Holland have a history of producing technically proficient players – after all, total football emanated from the Netherlands. It’s no surprise, then, that three of the most exciting midfielders in Europe – Jordy Clasie, Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher – all play in the Eredivisie and represent the Oranje.
Today saw the latter take on the former, with Maher’s AZ Alkmaar up against Feyenoord, for whom Clasie has been so impressive. My focus was on Maher, AZ’s number 8, and the 19-year-old put in a decent performance as his side went down 3-1, with Clasie grabbing one of the home team’s three goals.
In an entertaining game, AZ started the better side, with Maher at the centre of a lot of impressive moves. He constantly showed a good first touch, including when under pressure, showing also that he can supply a good pass when being pressed, which was his first involvement in the game. His style is elegant, happy to receive the ball and either play it instantly or go on a mazy run – adept with either foot.
This ambidextrosity was demonstrated most obviously just before half-time, with Maher’s biggest involvement. The youngster picked the ball up roughly 35 yards, and drove at the opposition. The player confronting him backed off, clearly frightened by Maher’s close control, meaning he was able to fire in a left-footed shot low to the corner, with the goalkeeper pushing it around the post for a corner.
Other than that, Maher was quiet but impressive when he got on the ball. Positionally he was the most advanced of three midfielders, getting forward to support Jozy Altidore, who had a bit of a battle with Joris Mathijsen throughout. In fact, Maher was the one acting as peacemaker between the two when a scuffle broke out.
Some of the key facets of Maher’s performance were that he was often pressing the defensive midfielders/defenders of Feyenoord when they were on the ball, roaming around looking for space and the ball, and showing good awareness, often looking around him to see how best to position himself when Feyenoord had the ball.
This served him well around the 15 minute mark when he showed good defensive awareness and a short burst of pace to nip in ahead of a Feyenoord midfielder to win possession back for his side just inside the opposition’s half. However, it didn’t go so well when he tried intercepting a short pass in a crowd on the edge of his own box – the ball found its way to a Feyenoord forward who almost scored.
In a way, Maher’s performance was reminiscent of Arsenal’s own Jack Wilshere. At one point, when he burst between two defenders’ challenges into the Feyenoord half before being pushed over as the opposition realised the danger, you could have been forgiven for thinking AZ had signed Wilshere on loan.
On top of that, he continuously lurked at the edge of the Feyenoord area instead of rushing into the box with the rest of the AZ midfielders. The fact that he recognised his own shortcoming of not being particularly good in the air, as well as realising that his side needed someone there in case the ball broke, is promising.
Overall, the young star was composed and assured on the ball, showing an elegant touch and dribbling style – he made two promising runs in the first half when drifting out wide; first getting down the right wing to get in a decent cross, before taking down a cross-field pass assuredly and wriggling past his man, although he then lost his balance.
He appears to have a slight tendency to over-elaborate, but works hard off the ball to chase opponents down when he has the freedom to roam across the pitch – something he seems to like to do. Penetrative passes are also a part of his game on today’s evidence – rather than delaying a counter-attack, he often gets the ball and fires it into a more advanced forward in a good position.
Other than some good passes and touches in the second half, he wasn’t involved much – Nick Viergever was dismissed for a poor tackle in the second period, which seriously disadvantaged AZ. His main involvement of the second 45 was a mazy run which was forced into the corner by the impressive Bruno Martins-Indi. He attempted to lose his man with some extraordinarily quick footwork, but was unable to do so (more due to the competence of his marker than anything).
He wasn’t able to have much of an impact on the game, with Feyenoord winning 3-1 thanks to impressive performances from Graziano Pelle, Jean-Paul Boëtius and the afore-mentioned Jordy Clasie. However, there were certainly signs of quality and potential. Stay tuned for further match reports on Maher, and also perhaps Clasie, whose drilled volley from 20 yards put Feyenoord 2-1 up.
Firstly, I have to apologise for the lack of content on this blog. I’ve been quite busy with college, as well as writing for other sites, so I haven’t found myself with much time to post on here. When I have, I’ve mostly been uninspired by the goings-on at the club, on and off-pitch, and I feel like everyone is just repeating each other when it comes to Arsenal these days.
