Tactics Column: Arsenal out-Arsenal Swansea but settle for draw

Tactics Column: Arsenal out-Arsenal Swansea but settle for draw

The last time Swansea faced Arsenal, they comprehensively out-played The Gunners in a way which damaged the credibility of the “Arsenal way.” The Welsh side prevailed 2-0 at the Emirates and displayed football which was once synonymous with the red and white. The passing was slick, they moved the ball about confidently and their play featured lots of quick switches of play, the type of which, which regularly once got the Arsenal faithful off their seats to applaud. With memory of that game fresh in the mind – and indeed, last season’s 3-2 defeat at the Liberty Stadium – the prospect of a giant-killing, if that’s the word, seemed very probable.

Arsène Wenger’s selection seemed determined not to let that happen and indeed, that was mirrored by his tactics. Wenger has often been criticised for not adjusting his tactics to suit his opponents (that’s sometimes unfair as he does it in a more subtle way) but this time, his side’s approach looked to address the flaws in their previous encounter with Swansea. More pertinently perhaps, it’s also been a flaw in their last two outings, against both Newcastle (which my match report serves to highlight, wasn’t as good as the scoreline suggested) and Southampton. In those games, Arsenal dropped too deep – one theory is that it’s a compromise for letting Theo Walcott play up front, and another is that the striker himself, doesn’t work hard enough closing down defenders – and allowed their opponents to play. That proved fatal last time around against Swansea too so this time, Arsenal pressed up the pitch, determined not to let the Swans get any rhythm. For the most part it worked and the first-half proceeded to be an interesting one if not an exciting one.

Essentially, both teams traded tactics.Swansea, the team who like to close down high up the pitch, instead opted to defend deep, looking to create the platform for Michu to come on in the second-half and provide the sucker punch. On the other hand, Arsenal pressed and tried to stop Swansea’€™s midfielders getting the ball off the centre-backs. At this point, it may be worth taking the time out to explain quickly, the subtle differences in the way two seemingly quintessentially similar sides, like to pass the ball out from the back.

Arsenal’s is more position-based and as such, it’s easy to identify the typical passing lanes. The centre-backs pick up the ball and looks to feed one of the midfielders, usually Mikel Arteta, who in turn has the option of passing it to a myriad of attacking players who have committed forward in front of him. With this approach, Arsenal look to have as much of the play in the opponents half as possible.Swansea, on the other hand, have the majority of their play at the back and are happy for it. Instead, they look to work space patiently by stretching the pitch as wide as possible and eventually, this will create a bit of space for one of the midfielders in the 4-3-3 to find a killer pass. Arsenal acknowledged that and quickly looked to close down the ball whenever one of those midfielders received possession. But what Swansea do well is to spread the centre-backs across the pitch to allow them a bit of time and then play a searching diagonal to one of the three forwards. In the first-half, that was their most fruitful passage to Arsenal’s goal and they had their best chance when Danny Graham was found with a long ball from Kyle Bartley (see below).

Swansea 2-2 Arsenal: Arsenal pressed Swansea up the pitch but while on the whole it worked, Swansea could counteract with one long ball to bypass the press. They create one such good chance on 13 minutes when Bartley’s pass found Graham. (What’s also interesting about Swansea’s tactic is that it forces teams, if they want the ball, to push up, creating that space to exploit behind).

The first-half continued in that cat-and-mouse fashion, with both sides finding most space when they forced a turnover. Thankfully, Wenger realised to break from this pattern of play, his side had to move the ball about faster and in the second-half, they came out with a much higher tempo. Suddenly,S wansea weren’t so assured with the ball and continued giving away cheap possession. The two goals Arsenal conceded might get all the attention for all the wrong reasons and indeed, Arsenal should be criticised for letting in two soft-ish , certainly avoidable goals, with a bit more decisiveness. But it should not detract from the fact that the second period was one of Arsenal’s best spells of football for a while as they sent attack after attack at Swansea’s goal. The passing was crisp and the tempo was urgent with Kieran Gibbs and Jack Wilshere’s drive the catalyst. The latter may have tired when Arsenal eventually turned the scoreline around but Gibbs continued marauding forward down the left and got his reward with a fantastically struck goal. (Indeed, the full-backs should get a mention here for important contributions in two totally different ways. Gibbs was the attacking thrust down the left while Bacary Sagna was Arsenal’s Mr. Dependable once again, protecting the whole of the right-flank as Wenger allowed Walcott to play with freedom drifting off the touchline).

When teams play like Arsenal against Arsenal, the recent trend is that they out-Arsenal them (wins against Newcastle and Wigan saw The Gunners accrue less possession). But if it’s a positive this time round, we were back to our normal, mercurial self. That’s a good thing, right?

Swansea 2-2 Arsenal: Dyer another day

Swansea 2-2 Arsenal: Dyer another day

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You know, in the cold light of day I’m finding it difficult to get too worked up about yesterday. It was, at the end of the day, a fairly interesting football match. One we might have lost (there’s a shock), one we could have won but didn’t (another shock), and one from which we can draw some positives if the default position of self-harm and tearfulness is overcome.

