Tuesday, May 31, 2011

BLOG: How to Offend

It's allergy season, and every time I sneeze there's another rumor about a potential signing. Some of them—Hazard, Benzema, Gervinho—I really like. Some of them—Samba, Scott Parker, anyone from a 2nd division Spanish team—I worry about. And others—Vieira as a member of the coaching staff—I don't care about at all.

My favorites are the swaps. The latest: we'll swap Cesc and Denilson for Benzema, four plates of paella and a lock of Ronaldo's hair. Maybe we'll trade Bendtner for a water pistol and a slightly scuffed Snake Eyes action figure—he was the coolest, you know. Sadly, we may have done worse before. Anyhow, I continue to devour the gossip and get furious, excited, or confused, depending on the link. But we all know that it's nonsense until contracts are signed.

So, instead of wondering who will wear the crest next season (Hazard, please!) maybe we ought to think more about how we should play. I believe, as do many, that we had a first team capable of winning trophies last season. If we can make even or better swaps this summer (Hazard, please!!) but adjust a few things on the pitch, we might have a strong 11-12 push.

On the attack:

For those of you obsessed with formations, video games have warped your mind. 4-3-3, 4-4-2, 4-2-1-1-2, or the standard setup for our many of our opponents, 9-1-1*, none of that really matters when players switch positions and move off the ball as much as Arsenal players do.

*I am fully aware that this lineup involves an extra player. Who might that be? Here's a hint: black and white stripes, clearly inconsistent, doesn't understand time wasting, etc.

The 4-4-2 looks good to fans because of the belief that the "2" up top would yield a pair of attacking strikers always present in or near the box. While that might be the case, if we played that lineup now, you know that van Persie would drop back and Bendtner would lumber around awkwardly mumbling about his world-class talent. Or, if it were van Persie and Chamakh, van Persie would drop back and Chamakh would get in a good position, then he'd receive the ball in front of an open net and decide to lay it off to Song instead of slamming home a sure thing.

Also, teams that play 4-3-3 will have players darting into the box anyway. Take Barcelona for example. It doesn't matter who brings the ball down, two or three other guys make runs into the area—at least one down the middle and one toward the far post.

Ok, that's a lot of mumbo-jumbo. What does it mean?

1) No matter what formation we play, our lads need to attack the box more vigorously. How many times did Walcott, Clichy, or Sagna cross the ball to one or none of our players and three or four bigger, meaner defenders? Like, all the time. Sometimes, the ball would come in and I'd notice Bendtner or Chamakh outside the box thinking about sandwiches or something. Not the best place for a striker to hang. No chance of picking up rebounds or far-post headers.

2) Also, when it comes to attacking, we need to resurrect the rapid counterattack. Again, how many times did Walcott turn on the speed, blaze down the right, and not have anyone to dish the ball off to? Or, how many times did it look like we should have flooded forward, only to dribble a little, pass it back, send it sideways, then pass it to a player hugging the sideline, thus allowing every defender and his grandmother to fill the box and ruin our chances? Like, 40 times a game. Like, every time Denilson played. (That's one reason I hope we buy another speedy attacker. Have I mentioned Eden Hazard?)

We definitely, definitely need to bring the quick counter back into our playbook. It happened a few times last season, one of them yielding a two-pass attack that many of us would label goal of the season:

Frankly, without that threat, opposing teams know how to handle us. They know they'll have time to set up a defense, and they know we don't have much of a threat when crossing. As proof, consider February, March, April, and May. Sigh.

3) There's one more offensive change we need to make. Players like Walcott, Nasri, and van Persie need to dribble at defenders more frequently. We have a horrible habit of getting into attacking positions but shying away from the box. We hover outside the area, passing around the perimeter until we give the ball away.

If skillful players would dribble at defenders, we'd mix up our attack, which would give the defense more to worry about. Also, if the attacker should get through, he could shoot. If not, there's the very small chance, for us, anyway, that the ref would spot a penalty. Without that direct attack, we risk losing the ball on a bad cross, an ill-advised back heel, or a foul that should have been called but wasn't, and BOOM, our enemies employ the long-ball counter.

So, I believe we need more players running into the box, more speedy counterattacks, and more attempts to beat defenders one-on-one. The end.

Defense may be harder to talk about, so I've saved that for next time…..Until then, fellow Gooners.

George Sedgwick is the branch manager of the Philly Gooners and a regular contributor to the Arsenal Review USA Podcast. Stay tuned for more of his blog posts throughout the summer...