Despite more or less nailing third place, the West Brom game has become massively important. Not because it’s a chance to use some squad players and rest our big guns, and not because it’s our last home game of the season, but because we need to show Aston Villa that their game plan won’t work.
Element of fear
Tim Sherwood will have watched all of our recent games. He’ll have taken note of how Chelsea played. He may have considered that he doesn’t have the players to do something similar, but then he’ll have seen Swansea. Then he’ll have seen Sunderland. He’ll have seen two underdogs with average players coming to the Emirates and leaving with big results.
West Brom are likely to employ similar tactics, and we need to find a way past them. In fact 3 or 4 nil destruction would do us the world of good, and introduce an important element of fear into the minds of the Villa players.
I’ve heard it said that some games are won & lost in the tunnel. If the Villa players are stood in the Wembley tunnel opposite the likes of Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez wondering whether their game plan will work, we’re halfway there.
We have a cup final in sight and top four secured. Swansea didn’t. We played away at Old Trafford at the weekend. Sunderland didn’t, (they played Leicester at home). We set out to win. None of Chelsea, Swansea or Sunderland had much intent in that department.
Under the circumstances it’s no surprise that we didn’t score against them, however these games have given Villa the blueprint they needed, and we need tear it up by beating West Brom.
In the Sunderland post-match interview John O’Shea mentioned that they had watched ‘highlights’ of our loss to Swansea. By this he meant, ‘studied intently.’ I’ll be surprised if West Brom at the weekend and Aston Villa in the final don’t copy what they’ve been seeing recently too.
Both teams are likely to defend deep in their final third and allow us to have the lion’s share of possession and space on the wings. They’ll be happy to concede the flanks in the knowledge that if their defenders cover Giroud at the near post, crosses from wide areas won’t hurt them.
They’ll retreat into their 18 yard area if need be and crowd out our players. When they win the ball they’ll look to hit passes into wide areas for their wingers to chase and put crosses in for Berahino/Benteke.
It sounds very simple, but as we’ve seen recently it’s very hard to break down.
Breaking it down
Wenger is likely to rest players against West Brom, but if he comes up with a plan that beats West Brom he can use it regardless of who plays in the cup final.
I actually think Wenger has an existing plan to break down teams that park the bus, but it’s not been working recently. Perhaps he’s trying to come up with a new approach.
Fatigue seems to be a factor, with Alexis, Santi and Giroud all clearly looking tired. A rest at the weekend will go some way to sharpening them up for the Cup final.
Another factor is teams not taking the bait. In ‘parked bus’ games we tend to push high and leave space behind our full backs to tempt opposition wingers and full backs out of their defensive positions. I’ve spoken about this before, especially when Gibbs plays. The plan is that they come out, Koscielny clears up the danger and we attack into the space they’ve vacated. The problem is that if they don’t take the bait it simply doesn’t work. It can also go even further, whereby they actually utilise the space we’ve tempted them into to score, (or at least come close, as happened against both Swansea and Sunderland). That’s a risk we have to take sometimes.
I felt that Walcott didn’t just come on against Sunderland to attack, but also to allow Bellerin to defend his side a bit more whilst maintaining some width. They’d had a chance or two that could have resulted in another smash and grab, which we didn’t want.
So what will work? As someone with just one coaching qualification, (at junior level) I’m not in a great position to come up with answers. I have to leave that to Arsene but I’ll hazard a few guesses.
Aside from Lampard style shots from 25 yards out that take 9 deflections on the way in, we’re left with high and low crosses, which can be defended well enough when the entire opposition team is in the box and we’ve only got one tall player attacking.
We’re also left with shooting from distance and getting to any keeper saves/spills first. We came very close with this against Sunderland, but the ball didn’t drop kindly for us.
There is one more tactic that sometimes works, which is to push the opposition so deep into their box that any low cross hit hard enough has the potential to go in if it hits any player, however this is probably not something which is used at the highest level.
Ultimately we have the players who can work in crowded spaces and I think that these results have been something of an anomaly. I also think that with Nacho in the team we’ll be in a better position when crossing the ball into the box, as he tends to pick out a player, whereas Gibbs hits the ball into dangerous areas whether there’s a player there or not, (watch the game back and you’ll see what I mean). Also with rested, sharp players we’ll be passing the ball quicker and utilising the size of the pitch to stretch out the opposition defence.
Against West Brom we just need one to go in and their game plan will go out the window. I’m confident we’ll score and show Villa that sitting back with 10 men behind the ball and hoping for a lucky break won’t work. The West Brom game probably isn’t important from a league perspective, but it’s enormously important for the Cup.
Let’s pray for a big win.