So I’m going to attempt to bring a little freshness to the blog by looking at reported Arsenal targets, in order to broaden my own horizons and bring people information about players we’ve been linked with. I’ll be hoping to bring reports of games players have played, such as this on Alan Dzagoev a few months ago.
I’ve compiled the following list of players to be following, but it’s by no means comprehensive and suggestions are welcome. I’ll mostly be focusing on players who don’t get much coverage, as there’d be little point in doing a report on, say, Pepe Reina.
If there’s a player you’d like to see covered, or a particular game that player is playing in which can be reported on, drop me a tweet at @sdrewfootball.
I’d like to think that the petty back and forth between United and Newcastle over the last few days has interrupted their preparations for Saturday. Even if it hadn’t though, we’re going into this match with a full week’s rest and should have the upper hand against an injury-ravaged Newcastle side. Not to mention, apart from the King of Contracts, Demba Ba – who I would take in a blink of an eye this January – the rest of the team have struggled to reach the heights of last season.
Arsenal on the other hand, as we’re used to seeing annually, are beginning the mad mid-season run that salvages a poor start and saves some humiliation after a bad finish to a season. Confidence has to be high coming off three wins as the odds in favour of a fourth.
Newcastle have been playing a 4-4-2 more often than the 4-3-3 this season in an attempt to use both Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse in their natural positions. This allows them to defend with the ever-popular 2012 trend called “two banks of four”, whatever that is. It’s a strange tactic considering Newcastle don’t generally play very deep. And when they do the midfield line seem to play high as well, leaving a great amount of room between them and the defence that was most obvious against United earlier in the season.
Get the ball to Demba Ba? Probably. With no real gamebreaker in the lineup for this match I wouldn’t be surprised to see Ba drop deep and try to pull the strings.
Newcastle like to stretch the play when attacking so we need to see more of that tracking back from last weekend. The wingers and overlapping fullbacks stick to the byline and whip the ball in for Cisse and Ba who are very capable in the air. With two strikers up front we need to see more solidity in defence. Often Arsenal play a stopper/cover type combination with Vermaelen rushing out to stop the attack from developing. It doesn’t work on most teams let alone one with two up front.
Ba will obviously be the biggest threat but we’ll have to be very careful of Tim Krul as well. We’ve seen on many occasions how good a keeper he is on his day. With a threadbare side I’m sure he’s expecting to face a lot of shots on goal and confidence from one good save can easily snowball into a world class performance.
The Weak Link
Gutierrez down their left flank usually compensates for some of Davide Santon’s defensive frailties and Santon’s runs forward are usually covered well by the Argentinian. With one of Obertan and Marveaux replacing him down the left, that wing could be left exposed for the likes of Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain to run down and with the latter’s impressive performance against Wigan, he more than deserves the start.
Missing Mike Williamson through suspension will be a big one as well. He’s the kind of defender we’d expect our front man – especially if it’s Feo – to struggle with. With Steven Taylor out injured as well, we’re going to probably see James Perch moved back into defence where he can pose a problem himself but I feel he’d be a lot easier to beat than Williamson would’ve proved to be.
Newcastle will also be forced to play one of their young midfielders likely to go up against a very tenacious Jack Wilshere so we can cut the ball out in midfield before it gets to the strikers, stopping them posing any real danger.
So we should expect to control this match given there’s multiple areas of the pitch where we have the upper hand.
Between Newcastle’s form and injuries, it’s very difficult to look past an Arsenal win.
It is time to temporarily break out of this temporary hiatus. Normally I would’ve liked to put up a scouting report for Wigan before the match but wasn’t able to. For anyone who knows me well enough, I am a huge fan of Roberto Martinez and his philosophies and approach. Theoretically, the system they play is tactically sound but clearly they seem to lack the edge as we saw yesterday and we perhaps got away with it. Even so it was always going to be a tough match because Wigan are a hard working side and we’ve seen Arsenal get undone by such teams far too often.
It was possibly just the momentum from Monday that caused us to play so well. Seeing our wingers track back like they did was astonishing. Seeing defensive players brought on to protect the lead late in, even more so. All around this was the kind of performance Arsenal fans should really love.
We’ve tended to do well in the winter spell so hopefully this is the start of something. Even so, being up to
third is great as things stand fourth considering that just weeks ago people were having mental breakdowns over where this team was going.
