talk shit after saying Rosicky benefited from those around him hahahahahaha. He was MOTM until he got taken off. Every single attack was set up through him in some way! Take your shades off pal

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

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    kaneprior Reply:

    @Me, I didn’t say he was bad, I said he was good driving forward from midfield. I just thought he didnt create as well as he has done recently, while he wasted quite a few goal scoring chances with some poor finishing. Arsenal had to wait till late on to win a game they dominated, and I think this was in part to rosicky being wasteful. But maybe i am being a bit harsh.

    Arsenal looked much better when they got the ball to Walcott and Sagna though, they always looked like creating a clear chance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @kaneprior and @Me,

    I certainly felt Rosicky took a while to get going but when he did, he attempted to instil more urgency in the team. In the end, his influence didn’t tell enough and tired; putting on Ramsey was the right choice in this instance, he does well when he comes on.

    I actually think Arsenal look more clinical now; granted they wasted a few good chances but the speed of the chance they eventually create is so hard to defend – they weren’t doing that earlier in the season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

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  3. Tonio says:

    Your analysis is often accurate. For instance, you’ve often pointed-out Arsenal’s bias towards the right; and boy, was it evident! My worry is that David Moyes (and many others) might take note of this (if not already) and frustrate our push for 3rd place. The cliched ‘plan B’ is really needed.

    On the side note, I’m really anticipating the return of Jack Wilshere. Will Wenger continue using him in a deeper role (where he was remarkably successful last season) or ‘promote’ him to an advanced role (close to the RVP-position). Also, I feel Arteta could really do well in an advanced role coz I think he has the energy and the vision to excel there but may be AW thinks he’s more suited for a deeper role. This makes the return of Jack Wilshere all the more interesting.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Tonio,

    There are certain facets to Everton’s game which should cause problems but they are not as stubborn as older Moyes’s sides. Indeed, I think he will defend the left flank because we had joy in the home game against Baines and against Tottenham, he used Coleman in front of him, that time to stop Bale. Anticipate likewise.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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  4. lualua17 says:

    Toon fan here. Fully agree with your analysis of the match. I don’t think we were bad first half but just got pushed further and further back and started relying on the long ball tactics rather than our more effective passing game that we seem to only be able to use sporadically e.g at the end of the Sunderland game and at the beginning of the Wolves game. Would have liked to see two strikers however I understand why Pardew played 5 in midfield after thrashings away at Fulham and Tottenham. If playing 5 in midfield I would have preferred Guthrie to play rather than Obertan even though he provided the pass for the goal he did not do much else in the game. Anyway good luck for the rest of the season.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 0

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    david Reply:

    @lualua17,

    i think we have to give a lot of credit to Newcastle for the way they defended, and even though Krul was wasting time, he was brilliant for them during the game.
    I felt we could have got a few more goals, and probably deserved too.
    It’s about time we beat the Geordie’s anyway as it’s been a few games!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

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  5. Waleed says:

    Center halves attacking is a huge weapon.

    1. they have the element of surprise. No one expects a center half to be making those runs and no one tracks them. And they are always unmarked when in open play.

    2. Being center halves, they have energy conserved for late in the game. They don’t do as much running as forwards so deep runs from them can be very effective.

    3. And they have to be running from deep to be effective. The tactic of putting a big center half up front as a target man doesn’t work because you take away #1. If they are a constant presence in the attack third they WILL get marked.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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  6. Waleed says:

    Also, I think Newcastle’s approach is what made Walcott so dangerous, and us so biased towards his side.

    They set out to press us high up the pitch, and when teams do that we always look for Theo as the out-ball. We were always playing those early, direct balls for him to run onto and it worked really well.

    His threat on the break and against high lines is what makes him such a dangerous weapon against big teams. You either concede the midfield to Arsenal or let Theo Walcott roam free.

