Monday, August 16, 2010

A Familiar Failing

David Pleat in the Guardian writes that Samir Nasri taught Joe Cole a 'masterclass' in how to play behind a frontman.

While Nasri found space to get on the ball a lot in the first half, though, there was an almost complete lack of penetration from Arsenal. Chamakh looked isolated and ineffective, but where were the runners?

It's a problem this team has often suffered from. In essence, the attacking part of the team is full of 'half-forwards'- they would all prefer to play where, on Sunday, Nasri was playing. Arshavin, stranded again on the left, has never been given a chance. Wilshere might get the job some day, but here he had to play deeper. Rosicky on the bench is the same sort of player. And it's the position, more or less, that Fabregas will be asked to take up when he returns.

All of them want to get on the ball, wait for a clever run, and release a player into space. Or, when that's not an option, keep the ball in little triangles. But so often with Arsenal, we only get the second thing. Because they all have the same instincts, they all want to do the same thing. Arsenal are lauded as the most attacking team in the league, but they often look the least penetrative.

It's for these reasons that Theo Walcott, bad footballer that he is, often looks necessary. Sometimes, he shows a willingness to go beyond the full back, without the ball, and look for a through pass. When he is given the ball at his feet, he is invariably clueless, and even when he gets in behind, he's even more profligate than the average brainless winger, but he still sort of works because he's so different to everybody else in the team.

Sometimes I wonder if even the great Dennis Bergkamp would be a frustrated force in this side: he had Overmars and Anelka, then Ljungberg, Pires and Henry- all targets, people who would move away from, as well as towards, the ball. Now the balance is askew.

Spain, of course, can suffer from a similar problem (Barcelona can often solve it because Messi is so adept at taking on and beating players- at least against weaker teams). Funnily enough, Fabregas looked the closest thing to a solution to Spain's problem this summer. Perhaps his time in the Premiership has taught him the benefit of direct running. He was he only Spanish midfielder who looked to make runs through the opposition back four, and it almost gave him a goal in the final.

At Arsenal, becuase his team mates don't have the class of Iniesta and Xavi, he often has to be both conductor and finisher. What trouble Arsenal would be in without him.

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