Assistance from the fullbacks please!


Today I want to look at how crucial in the modern game it is for full backs to contribute in offensive play and at the same time demonstrate why allowing Clichy to leave was the correct decision. This is not Clichy bashing but it is relevant to my argument. Yes we all liked Gael as a player who gives 100%, has a phenomenal fitness level and let’s face it was popular by default give the nature of his predecessor’s departure, but he contributed very little in support if our attacking play. This might surprise you as the sight of Clichy marauding down the left was not a rare but sadly it is what he does in the final third that so disappointed

Firstly however I would like back up my contention of how crucial attacking full backs are in successful sides in the Premiership and what better place to start than with our own legends of the 90s, Dixon and Winterburn. Not renowned for their attacking play perhaps I hear you say but I beg to differ and the facts will support me. Let us take the first Premiership title in the first full season under Wenger in 1998. By present and subsequent Arsenal standards set under Wenger it was not a high scoring season and we won the league scoring only 68 goals, but a staggering 16% of them were created by Winterburn with 7 assists and Dixon with 4.

This trend continued during our early successful campaigns under Wenger even when the personnel changed. For example in 2000/01 we finished 2nd in the table with relatively poor away form and only 63 goals, but with a staggering 25% of the assists shared between our attacking full backs that season, Dixon, Silvinhio, Cole, Lauren and Crazy Horse himself Oleg Luzhny. The league winning side of 2002 saw Cole and Lauren provide 10 assists.  Sorry to keep swearing but Ashley Cole contributed 10 assists on his own in 2002/3, which was 12% of the teams total and a further 5 in 03/04.

I hope this creates the back drop for a compelling argument as to why attacking fullbacks are key to a successful Arsenal side but just to emphasise the point we should look at who those who have shared success since the Gunners last tasted Premiership glory to see if my belief case is further vindicated.

Arsenal handed the league to Chelsea post Pizzagate in 2005 but in 2005/6 Chelsea dominated scoring 72 goals, 12(16%) of which were created by their fullbacks, Del Horno, Ferraira and Gallas. Subsequently Man United won 3 titles in a row. In 2007 they scored 83 goals with an amazing 20% coming from full backs assists. Evra and Neville made 6 goals each with back-ups O’Shea and Heinze chipping in with 3 and 2 assist respectively.

To bring it right up to date Chelsea secured a 3rd Premiership in 2010 in no small way helped by Cole and Ivanovic with 6 and a brilliant 8 assists respectively. This was backed up by Bosingwa and Ferraira with 3 more goal creations. Man United last season won the title scoring 78 times with 11 assist from their full backs, Evra, O’Shea and Rafael (14%)

I don’t think anyone could argue, presented with these facts, that the contributions to success via attacking full back play and goal creation have been integral in the Premiership so let’s put this into an Arsenal context and look at the opposite being true in the case primarily of Gael Clichy in recent seasons. Despite flattering to deceive the past 3 seasons I feel the closest Arsenal came to securing the title was in 2008 when it all turned sour at St Andrews. Who can forget Clichy’s needless tackle in the box and Gallas’s subsequent tantrum, as the turning point?  Until then with Rosicky, Hleb, Flamini and Fabregas (yes 442 I have to get it in somewhere) in full flow we looked like conquering all before us but you will be stunned at the full back contribution in this nearly season. We scored 74 goals and 17% were created by Clichy, Eboue or Sagna and wait for it 9 of our goals were created by Gael Clichy alone. An enormous contribution, which rightly made him a fans favourite on the back of Cashly Cole’s departure.

Sadly and tellingly in the context of our rivals success as illustrated above this season proved to be a complete one off for Clichy. In the 3 subsequent disappointing seasons whilst Sagna has grown into a world class attacking full back Clichy contributed nothing. In the past 3 seasons in the Premiership he has contributed 2, 1 and 1 assists in 83 appearances which quite frankly was completely unacceptable. Contrast this with Sagna/Eboue from the opposite flank, who contributed, 5, 9 and 5 assists in the past 3 campaigns. I know he has l left but in case you are interested and it is relevant to my point, since arriving in Manchester Gael has played 28 games and contributed not one single assist, whereas Kolarov has made 5 goals in 25 appearances. Ever wondered why Mancini alternates between the 2 of them rather than settles on one? Well I do not wish to appear a complete statto but to the untrained eye it seems that canny Italian starts Clichy in the big games against tougher opposition as the stronger defender and the Serbian gets the nod against the weaker sides as his overlap play and crossing is superior.

It is fair to say that we have been tragically unfortunate with defensive injuries, although I do blame Wenger for selecting Santos in the dead rubber ECL game in Greece. However I am, to a degree going to contradict a previous blog suggesting we will improve once we can maintain a settled first choice back four. I am wondering whether Wenger could consider operating more of a Mancini like policy once his full backs are all fit. I am little doubt that Wenger sees Gibbs and Sagna when both fit as our best defensive options.  However given our current league situation and the obvious need to seriously go for it from now until May I am beginning to wonder if Wenger should not utilise Coquelin now in games against weaker opposition. He has more natural attacking instincts and he showed convincingly against Blackburn how he could join the attack at every opportunity providing a brilliant assist. When fit Jenkinson also has be considered, as marauding overlapping play was a feature of his game at the start of the year Carl has 2 assists to his name already in only 9 run outs. For me the biggest miss has been Santos at attacking left back. He was fully in to his stride when he got injured and I am convinced would have had multiple assists by now and added to his 2 goals. I hope Santos can hugely impact on our attacking play interlinking with Gervinho or Chamberlain in the final run in.

I hope you are convinced firstly  that not only have successful Wenger sides  had a telling attacking contribution from their fullbacks, but that it is a common factor in the more recent success of others whilst, detrimentally impacting on us, particularly on the left. Secondly perhaps there is merit in selecting the appropriate full back for the opposition? Either way,and convinced or otherwise the facts are damming. We have had 25 league outings this season and so far have only 2 assists from full back. Jenkinson at Old Trafford in the 8 2 defeat, and Coquelin against Blackburn. By contrast and to finally bang the point home Micah Richards, yes just him, has 5 assists in the league, in only 21 appearances, which is more than any player in our team apart from RVP and Walcott.

I rest my case for today. Until next time thanks for reading

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