Many of us flock to the computer in the morning to read the latest blogs by serial Arsenal bloggers Arseblog and Gunnerblog. There are many other solid blogs out there, but those two always struck me as the two largest from our kin. Most of the time I agree completely with what they say, and I feel that their feelings match my own, but right now we are seeing the matches differently.
The other day at the pub, The Fox on Yonge in Toronto, I went on a bit of a tirade complaining about Arsenal’s tactics. Over the last four matches I have been really troubled by what I have seen. There are four topics I am going to discuss; some points show how Arsenal have slowly shifted away from what was making them successful after their loss to Aston Villa, and other points are tactical mistakes made against Chelsea.
First, the outlet pass, Arsenal have been stretching the outlet pass from the defenders to the midfield. When Arsenal were clinical against Fenerbahce the midfield was dropping deep to take a shorter pass from the defenders, dribble a step, and pass it forward. As some players lust for goals and attacking success (read: Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil) has moved them further forward it is straining the ability of the defenders to get the ball to them.
The passing percentages have dropped for Arsenal centre-backs in recent matches. Starting with Norwich the centre-backs passing average was 95.8%, it dropped to 92.8% against Borussia Dortmund, rose slightly against weaker Crystal Palace to 93.3 and dropped big time against Chelsea 85.3% (the blame is not all Thomas Vermaelen as he had the better completion rate over Laurent Koscielny). The length of pass the centre-backs must complete is unacceptable for me. Over the last four matches three teams have really pressed Arsenal causing the defenders into long passes and the success rate is under 10% (Norwich 8.3%, Dortmund 9.3% and Chelsea 4.9% long pass completion). You can get a great sense of the stretch pass by watching video on Arsenal player of the last few matches. When the defence has the ball there are multiple instances where you cannot see their outlets in the midfield or even at full back.
Second, Arsenal is not pressing teams and by extension is being pressed. Against Norwich, Arsenal lost aerial duels at a ratio of about 7:3 and only had one more interception than the Canaries. Dortmund had 28 interceptions to Arsenal’s 22 because of strong pressure. Versus Crystal Palace, Arsenal lost aerial duels 3:2 and Palace has 125% more interceptions; Arsenal managed to match Palace on total duels. Chelsea is the anomaly as Arsenal won their duels and had more interceptions, but Arsenal were not pressing Chelsea as deep and the Chavs doubled up on Arsenal’s long passing percentage.
Against Chelsea Arsene made two tactical errors. The first tactical error was not starting Isaac Hayden. Without Matheiu Flamini or Mikel Arteta the other midfielders would have had to change their mindsets. Ramsey should have dropped deeper to help move the ball forward, instead he was playing in a much more advanced role. Each passing week he has moved further and further forward. For Tottenham his average position put him on our side of half, Dortmund put him right on the centre spot and for Chelsea he is inside their half. The mindset of Rosicky and Wilshere did not change either which mean that the defence had to cover two roles: the first pass to the midfield (normally to a deeper midfielder) and the second pass (to the attacking midfielder). In covering those two roles the Arsenal defence made one long pass. The inclusion of Hayden would have shortened the pass, increased pass completion (and possession) and added a more suitable player into the holding midfield role. Hayden also creates stability, he is known for being straight forward and no nonsense when he is on the pitch.
The second tactical error Wenger committed was bringing on Olivier Giroud at 2-0 down. I was deeply frustrated with this decision for a couple of reasons. One, Arsenal’s legs were tired, we could see that a bit against Palace on the weekend. There was not enough in the tank to come back from 2-0 down against surprisingly well organized Chelsea. Two, Giroud has needed a break; Giroud will start on the weekend and Bendtner would not. It’s the perfect opportunity to let TGSTEL prove his merits and give our number one striker some much needed recuperation time. If Arsenal had tied it up and gone to AET and penalties then Giroud would have played almost 60 minutes. I know that Giroud was preparing to come on before it was 2-0, but one Juan Mata had scored the substitution could still have been changed. Three, once Arsenal was down 2-0 the mindset has to change; subbing in like for like was not going to get the goals. Hungry players should have been brought on.
At 2-0 down my mind drifted to Saturday and Liverpool. It would have been fantastic to see another League Cup comeback, but the damage had been done and I did not see Arsenal reversing their fortunes. I am away that I was mentally throwing in the towel, but Arsenal are in command of their Premier League future and it needs to be a focus. Think about it this way, if Arsenal had gone out to West Brom then we would have enjoyed a week off to prepare for Liverpool; right now we have some worries whether players will have enough energy to cope with the pace that Liverpool has been playing at.