Arsenal 2-0 Wolves, 12 February 2011, Premier League
Total Passes: 61
Pass Completion: 81.9%
Tackles: 3 (won 2)
Total Passes: 52
Pass Completion: 76.9%
Tackles: 9 (won 7)
Total Passes: 44
Pass Completion: 93.1%
Tackles: 3 (won 3)
Total Passes: 34
Pass Completion: 82.3%
Tackles: 5 (won 3)
Total Passes: 61
Pass Completion: 81.9%
Tackles: 8 (won 6)
Total Passes: 45
Pass Completion: 82.2%
Tackles: 7 (won 6)
(77′) for Denilson
Total Passes: 25
Pass Completion: 76.0%
Shots (on target): 4 (2)
Total Passes: 34
Pass Completion: 64.7%
Shots (on target): 2 (0)
(72′) for Chamakh
Total Passes: 85
Pass Completion: 82.3%
Tackles: 1 (won 1)
Shots (on target): 5 (2)
Robin van Persie
Total Passes: 26
Pass Completion: 73.0%
Shots (on target): 8 (3)
(72′) for Bendtner
(16′) assist by Fabregas
(56′) assist by Walcott
Total Passes: 16
Pass Completion: 81.2%
Shots (on target): 1 (0)
Total Passes: 11
Pass Completion: 90.9%
Shots (on target): 0 (0)
Total Passes: 12
Pass Completion: 91.6%
Tackles: 0 (won 0)
As a way to prevent Arsenal controlling the midfield, Mick McCarthy set up a very narrow 4-3-1-2, with a high defensive line to prevent Arsenal’s central players from dominating. The pushed up defensive line meant Arsenal could distribute fairly speculative passes to the flanks, where Arshavin and Walcott were switching positions and utilising their speed to get around the crowded central midfield.
Quarter by Quarter
0-15: At the start of the match, both Arshavin and Walcott were playing wider than usual, almost hugging the line in an attempt to draw Wolverhampton apart. Walcott is still the better player when it comes to defensive approach, as he adapts his position to become a wide midfielder when the opposition has the ball.
Wolves were positioning themselves high up the pitch, and as a result, tons of space opened up on the flanks for Arshavin and Walcott to run into. Wilshere and Fabregas took every chance they could to play long balls down the flanks, hoping that either of the wide forwards would latch onto them.
15-30: Arsenal continued to successfully disrupt any attempts by Wolves to narrow the play, still using the flanks to do so. But Fabregas was experiencing too much pressure in his usual position, and started coming deep to avoid it, giving him more time on the ball to make decisions and see what was going on in front of him.
Around the 25th minute, Wolves were figuring out how to deal better with Arsenal’s midfield, slowing down the tempo somewhat and temporarily easing off the pressure. At this point, Arsenal became inspired, and were trying lots of intricate passes between the 25-30 minute marks. In the first 15 minutes of the match, Arsenal were only at a 69.7% pass completion rate, way below the usual numbers. But in the 15 minutes before half-time, they had a 82.8% pass completion rate.
30-45: As pressure decreased higher up the pitch, and the Song/Wilshere midfield pivot started working well, Fabregas started pushing forward again. Wolves were getting confused about the constant positional swapping made in Arsenal’s offensive line, especially by Walcott trying to find space and opportunity throughout the width of the pitch. At this stage, the wide forwards had started cutting inside like they normally do, controlling the match enough to approach it in their usual way.
45-60: After half-time, Wolves were instructed to tackle harder, which is a very common half-time instruction from opposition managers when it comes to Arsenal. Wolves weren’t playing dirty, just firm. It gave them a way into the match, and they started keeping the ball better.
As the clock continued to tick, it was evident (yet again) that our biggest problem is end product. We created tons of chances. Not just shots towards goal, but positional chances where we didn’t even have time to fire a shot in any direction. Arshavin missed an open goal, Walcott was in several good positions…even Van Persie was wasting opportunities by over-thinking his decisions. The pressure was relieved somewhat by Van Persie’s second goal, but the nervous energy we experienced in the Newcastle match was still evident in the squad.
Having said that, our defensive pair of Djourou/Koscielny is showing exceptional promise together with our new boy wonder Szczesny. They have positional discipline, cover for each other well and seem to have gained a proper understanding of how a centre back pair is supposed to behave in relation to each other. For many years now, Arsenal has been employing individuals in the centre back positions, failing to realise that centre backs need to function as one unit. We all enjoyed the forward lunges of Touré, or the tantrums of Gallas (no we didn’t)…but the Djourou/Koscielny duo is finally adding a no-nonsense defensive approach where we need it the most.
60-90: In the last half hour, the tempo and overall passion fizzled out in both teams. Wolves had a chance or two, and were able to keep hold of the ball pretty well at times, but Arsenal reverted back to a traditional 4-4-2 in their defensive approach, learning from the Newcastle fiasco. Wolves were getting tired at this stage, and didn’t press the way they should have pressed, but instead of trying to exploit it, Arsenal lowered their defensive line to a deep and narrow wall, and the match was essentially over 10 minutes before the final whistle.
