The Arsenal Philosophy: Pass and Space
I’m not a tactical expert, I’m just a football lover who enjoy to watch the play, the movement. I sometimes dream that, like in music or a painting, even a neophyte can briefly understand the complexity of a movement.
I’ve chosen to describe to you in four pictures the Arsenal movement during which, like Jack in the “Blues Brothers” ‘ s church’s scene, I briefly saw the “light” : Jack Wilshere’s goal against West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League last month at the Hawthorns.
It is the 60th minute of the game, and Arsenal are 1-0 down against the Baggies. West Brom are trying to push forward in search of a second, but Arsenal’s midfield strongly pressures the ball before winning it back on the edge of their own penalty area.. Then, they quickly move forward.
Mesut Özil has the ball, but instead of running in the middle, he prefers to slide on the right, close to the touch line. By doing this, the German opens a wide angle for his left foot. He also forces the West Brom players to focus on this side. In the picture, you can see that the Baggies are not in a desperate situation with two lines of players between the ball and their own box.
Olivier Giroud calls for it, but is closely followed by Gareth McAuley. At the top, you can see Tomas Rosicky standing, with Billy Jones in front of him to protect his box and Claudio Yacob running to help.
Last point: Wilshere is offering a close choice for a pass, but in fact, the English man is fixing the West Brom players around. Jack already knows that Özil has made a choice: sending the ball not “on” Giroud but in the space in front of the Frenchman, where he’s already running. Doing this, the former Real Madrid player kills the two lines in front of him and instantly puts West Brom in a dangerous situation. A simple move which explains why Arsene Wenger has been after Özil for the past four years. A subtle but complex move which puts a bridge between Wenger’s and Herbert Chapman’s era, in the same philosophy: playing forward!
West Brom now find themselves in a tricky situation. Their defenders are still facing the play (i.e. the ball) but running towards their own box, which is very inappropriate in football because they’re now unable to read the movements behind them. It’s the case with Jones, at the top; he is moving promptly to his box, leaving Rosicky. The Czech midfielder starts to run but without a rush, keeping a large distance between himself and the defender. His purpose isn’t to go into the box, but to gain as much time as possible in case of a incoming pass. Giroud, on his side, is producing vital work with the ball, moving and anchoring half of West Brom players on the right side of the pitch. By doing this, Olivier is helping to create a space in the middle (isolated by the yellow ladder). The work is now “in progress”, and Wilshere (who you can’t see in the picture) is now moving to this same space.
Arsenal are now in a good position in front of Boaz Myhill’s box. Giroud, protecting the ball well, has reversed the play on Rosicky. The Czech has a lot of time to control the ball: Jones is too far, Jonas Olsson is just coming back from the wing and slowly turning in front of the play. Giroud is still running inside, giving the hint of an inside-pass to the defenders, who are staying close. Rosicky can now put Wilshere in the best possible position, and does so with a magnificent curving ball in front of Jack, on the space which was described before. In the same move, Rosicky also starts a run inside, in opposite direction to Giroud. In the same move, Giroud and Rosicky are anchoring five West Brom players (blue stars), giving Wilshere both a very good ball and time to use it.
Wilshere is now ideally placed to shoot on goal: receiving a good pass with no defenders around him. Giroud and Rosicky are causing a mess in West Brom defence, with crucial runs inside the box. Jack takes the chance, and the ball, slightly touched by a defender, is slammed into the back of the net.
The Arsenal Way.