Arsenal’s poor run of form against Chelsea finally ended last night as Arsene Wenger’s men saw off the champions at the Emirates. Here are five key factors that I think saw the Gunners succeed where they have so often slipped up in the recent past:
1. Robin van Persie’s movement
RVP’s natural inclinations, as Wenger himself intimated earlier in the season, are that of a supporting, creative forward. A new-age Dennis Bergkamp, as has so often been spouted. That’s not a difficult conclusion to draw considering last night’s number 10 has consistently conjured moments of breathtaking technical mastery during his time in North London.
The difference between the two Dutchmen however lies in van Persie’s ability to lead the line and play his natural supporting game. Deployed as a false nine last night (as has been the case since Wenger switched to 4-3-3/4-2-3-1) we saw his movement complement Arsenal’s dynamic attacking play. This was evidenced clearly in Arsenal’s third goal as RVP dropped deep, nearer the half way line than Cech’s goaline, forcing Terry and Ivanovic to make a decision; do we stay or do we follow him? Both followed, Essien tackled, and the ball ran through for Walcott to brilliantly convert.
Playing as a false nine is a very effective (yet very difficult) ploy; we see Barcelona utilise Messi in that role and saw Alex Ferguson deploy Cristiano Ronaldo similarly during his time at Manchester United (best encapsulated by United’s away victory in Rome in 2008). It requires a unique player and a strong team ethos of support. The trouble is balancing the needs of the team; do we need a focal spearhead to our attack that will always be in the box (as Chamakh has often been this season)? Or do we allow our forward to drop deep and create for others? I personally see RVP’s movement as the ideal complement for how Wenger wants his team to play – expansive, dynamic, and focused on creating chances for almost any of their outfield players.
2. Cohesive defensive pressing
We saw two options, defensively speaking: play as Chelsea did last night (sit very deep, very narrow and very tight) or to press higher up the pitch as Arsenal did. Both require discipline and a strong team ethic because one wrong positional decision from a player opens space for the opposition. We didn’t see Arsenal press chaotically; they hounded together when Terry and Ivanovic tried getting out of their own third.
RVP was crucial in this; he covered an inordinate amount of ground by always regaining the defensive shape of the team from the top down. A stationary lone striker causes his wingers to be pulled into central positions to close down defenders with the ball, opening the flanks for fullbacks to exploit, however van Persie and Fabregas switched often and cleverly to cover one another’s defensive duties.
Djourou was also excellent considering he hasn’t played regularly this season. I think it would be worth trying him and Vermaelen together when the Belgian is fit.
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