I’ve been asked by Football Rascal to write a preview of the Arsenal vs Chelsea game this weekend, so here goes. Those that know me will know I don’t have a lot of time for the tactical side of football. I’ve felt for a while now that the game is becoming over complicated by the sort of people who take desk jobs in the army and managers such as Andre Villas-Boas. Football is essentially a simple game, and the need of some to come across as football intelligentsia has turned me off the tactical side of things.
However, I’m going to attempt a tactical analysis of our clash with Chelsea. This could go disastrously wrong, so I apologise in advance if it’s a) boring and b) rubbish.
On the surface, the game on Saturday lunchtime (I hate Saturday lunchtime kick offs), is a huge game for both teams. Both have started well this season, Arsenal’s a little more unrealised than Chelsea, hence the 4 point gap. In reality it is probably a bigger game for the home team. Not only does avoiding defeat mean they won’t already be seven points behind, but on top of last weekends draw at the Etihad, a win against a buoyant Chelsea side would surely give them further, that most precious of footballing commodities, confidence.
I’ve dreaded Arsenal vs Chelsea games of the past. It was usually the pointer to a pounding by football battering ram, Didier Drogba. A remarkable player who effectively ended the Arsenal career of at the very least Phillipe Senderos. Drogba appeared to enjoy bullying Arsenal more than any other premiership team, and in fairness, we allowed it. In his prime Drogba feasted on the Arsenal defence more times than I would care to remember.
At the height of Drogba’s powers, Chelsea were a simple team. Keep it tight at the back and get it forward quickly. Either to the wide men, or directly to Drogba who more often than not would knock the ball down to an on rushing Frank Lampard. Surely that combination is in the top 5 Premiership assists makers as a pair.
However, Chelsea these days are a very different animal altogether. Dare I say it, they’ve become the new Arsenal. Or is that Man City? I forget.
Anyhow, it seems Chelsea’s game plan these days is far more subtle. Over the summer they have loaded their midfield with the sort of tricky midget midfielders that Arsene used to dream of before he signed Mikel Arteta. Oscar, Hazard, Mata, Marin, Moses etc. are all now part of the Chelsea midfield. Gone is the power game of Essien, Lampard and Makelele. Mourinho is a bully, and he loved his teams to play in his own image. Bullying and intimidation.
Roberto Di Abramovich is different. I suppose this is born from the fact that Chelsea have now finally won the Champions League. The next goal for the owner is to win “ol big ears” with style. Hence the signing of the Barca-lite players. Not that I use that as an insult. Mata, Hazard and potentially Oscar all seem to be fine players. In fact if you ignore the shirt I’ve enjoyed watching Chelsea this year.
Part of this is down to the comedy defending routine that they have appeared to adopt. We all know the Sideshow bobness of David Luiz is not just limited to his hairstyle. He’s a liability, an accident waiting to happen, and how he avoided a red card last Sunday is anyone’s guess. Terry is old and slow, Cahill doesn’t seem to have the trust of the manager, and Ivanovic is rapidly becoming an Eastern European pantomime villain.
When did he become a massive cheat? I think I missed that transformation.
Ashley Cole, hate him or hate him, is a fine player, who appears to be relishing the new attacking, expansive Chelsea. I wonder if we will see more chinks in his defensive armour now that he is being asked to play, at 32, as a quasi-wing back.
Between the posts, I’d argue that only Pepe Reina has had a more spectacular fall from form than Cech. Cech looks like he has been on the decline ever since Stephen Hunt caved his skull in. Maybe he needs to lose that headgear, not only does it look ridiculous, I can’t imagine for one minute it helps his confidence.
I haven’t seen an awful lot of Chelsea this season, but I have watched the last two games. Stoke and Juventus. In both games I saw things that Arsenal could exploit.
The main point is as a team they are far more attacking now. In the old days they attacked with 2/3 players, quick ball to Drogba and hope that once it’s in the box he can smash his way to goal, or Lampard can pick up the pieces, with the aid of their most potent attacker of the last 25 years, Darren Eflection.
These days they attack as a team. The full backs play as wingers, and the midfield is far more connected to the front man than before. The one problem I see with the way that Chelsea play with this system is how the defence and midfield interact. When you play a high tempo pressing/passing game that is de riguer at present, the defence and midfield need to be far closer together, otherwise the base of the midfield gets dragged further and further back and there is a either a gap behind the attacking midfield, or between the defence and midfield.
At present the Chelsea defence is not in sync with the rest of the team. Last season we were led to believe that John Terry could not handle the high line that AVB insisted on playing with Cheslea. But in actual fact, for the system they are currently attempting to endorse, they almost need to.
