A blog with a difference from me today. Not different because I am fortunate enough to be joined by a fellow blogger whose opinion I value highly, as I often seek others knowledge and views. No different because 1ND2OU generally does not do match previews as others do so each week and it is not my thing. However the back drop to the visit of United this weekend is sufficiently different and interesting for me to decide to do so this week. What prompted the decision initially though was the absence of Olivier Giroud from the encounter and the consequent need for a re-think on Wenger’s part. Add to this the return of our ex-skipper, the fact that there is a huge understandable desire to rain on their title parade and the general recent failure by Wenger in the tactical battle of wits with Ferguson.
So I have invited Michael Jeffares (@mj_afc) to join me today so you will get the views of 2 opinionated bloggers on team and tactics rather than just one and we all like a 2 for 1 offer. Michael runs ‘Victory through Harmony‘ and if one of the best writers on player analysis and tactics in my humble opinion. Assisted by the fact of course that he goes home and away. We agree on a lot and differ on certain issue as well, most notably just how good Rosicky is! I thought it would be interesting as well as both Michael and I have written in support of Olivier Giroud this season, so how might we adapt in his absence:
Firstly I will hand over to Michael:
The Line Up (4-3-3)
Lukasz Fabianski – This isn’t even a close call for me. He is the lesser of the two evils at present but there will be those that will argue that Szczesny has managed to keep consecutive clean sheets but he simply isn’t good enough at present. Look at Fulham’s disallowed goal on Sunday, the initial save is woeful, weak wrists straight back into the danger area. Our clean sheets have mainly been down to the back four as Wojciech has only had to make five saves in two game.
Bacary Sagna – I’ve been a big critic of Sagna this season but he will start on Sunday. He needs to be alert and track Nani/Kagawa because he can allow players to run off him, like he did with Pienaar last Tuesday.
Kieran Gibbs – I thought this might have been the toughest call of all but when it comes Gibbs v Monreal I’m still scared by the latter’s performance at WHL. We’ll get onto tactics later but we can’t allow our full backs to switch off and I have more trust in Gibbs right now and I think Wenger does as well. Fulham are hardly a team with great width, unlike Everton in the game before so it was a sensible decision by Wenger to rest Gibbs.
Per Mertesacker & Laurent Koscielny – The End
Mikel Arteta – I’d much rather see Aaron Ramsey in this role but Arteta will captain the side and he could well have the responsibility for trying to pick up Wayne Rooney when he drops deep. Arteta is in great need of a good game and there’s no better place to start turning it around.
Aaron Ramsey – It’s been quite a turnaround for Rambo and I’m glad that he’s been getting some recognition for his good form. He’ll have a lot of work to do off the ball on Sunday but he won’t have any issues delivering a box to box performance.
Jack Wilshere – If I’m honest I’d like to play Jack in Ramsey’s role but we can’t get too gung ho. I think Wenger risked him recently because he wants him ready for this game. We need Jack to come of age.
Santi Cazorla – I hate Santi on the wing I truly do, but this selection is one of two positions affected by Giroud’s red card at Fulham.
Lukaz Podolski – The out of favour German is our only other recognised centre forward and no, Theo doesn’t count. Walcott would be eaten alive by Ferdinand and Vidic much like he was against Bayern in his last outing as a striker. Podolski loves a shot and certainly has an eye for goal – characteristics that we’ve badly missed as he’s sat on the bench.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – To be honest Theo warrants being dropped, as he has offered little since his return which leads me to believe he isn’t fit. Chamberlain isn’t at his best at right wing but what he offers is defensive cover – something Theo is badly lacking and his track record against United isn’t great. Ox had a very good game in our last home game against United and we can have Walcott on the bench to make an impact on the bench.