I thought we played pretty well in the first half. If you want to criticise you could point to the fact that we didn’t create a great deal but we were certainly on top of Swansea. Yes, they had the best chance of the game when Kyle Bartley’s header bounced back off the bar from a free kick, but it was a set-piece. In terms of possession and control we had the upper hand. It was, in relative terms, better than Southampton. And yes, I know this is like getting a kick in the knee is better than one in the balls, but still.

In the second half we came out flying, created chances and had shots and all that kind of stuff that gets you goals. Then they brought on Michu and our lot went ‘Oh no, Michu, he’s going to score’ and Michu scored. Not a goal in which our defence covered themselves in glory but it was also some pretty nice play from the Spaniard whose form and confidence allows him to lob a footballing ent like Per Mertesacker. I don’t think anybody was in the least bit surprised but it was definitely against the run of play.

But, in fairness, we kept at it. Giroud had a great chance from a Ramsey cross, the Welshman might have had a penalty but he clipped his own heels after some contact from a Swansea defender, Giroud forced Vorm into a couple of decent saves before Theo Walcott fired wide when a player in his current form really should have hit the target at the very least. With less than 10 minutes to go it was substitute Lukas Podolski who drew us level. After a corner was cleared, Koscielny blumpled it back into the box, the German fired a smart first time shot on the turn to make it 1-1.

And a couple of minutes later we were ahead, and deservedly so in my opinion. Kieran Gibbs played a pass to Olivier Giroud on the edge of the box, the Frenchman clipped the return over the top and Gibbs, having continued his run, smashed it home on the volley to make it 2-1. For me Gibbs was easily our best player on the day, and the goal itself was quite reminiscent of the one Podolski scored in the Champions League earlier in the season. It was a lovely ball from Giroud, and the finish from Gibbs was that of a player growing in confidence, which is great to see.

So, with less than 5 minutes left you’d expect Arsenal to hold on. In another universe. This is ours and this is this Arsenal. Swansea won a corner, it was flicked on to the back post for Danny Graham who could have been closed down much more quickly by Arteta, wasn’t, and so fired home an equaliser into the top corner. I can’t really say they deserved it, based on the game, but perhaps we deserved it based on not being able to defend for shit.

Even at the end there was time for us to nearly win it. Another corner, a Koscielny header which Vorm got half a hand on but it was just enough to keep it out and see the game go to a replay which will take place on Weds 16th. A game handily sandwiched by league fixtures with Man City and Chelsea. Lovely. Afterwards, Arsene said:

We should have won this game. I think in the second half we created many chances and suddenly found ourselves 1-0 down. We have shown character and quality.

And on the fact the game has to be replayed:

I am frustrated because I wouldn’t want one, but if that’s the choice between going out or staying in the hat, I take the replay. They have many games as well. We also have against West Ham on January 23.

And, of course, this is going to be a real test for a squad which looks tired and a bit leggy already. It was curious to see Arsene not use his bench a great deal yesterday. I know we were playing well in the second half and he might not have wanted to change things too much, but when you look at the starting line-up you do wonder why Tomas Rosicky didn’t get a sniff. I thought Aaron Ramsey played pretty well and was involved in some of our more dangerous attacking moments, but he’s out of position there.

Could Rosicky not have started there with Ramsey in Wilshere’s position in midfield? I can’t be alone in thinking Jack is looking a little weary, suffering from expectation in terms of his form and, dare I say, in danger of being overplayed when we ought to be a bit more cautious about thrusting him back into the hustle and bustle of a game every three days?

Bacary Sagna looks exhausted to me too. Yesterday, it was understandable, as Theo Walcott’s positional discipline was a huge frustration. Too often Sagna had nobody ahead of him on the right hand side as the man who was supposed to be there drifted inside, wherever he liked, and left him chasing shadows at times. At the very least he had nobody to pass the ball to.

Another bone of contention: Theo Walcott taking free kicks. Sorry, but no. He’s never scored for us, they’re generally woeful, and when you have players like Arteta and Cazorla in the team (and I know Cazorla had a Walcottian effort in the 2nd half) they ought to be first up and show their seniority. I can’t believe allowing him to take free kicks is a sop to make him sign a new contract, I just think he’s a guy who is starting to believe the hype a bit too much at the expense of what’s best for the team.

But look, FA Cup replays are part and parcel of a glorious cup run. We’ve always had them, and while they’re not ideal – especially given the fixtures we have this month – you’d much rather have one that be out of the competition altogether.

What yesterday illustrated to me once again though was that this is a squad which needs reinforcement if it’s to cope with the schedule we have coming. Arsene can talk all he wants about Coquelin and Diaby but there’s a very obvious need to bring in at least a couple of new players to add some freshness to things. Not only that, there are the resources to do it. Yes, January is not the ideal time to buy players but that we need them at this time of the year is entirely down to the way we did our business in the summer. We reap what we sow and all that.

Anyway, it means the games will keep on coming and this 7 day gap between fixtures is the longest we’ve got until the start of February. It’s the perfect time to go out and do what needs to be done, but no doubt that’s something we can cover over the next few days.

Till tomorrow.