The Arsenal Column

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

Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa: Defenders lead the way forward

This post first appeared on Arsenal Insider

If, as the orange and black banner draped against the North Stand is correct, and Robin van Persie does score “when he wants”, it was evidently his day off as he left it to the others to get the goals. On the face of it, perhaps it was a good thing as it showed Arsenal are not so reliant on Robin van Persie and Arsène Wenger indicated as much, although he would have wanted van Persie to continue his goalscoring form and thus kept him on until the end. But when Kieran Gibbs opened the scoring, the most surprising thing wasn’t the fact that he had scored but that it was Arsenal 17th different goalscorer in the Premier League – more than any other team. What reliance on van Persie?

Of course, that would be missing the point as Arsenal have hugely been dependent on their captain and as Gibbs scored, it merely confirmed what Arsenal had been missing for much of the season – a coherent squad and chiefly the presence of full-backs. Because, not having recognised full-backs on the pitch has affected Arsenal tactically and therefore forced them to play in a different way. (In one sense, perhaps Wenger is culpable as he could have altered his team’s shape). At the beginning of the season, having lost both Samir Nasri and Cesc Fábregas and then Jack Wilshere through injury, Arsenal switched emphasis towards the flanks. When the full-backs quickly succumbed to injury, Arsenal were not able to produce the same combinations that we are regularly seeing now between Bacary Sagna and Theo Walcott and Gibbs and Gervinho as they showed for the first goal, thus they tried to force they through the centre. It’s no coincidence, then, Arsenal’s fluency suffered in that period. Now, as Wenger says, there is “a more variation in our build-up play and therefore we are more dangerous as well.” And when Theo Walcott scored the second to essentially confirm the win when The Gunners completely dominated, each part of Arsenal’s game finally fell into place. Because, that type of goal is how Wenger has always wanted to score and quietly, he will be disappointed that it hasn’t more often. Not the pass from Alex Song, which he has been doing all season, but the penetrative ball behind the full-back, which Arsenal made a trademark of last season, and which seemed a perfect fir for the three-striker system.

Speaking of plans, Wenger also feels the team has come out of their shell in recent weeks and that’s because they are clearer of their game. Indeed, he indicates the early season form and tactics they used may have been dictated by the unfortunate circumstances they were in and thus had to play more cautiously (think about how their pressing had changed and the run of eight games unbeaten from October to mid-December where they almost exclusively dealt in low scores). ”Since then [defeats to Fulham/Swansea],” said Wenger, “we have more options and a bit better plan. That has allowed the team to feel more confident.”

Their new-found exuberance can be typified by the way in which Kieran Gibbs was allowed to get forward against Aston Villa and previously against Everton although when he did, Arsenal also left themselves open. Luckily for Arsenal, Alex Song has been on standby as cover in recent games and has had to drop back into his spaces more frequently. It’s an area Arsenal can still improve on as pushing two full-backs forward can cause undue strain on the back, not to mention when your centre-back also decides to join in the attack, and they looked slightly vulnerable on the break.

Nevertheless, defenders are crucial in developing a fluent attacking game and Arsenal often seek to take advantage, as they look to free them in the build up depending on who they are playing (against a 4-5-1, centre-backs become key while versus a two-man attack, the full-backs are usually the ones who receive it from the back first. Aston Villa made it easy because they dropped deep and allowed Arsenal time to play it out). “When we did not win games [earlier in the season], I did not feel we played as badly as people said. We have gained a lot of confidence in our play out from the back and that makes a massive difference,” said Wenger. “The defenders who play out from the back give us a security now and that allows the team to be much more confident.”

The fate of Arsenal’s season has usually suffered from the absence of quality defenders; this season, their presence has reignited them.

Filed under: Match Analysis

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13 Responses to “Arsenal 3-0 Aston Villa: Defenders lead the way forward”

  1. sognatori says:

    Good column!! I’m your big fan lived by South Korea.

    Hmm.. I have questions not about this article. (1)What do you think about Per Mertesacker with comparing Kos or Verma? or top class defender such as Vidic or Kompany or Puyol or Thiago silva or Hummels?

    I think Per sets Arsenal’s defending fear at ease. It means that defence organizing stably made by him. Of course, defence is something made by team, not a indivisual. But I think Per make a great comtibution towards it.

    I don’t like vermaelen or Kosielny’s defence approach. They are too aggresive. If they are out of position, it leaves too many spaces. So, I hate Song’s attacking.

    But Per is capable of waiting. He is calm and neat. Also he’s good reader.