The Threat On Our Left
In the first half, Wolves were trying to cause some harm down their right flank, with Adam Hammill making runs towards Clichy, and Zubar providing support behind him. But with Wilshere’s focus and Clichy’s resolute attitude, they defused the threat by Clichy taking on the role of the disruptor, and Wilshere providing passing options and applying pressure on the opposition.
Wolves were focusing heavily down their right, identifying Arshavin as a weak defensive player, and probably assuming Clichy, Wilshere and Arshavin would be easier to penetrate than Sagna, Song and Walcott on our right. As the statistics show; almost half (48%) of all successful tackles made by Arsenal were in our left defensive half of the pitch.
Clichy was so efficient in this zone (7 tackles won out of 9), that Wilshere could focus more on what happened in the middle of the pitch, helping Song and Fabregas to neutralise the narrow three man wall Wolves set up in O’Hara, Henry and Milijas.
On the opposite side of our defensive half, only 5 successful tackles were made – two from Sagna, two from Djourou and one from Koscielny. This was the space occupied by Matthew Jarvis, with Doyle and Elokobi providing support. Wolves should have realised that they had more luck going forward down their left flank, as Sagna is normally pushing high up the pitch, and Song can get caught out of position at times. Putting pressure on Djorou/Sagna/Song would probably have given a better result throughout the match for Wolves, since Wilshere and Clichy were impressively dominating their defensive zone.
Alex Song: Man-Marking?
My initial prediction before this match was that Wenger would instruct Alex Song to man-mark opposition players running into his zone, as a preventive training measure for the Barcelona clash on Wednesday. In the Everton match, Song was tracking the runs of of the opposition, as if he was preparing for the runs of Iniesta or Messi, latching on to any runs made by either Arteta or Saha.
With Song playing his normal zonal approach against Wolves, questions could be asked whether or not there is even a plan to deploy Song in a man-marking role against Barcelona. Last year’s fixture proved that man-marking Messi takes lots of pressure off for the defensive line, and I would prefer him tracking runs like that again.
Our possession wasn’t impressive, only 51% over the whole match, but we made up for it with a higher-than-average passing rate of 82%. Problem was that Wolves also had a high passing rate (78.3%), which would explain the possession numbers. Overall a good exercise for the Barcelona clash, whether or not Wenger wants to admit to this or not.
Robin van Persie was yet again showing his impressive form, having scored 10 goals in the last 7 Premier League fixtures. Wilshere was also impressive, probably a confidence boost from being selected for England and doing very well, despite all the media hype. Him and Fabregas were distributing passes all over the pitch, using intelligent positioning and decisions to predict runs and movements of their teammates.
But, and there is a but…the amount of chances we missed today is not acceptable. It’s not worth having so much passing talent, and players able to create scoring opportunities, if the end product isn’t there. Against Barcelona, this aspect must improve.
Bring on Wednesday!
Second Opinion by Joss Bennett
Arsenal named a more or less unchanged side from the dismal 4-4 draw at St. James’ park with the exception of Diaby, who was both injured and suspended being replaced by Alex Song who is first choice anyway. 20 year Wojciech Szczesny started in goal again, despite Almunia now being fit, and looks set to start the big game on Wednesday ahead of the more experienced goalkeeper who kept Arsenal in the game during the first half against Barcelona at the Emirates last season.
Wolves named the same side that ended Manchester United’s 29 game unbeaten run, with new signing Jamie O’Hara keeping his place in a narrow 3 man central midfield. The biggest question in Wolves’ line up for me, was who would play where in the middle. O’Hara has been used in several positions during his time at Tottenham and Portsmouth, while Karl Henry has often been the man instructed to deal with Fabregas in these fixtures.
Mick McCarthy decided to go for a 1-2 midfield, rather than the 2-1 he may have used; either Milijas would play a similar role to Fabregas behind the lone striker, or he would hold his place in the centre with one of O’Hara and Henry playing behind, man marking Fabregas.
It was Karl Henry who started in the centre, in fact, alongside Nenad Milijas who is the most attack-minded of the Wolves midfield. I expected Jamie O’Hara to take the left central midfield slot (MCL) – having played in more advanced roles at times, he would naturally drift into the left-hand channel and help limit the space of Bacary Sagna, or provide through balls to Adam Hammill.
As it was, Wolves adopted a very narrow width across the field, and this hindered them both going forward and defensively. McCarthy set his team up in a somewhat unconventional 4-3-1-2 formation, similar to Arsenal’s in the sense that Kevin Doyle dropped very deep and two natural wingers pushed up into the space behind him. This was a mistake. The two wingers naturally played deeper than they were asked to, and if the idea was to press from the front, it failed – Arsenal simply played wider and got the ball out to Sagna and Clichy whenever they could.