Anyway, here’s how Wigan’s 3-4-3 ran the show:
We knew this match was going to come down to their tactics. We expected it to be an open match and it showed as Wigan’s Beausejour and Stam were getting far too much space on the wings and it came primarily from the three men at the front. With the extra man to mark there was always a space left on the wing as the fullback was pulled in centrally. Fortunately for us, their crossing was dismal and it could’ve so easily been a different result. They bombarded us at the end and to Arsene’s credit he actually attempted to protect the lead for once which was good to see.
Their aggressive pressing game high up the pitch meant that we weren’t able to keep the ball for long so it’s not surprising that they did get the majority of the chances. It could’ve definitely ended in defeat for us but Wigan were very wasteful in front of goal. It seemed that that pressing eased up on the left as they allowed Gibbs to attack and create space for Stam. Again though, they showed the lack of edge as they were constantly picking out the wrong pass, not using the space that Stam had. The space afforded to Gibbs to attack proved to be a safe decision and here is for why.
A few things of note on the individual side:
Despite winning the penalty, this match showed that Theo Walcott isn’t and shouldn’t be the front man. He didn’t show the positional sense against Reading but the result may have masked that fact. Yesterday though, Walcott was probably detrimental to the overall performance in that all the crosses coming into him had to be along the ground and with three men in the box, Wigan were far more than capable of snuffing out attacks than if there was a big man to compete for headers. The one chance that Walcott did have he left hoping to find Wilshere making a run behind him where other strikers would’ve been salivating at the opportunity to hit the target.
Podolski, for the first time this season it seemed, actually contributed to the match outside of his goals. He was constantly tracking back which he hasn’t done as often before. After a while he seemed to adapt to Gibbs’ runs upfield and dropped in to cover the gap. Stam had been given a lot of space earlier in the match and Podolski’s adjustment in moving deeper helped snuff out that threat and for the rest of the match we saw most attacks come down their left through Beausejour.
Ox on the other side did just as well. I’ve always admired his willingness to just dribble the ball. We’ve seen our players over-elaborating at times so his runs forward on the break created a lot of great chances. Making those runs meant that Sagna wasn’t needed on the overlap often and he was able to stay deep and deal with the three up front for Wigan.
The clumsiness of this match should definitely be attributed to the conditions during the match with poor touches, players falling over and the lot so a poor match was to be expected. We can’t be happy with a point but at the same time we can, The performance was dire but considering that we deserved absolutely nothing from the game, the point and the clean sheet may be some sort of consolation for a very poor game.
Here’s a few things from the game:
- Villa’s closing down was the main talking point from this match. It’s a major reason as to why they were able to cause Spurs and United problems early in those matches until they tired and conceded as the opposition got more time and space. The energy we saw in the first half went on a lot longer than we could’ve expected as it seemed to carry long into the second half. Maybe it had to do something with the pitch as poor first touches thanks to the slick surface allowed Villa to have more time to close the ball down. The game did start to open up as heavy legs set in and Arsenal were able to get more of the ball. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take advantage of it as the team lacked the urgency that we’ve seen on occasion against the likes of Norwich and United.
- I’ve been quick to praise Gibbs this season. I believe he’s made immense strides in his defensive game, showing intelligence in both his positioning and his judgement in when to get forward. His return was an instant assurance that we’d be plugging our biggest defensive weakness. Given that Villa’s main attacks seemed to emanate from the opposite flank, it’s a good sign going forward that we can see some sort of defensive solidity on the left.
- Cazorla and Arteta were snuffed out far too easily today. It’s clear that there’s a lack of creativity in midfield. Arteta sits far too deep to make much of an impact in directly creating scoring chances as he did last season. While Cazorla has been lacking in consistency recently. It might be a good idea to move Cazorla out wide where he would have more space to run at defenders. After Gibbs’ injury, Podolski has been far too isolated up front so with him back you would’ve expected him to be a little more involved today but he dropped infield and isolated himself once again so it couldn’t hurt testing Cazorla on the wing.
- The fact that Giroud was taken off for a defensive midfielder after suffering a knock shows that we lack depth up front. We’d end up with a similar situation to Chamakh where he’s just not able to get enough of a run in the side to build up some form but we still need to find another quality striker who would be willing to be as a squad player for situations such as that.