    His influence waned in the second half when Newcastle dropped deeper, but his passing and control (which was exceptional by his standards) meant he was always involved and created a few more chances.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Waleed,

    I agree. I noticed they tried to make a wall as the first line of pressure to stop us from passing it through but we did quite easily. Nevertheless, they were better in 1st half than in 2nd and deserved to go in level. I felt we were more functional than before; less fluid but it got the job done. Eventually. ;)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    Waleed Reply:

    @Arsenal Column, Agree. They did well to stop our passing in the first half, although I think they were fouling a lot and with a less lenient ref their plan would have come undone much sooner.
    Second half we were unstoppable and they gave up on pressing, went to the more orthodox 442 approach.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

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  7. Boris Godunov says:

    We don’t need any plan B, my fellow commentetor, when we got plan A (f…’em all up and then some), that’s why the gods of football are smiling at us. What’s better than winning a trophy? Breaking a record, which is what we did in this game. Godspeed, my beloved Gooners.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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  8. Daniel Wong says:

    Moyes will try to frustrate the gunners by flooding the mdf. He will play anti soccer and stifle the gunners. He could get his players to close down the gunner with the ball similar to whta Pool did to his side.
    Expect robust tackles and RVP to be shadowed by two blues. For all I know he could put a defender on Robin’s left and force him to shoot with his weaker right foot. Maradona was similarly marked during his Napli days and was neutralised in that match.
    I think Robin can cope with all the tackles and marking and get a draw for us.So far only Mc have won 6 matches in a row.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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    david Reply:

    @Daniel Wong,
    unfortunately Spurs won 6 in a row aswell.
    Man City won 7, so hopefully we can go one better and win 7?
    COYG!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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  9. [...] Many, myself included, have guffawed and cringed when Arsene has waxed lyrical about Arsenal’s “mental strength” but we really are beginning to see palpable signs of it. I put this down to a combination of factors. Chiefly, familiarity. The guts of the team are still pretty new and acclimatising to one another. I’ve made the point several times before about fluidity being the hallmark of a good side. It’s a theme the ever excellent Arsenal Column has embellished upon well here. [...]

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. novicegooner says:

    it’s always a pleasure to read your posts.
    Agree with your point 4. I noticed that Kos and Verm weren’t as dominant in the air as usual, but they did well to make sure that Ba won headers far away from Szceszny. Another thing, I feel that Arsenal is getting better at defending corners ^^

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

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  11. Tee Song says:

    Anyone else believe that Theo Walcott is the happiest Arsenal player over Sagna’s return? Concerning Arsenal’s right sided bias, I went to whoscored.com to examine BPL teams overall attacking tendencies to determine if Arsenal’s right sided tendency was unusual. Then I saw that ZM had done the same thing. Anyway, overall the League average percentages were 35.4% attacks from the left, 29.1% down the middle, and 35.5% from the right. Eleven teams attack the most down the left, eight from the right, and only one through the middle. But what make Arsenal unusual is that they are only one of three teams for whom attacking down the middle isn’t the last option. In other words, for seventeen BPL teams, they attack most frequently down one flank, second most down the other flank, and the least down the middle. Arsenal, not too surprisingly, attack down the middle more than all but two teams.

    I then looked at La Liga, to see if there was any difference between countries and found only one team which didn’t prefer both flanks over the middle. That team, not surprisingly, was Barca, who’s attacking tendencies almost exactly mirror ours, 30% down the left, 33% middle, 36% right.

    I think what that means is that most defenses crowd the middle and the flanks are easier areas to advance the ball into attacking areas. Few teams choose to attack preferentially through the congested middle of the defense. It’s not a startling conclusion.

    Which flank a team prefers has mostly to do with personnel. Sagna has been a fixture at right back since he joined the club in 2007 while Theo has been an important squad member for almost as long. Gibbs is young and this is his first year where he’s been in contention to start consistently while Santos, Gervinho, and the Ox are all in their first year with the club. I wonder if we were so lopsided last year? With Bale and Baines it’s not surprising to see that the tots and Everton attack the left side of the pitch 39% and 40% of the time.

    Against Everton, the battle down our right hand side will be very interesting. If Sagna and Theo can keep Baines and Coleman pinned back, it will go a long ways to limiting Everton’s attack. Of course, the other flank will be important also since Everton utilize the flanks for 75% of their attacks and go down the middle almost the least of BPL teams. They are a classic go wide, get to the byline, and cross type of team.