    Anyway, I wonder that (2)why do you(British) underrate Per? Just slow and not combatant? But Terry or Vidic are same? They also slow. Though, Almost british media critisize only him, Per. Maybe he is German?

    Then, (3)why do you like(I think you overrate them) Kos or Vetma?
    I want your detailed opinion about my questions. Plus local responses.

    Anyway, I want to say again good column!!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

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    Arsenal Column Reply:

    @sognatori,

    Hi. Mertesacker has always looked out of place but is one of those players that, when out, you notice. Luckily for Arsenal, Koscielny and Vermaelen have fitted in brilliantly although defeat to Milan seemed to throw question marks of their compatibility. In that instance, the two didn’t play enough together to be thrown in at such a high-level game and that Arsenal’s style – dropping back and not really pressing, making it easy to bypass midfield – exposed them; it was a game Mertesacker might have been needed for.

    Koscielny and Vermaelen’s impetuousness comes with it’s risks – it’s something Arsenal will need to balance out. But it works with their style and it seems, we are going to keep this gameplan “calculated cavalier approach” for the next season.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    sognatori Reply:

    @Arsenal Column, Ok, thanks for your reponses!! Ah, and I want to more see your column.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

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    Mani Reply:

    @Arsenal Column,

    Hi. Are you and TheBrain different people? If so, which wrote this article?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    [Reply]

    The Brain Reply:

    @Mani,

    We’re the same although we do suffer from conflicting personalities.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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    kaneprior Reply:

    @sognatori, I think it is all about partnerships at the back. Mertesacker and Kol were a good partnership, but so are Verm and Kol. Kol is key for arsenal right now, they don’t have good enough cover for him (surely Djourou has lost his chance now) and Verm and Mertesacker just do not work together.

    Verm is not good as people make out, but he brings surprisingly good aerial ability to the side and has the passing skills of a midfielder, meaning Arsenal can play the ball out from the back much easier.

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  2. anonymous says:

    your views on our defenders are twisted. all three of koscielny, vermaelen and mertesacker are good in their own rights, but koscielny and vermaelen suit our ideal defensive system (pressing and winning the ball high up) better than mertesacker, mainly because of their aggression (which you claim is their weakness) and pace ( especially in koscielny’s case). there are risks which come with playing this aggressive system, such as leaving space in behind (perhaps this is what makes you feel insecure about koscielny and vermaelen?). but in the end, the pay-off out-weighs the risks for us.
    3rd churr

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

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    sognatori Reply:

    @anonymous, Maybe the reason you feel twisted for my views is lack of my english launguage. But now, I still think ideal def system nagatively. Because our defenders(not Campbell, he is all-rounder, I’m only satisfied with him) are not best players or world class by only defence ability standards so far. Of course, Kos and Verma are good at defence in addition to attack. But I think defence is priorty for defenders, I think. If they want to attack, above all, they should do good at defence. Just Arsenal need for two Campbell….. Do anybody see like him?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

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    anonymous Reply:

    @sognatori, i can understand where you are coming from (don’t worry, your english is fine), you’d prefer us to be more stable in defence (i.e. sitting deep, using a defensive press). but don’t you see that by choosing to play this way and hence dropping koscielny and vermaelen, we are sacrificing a special dimention in our attack in the runs they both make from deep? without these runs, we wouldn’t have won the games against villa in the cup (koscielny won the second penalty) or newcastle the other week (vermaelen got the late winner and was a constant threat coming out from defence). furthermore, we’ve finally found our identity as a team – that of a somewhat gung-ho style – and this requires our centre backs to be aggressive in defence, making them seem a little over-eager at times. swapping this method of defence with a more conservative one would mean discarding our newly found identity.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

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    sognatori Reply:

    @anonymous, ahh… I understand your words. Just there is difference from point of view about defence. Anyway, I only want to thrive Arsenal in some way or other.

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  3. Scooby says:

    With Arsenal Column being my favourite Arsenal blog, i’m very disappointed to see you have published your content on Arsenal Insider which is one poorest. They are one of the worst offenders for publishing ambiguous stories based on nothing purely to drive traffic from newsnow that continually waste everyone’s time.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

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    The Brain Reply:

    @Scooby,

    Hi. They say they are trying to improve their content. But I understand your point; let’s see if they do improve it. I’ve so far resisted making any money from this blog but writing for Insider does give me the chance to earn extra income. Ultimately, it’s a small point if I want to maintain the USP of this blog – perhaps, I shouldn’t republish pieces I did for them.

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  4. D says:

    Hi it’s me again. Here to Song the praises of Arsenal’s best midfielder this term. It amazes me to this day that Arsenal fans would still consider dropping him when Wilshere is fit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    [Reply]

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