After discussing the importance of having the right type of players in our squad with Zara yesterday , I thought it would be important to talk about how the players are being utilized within in the squad. There have been a lot of comments that players like Bendtner and Arshavin have been played out of position, and today Steve is going to offer his thoughts on how a change in formation and tactics could be the key to solving our problems…
There has been some serious discussion around the problems at the club in recent seasons, this one in particular. One aspect that has seen attention is our tactics and the areas of weakness in our game. As I see it, our formation and ineffective crossing and corners are giving us the most trouble.
Formation: I think our formation works with our starting XI for the most part. Van Persie as a central striker is strong and both Walcott and Arshavin play well in their positions on the wings. There’s no question about our midfield as they all work well together and provide strength to our game.
I think our formation issues come when we bring on substitutes that are then played in positions with which they are not particularly comfortable. The big example here is Bendtner being played in Walcott’s role. He’s a big man, not as fast as other players and is better on the receiving end of a cross in front of the box. He’s better made to receive crosses than provide them. Wenger should be playing Bendtner in the centre to take advantage of his height and finishing if he wants to maintain our usual 4-2-3-1 formation. If he doesn’t want to do this, then why not try a 4-4-2 set up? This way we gain a more condensed midfield for defensive purposes and Bendtner can be paired with van Persie up front to provide a closer attacking partnership. Walcott and Nasri are still on the wings and can provide support/service to the strikers, as well as taking their own chances to score. This will increase the number of forwards we have in the box at any given time and should make our crosses more threatening.
Crosses: This is one area where we are rather weak (in recent games we’ve had over 30 crosses and no goals from them). As I said above, if we have one main striker in the box to receive crosses that lessens our accuracy and chances of scoring, especially when that striker isn’t particularly skilled with his head. Van Persie, though a tall guy, hasn’t scored many headed goals lately and it’s partly because it’s not as much a talent of his as, say, someone like Bendtner or one of the centre halves. When we have other attackers in the box they are usually rather short (Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Wilshere, Song…well actually nearly our entire team is short and less likely to win headers). You can’t always rely on striking for goal with your feet when an aerial ball is coming across the front of the net.
The other issue with crossing is the players providing the service. Clichy, as many know, is not the best crosser. He’s actually one of the worst we have. Sure, he provided that beautiful ball for Song to head home in the last minute of the West Ham game at the Emirates, but what else has he done? He’s much more likely to cross the ball awkwardly while Robin tries, awkwardly, to reach it. Clichy is not good at picking out players this way. He is good at moving the ball forward and providing a short pass to Arshavin, Nasri or the like, but that’s about it. Sagna is marginally better, Walcott is poor with the accuracy of his crosses, and Nasri is less likely to attempt crosses and would rather dance around defenders. Overall, in the attacking positions we are weak in this area. Poor accuracy of the cross and poor heading ability by our players.
Corners: If memory serves, we score more goals from corners than crosses and I would argue this is because we have our big boys – Squillaci, Koscielny, and Djourou – there to beat opponents to the ball. Squillaci and Koscielny have scored at least two each this season, while Djourou has scored one more recently. I realise it’s partly because at a corner we have more people in the box, but that means nothing if they can’t finish. Our outfield players have skill and ability, but not the height or physical presence to be effective this way.
The same problem comes when we try to defend corners. We’ve got our two bigger centre halves there plus van Persie, but everyone else is not physically imposing enough to dominate the space in front of goal. I believe a recent statistic has shown that we concede nearly 60% of our goals from set pieces like corners or free-kicks, which is a shocking amount, really. Part of this come down to the physical component, but there is an organisational element as well. Rarely do we see the players shouting orders at each other when lining up to defend a set piece, instead they stand around looking lost and hoping for the best. There needs to be more communication and players who want to take control of these parts of the game. I don’t know if this should be coming from the captain, since he’s really not much of a defender, but a hell of a playmaker instead. Tony Adams was not only a great defender, but he was forceful with his own team and able to motivate them to defend and perform as needed. He was also the captain of the side giving a strong personality and influence in that area and perhaps that’s what we need now (I’m not taking anything away from Cesc, he’s a great captain, but his strength is not in defence, which, if you look at some of the big blunders of this season, you will see this area has caused us more than a little stress). I think the calls for a new keeper and new centre halves could be nullified if we had one strong defender who captained the team and provided that needed element to the back four.