    I’ll be interested to see if the return of Santos doesn’t shift the attacking side a little and give a little more balance to the team. He does tend to drift centrally a little more than Sagna and often acts as an auxiliary midfielder while Gervinho and Ox are better at running at defenders then Theo so the two flanks will still function differently in how they attack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @Tee Song,

    With Arsenal, there’s long been the idea that we’re a central team and that might have been the case in previous seasons seeing as Fulham are the closest in terms of formations, playing most in the middle.

    But I think what this bias to one side mostly shows (as you explain), is the combinations and that’s what sides are essentially made up of. Real Madrid at the moment is the greatest example and indeed, you’d have to look at the Invincibles side to see how effective Pires was with Cole and the hugging of the pitch by Ljungberg, allowed them to use the left side more effectively. Even at Barcelona, there’s mini-understandings between certain players and others like Fábregas, Pedro and Alexis seem to play around them.

    In team-building, I think combinations and associations are the missing link between the supposed system vs individuals trade-off.

    Here’s the pic of the top sides in Europe’s best leagues courtesy of @Wengerball

    (But it begs the question; if Arsenal use Wilshere in a 4-3-3 with Arteta and a left-footed wide player, could we find a better balance and perhaps better efficiency?)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    Tee Song Reply:

    @Arsenal Column, Well, Arsenal attack down the middle more than all but seventeen BPL teams so the facts support the perception. When you first brought up the notion that we attack more down the right my first inclination was to think that of course we attack more down the right, don’t all teams? My reason being that since most players are right footed, play would naturally tend to go in that direction. Imagine my surprise to discover that more teams actually favor the left.

    But what’s most curious to me is that Arsenal actually favor the middle over the opposite flank. As I’ve stated, the overwhelming majority of teams in both the BPL and La Liga favor one flank, then the opposite, and attack the LEAST through the middle. Why are Arsenal favoring the middle over the left? Certainly when we had Cesc, the attack was channeled through him and I could see why we would favor attacking centrally. But this season, there seems to have been a shift toward a more direct, dynamic approach emphasizing speed and directness down the flanks with wide forwards like Theo and Gervinho and yet we still persist with a heavy emphasis on attacking centrally (heavier than most other teams).

    I think the reasons are two fold. First, despite the loss of Cesc, the midfielders are still creating goals and the biggest source of that creativity is from a seemingly unlikely source, Alex Song. He has seven assists so far and could get very close to Cesc’s eleven of last season. Plus he leads the team in accurate through balls per game. Now I would never imply that Alex is an attacking midfielder but his ability to spot and find runs from his deeper position has become very important. And the combination of Ramsey, Arteta, and Song are averaging 5.4 key passes a game compared to the 5.6 of last years first choice midfield of Cesc, Wilshere, and Song. Because of the fluidity of the midfielders this season, the creative burden is being spread out as opposed to having just one player do most of the creating. On a per game basis, no player approaches Cesc’s individual numbers of assists, through balls and key passes but as a unit overall, the numbers aren’t too different.

    Second, I think that we just have not had the right type of personnel on the left to be very effective. At left back, Clichy, for all his energy and running, was never very good in the final third and this is Gibbs first year being a consistent starter and Santos’ first year in the club. Attackwise, Arshavin and Nasri have always drifted centrally and this year Gervinho is his first year at the club. I believe, however, that with Santos especially, we have the potential to improve the attack from the left and bring a little more balance to the side. If teams are going to load up to stop attacks down the right, we need to be able to confidently switch the play and make teams defend the entire width of the pitch.

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  12. ak47 says:

    youve bin barked.
    id like to add how the move leading up to the goal was equally as good as the finish. in fact the finish was probably a result of being utterly focused as not to let down his team who had worked that move to perfection.

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  13. [...] an individual match, it’s easy to see that a side have a bias towards one particular flank. In Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Newcastle, the home side constantly attacked down the right, with Theo Walcott staying wide on that flank, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain moving inside from the [...]

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  14. [...] an individual match, it’s easy to see that a side have a bias towards one particular flank. In Monday’s 2-1 win over Newcastle, Arsenal constantly attacked down the right, with Theo Walcott staying wide on that flank, and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain moving inside from the [...]

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