Now for the important part, tactics. Since the beginning of the 08/09 season the running score is Manchester United 25 Arsenal 9, of those nine goals for us RVP has netted three times and we’ve only scored twice against them on two occasions in twelve attempts. So there’s a lot of work to be done between now and Sunday. The truth is that Ferguson has Wenger’s number and he has done for a long time. He knows our weaknesses better than Wenger but I’m intrigued to know who’ll he’ll target come Sunday.
If you cast your mind back to our game at Old Trafford in October, you’ll remember quite rightly that it was the biggest 2-1 hammering you’ll ever see but Ferguson wanted to surrender possession to Per Mertesacker. Arteta was cut completely out of the game and despite having a pass completion percentage of 94% that was based on 61/65 attempted passes and his most popular combination was with Bacary Sagna (12 passes). On that day Mertesacker attempted a staggering 101 passes with 98 of them finding a team mate. He formed part of our top four most popular pass combinations in the game (all of which contained our back four). Ferguson didn’t care about us having the ball because United were safe, we were at arms length. They had men behind the ball and we couldn’t hurt them with the big German in possession. That tells you that he doesn’t want our midfield on the ball, so this time around we need the likes of Wilshere, Ramsey and Arteta to have much more possession and we need to expose United’s two in midfield. If Arteta can’t get on the ball then we must ensure Ramsey drops deep and we build through the centre of the park. Ferguson has tortured us down the flanks since our moved to the much criticised 4-3-3 formation but the advantage of a midfield three means you should dominate through the middle and this hasn’t happened in recent times. In 2006 a combination of Fabregas and Rosicky worked together brilliantly and it was no surprise that we won 1-0 at Old Trafford.
It frustrates me that United, despite being at their poorest for many years have it so easy against us. It’s time we took some responsibility and forced the issue. Jack needs to set the pace in the middle and press United high up the pitch and restrict how much of the ball the likes of Valencia, Kagawa or Nani will get. If we do this then that eases the burden on on our defence which since the NLD has been relatively water tight with Koscielny and Mertesacker at the back. In fact we’ve only conceded one goal in 520 minutes with that combination on the pitch (Although Mertesacker did give away the pen at WBA). Things are better back there and we seen to be moving away from the having to score at least two goals to win every game mentality, that said with Nemanja Vidic I will be bricking it if United get a corner.
As United are now the Champions I don’t expect like many other that they’ll roll over on Sunday – why would they? They have no reason to rest players but the real issue is I’m still not sure we are over that humiliation from last season and until we do somehow manage to beat them I’ll never be confident of beating United again but I think we’ll get a point on Sunday.
Thanks Michael and here is the ‘Victory through Harmony‘ team:
As you might expect my choice is slightly different, otherwise what would be the point of the blog, but I can see and understand all of Michael’s thoughts.
Following on from my blog earlier this week I agree that Podolski must play through the middle, assuming he is fit and able to do so. However to get best value from Lukas I feel we need to play him with a partner. I know Wenger has rarely shifted from the 433 or 4231 formation but given how easily Ferguson has out thought him in recent times perhaps know if the time to out fox the old master.
Consequently I am opting for a subtle change in formation but I hope with enough fluidity to adapt during the game and to match situations.
Wojciech Szczęsny – I know exactly what Michael is saying and I feel neither option will take Arsenal back to where we wish to be, but I would be surprised to see the man in possession relieved of his duties.
Bacary Sagna – Not the player he was and seemingly unable to cross a ball anymore but for defensive solidity this weekend I would opt for Bac, particularly as will be suggesting a formation less reliant on his attacking prowess.
Kieron Gibbs – Delighted with the competition we now have with the arrival of Nacho but Gibbo all day for me. Would love him to have a stormer to erase the Champions League Semi nightmare that must still keep him up at night. I suspect it will be Valencia he is up against and it will be a good duel.
Mertesacker and Koscielny – As Michael says there is really no discussion here but positioning will be absolutely critical and the German must not be left one on one with the likes of Kagawa or Nani running at him or beyond him.
Tomas Rosicky – I would love to see Mozart reprising the role he occupied ahead of his injury in 07/08. He is fresh, full of energy and brings all the experience of his years to this fixture.
