There is an image in my head and often on the TV that makes me wonder whether Arsenal will score a goal. It’s the situation where the opponent is structured with eight players in defensive positions. Four at the back with four ringed in front of them. Arsenal are passing the ball around the perimeter with Giroud in the middle. It looks a lot like a basketball court with Arsenal swinging the ball around the three point line.
In my mind, Arsenal struggle to create good goal scoring opportunities from that set up. Arsenal regain the ball, and slowly (but effectively) move the ball forward; then they get caught with their opponents setting up with two lines of defence. For Arsenal to score more goals this season, they need to construct systems that allow them to break down the two horizontal lines. Many teams will set up with the two horizontal lines and you do not need to have great defenders to be effective in that set up.
Do you feel that when Arsenal’s opponents go a man down that Arsenal struggle to score? Do you recall the days when Stoke, Sunderland or West Brom would go down to 10 men and Arsenal still could not secure a win? It’s simple, those clubs used their remaining players (minus a stranded striker) to play with two horizontal lines of four that Arsenal could not break down.
I would say, without a statistical backup, that most of Arsenal’s goals from open play are scored on a high paced counter attack. The image earlier in the blog is the result of marching up the pitch, but not running through them. This set up play is characterized by a few common scenarios:
- Mesut Ozil receives the ball from Francis Coquelin and runs up the field, but with only one option ahead of him, he makes a turn and recycles the ball so his teammates can all join the attack. In doing so, the defence and midfield of the opponent hustle back and reform two horizontal lines.
- Alexis Sanchez runs up the wing, tries to cut in, and with no avenue available, he passes back to Monreal who waits for the midfield to set up (by this time the opponent is set up).
- Aaron Ramsey runs up the wing after being sprung by a Santi Cazorla angled through ball, only to not be able to shoot with his left foot after cutting in above the 18yd box and recycles the ball.
These scenarios are commonplace for Arsenal. I see if in EVERY match. The scenarios are not wrong, it’s beneficial for Arsenal to attack as a team, but it inevitably allows Arsenal’s opponents to hustle back into position.
If the quick counter attack doesn’t yield the goal scoring opportunity, what then? This is where I question whether Arsenal have been using their speed correctly on the counter attack or to help break down the horizontal lines. Arsenal tried a play to open up Liverpool on Monday night, Cazorla slotted through the pass of the match to Aaron Ramsey who cut round the Liverpool defence. He was wrongly flagged for offside.
Is this the limit to what Arsenal can show in breaking this down? This is where Oxlade-Chamberlain, but more importantly, Jack Wilshere are noted absences. For all of Jack’s detractors, it cannot be denied that his desire to take on players is important in breaking down horizontal lines. Whether Jack has caused two defensive players to attack him (creating space for a teammate) or broken past his first defender (creating a two on one), each situation with Jack makes Arsenal better. Oxlade-Chamberlain is capable of the same thing, if he’s given the instructions to take on players centrally and not just out wide. Sanchez is good at this, but his work of this nature is usually more out wide or near the end line.
Can Arsenal lure the two horizontal lines higher up the pitch? That would open them up to clipped balls over the top for Sanchez, Walcott or the Ox to run onto and smash into the net.
Can Arsenal take on the first defender (rather than passing around him) to create more space? While Arsenal’s passing game is beautiful to watch one of the things that makes Ronaldo the best player in the world (spoiler alert) is that he can mix it up by taking on the first defender and beating him. I would love to see Ramsey or Ozil take on the first defender more, but finish the move. So often I see Ozil get to the first defender only to lay the pass off. He doesn’t even hold on to the ball long enough to draw a foul.
If Arsenal could be more direct when they allow their opponent to set up defensively they would gain more shooting chances. If Arsenal could use pace to exploit the counter attack more, they would have more chances. Last, if Arsenal would draw the opponent higher to open up more through balls and clipped passes then more chances would be created for faster players to run on to. Speed is an advantage for Arsenal that is not being used properly.
More pace equals more chances; more chances will equal more goals.
Arsenal Canada Chair
Thanks to Morgan, our returning guest who you can follow @MorganArseCan