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Talking Tactics: Arsenal v West Ham

Arsenal played West Ham over the weekend in what was a clash of styles with Arsene Wenger’s free flowing attacking philosophy going up against Big Sam’s long ball tactics, tactics that have previously been successful against Arsenal. Arsenal however fought hard (even after going down a goal against the run of play) and came back worthy winners with the game finishing with a scoreline of 3-1 to the Arsenal.

I am Giroud

Going into what would be a physical battle, many were calling for Olivier Giroud to start and lead the line for Arsenal and boy did he deliver on the supporter’s faith by scoring a goal and assisting on another.

The game in essence best captured what Giroud brings to the team. He’s a direct player who can hold up play, link with the midfield, and isn’t afraid to take shots. In all he finished the game with 8 shots (4 on target) along with 3 aerial duels won and 1 key pass made (1 assist). While it was great to see Giroud get his first PL goal, his movement throughout the game was brilliant, constantly pulling Reid and Collins with him freeing up space that was exploited by both Cazorla and Podolski. His link up play was also excellent choosing to play into space allowing players like Ramsey and Cazorla to latch on and take advantage.

Giroud’s direct approach gives Arsenal a different dynamic and with like minded players around him (Podolksi, Ramsey & Walcott), this approach can also be beneficial in breaking down teams that will resort to parking the proverbial ‘bus’.

Jekyll and Hyde on the Right Wing

With Giroud leading the line, Gervinho was started on the right wing. Sadly the Ivorian finished the match with 0 shots, 0 key passes and 0 successful dribbles; in other words,  he had a game to forget.

McCartney and Jarvis doubly drew the duty of containing Gervinho but they did not play the game completely tight along the left flank which could give Gervinho ample space to work with. What West Ham did do  was crowd the midfield in the first half forcing Gervinho to take himself out on the flank repeatedly where his threat was easily nullified.

With such a poor performance Gervinho was taken off and Theo Walcott came on around the 60th minute. The introduction of Walcott completely changed the dynamic on the right wing.  Theo’s speed gave both McCartney and Reid numerous problems. Theo succeeded where Gervinho failed for one simple reason, directness. While Gervinho was constantly looking to cut in from the right, Theo looked to take on the leftback. As the second half wore on, West Ham pushed further up, freeing up space for Theo to take advantage of.  And once Theo has space, its just a case of whether or not his shot is on target. With the space he was given he was able to pull away from the West Ham defenders and score from a delicious Giroud through ball and provide the assist for Cazorla’s screamer.

To some this may be further indication that Theo is a ‘super sub’ who can use his speed versus tiring legs later on in games however what this game displayed was that Theo’s directness was better utilized in an away game setting when the home team chose to go for the win. Gervinho has the most success on the flanks in home games where opposing team are more compact and where Arsenal wins the midfield battles opening up channels for him to attack. It should come as no surprise that Gervinho has also had his best games at home. Theo on the other hand approaches the game in a more simplistic fashion where he is happy to sit on the shoulder of the last man and attack in a straight line which suits the rigours of an away game where the home team opens up space as they push for a win allowing for ideal counter attacking opportunities. Theo’s approach does put pressure on the right back covering (any surprise why he has looked so good with Sagna in the team?) but the defensive stability of Jenkinson now means that Theo can enjoy the same free reign.

Mikel’s new Friend

Aaron Ramsey’s sparkling form along with Diaby’s injury ensured he got an opportunity to pivot in midfield alongside Arteta. While Ramsey has had his fair share of critics, this game went on to show why he may be Arteta’s ideal partner till Diaby/Wilshere are fit. The midfield was in a word, efficient with Mikel and Aaron completing close to 200 passes for the game. While both worked pivots, Arteta’s passing was based on creating space through short passes using both Cazorla and Ramsey while Ramsey was more direct than usual and provided thrust by constantly employing long balls (11/12 accurate long balls). Aaron’s approach in midfield mostly benefited Giroud who was able to take advantage of his passing range while also linking up in open space with Aaron’s movement ensuring he got into the right spots.

Defensively Aaron’s approach in midfield is similar to Arteta’s. Not the cleanest of tacklers, Ramsey got into positions to intercept and block off inner channels/space. While Arteta used his experience to compensate for his lack of speed throughout the game, Aaron’s movement ensured he could provide adequate cover to our CBs and make a couple of key interceptions and finished the game with 2 tackles and 2 interceptions (game high).

The worry with Aaron however is that he always has a mistake in him and that mistake directly lead to a West Ham goal. While many have wondered if having a more orthodox tackler in midfield would benefit our system and Arteta more, if Aaron is able to curb his defensive lapses he would indeed make ideal pairing with Mikel as their approach, passing range and defensive style compliment each other as evident against West Ham.

Conclusion

The scoreline in the end was flattering as West Ham had their share of chances but what was remarkable was watching Arsenal stay resilient and fight its way to a win. In seasons past, Arsenal would have come back with dropped points from these types of games with an inability to match and compete against bigger and physical teams. But this is a different Arsenal team, one that is gritty and willing to dig deep and in the end were able to will their way to a hard fought and thoroughly satisfying away win.

INFOGRAPHIC (by DAG)

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