The Short Corner: Koscielny flawless after Song’s departure

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AFCB’s tactics guru Andrew Enloe gives us his analysis of Arsenal’s draw at Sunderland…

Saturday’s match against Sunderland was a hugely frustrating affair.

It seemed that the entire world knew that the final whistle would go when the ball was cleared one last time.  A huge sigh of relief was followed by the realization that, yes, we had just conceded a goal and couldn’t really feel any sense of injustice.  Football can be an absolutely mental sport, and these things will happen.

Despite the way the match ended, there are huge positives to take from the performance of the team.

The team lined up in the 4-2-3-1 we’ve seen implemented this season.  Wilshere and Song supported the attacking quartet of Fabregas, Arshavin, Nasri, and Chamakh.  In the first half hour Arsenal seemed content with aggressive pressing (see Cesc’s goal), ceding the territorial advantage to Sunderland, and hitting them on the break.  And while Fabregas was present the team always looked dangerous.  Sunderland didn’t play as high a defensive line as Bolton did (which allowed Fabregas to ping passes in behind their back line all day), but it still looked likely that Arsenal would get a goal on the counterattack.

Unsurprisingly the game changed with the departure of Fabregas.  He and Van Persie (who likes to drop deep and distribute from there) contribute more to the counterattacking side of Arsenal than any other players in the squad.  With both of them out the strategy had to change.

Rosicky played a more subdued role in his time on the pitch in the first half, resulting in a midfield that was too flat for my taste.  When he did get forward, he often occupied the same position as Nasri or Arshavin.  At this point the midfield was a bit toothless going forward and didn’t keep possession very well at all.

After Song was sent off in the second half for a few too many daft fouls, the midfield comprised Rosicky, Wilshere, Arshavin, and Nasri.  They are all skillful players who held the ball admirably in the second half, but they also generally try too hard (Wilshere in particular) to force difficult passes.  Though I was crying out in the pub for him to introduce the Brazilian at the half, Wenger brought on Denilson in the 58th minute.  My first column outlined what he does better than anyone else in the squad; making the simple pass, making himself available for a pass, and keeping the move ticking over.  His introduction in the 58th minute allowed Arsenal to keep possession comfortably and threaten the Sunderland goal.

Even with ten men the Arsenal midfield controlled the play for the majority of the second half, and they owed much of that to the absolutely superb display from the central defensive partnership of Koscielny and Squillaci.  It has been a long time (probably the 2005/06 Champions League campaign) since I witnessed an Arsenal defensive display that good.  Squillaci went to the ball more, while Koscielny seemed content controlling the penalty area.  Their understanding on a few offside traps was outstanding.

Koscielny in particular was absolutely flawless in dealing with the long balls from Sunderland’s midfield.  Even when Sunderland finally brought on a player who could cross (Andy Reid) the young defender excelled. In addition to his grit, Koscielny consistently played his clearing headers to Arsenal players and made 7 interceptions.  He didn’t just hoof it out; he turned possession over from Sunderland to Arsenal.

Squillaci made me forget that a player as dangerous as Asamoah Gyan was even on the pitch.  It was truly a sight to behold.

The fullbacks were excellent as well.  Clichy’s aggressive running down the left was an excellent outlet, while Sagna didn’t let anything down his side.

Almunia has also grown in confidence since Koscielny made himself a fixture in the back line.  He mopped up everything not headed out by the Frenchmen in front of him.

This makes for an incredibly strong spine of the team.  The most encouraging aspect of this defensive performance is that it was a facsimile of the display at Blackburn.  There is every chance that there are more strong performances from this Arsenal back line in the future.  It’s not a fluke.

Short Corners

  • Chamakh and Van Persie are both excellent players, but they definitely have different strengths.  Chamakh is superb in games where the opposition are sitting deep.  He has excellent aerial ability and puts himself about physically.  He is what we need against Blackburn and Sunderland.  However, I believe Van Persie would be best used in matches where the focus is quick counterattacking.  Just look at his relatively subdued performance as a relatively conventional striker in the conservative Dutch team at the World Cup.  Later in the season the rotation of Van Persie, Chamakh, and Bendtner is going to be key.
  • Turning a blind eye from his poor penalty, Tomas Rosicky continued his excellent start to the season, misplacing one pass for the duration of the match.  As mentioned before, he grew more influential in the second half; compare his activity in the first half with that in the second.
  • Though I was absolutely gutted to see Bent’s equalizer, it’s obvious that I see more positive things to take from the game than I do negative.  Overall it was very encouraging and the team will have better luck than they did on Saturday.


