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Arsenal’s defensive shape, midfield composure & attacking width key against Chelsea

Arsenal’s recent record against fellow top 4 teams has been notoriously poor. Last season, things took a turn for the worse as Arsenal were on the receiving end of some severely one-sided scorelines. A game against Chelsea this weekend represents an opportunity to address this concern. Vatsal Dani tells us what Arsenal could do to buck this unwanted trend.

Arsenal vs Chelsea has been a top draw London derby fixture for almost a decade now. Arsenal, however, in this decade have seldom managed to get an upper hand over their Southern rivals.

This has always been the match up of two contrasts both on and off the pitch. On one side are the more ‘traditional’ Gunners who under Arsene Wenger have become patrons of the ‘Beautiful Football’ in the land. While on the other side are more tactical and referred to some by as the boring ‘Bus Parkers’. Chelsea, under Mourinho, have always given priority to getting their job done come what may whereas Arsenal have always focused on their style and possession based football.

It is a widely known fact that Arsene Wenger has never gotten the better of Jose Mourinho. Never! It is mainly down to the fact that the Portuguese is tactically far more superior to his French counterpart.  Last season, Mourinho’s Chelsea mauled Wenger’s Arsenal by six goals at the Bridge as Arsenal simply didn’t have an answer to Chelsea’s high pressing game.

Wenger Flamini

Chelsea is not the first team to do so against Wenger’s boys. Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool did so at Anfield and in process thrashing them 5-1. As this Gary Neville quote points to the Achilles’ heel of the Gunners,

“Wenger doesn’t tend to change much in big games. He doesn’t change his philosophy, which is a great way to be and a lot of coaches are like that.”

So the task for the Wenger and his staff is cut-out. Get that good ol’ solidity and grit back in the side. I’d like to put forth a few points, which according to me Arsenal should focus on to obtain a result against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.

Defensive shape

Arsenal’s possession based and attacking approach demands that their full-backs are in more advanced positions than other teams. This exposes their centre-halves. Due to the ‘keep hold of the ball’ strategy, at times, their centre-halves too are found in advanced positions making them a sitting duck for oppositions with pace and verve.

It is very important that this Arsenal backline maintains a solid shape and seals out the spaces between the lines. A flat backline against the quartet of Costa, Hazard, Oscar and Schurrle is a must. With a magician like Cesc Fabregas in that midfield, Chelsea will have another field day at the Bridge if Arsenal opt for their preferred more staggered backline. The likes of Chambers and Gibbs will have to stay compact more than ever to deny Hazard and Schurrle any sort of space. Along with them, the duo of Koscielny and Mertasacker will have to shackle an under-fit Diego Costa. Koscielny will be the more prominent member of this duo to keep the scintillating Spaniard in check.

Composure in midfield

One of the important aspects of this high pressing game is to deny the holding midfielder of the opposing team the time and space on the ball. Since Arsenal doesn’t possess the likes of Patrick Vieira nowadays in the midfield, a combative approach against the Chelsea midfield will be suicidal. The likes of Arteta and Ramsey are already out with injuries, the Arsenal midfield is as brittle as potato chips.

The only thing sensible would be to play a waiting game. The likes of Flamini and hopefully a match fit Jack Wilshere will have to curb their natural attacking instincts for a more tactical approach. They have to stay patient and wear down the Chelsea players who will eventually get tired due to their high pressing approach. If Wenger chooses Oxlade-Chamberlain in the midfield trio then it becomes all more imperative to have a solid shape in the midfield and to hit them on the counter. The moment they lose their shape in midfield it’s game over for Arsenal. Patience will be their most important key to success at the Bridge.

Attacking Width

The main reason for their vulnerability in wide positions is due to lack of any attacking width. The ‘false’ wingers of Arsenal leave loads of space between them and their fullbacks. Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will have to work their socks off to keep Chelsea’s buccaneering fullbacks busy. A hardworking centre forward in Danny Welbeck is a blessing as the wide players will have their burden lightened. Arsenal lacks any natural width in absence of Theo Walcott. But the Ox and Sanchez combo can do the job if used properly.

Mesut Özil may be their best creative player but playing him out wide will be all but playing into Chelsea’s hands. The German playmaker isn’t a grafter who will relentlessly move up and down the pitch.

Arsenal will have to take Chelsea out of their comfort zone and stop them playing their counterattacking style. A complete overhaul of their current philosophy is needed if Arsene Wenger has to open his account against his nemesis Jose Mourinho.

Written by Vatsal Dani


Vatsal Dani

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