*brushes off keyboard, stretches fingers, logs into WordPress* It’s been a while. The last 11 posts on this site have been by Saurabh so I think I’d better pull my weight as well. And what better time to do it? Just off the back of a 12-goal thriller at the Madejski and we’re off to Old Trafford today – myself included for my first away game. If you’re feeling ambitious, there are some good odds on Betfair.
Obviously the almost unavoidable centre of attention is and will continue to be Robin van Persie. I’ll say this – I don’t think he deserves a respectful, appreciative reception from Arsenal fans (we’ll boo who we want, Ferguson), but let’s not bring those accusations from a few years ago into it. The ‘she said no’ chant is one which shows absolutely zero class, which isn’t something I’d like to associate with this great club and its fans, who were absolutely fantastic against Reading, as they have been for a while.
Onto the actual football, which is usually of top quality – although we seemed to forget that during our last visit to Old Trafford – and I don’t think it’s out of the question that we go home with three points. As pretty much everyone’s already highlighted, the left side does seem a worry – one of the league’s best wingers, Antonio Valencia, up against Andre Santos. Last season I was pleased with the Brazilian. His defensive contribution was actually better than most gave him credit for – his interceptions were often crucial, and his use of the ball helped us out of difficult situations and into attacks.
This season, having lost out to Kieran Gibbs in the battle to be first choice, he’s certainly regressed, and his stamina seems a big problem when going forward. He can’t commit too far forward because if he loses the ball then we’re susceptible to counters down that side – and when he does decide to amble forward in support of Podolski, it leaves us massively open to pacy wingers.
Valencia is exactly that, and would rip us apart if Santos did leave gaps in behind. People have suggested playing Sagna or Jenkinson, both of whom have played there before, at left back, but let’s remember that Valencia’s strong foot is his right, and his main threat is when he hugs the touchline and hooks in a cross with his right. If the winger on that side was left-footed and thus likely to cut in, it’d be wise playing one of the two right backs, as they could nullify that threat. While Antonio Valencia attacking Andre Santos isn’t exactly an attractive proposition for Arsenal, I can’t imagine a full back on their weaker side would do too much better against such an old-fashioned wide player in terms of positioning and runs.
On the plus side for us, it’s at home when Santos’ lack of stamina mostly contributes to the threat of counter attacks. It was most obvious against QPR at home, while at Old Trafford you can’t imagine they’ll be as willing to sit back and be so passive in their defending for so long. We certainly wouldn’t throw as many men forward in any case. In away games we usually see Podolski offer more cover to the full back – Liverpool away was the perfect example of this. We’re usually more of a compact, pragmatic side away from home – while we see something of a 4-2-1-3 at the Emirates, that usually becomes a more reserved 4-4-1-1 on our travels.
Defensive shape and organisation will be of pivotal importance to us, as during the you-know-what last time around, we were a shambles at times. It was an incredibly naive performance, and we’ll need the leaders that weren’t present/didn’t step up last time around to make themselves counted at Old Trafford this time.
In goal we’ll have Mannone again, and after Jenkinson and Koscielny played 120 minutes each at Reading, and not doing too well with their positioning, it’s likely that Sagna and Mertesacker will come in; Vermaelen and Santos completing the back-line. Koscielny often struggles when tasked with marking one striker through-out the game – Jason Roberts tormented him at the Madejski – so you sense that facing up against Rooney and Van Persie wouldn’t suit him. We’ll have to hope that Per ‘The Calming Influence’ Mertesacker is at his most calming influence-ness.
United are a threat from all over the pitch – we’ll have to watch out for intricate passing moves, long shots and devious crosses. Like their neighbours they’re a huge multiple threat, and it’s probably unrealistic to hope to restrict them in every aspect. Focus will be the key for us, and we’ll need to defend as a team more than ever.
Going forward it’ll all be about incisive passing and quick inter-play. Hopefully the side has been together long enough to be on roughly the same wave-length, as we’ll need to put together some quick passing moves in order to break quickly. United have shown vulnerability often this season, and quite a few times have left defending up to their back four alone, so if we want to exploit that we’ll have to get the ball forward quickly.
It looks likely that Olivier Giroud will start up top, and that would work in our favour as we look to get forward quickly and in numbers while United are committed. He’ll be up against Ferdinand and Evans, both good defenders, but undoubtedly two which Giroud should dominate aerially. If we can get the ball forwards to Giroud and he can knock it down to a midfielder in support, that’ll give us a chance of opening United up quickly and directly, provided the wingers break quickly.