Have your say on Andrew Enloe’s tactical analysis of Arsenal v Sunderland by leaving a comment.


13 thoughts on “The Short Corner: Koscielny flawless after Song’s departure

  1. what a good piece. While different blogs bring different things to the fans table you bring analysis that patently cancels out some of the teenage hysteria from Arsenal Action and the grumpy old pomposity of ANR. Keep it up mate its always a pleasure to read your stuff. You even made me rethink Denilson. I remember well how Gilberto was vilified until people understood what he brought to the team, in his absence…….

  2. For most of the second half, I thought that Koscielny and Squillaci must have cheekily built a brick wall in front of the goal at half-time. Although there was an inevitability of Bent’s goal (I am a devout pessimist in that regard), I was bouyed by the performance of our backline. It looked much more assured than the rag-tag pairing of say Toure and Gallas.

    You highlight Clichy’s attacking runs, but I often question whether he’s now the weak link, defensively in our back line. The seeds of doubt were planted last season, I wonder if I’d prefer Gibbs or even TV5 given a run out in that position. Or maybe I’m just personally biased and Clichy is fine, I just don’t know.

  3. Good Article….finally someone is writing the positive aspects of the sunderland match…Centre back pairing of squillaci and koscielny was absolutely brilliant…After seeing their performance in that match,i have feeling that we might come away with atleast a point against chelsea…Clichy should now be used more like a left midfielder than a left back….He defensively weak…He can be used more like how spurs uses gareth bale…..

  4. Thanks for the comments guys.

    @ Daniel – Clichy is hugely frustrating for me. He contributes so much going forward that I tend to look at his mistakes as aberrations. That is, until they happen. I’d like to see Gibbs given a chance as well — if just to see a bit of pressure on Clichy — but let’s not forget that he’s not entirely error-free either.

  5. Totally agree – nice to see a bit of positivity come from what wasn’t a terrible result. Only Man U have won away at Sunderland in the last 8 months or so. You can usually measure the quality of Arsenal blogs when the team drop points & Saturday was no different.

    Considering this was Squillaci & Koscielny’s 3rd game together after being relatively untested against Braga the performance was superb. As others have noted Almunia is benefitting from a stronger unit in front of him and the suicide brigade are looking a little sheepish for suggesting we’d be finished without Tommy V.

    Keep up the good work

  6. I too thought the defensive performance was superb. Thanks for the great article, it’s very interesting to see actual numbers instead of just commenting on how a match “felt”.

    Party On!

  7. Later in the season the rotation of Van Persie, Chamakh, and Bendtner is going to be key if V P and Bendtner are going to play at all.
    Good Piece of write up

  8. Thanks guys the pair of koscienly and squilaci so far was ok but let AW give Gibb chance in big matchs so we believe in alternative if injures occur in le-fu-bk

  9. Objective write_up mate!i d also like to comment on a few things:i personally tink clichy is becoming the weak link in our defence and he has also not been helped by the fact that arshavin playin directly in front of him is going thru a horrible spell by hs world class standards of hs debut season…clichys delivery or final ball aint as gud as bale’s either,clichy’s mentality has also been very suspect(cast ur minds bk 2 d birmingham game we lost eduardo) and i dnt tink gibbs wud do a better job defensively…i hope wenger gives TV5 a run out @ left back considerin he played dere earlier in his career @ Ajax…Cheers Gunners!

  10. I loved our defence. I suspect Almunia’s first real save came on the 80th minute. Apropos Clichy, where he over-elaborated and got caught out, well, he can take the blame for that, but he also doesn’t get much help from the little Russian. Competent help, I mean. Sagna, has Walcott, Eboue, Nasri, Rosicky. Far better defensively than Arshavin.

  11. Here’s a thought: with Squillaci and Koscielny looking so good, would you consider putting Vermeulen at left back and keeping the French pairing? Has TV got the pace to play at LB? Or perhaps move him to defensive mid and push Song forward a bit, allowing Gibbs to play LB.

  12. @ Terry – I’m an advocate of rotation, and I think unless two central defenders prove themselves to be miles ahead of the others, I’d prefer to see a bit of rotation at the back. Plus there will inevitably be injuries, so it becomes a bit pointless to talk about who is ‘first-choice.’

    As for left back, I’d play a left back there. Either Clichy or Gibbs for me, and Gibbs looks to be injured. So Clichy. I don’t like the idea of shoehorning a center-back into a different position just because you like him. Then you’ve got a Jamie Carragher situation on your hands. And who wants that?

    Arsenal’s squad is deep enough with quality to allow for rotation.

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