Friday, November 26, 2010

Villa: Not an Easy Opportunity to Bounce Back

The wallowers face another test of their questionable mettle at Villa Park on Saturday.

Gerard Houllier and Arsene Wenger are good buddies with clashing philosophies. Houllier teams sit back and counter-punch. Wenger is, as we all know, committed to attack.

There are signs that Houllier's style of play has already taken root at Villa. In truth, it is not a huge departure from that of Martin O'Neill, who also seemed to lack any interest in aesthetics. But, by accident or by design, there is now less emphasis on the Big Man Upfront. Carew and Heskey have been unavailable and the long ball has become pointless. Villa now attack down the flanks at great pace and, as they showed against United a couple of weeks ago, are not afraid to commit bodies forward at the right moments. They were superb on the break for a lot of that second half and really deserved to be out of sight by the time they ran out of steam and let United back in.

Arsenal, in their current incarnation, are hugely susceptible to counter-attacking football. Manchester United and Chelsea have shown that it's the best way to beat them. Keep it tight in your own half- stay compact- defend deep. Spring into the space that Arsenal invariably leave open behind them. Sprint past the dawdling Denilson and the gawking Gael Clichy. BANG BANG they're dead.

Possession may be nine-tenths of the law but to Arsenal it seems a fair fraction of the problem. Possession alone doesn't score goals. Barcelona play the possession game best but they very rarely lack for a cutting edge and only use it in a defensive way when they're in a winning position. Too often, the Gunners lack a high tempo and their supposedly thrilling football starts to look like the dull swinging of a pendulum.

Houllier will relish the opportunity to sit back and let Arsenal worry about holding onto the ball. Even before Wenger became a purveyor of the possession game, his fellow Frenchman enjoyed the upper hand in their head-to-head battles.

That said, Arsenal have been either unusually solid or wonderfully lucky away from home in the Premiership this season. Only Chelsea have beaten the travelling Gunners, but this is a bit of a paradox to my mind because Arsenal haven't looked in complete control of many of those away games. Maybe that's a lesson in itself to Wenger. In the English league, sometimes it's GOOD not to have the ball. Teams don't tend to be that good with it. And you're more likely to score three passes after they give it away than after 33 tippy-tappy-touches.

I'm not suggesting we return to the days of George G but a little variation goes a long way...

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