When we’re dominating the game and are camped in United’s half, I’d imagine our best bet would be crosses. With Giroud up front, quick through balls may not be the way to go, as he’s not the lightest on his feet and he’d have to cover a short distance very quickly to get on the end of a killer pass in front a likely deep United defence. He is, however, very adept at getting on the end of crosses and putting himself about amongst defenders. While Walcott and Podolski might manage to profit from being slipped in by Cazorla or Wilshere, the latter who is still not a cert to start, the full backs would be wise to get a variety of crosses in for Giroud, especially given De Gea’s vulnerability in the air. Rafael, Ferdinand, Evans and Evra isn’t exactly the most dominant of defences, and with Giroud full of confidence after a superb energetic performance against Reading, you’d fancy him to win any cross into United’s box.
So to sum up, it’ll be a difficult task keeping United out, and I’m sure we won’t manage to keep a clean sheet, but I think that if we’re focused, solid and compact at the back and purposeful going forward, we have a chance to out-score them. Put your money on a high-scoring game. And watch it end 0-0. Because that’s just how it goes.
Up the Arsenal.
It’s very tough to predict how big teams will play against us. When we faced Manchester City it was down to very talented squad who were capable of going beyond tactics. A team like United, who are limited in options behind their front line, constantly adapt to accomodate the players they can. That means seeing Danny Welbeck playing on the wing or drafting Michael Carrick in defence or Antonio Valencia at right back at the start of the season.
United will likely stick with the lineup they played against Chelsea last weekend. This would make it a 4-4-1-1 or rather, a 4-2-3-1 since you’d expect them to be on the offensive for a majority of the match.
We saw last weekend how easily United were able to attack down Chelsea’s left side. Their ability to exploit that sort of weakness has been a worry since Gibbs’ injury a few weeks ago. Last season, with Armand Traore at left back, United mercilessly took advantage of us down that wing. So Andre Santos will need to be a lot more defensive than he’s used to because Valencia will undoubtedly be a handful.
Rooney has dropped more into the withdrawn forward role with Persie’s (boooo) arrival, making him even more difficult to mark. Not having a proper defensive midfielder could make this difficult as you don’t want a defender to be pulled out of his line to close Rooney down. Arteta could well keep him at bay but you feel like a little more aggression will be needed to stop him. Inevitably, most attacks end up going through him so that’s the key to really locking down this United team.
United’s wingers also cut inside very often, leaving space for the overlapping fullback. We need to be able to not only stop it but use that space on the counter.
It goes without saying what a danger Rooney and Persie (boooo) are. Both are capable of scoring good goals, but more worryingly both are capable of winning penalties that should never be given. Rooney has seemingly won a penalty in almost every match against us by knocking the ball out of play and falling on top of Lehmann, Almunia, Szczesny and if we fast forward another ten years, he’ll have conned another few generations of referees at the expense of Arsenal goalkeepers.
And as mentioned, Rooney’s deeper role will cause trouble by drawing in the defence and midfield, creating more space for the wingers and striker to get forward and that’s something to be very wary of.
The Weak Links
Patrice Evra has put in some questionable performances recently. It’s definitely an avenue we should look to exploit. Between Gervinho and Walcott running directly at him, it’s bound to force some mistakes. Against Newcastle about a month ago, United were in control for most of the game but Newcastle put together some meaningful counters through the space left by Evra on the right flank. If we show some better finishing than they did that day, we’ll be able to cause serious problems.
Also Rio Ferdinand struggles for pace on the best of days. With United most probably being on the front foot for most of the match, they’ll be playing a high line, leaving a lot of space to get in behind Evans and Ferdinand. I have never been more an advocate of starting Theo Walcott than this Saturday.
Realistically, I’d call this match a throwaway. But this is probably the most vulnerable United have been in a long time. Apart from their front four, there’s very little in terms of stand-out talent. With us going into the match as huge underdogs there’s definitely room for an upset. Probably a draw. Perhaps we could do with an alternative type of training – playing some of the football games at Ladbrokes.com, like Shoot and Soccer Safari. Or maybe have a few games of roulette to relieve the pressure a little.