Personnel wise, Moyes made 2 changes from last week’s tale of woe to Stoke; Saha was fit enough to start the game with Velios dropping out whilst Osman was unfit so Neville replaced him in the middle of the park. Moyes approach in the fullback zones was to play to their respective strengths so Hibbert stayed back for the most part and tucked inside alongside Jags & Heitinga in a back three for large spells with Baines pushing right up as an additional midfielder and Billy playing inside to accommodate this. Cahill was again asked to play as a forward when we had the ball whilst shuttling back to midfield when we didn’t. The average position visual below shows this nicely.
Arsenal were without a recognised specialist fullback so Djourou and Vermealan filled in on the right and left sides. They lined up in more of a 4-3-3 with Walcott and Gervinho playing high up as the closest support to Van Persie.
2.High lines from both sides
Whilst Arsenal usually adopt a high line and press in the opposition half of the pitch, most people (including myself) expected Moyes to sit deep in this fixture. This was not the case. The Scot setup with a really high line which resulted in several things happening. Firstly it meant that there was acres of space in behind our defence (a worry when you are coming up against players with pace such as Walcott and Gervinho).
The above example shows how Arteta sprung our offside trap to setup a 1 on 1 situation. Luckily for us, the chances in the opening 45mins tended to fall to either Gervinho or Walcott, neither of which has the composure of their Dutch skipper. The offside traps from both sides resulted in a total of 15 offside’s in the game– the most in any top flight game this season with Tim Cahill the chief offender for us – caught out 4 times.
The second impact of this was that as the game was condensed into the midfield area, space was restricted here and possession was often conceded by both sides with a whopping 44 interceptions taking place.
3.No shots on target….again.
For the second week running the Blues failed to muster a shot on target in 90 minutes. The Blues did take up decent positions in the Arsenal half -especially following the restart – but more often than not delivery and decision making in the final third was substandard.
If anything, Arsenal’s lack of fullbacks actually worked to their advantage as they were much better equipped to deal with the flurry of crosses which form our principal attacking weapon with Vermealen superbly foiling Cahill at the back post in what was one of our best crafted openings in the match. The fact that space was so congested in the centre of the field meant there was no space for strikers to come short – something Saha likes to do – and because of this he was completely anonymous, touching the ball just 15 times which was emphatically the lowest of any of the players who started the game. A caveat here must say that the Frenchman was isolated and starved of any decent service into the box.
Exploiting the space behind both high lines with through balls was always going to be crucial here. As you would expect with a team of Arsenal’s quality, they out passed us 590 to 380, with 9% of the home sides passing long balls compared to our 17%. A combination of the high lines both teams deployed meant that Howard was our main exponent of the long ball – not ideal given that distribution is not the American’s strongest suit and he polled just 28% accuracy from these punts…compared to Heitinga who usually posts a long ball accuracy of around 64%. The Gunners possess players who can thread passes such as Arteta, Ramsey & RVP. Our midfield dealt well with Ramsey who has been a shining light in Arsenal’s season so far, dispossessing him 4 times. Despite this, Arsenal still made 12 through balls compared to our solitary 1 with Song’s diagonal to RVP an example of vision from midfield and striker movement we don’t have in our locker.
Apologies for the broken record, but again our lack of any kind of vision or potency in the final third cost us dear. The highline adopted by Moyes was a positive tactical move and enabled us to get higher up the pitch into crossing situations than say at Eastlands when we were far too deep throughout to get into crossing situations. Sadly, we didn’t have the personnel to take advantage of our host’s high line – our forwards both prefer to come short whilst our quickest player Coleman has the movement of a player who has spent the majority of his career to date playing at a much lower level than what he currently finds himself at.
It’s not all doom and gloom however as we showed again that defensively we are a solid outfit and there were some great individual displays – notably Hibbert whilst Heitinga is probably in the best form for us post world cup 2010. Back to back home games are now coming up against Swansea and Norwich – the pair have dire away records having accumulated just 7 out of a possible 42 points and who both concede over 2 goals per game on their travels. With Drenthe and Rodwell hopefully ready to come back into the side we can hopefully avoid any talk of a winter of discontent!