Captain’s Log, star-date 1,1,7,9 point something. I’d been challenged to a Kruz-Na! by the Captain of a Klingon ship and I was ready to fight her to the death, but it turns out that a Kruz-Na! isn’t a battle, it’s something else…something dirty…
I said last week that a draw would be a great result. I thought we would lose. I’m so delighted to say that I was wrong. To go away to the champions and win was fantastic. To win in the manner that we did was amazing. What I mean when I say the ‘manner’ was the control we had, the way we defended and attacked and the way everyone played with no fear. Respect yes, fear no.
As a member of the WengerOut brigade this win has me questioning whether I’m wrong, but we’ll get to that later. I know a lot of AKB (Arsene knows best) people who spent more time after the game poking fun at WengerOuts than at City fans. To those fans I say this;
We love Arsenal. We love Arsene. Nothing would make us happier than seeing Arsene lead us through more glory years, but it’s not been happening. We wanted a change IN the manager or a change OF the manager. Arsene is stubborn, and it seemed unlikely he would change, so as far as we could see, HE needed to be changed. What we may have seen now is that he has changed. Why? We’ll get to that later. In the meantime the AKB’s were asking where all the WengerOuts were. Well lads we were celebrating a good win, just like you.
There’s been a lot of talk about how we controlled the game, but I don’t think many people have adequately explained how, especially in light of our 35% possession.
For starters our formation of 4-1-4-1 allowed us to defend with 9 players and attack with 5 on the counter, (7 when the full backs join in) whereas our usual 4-2-3-1 lends itself to defending with 6 and attacking constantly with 4 or 5 at all times. This works against the lesser teams, but as we saw all too often last season you get destroyed against the big teams.
The formation however wasn’t the reason we controlled the game. We controlled the game because we had a very specific plan. We ceded possession and then hit them on the break. That’s what big teams do away from home against other big teams.
We also controlled the game when we didn’t have the ball by dictating where City went with it, namely down the wing.
I mentioned before the Stoke game that we would force them into central positions and that doing so would nullify them as an attacking force. Against City we applied to same principle but in the opposite way. We forced them wide, where we knew that they weren’t as strong. Centrally they have Silva and Aguero. Out wide they had Navas and Milner. In the picture below they’re being encouraged to drive into the space near the corner flag and cross the ball.
Arsene would have been confidant that our defenders could defend crosses into Aguero, Silva and Jovetic. He would have been aware that Navas can’t cross and that Milner would be playing as a right footed left midfielder. He would also have known that Navas has something like 6 assists from 27 games this season and Milner has 5 from 19. Not exactly terrifying.
In a nutshell if Navas could even get a successful cross away then he was unlikely to get anything from it, and Milner would be in an even worse position in trying to cross on his weaker left foot. All these crosses would be aimed at players no taller than 6 foot. When I heard pundits bleating on about how we didn’t defend very well because Navas got a shed load of crosses away but nothing came of them I wanted to tear my hair out. Sometimes it’s better to allow a rubbish cross in with two or three players attacking the ball then concede a corner which can be more dangerous. Having said that, we also conceded a lot of corners and defended them well too.
To put it plainly, when we didn’t have possession we defended narrow, forced them wide and dealt with crosses before going on the counter-attack. Below are a few more examples throughout the game.
The only times City looked dangerous was when they cut inside, but we had a plan for that too. That plan was Coquelin.
I still think it’s too early to label him the new Gilberto. I said last week that we wouldn’t buy a top class defensive midfielder in January and that he was going to cover us until the summer. He’ll know that he has until then to prove to Arsene that he can be our man. Wenger likes nothing more than to bring a player through our system, so I’ve no doubt that if Coquelin does well Wenger will stick with him rather than buy someone ready made from another club.
I would love to see us buy someone like Schneiderlin, but Wenger won’t play with two holding midfielders because it means that there’s only one space left for the likes of Özil, Rambo, Wilshere etc.
As for the game, he did two things for the team. He kept a close eye on Silva but he also did a lot to cut off the supply of passes into Aguero. He was a big deterrent centrally and helped guide City into wide areas. In short, he defended very well and was disciplined, which allows our more attack minded players to get forward when then chance came.
I don’t think it’s a huge leap to say that this was one of his best performances in an Arsenal shirt.
Not just from an offensive point of view, but also defensively.
He got stuck in, won the challenges and then he took us 40 yards up the pitch. He allowed us to get our shape back when we were under pressure and caused City all kinds of problems going forward.
Subs at the right time.
I felt that Wenger made the right substitutions at the right time. I’ve been very critical of his subs recently, but they were spot on at the weekend. Rosicky for a tiring Ox on 66 minutes kept our shape and added some energy. Then Gibbs and Flamini on 84 minutes gave us the added defensive capability to see out the game. If those last two had been made too early we would have been inviting pressure and giving City a chance to get back into the game.
So Wenger appears to be embracing the idea of exploiting opponents weaknesses rather than simply focusing on our strengths.
Don’t get me wrong, if we play to our strengths we’ll beat most teams but in the tough games that doesn’t always work. In the post match programme Gary Neville was speaking about how United used to adjust their game when they played us, because they knew that simply going toe to toe with us wasn’t wise. So what’s we’ve seen over the last few games is a more tactical approach.
Personally I feel that Arsene has been influenced by someone with a different opinion who he trusts. Thierry Henry could well have saved Arsene Wenger. He’s a fan and he’ll have seen what’s been going wrong. He played for Arsene in the glory years and he played for Guardiola. He knows his football. He’ll have been as frustrated as the rest of us. In my mind he’s come back to England and he’s been talking to the boss. He’s been pointing out flaws. Arsene has been listening because he trust the King. Some of the flaws have been addressed and we’ve got ourselves a big result.
Ultimately this is pure speculation, but I don’t think it’s beyond the realms of possibility.
People have been talking about Özil being benched in favour of Cazorla, considering the form he’s been in. There’s no reason why they can’t play centrally together. I don’t think Wenger will do it, but it’s a possibility. Having them both playing balls to Alexis, Theo/Ox and being looked after by Coquelin is an exciting prospect.
So we’ve signed our 17 Pole. He may well turn out to be a fantastic player but he’s only played a handful of games for Warsaw so it’s a risk. He won’t be ready for a while, firstly because of the step up from the Polish league and secondly because he’s skinny as a rake. He needs at least 2 stone of weight added to him before he can truly be a dominant midfielder in the premier league.
This has the potential to be a banana skin for us. They may not be doing great in the Championship but they’ve improved since Houghton took over in December. I imagine they’ll try to play deep and frustrate us, mostly because their centre halves are in their mid thirties and they won’t want to leave space in behind for the likes of Walcott and Alexis to run in to.
The risk they’ll run is crosses into Giroud, who’s not bad in the air…
I’ve been told by a friend at work, (who supports Ipswich) to keep an eye out for Teixeira. If anyone is going to hurt us it’ll be him. Hopefully Coquelin will be on the case.
Lastly today if you’re planning to stick the Gunners to win in your acca this weekend then check out this article on The Cheeky Punter on how to get the best accumulator odds. Pretty sure most will be able to get a better deal than usual by following the advice. Plus also remember Arsenal are the last game of the weekend if we ignore the Rocdale v Stoke match on Monday so if you do put them in then you’ll be sweating it out if all your other selections come in.