1329: Premiership: How Arsenal’s tac
by : Daniel Kelly
Arsenal are in danger of falling short once again, as the wheels on their seemingly unstoppable premiership bandwagon continue to fall off in spectacular style. Neil Mellor’s outstanding strike on Sunday leaves Arsenal 5 points behind leaders Chelsea, with a potentially decisive game against them to come in a fortnight, and just four points ahead of Manchester United, who seem to finally be recovering the poise that Arsenal appear to have lost. Whilst this position in certainly not a cause for concern, Arsenal’s recent form, and their demeanour, are troubling.
Two things are behind this malaise, one inside the minds of the players at Highbury, and another in the minds of every other premiership player and manager. It is all linked to Arsenal’s defeat at Old Trafford, a defeat that has left a lasting mark. As was perhaps inevitable after such an incredible run, defeat cut deep into the players psyche.
A team that was so alien to the concept of premiership defeat has found its’ long delayed taste a bitter pill to swallow. The effect has been clear to see, a hesitancy in the step, a sudden faltering in the vibrant and fluid play that supporters and opposition alike have come to expect from them. It is still there, as their equaliser against Liverpool demonstrated, but it has been superseded by self-doubt and fear. This mental fragility has been evident in recent games.
Soft, sloppy goals caused by panicky clearances and unfocused defending have blighted Arsenal’s play. Looking back at these games it is apparent that this fragility has manifested itself in Arsenal’s inability to protect a lead. Where normally you would have expected Arsenal to pull away from sides after going a goal up they have faltered, more concerned with protecting their lead than extending it. This paralysis has led to draws instead of victories, and severely hindered their ambitions to retain the title they won so impressively last season. Southampton, Crystal Palace, and West Brom have all found their way back into games they would normally have been soundly beaten in. Arsenal have six points from six games since they visited Old Trafford, and such form cannot continue if they wish to retain their title.
The second factor behind Arsenal’s recent malaise is in the bearing of the opposition towards them. Since Manchester United punctured the aura of invincibility around the men from Highbury, others have believed that they too, can beat them. The mental boost opposition sides have received has coincided with the mental blow Arsenal have suffered. Manchester United also demonstrated exactly how to counter Arsenal tactically, a tactic repeated successfully by other sides since then.
A physical approach is an absolute necessity, as seen at Anfield on Sunday. Secondly, the deployment of a striker on the right of midfield has a profound effect on Arsenal’s play. With the striker occupying the full back as a midfielder in his place would not, the fullback cannot occupy the standard right midfielder. This, in turn frees the opposition full back to mark Henry when he roams so often down the left channel, and rather than being outnumbered by Cole, Pires and Henry down the left touchline for example, the numbers are even, with fullback and midfielder against Henry and Pires. When the fullback does venture forward the striker tracks back, evening up the numbers once again. This tactic, again seen in Rafael Benitez’s deployment of Siname-Pongolle as a right sided forward, severely hampers Arsenals’ attacking patterns.
Arsenal will surely recover their lost poise, and Arsene Wenger will find an effective counter to the tactical ploys being used so successfully against them. The key factor is time. With every dropped point Arsenal look and feel more and more beatable. The game with Chelsea may come too soon for an Arsenal recovery, or it could kick-start their campaign once again. What is certain that this blot in danger of wiping out Arsenal’s season.