Some Thoughts on Unclogging Arsenal’s Attack

Strangulation of Arteta

Opposition teams now know that to disrupt Arsenal’s game, all they need to do is (i) to ask their advanced central midfielder to press Arsenal’s distribution center Arteta (see Oscar for Chelsea, Hoolahan for Norwich, Holtby for Schalke and Rooney for United) and (ii) ask their full backs to stay narrow when Arsenal are in possession to congest the center.

When Arteta is strangled, Cazorla drops too deep to help the ball circulation from the back. With no real outlets on the two wings (Ramsey and Podolski), Giroud gets isolated and Arsenal look frighteningly toothless in attack as we have seen against Norwich, Schalke, QPR first half and Manchester United. The key to unclog Arsenal’s attack, of course, depends on the players returning from injury, especially Diaby, Rosicky and Gibbs.

If and when Abou Diaby is back (he will be like the 20th new signing of himself), he can rectify the problem of Arteta being strangled by carrying the ball forward with his sheer athleticism. With Diaby pairing Arteta, Wilshere can then be moved to Cazorla’s current position (which would also help Arsenal to press hard from the front), and Santi Cazorla can move to the wide right.

Cazorla on Wide Right

Cazorla on wide right could indeed give the team some balance as, unlike Ramsey, the Spaniard can dribble out of tight situations, retain possession with his quick thinking and can also be dangerous on either foot when he cuts inside. In contrast, when facing Ramsey, the opposition left back can show him the outside and invite him for a foot race that Ramsey is likely to lose, or show him inside so that Ramsey cuts into a crowded center with no ability to shoot with his left. Another point to note is that on the wide right position, Cazorla’s defensive duties would be much less, as Sagna can defend that flank basically all by himself. Cazorla on the right flank would give the opposition left back and opposition midfield anchor something more difficult to defend against than simply congesting the center. On the right wing, currently too much is asked from Ramsey to perform a duty he is not suited at all, given his limited ball skills, and lack of quick thinking and execution. Ramsey has a good engine, which is most useful in a central midfield position when needed.

If Diaby is not back but Rosicky is back, then Rosicky can move to Cazorla’s current advanced central position (as he was excellent there in the late part of last season) and Cazorla can again move right.  Without Diaby, Wilshere can continue to pair with Arteta.

Return of Gibbs

The return of Gibbs is perhaps the most crucial, as Arsenal’s left does not work (defensively or offensively) at all in any combination that includes Andre Santos. With Gibbs coming back, Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain can provide the direct wing play, and overload the left flank in attack. One direct winger (Walcott or Oxlade) and one creative playmaker on the other wing (Cazorla) would basically provide what Wenger keeps telling us when he explains why he insists on placing Ramsey on wide right, but the combination he speaks of is not going to perform well with Ramsey and Podolski on the two flanks. Podolski on the left wing takes perhaps the best finisher in the team away from the goal.

Pacey Direct Winger on the Left

While Cazorla on the right flank might provide a creative threat which is harder to crowd out by the opposition congesting the center, an important point is the necessity of having a pacey attacking threat in the form of Walcott or Oxlade-Chamberlain placed at the other wing.

Without the threat of pace that can lurk behind them, opposition right backs come narrow to tighten up their shape as mentioned. Not only that, but the lack of pace in Arsenal attack enables the opposition centerbacks to move 10 yards forward to help their midfield cover to squeeze the space in the center where Cazorla currently operates.

As it is, none of Ramsey, Podolski or Giroud make any runs behind the defensive line. Placing a pacey forward on the opposite left flank who can make such runs while Cazorla operates on the other flank is likely to stretch the opposition. Cazorla’s scheming from the right towards the inside is likely to draw defenders to that side opening up the left. At the moment, no such movement develops as Arsenal are reduced to passing the ball in front of the opposition.

In this line-up, one of Podolski or Giroud (but not Gervinho) can play the central striker (as they will need resting and rotation through the fixture congestion until the New Year). Gervinho, if in better form than the last time we have seen him against Schalke and Norwich, can be used at his preferred wide left position as an impact substitute.

Finally, this has nothing to do with the problems in attack, but Vermaalen should be dropped until he improves. If Djorou or Senderos had been making the mistakes that Vermaalen regularly makes in recent weeks, they would be crucified and castrated.

The proposed line up once Gibbs, Diaby and Rosicky are back is as follows.

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