The Arsenal Column

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

Arsenal and Chelsea confide in their similarities

After years of feeling like two distinctly different teams, Chelsea and Arsenal finally have something in common. Chelsea, usually known for their brutal efficiency, against Arsenal, serial underachievers and progenitors of a style that was starting to become their downfall; whenever they faced each other, it always seemed much more than just a match between two title and city rivals – a battle between two ideologues even; foreign investment vs self-sustenance; results vs aesthetics; pragmatism vs romanticism.

This time, though, both sides can confide in what makes them similar and that should make for an intriguing match-up at The Emirates. Both teams pass it well and are filled with exciting, technical midfielders but what’s ominous about Arsenal is that they are doing it better than they have in a long time. Santi Cazorla’s the key; he glides across the final third with freedom, not playing as a playmaker, but as a second-striker, making him harder to mark. He has stoked up a fantastic partnership with Lukas Podolski on the left and two have often combined for Arsenal’s best moments. They play in a curious front four which is without a defined striker; Gervinho has assumed that role most recently and the aim is to get the Ivorian or Podolski through with runs between the full-back and the centre-back. Even when Olivier Giroud plays, his role has been most effective when acting as a decoy rather than a focal point. It’s hoped he can add that part to his game over time although it might have to be far quicker than Arsene Wenger envisaged. He initially had pencilled in Lukas Podolski to play as the number 9 when he signed over the summer but has since had to revise those plans.

Behind them, Mikel Arteta acts as the reference for Arsenal’s passing game but this season, there’s a whole lot more reason for his importance to the side than just giving continuity in possession. Because it’s his positional play which has probably made the biggest difference. Much has been made of the Steve Bould influence and it’s true that the extra work done on the training ground on the team’s defensive shape and discipline has been immeasurable. But Arsenal’s problem in recent seasons has as much been the synchronicity between the midfield and defence; shots outside the box and runners beyond were too readily relinquished to the opposition. We even saw that as recent as in pre-season and Mikel Arteta was not playing in the role he is now. As such, Neil Banfield deserves much of the credit too. Indeed, Steve Bould went out of his way to praise his colleague after the win against Montpelier in which he took charge of.

While Arsenal look more of a cohesive unit than Chelsea, both are still very much works in progress. Chelsea’s transformation into a possession side this season has seen them assemble over the summer, a cast of gifted, small playmakers but at the same time, stripped themselves of the very depth in central midfield that was the basis of their surprise cup triumphs. That was ruthlessly exposed in their Super Cup defeat to Atletico Madrid where they were picked off on the break to lose 4-1 and they then relinquished a two-goal lead against Juventus to draw.

Roberto Di Matteo has chopped and changed certain members of his line-up week-by-week but there’s a particular template that’s remained consistent throughout. Eden Hazard and Juan Mata are the star players, often interchanging between phases of attack while on the other side, Di Matteo usually selects a “defensive winger” to balance out the team. Their transition from defence to attack, like Arsenal’s, has been a joy to watch. At lunchtime on Saturday, though, it will be a battle of who can do it better.

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4 Responses to “Arsenal and Chelsea confide in their similarities”

  1. Brilliant post again. I think Chelsea will be easily turned over. I have not been impressed by their play this season. Stoke were made to look like a decent team at the bridge. I see a 3 1 arsenal win. I’m much more worried about the man utd match. Until then, let the good times roll!

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  2. Forza Gunners says:

    Just been on chelsea’s we aint got no history site and they claimed Diaby is a less skillful Ramires I nearly choked.

    Seems to me that it has slipped their minds that in the cup final we only lost a stranglehold on the game when Diaby came off after kicking JT in the head.

    If they play Lampard in the middle with Mikel, they wont know what hit them. As long as Diaby is on form.

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  3. Tee Song says:

    Regarding Podolski, he played centrally for Cologne so it’s not as if he can’t play there. He’s displayed the strength to hold off defenders and play with his back to goal, he can drop deep and link play very well as well as drive at defenders with the dribble, he’s got an eye for a pass, his movement is excellent plus he has the quickness to trouble defenders when he makes his runs, and of course he’s a very good finisher. So why doesn’t Wenger deploy him centrally? Maybe it has to do with his tremendous work rate and his willingness to track back and defend. He can provide all of the attacking qualities from a wide position (Theo should take note) and still provide a measure of defensive security on the flank, something which other wide forwards might not. His goal against Liverpool was an example of his complete game. He had dropped back to help defend when TV5 intercepted Gerrard’s pass and passed to him, deep in our half. He turned and found Cazorla and then hustled forward, beating Glen Johnson to finish the move.

    I hope our strongest lineup will include a confident Giroud centrally with Podolski wide left, so if Wenger has that same vision he’ll continue to play Lukas mostly as a left sided forward. I’m sure with rotation, Podolski and Gervinho will play centrally. However, if Podolski plays centrally we lose his defensive workrate on the flank and I’m not sure we have another forward who provides that. As an aside, if we ever start pressing higher up the pitch again, Podolski as the center forward would work well.

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    The Brain Reply:

    Hi @Tee Song,

    Maybe it has to do with his tremendous work rate and his willingness to track back and defend. He can provide all of the attacking qualities from a wide position

    Agreed. That’s precisely why it’s the best option to play him wide, for him and the team. Nevertheless, I’d like to see him given a go up front and let him play with his instinct. Of course, there are a few caveats: that it requires the right wide midfielders and not touchline huggers as he got in the first game of the season v Sunderland.

    However, I feel Podolski’s spontaneity and individualism might gives us a different dimension going forward. On the left, perhaps there’s only one way he can really play and that’s through give-and-goes and the combination with Santi/Gibbs.

    On the other hand, Giroud central and Podolski left gives us an immediate balance that Podolski down the middle doesn’t yet guarantee. And I’m convinced Giroud is good for Podolski, as he is for Santi and indeed the rest of the team, creating space and occupying the centre-backs.

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