Partnerships That Hold the Key
Since my return to the blogging world I have been talking about firstly how the number 10 impacts our culture and maybe indirectly manifest in a lack of application at Arsenal. I then asked myself why I was thinking this way. Was it shape, was it how open we looked especially for away games. I wasn’t sure.
So for my second blog I developed that thought process and related it to a lack of compactness at Arsenal and linked this to a lack of athleticism and how many shots we concede. See here…
Post Swansea my mind has moved on a step further.
In Wales we saw some of the recent BAD Arsenal that look slow, vulnerable unstructured and lacking authority to impose our game on lesser opponents.
Then it changed – Why?
Easy statement is we had some good players return but for me it was not only those players but also the partnerships that aid our structure started to flourish.
When I think back to our best teams or our periods of best form. Much relates back to key high performing partnerships.
- Vieira & Gilberto
- Henry & Berrgkamp
- Henry & Cesc
- Sol & Kolo
- Cole & Pires
- Van Persie & Walcott
- Ramsey & Giroud
Ok I will stop now as you get the picture and I’m sure you have your favourites.
I have felt in recent years we have had a dearth of world-class level partnerships down our spine in particular.
My intention today is to go through some partnerships we must maximise as we move into the crunch time of February when our season will be defined.
- Mustafi and Koscielny:
The Most Important Partnership at Arsenal?
Both players are mobile and excellent one on one. In my own mind the best Centre backs I have seen in Wenger times are the ones that are happy in space. The need to be happy being left exposed, as that’s what Wenger teams do.
My mind flips back to Sebastian Squilaci’s comments last year about his time at Arsenal…
“It’s true a lot was expected from me when I arrived. But it’s always been difficult for central defenders at Arsenal.
“You can see that from before my time and after my time. The style of play was a bit like Spain’s. It was very open, and often we found ourselves defending in the middle one on one with the opposition attackers. It was never easy. It was very attacking. But that was the club’s philosophy.
“I talked about it with coach Wenger. He told me, ‘I know it’s difficult, but I want us to play like this, I want the attacking players to have more freedom and less defensive work’.”
This confirmed my suspicions about our philosophy and also confirmed to me why I don’t think Mertesacker was ever suited to how Arsenal plays.
The addition of Mustafi and his front footedness and ability to intercept and dictate our passing from defence has been very complimentary. Add to this he seems more than happy to communicate unlike Koscielny who despite being world class in everything he does – he is NOT a great communicator.
Kos is the defender that never gets beat. He is that player you depend on. Pace to burn, but also knows that reading the game is as important as relying on your athleticism.
Why so Important?
Position Position Position – It’s about where we stand!
Our Centre backs are not perfect.
When over played Kos can look vulnerable when run back to his goal repeatedly. Example Shane Long v Southampton last boxing day. Koeman teams target him in particular and we need to be aware of that.
Mustafi relies on speed. Not in the same way as Kos but its clear he needs to be at a physical level as his trick is speed of challenge.
Mustafi needs to be fit and fast. He is not tall or big for a centre back so he relies massively on physical condition so he feels confident engaging higher. When he does that our whole team moves forward.
Mustafi is our defensive co-ordinator while Kos is our best defender.
I personally rate Gabriel but like Kos his first default action is to cover and not engage. So when Gabriel plays although effective one on one, he is NOT the alpha male and tends to react whereas Mustafi is proactive and for the 2016/17 pressing Arsenal, structurally we need to have a smaller space to cover in centre midfield.
Seeing Mustafi come back to form was significant in Arsenal looking like Arsenal again.
- Ozil and Alexis
Can You Play Closer Together please…
I won’t insult your intelligence on the strengths of the players in question. This section could be short!!
Ok just a little bit on their uniqueness as individuals.
Alexis driven by something inside of him that people like me from the ‘Shires’ just don’t have. He has that something that says ‘I’m going to maximise every minute I have as a footballer’
So much so that I actually have concerns about the moment when like all of us he has to retire. I mean what will he do?
His goal v Swansea is sort of brushed over but he is so sharp and mentally present that he can adjust his feet and sweep that ball into the top of the net as if he was playing a 5 yard pass.
Ozil is the oil to Arsenal’s engine. We just look better when he plays.
Every team he plays for looks better when Ozil is in it – Intangible but obvious to me.
Why So Important?
Superstars need to play with Superstars
The development in Ozil’s game has allowed Wenger to develop Alexis offensively.
Ozil and Alexis play closer together and always end up high in the pass combination statistics.
But what is clear is their football mentality is symbiotic in its nature. They think so alike, so instantly and create something from nothing. I don’t see limits to their game and when they play close I don’t see limits to what Arsenal can achieve offensively.
Giroud at Centre forward has offered us highlights and goals but nothing Giroud can do can reach the level we see when Alexis is our CF and Ozil is close.
I would change how we play so they could be part of an offensive unit and take away defence from their game – that’s how we maximise the partnership.
They give us an offensive confidence that at times due to our structure we minimise when we should be maximising what they have while we have them both.
- Xhaka and Ramsey
Smaller Space required please….
Sometimes your eyes just say if players look right. We have 2 players in Xhaka and Ramsey that look right.
Both tall, both always want the ball. Between them they have most passing clubs in their golf bag.
I have been concerned about their running power and I’m not certain I am over that concern yet as it’s yet to be tested v stronger opposition, but you can see in Xhaka he is adapting well to the intensity levels of the Premiership and in Ramsey he has just started to look fitter. He is ending games stronger and once they both reach their physical ceilings the pairing has a chance to improve.
Ramsey is one player I will do a future blog on in detail as HE more than any Arsenal player perplexes me.
However – What I am seeing now is somebody who maybe has settled down again mentally. I see a player who maybe thinks of himself as an Arsenal player again rather than passing through on his way to Real Madrid. Smaller ego equals better play and one many Arsenal fans will give a chance to.
Xhaka is for me the ‘regista’ of this team. We just need to fully give him the structure for him to flourish. He has all the passes, all the personality and vision and pace of pass and power to direct this team.
Why So Important?
Lets Maximise their Positives not Negatives.
We have an issue here. I don’t think we have fully settled on a style. Maybe we are not even trying to do that but our styles are so distant it concerns me a touch.
Much of that style is linked to who plays at Centre forward.
If Alexis plays then the partnership I could focus on is maybe Coquelin and Alexis – who are the pressers in this team. They are the first line of defence and attack.
The Arsenal ‘Press’
The debate on Coquelin’s value divides and seeing Ramsey and Xhaka in recent weeks has done nothing to change that. It’s about style and what fits your eye.
What I have seen is if we can compress the space in central midfield the metronomic, support line running, one paced Xhaka and Ramsey can work.
They key is where we stand at the Centre Half and how we press from the front.
If we can pressure the ball upfront then our centre backs will not drop off deep but feel confident to engage higher up.
That in turn reduces the space for Xhaka and Ramsey to work in. It allows Ramsey to push on knowing the recovery space is not too big to cover and that pushes opposition back to their goal increasing our scoring chances.
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To Conclude – All these partnerships are linked.
If one partnership does not function, the team structure fails to function.
We all have our favourite players but I’m thinking far more about pattern of play and a structure that can flourish v the better teams. Lets be proactive and get early goals as statistically we score first and early we tend to win.
The Swansea game showed clearly to me if we can get complimentary working partnerships we have a chance to develop into a team that can finally reach our expectations.
Thanks for reading….