Aidan Gibson: Udinese review, Liverpool preview

Sadly, last weekend’s match against Newcastle didn’t go at all like I expected. Instead of having a go at a somewhat weakened Arsenal, Newcastle stuck to the proven formula of how to frustrate Arsenal, by sitting deep and narrow, and making Arsenal use the wide areas. Arsenal, however, still could’ve won the match if their end product had been any better; both Gervinho and Andrey Arshavin got behind the Newcastle fullbacks but too often had their final balls cut out.

Furthermore, Arsenal’s midfield setup caused some confusion. Instead of playing the 4-2-3-1 that was used throughout the past two seasons, Arsenal played the 4-1-2-3 that was used at the beginning of the 2009/10 season. While it still broadly uses the same structure as the 4-2-3-1, there are two key difference: First off, there isn’t a playmaker behind the striker, which allows for sharing of  playmaking duties and allows for greater space for the two advanced midfielders, especially if the opposition centre backs are pulled out of position by Robin van Persie’s tendency to drop deep, as shown below. The second difference is that the holding midfielder has more space to cover, meaning Alex Song was at times overstretched in the first time, and got booked.

The problem on Saturday was that neither Ramsey nor Rosicky took advantage of the space and didn’t drive forward, leaving Gervinho and Arshavin a paucity of options in the area. On Tuesday night against Udinese, Ramsey’s forward movement was much better, and he took a right wing position for the goal as Marouane Chamakh dropped deep and Theo Walcott popped up in the centre forward spot. Tuesday night, though, emphasised the need for a replacement of Cesc Fabregas. Tomas Rosicky had a good game Saturday against Newcastle, but had very little pressure applied to him.

Udinese were a different story, and when they began to press in the midfield, Arsenal lost the midfield. According to UEFA stats (which differ from OPTA, oddly), only Aaron Ramsey completed 80% or more of his passes among Arsenal midfielders. By continually giving the ball away, Arsenal put themselves under pressure, as Udinese kept on attacking and winning the midfield. Ironically, it lead to the same strategy that is usually used to frustrate Arsenal: Defend deeply, and defend narrowly, and play long balls in the channels. Bringing on Emmanuel Frimpong eventually settled down the midfield, even though the debutant gave away several dangerous free kicks.

What then, for Liverpool? It appears Samir Nasri may play his last game for the club, and it’ll be interesting to see where he plays. Arsenal have lacked creativity in the midfield so far, and one option would be to put Andrey Arshavin behind Robin van Persie, dropping Aaron Ramsey deeper. Arshavin played in the middle to great effect for Russia in the 2008 European Championships and for Zenit St Petersburg. Putting him in the middle gives him more freedom, and, so far, he has played the best pass from the middle this year. Arshavin also has habits that would let him make forward, untracked runs beyond Robin van Persie, allowing him to score like Cesc Fabregas often did.

With Arshavin unlikely to play in a 3 man midfield, playing 4-2-3-1 would mean there is less stress on Emmanuel Frimpong in his first Premier League start, and with Aaron Ramsey’s wonderful range of passing, possession would be retained better.

As for defending against Liverpool, players like Stewart Downing and Charlie Adam are less effective when pressed. Arsenal showed this in last year’s 3-1 defeat of Blackpool, where Adam made about 50% of his passes, and was unusually quiet. Downing is a player who goes through hot and cold patches, but if he isn’t given space, he can’t deliver dangerous crosses for Andy Carroll, so Bacary Sagna will have to get tight.

Furthermore, Arsenal will have to be wary about Carroll and the long ball threat. Despite promising a more pass and move style, Carroll still received 40 long balls, mostly in the area where a defensive midfielder would be stationed. With the aggressive style of Arsenal’s centre backs, Carroll may find him up against a centre back rather than Emmanuel Frimpong and thus using him as a target man to relieve pressure may be nullified. If Arsenal can do this, they can stop a major threat of Liverpool’s attack.


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