The two wing-backs played on pretty much the same level throughout the game (usually Sagna has the more advanced role, before Clichy begins to push on and join attacks late on if the game is already pretty much won) and the freedom of the whole of their channels. The other reason the wing-backs were so useful was because of the movement from Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin. A 4-2-3-1 formation means there is one less person behind you than in a 4-3-3 and so the wide-forwards have to play deeper; in this case, Walcott and Arshavin used their pace to run off the shoulder of their markers or drag them inside, perhaps limiting the space of Cesc Fabregas, but likewise creating a huge gap for Sagna or Clichy to exploit.
The final reason Wolves were hindered by the width was their failure to utilise their creativity up front. Adam Hammill was one of the Championship’s best players, thriving as a creative winger just as Adel Taraabt is doing for QPR and Matt Jarvis has reportedly attracted interest from teams in the top-half and higher positions in the league such as Tottenham & Liverpool.
Arsenal have often struggled when defending crosses into the box – 51% of the goals we’ve conceded have come from set-pieces and Newcastle’s crossing and dominance in the air was a key factor in their comeback from four goals down last week and Wolves caused all sorts of problems in the air when the two sides met at Molineux. However, instead of having either two out and out wingers to push Sagna and Clichy back, or even two in-cutting wingers to trouble Koscielny and Djourou, they were deployed ahead of Doyle, who is good in the air, but by no means a target man meaning Song, Koscielny and Djourou were pretty comfortable at the worst of times.
Arsenal clearly learnt their lesson from Newcastle (and the various other similar games) and started as they did in Tyneside. Arshavin was deployed almost as another central-midfielder, or an attacking midfielder – certainly more narrow than he often is – and this was presumably an attempt to encourage him to work harder and be involved in the build-up, not just the end of a move.
Like Newcastle, Wolves held a very high defensive line, trying to limit the space in our creative midfield, but instead just decreasing the area Arsenal’s midfield had to press. The two wide men did an excellent job of leading the line in terms of pressing, and Fabregas was really up for this game – at one point he pressed the ball from his own half and forced it all the way back to Wayne Hennessey. Arsenal’s pressing was the perfect example of what we need to do against Barcelona in mid-week, closing down the space quickly, and more importantly, as a team rather than a couple of players closing down and others not looking interested. The pace with which the whole team closed down the space when Wolves had the ball, particularly in the first half (which wasn’t often) meant they were forced into playing rushed, inaccurate long balls which rarely found their target.
As mentioned, Fabregas’ creativity was limited by a packed midfield but Wilshere deputised brilliantly and played a more advanced role than he has done recently – more like he was doing at the start of the season – and was clearly brimming with confidence after his first start for the senior England side.
As Fabregas dropped back to find space, Wilshere moved forward and had two or three chances to shoot himself but chose, unselfishly to pass to Walcott (twice) and others. Wilshere’s creativity in this game was more like the sort of play we saw from Fabregas last season; looking for short passes and one-twos or dribbling with the ball himself and again, went on a couple of good runs into the box, drawing fouls or creating scoring opportunities. However, as the game progressed, he clearly tired and Fabregas was desperate for a goal and pushed up into his more familiar role once it was evident Wolves had pretty much given up. At this point, Wilshere dropped back to the holding role he was instructed to play for England and started playing a role that has become very popular for a lot of midfielders this season…
This season, especially in recent weeks, Arsenal have been much more willing to get the ball into wide areas, and play a more direct style of football (without actually going route one!) Yesterday, Wilshere was key in encouraging this – taking the game by the scruff of the neck at times when Arsenal looked to be taking their foot off the gas and dropping back to control the game in a deeper role.
Together with Alex Song, Wilshere has formed a useful double-pivot in midfield in the game against Wolves he displayed a wonderful array of passing ability.
Alex Song is the ball-winner, allowed some freedom to roam but largely used to break up attacks and play more simple passes often to Wilshere, who used the pace of Walcott and Arshavin in the wings to ping the ball forward and create chances from almost nothing – just as the quarterback does in the NFL.
This has become especially useful in a season when Fabregas, despite some magnificent performances, has not always looked motivated (much like the rest of the team in some games) and a season when Theo Walcott has vastly improved his off-the-ball movement, finishing and composure.
The more direct ball has also been used by Fabregas this season, though and was particularly evident against Leeds in the FA Cup when he came on changed a game with two superb passes to Walcott who used his pace to exploit a tired Leeds side and win a penalty.
Conclusion – Wolves “Spanked”
A very good performance from Arsenal and a thoroughly deserved three points that I will take every time. Taking chances is still an issue, but the players shouldn’t be too worried – Hennessey had an inspired game and several last ditch blocks kept the score respectable. Barcelona will provide a much tougher test, though and by all accounts, Wolves didn’t offer much attacking threat and made some key tactical errors which were only addressed when it was too late. A win and three points keeps the pressure on Man Utd, who only won their match because of a brilliant goal from Wayne Rooney.