Santi Cazorla – to my mind this is the role he has been paying the last few weeks as he sure has hell has not been playing left wing. He wanst to be involved creatively and does not support the striker so this role will be perfect as it involves the parts of wide play he excels at and lessens the need for those he is not so strong on.
Centre Midfield Holding
Mikel Arteta – A captain’s performance required this weekend from our very own Lego head. Sit deep and don’t cross the half way line too often and use all your guile and wits.
Centre Midfield box to box
Aaron Ramsey – Sorry Jack I love you and you are surely our future but you are not fit and right now Ramsey is in the form of his life. Rambo won this fixture for us in 2011 and the player on display now is a mature version without the flicks, back heels and stupid Hollywood balls.
Second Striker (No.10)
Lukas Podolski – If ever a stage were set for the German this is it. If he is to come to the rescue it should be through the middle just off the main striker in the role he enjoyed with Klose so successfully for the Germany. He is our most accurate finisher but I believe he can bring others into play as well and his vision and passing range are better than we have seen consistently.
Theo Walcott – Never thought I would say this but it was a close call with Gervinho and I would not be upset either way. This is the Thierry Henry role Theo believes he was destined to play. He like Podolski is not necessarily a central striker in our usual formation but with freedom to use his electric pace off the last defender this is his stage.
Whilst I agree three v 2 in the centre of midfield can be useful I am not convinced in this match it will be as significant as Fergie tends to play 451 against us anyway. My selection has two sides to it in reality one offensive to enable us to create and score and the other defensive to thwart them.
I an reverting to the formation that brought us so much success but not entirely the tactics. For me the selection almost separates our attacking force and our defensive wall. We all know that pace at which United can turn defence into attack, particularly on the flanks so in the main I would like to see the full backs just defend and not attack and overlap too often. Certainly of one full back is involved in an offensive foray I would like to see their opposite number stay back and for Mikel Arteta to do the same. I see no reason at all for even Koscielny to surge forward at all and I would send the CBs’ up only for set plays. This match is a match for the defendners to just defend and give the ball short and simple.
As far as Mikel Arteta is concerned I would like him to sit and be disciplined and to orchestrate from deep and Gilberto once did. However as he is deeper on his own I do hope the passes will in the main be forwards and to one of the 3 midfielders in advance. As for Ramsey I just want him to carry on doing what he has been doing so well but at the same time be aware of his colleagues either sides and to be willing to switch with either wide player.
With regards to Santi and Mozart I would like to see the well oiled fluidity of 06-08 return and for that we can think of Cazorla as Hleb. These guys are the creative forces and I would like to see them switch and interchange with Ramsey and each other as Hleb and Rosicky did with Cesc back then, save in the knowledge that the back 4 and Arteta are compact behind them. As I said above I feel this role will get the best from Cazorla allowing him he creative freedom to punish United without the overwhelming need to get forward to support a sole striker from the wing. Rosicky I think can play this role with his eyes closed.
Podolski can drop deep and add numbers as I am sure Rooney will for United but I ideally want him to stay advanced and take the ball to feet early to allow him to turn the United centre backs and use his distribution to unleash Theo Walcott with a through ball or a ball our wide to Santi of Rosicky. It is critical in this formation to utilise Theo’s pace but when Theo has Henry did had drifted wide to receive, Podolski has to be the man to arrive in the area as the second striker. We all know this is the German’s preferred role so I hope he is fit enough to play it this weekend.
Her’s how the team would line up in the 1ND2OU Staring eleven:
Well I hope that has been a good read and If I am honest Michael’s line up far more likely than mine but I can dream and I do feel this formation would work in this game. The added benefit of my selection for this fluid formation is that it easily morphs into the existing 4231, with Rosicky at CAM, Santi LW, Theo RW and Poldi through the middle.
I am really looking forward to hearing everyone’s views and Michael and I will be reading and responding to comments.
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