We know the merits of Terry as a footballer, and pace and subtlety are not two of them. And certainly, if he plays alongside David Luiz on Sunday, I see that very much as their weakspot. Compare their centre halves to that of Arsenal, and on current form, there really is no contest whatsoever.
As a result of this lack of connection between the defence and the rest of the team, I can see Arsenal exploiting it profitably. I expect Santi Cazorla to play a little further forward than he has done previously, in an attempt to exploit the space between midfield and defence. Jon Obi Mikel, hopefully, won’t be cute enough to deal with this situation in the same way Makalele would have. I imagine Mikel frequently diving in, and being passed around just in front of his back four.
This would mean that Arsenal could focus their attacks through the middle. However, the space behind the full backs, especially on Cole’s side should not be ignored. If the game plan works out as I suspect, the Chelsea defence will be forced to play higher up the pitch, in an attempt to win the ball before they are being run at.
Obviously it won’t be all one way traffic, and one of the benefits of playing the 4-3-2-1 system is that you will see a lot of the ball. And if you give Chelsea a lot of the ball they have the players to punish you. Hazard and Mata are wonderful players, who surely wouldn’t look out of place in the current Barca team. The key for Arsenal is to starve Chelsea’s attacking threats of the ball. It’s is where Arteta comes in.
Arteta is far more effective in the holding role than Song ever was. He is aware of the role, what it entails and how to play it. Being a defensive midfielder does not mean you often find yourself as the furthest player forward. Sure Arsenal benefited from Song’s creativity a lot last season, but we also suffered at the hands of his “where the hell has Song gone” issue. Arteta has brought a stability to Arsenal that Song would have never achieved.
This has made us far more secure defensively. As a former defender, it’s always far easier to do your own job if the midfielders do theirs. You aren’t being constantly attacked by runners, or having to step forward into no man’s land to mark a player. Arteta understands this perfectly. And it is absolutely no coincidence that Mertesacker is now looking like the world class centre half that he is, with some proper protection in front of him.
Arteta’s role on Saturday will be to shut down Chelsea’s attacks before they reach the edge of our box, and also to stop the ball getting wide quickly.
Defensively Arsenal appear to be far superior (how very odd). Arteta is a far better player than Mikel and the centre halves are in much better form. Arsenal and Chelsea full backs play now, in a very similar way. Focus on attack and lungbust to defend when required. It’s currently the hardest job on the pitch, and whoever plays right back for Chelsea, will be the weakest of the four.
Jenkinson and Gbbs have been super impressive in the last few games, and surely both are set fair for long and successful England careers. I am not afraid to admit I wrote off Jenkinson last season. But his improvement this year has been nothing short of remarkable, so much so that I’m not sure Sagna is the certainty to get back in the team that he was six weeks ago. They have very much been a key part of Arsenal’s solid defensive start to the season.
Both teams will approach the game in a similar way, and I think the result will be decided by who is more clinical in front of goal. Gervinho was very wasteful on Sunday, and I don’t think he will get an immediate chance to redeem himself. I have a funny feeling, amidst all the talk of new contracts that Walcott may well start up front on Saturday. He would be the ideal choice to exploit the space between defence and midfield, and even more so if Chelsea start to play a higher line, as I suspect they might have to. In fact I would like to see Arsenal line up with a front three of Podolski, Walcott and Chamberlain.
Whether they will or not, is a different matter altogether. But overall I feel Arsenal have both the defensive stability and midfield guile to cope with Chelsea on Saturday. Chelsea have not really had a proper league test this season, and it will be interesting to see how they cope against a supposed top side. Arsenal have passed the Liverpool and Man City test with flying colours, and must surely be confident of passing the Chelsea test.
I don’t think it will be a tight game, I think it will be expansive, and this will suit Arsenal, who could win the game in central midfield where Diaby will look to dominate Lampard and Ramires.
The one cause for concern for Arsenal, is in goal. Mannone was at fault for the City goal this weekend, and whilst he has performed much better than I thought he would to date, he is still a bit shaky with the potential to drop a flanger at any moment. Fingers crossed he has another good game this weekend.
It will also be interesting to see who plays at centre back for Arsenal. If fit, I suspect we will see the mobility and pace of Koscielny and Vermaelen against the tricky attackers of Chelsea. Our Big F***** German is possibly also in need of a rest. But it’s a hard call, and no combination of the three would a) surprise me or b) significantly weaken us.
In summary I expect Arsenal to shade an open and exciting game. Perhaps 2-1. What is for sure though, it should be a belter.
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