Arsenal - Death of the Strike Partnership?
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Death of the Strike Partnership?

Like every other walk of life, football is a constantly evolving entity. Fads and fashions are adopted and just as quickly dropped and sometimes there is a permanent seismic shift in philosophy. For instance, the patented Herbert Chapman WM formation sped up the evolution of world football and facilitated a shift in the way the game was played. Nowadays, you'd be hard pushed to find a single team in the world that persists with this system. Recently, we seem to be witnessing another implicit shift.

Strike partnerships have long been a celebrated facet of the successful team. A gander back into Arsenal's history will throw out Kennedy and Radford, Wright and Smith and Bergkamp and Henry. At the dawn of the technicolour Premiership era, Shearer and Sutton, Hughes and McClair and Rush and Fowler were dominating the league. The imports of Cantona, Bergkamp and Zola, together with the evergreen guile of Teddy Sheringham and Matt Le Tissier saw the dynamic alter slightly, as the deep lying striker facilitating the arch marksman became all the rage. At Arsenal, it is difficult to think of a more complimentary and talented front two than Bergkamp and Henry. Both players concur in a swooning of mutual admiration. However, in the last couple of years, we have seen the presence of the deadly strike duo evaporate. This is partly to do with the modern adoption of squad rotation as the demands of top flight football together with the inestimable wealth of football's superpowers meant resting players became all the rage. Teams were forced to become more fluid in their approach to attacking. However, despite this trend, teams still tend to favour a solid centre half and central midfield partnership. Carvalho and Terry, Gallas and Toure, Fabregas and Flamini, Rio and Vidic. Stability still rules in other areas of the pitch.

Some might point to the recent trend for negative football, as the lone powerful striker has ushered in a new era. Hitting long balls to Drogba worked a treat for Chelsea, just as Charisteas' eye for goal helped a mean Greece side to Euro 2004 glory. But the signs were there a lot earlier. In the late 90s, a flood of continental strikers emerged. Virtuosos who redefined the role of central striker. Raul, Henry, Shevchenko and Ronaldo (the fat one) were strikers who did more than just loiter in penalty boxes. Even van Nistelrooy gets through his fair share of work on the half way line. All are roughly the same age. The sight of a central striker drifting out to the left wing to get involved in the build up play would have seemed fanciful in the days of Rush, Lineker and Shearer. France managed to win the 1998 World Cup with the ignonimous Stephane Guivarc'h playing as a lone striker, the current Portuguese 'golden generation' is hardly stacked with Eusebios. In more recent times, the likes of Eto'o and Torres have taken their queue from the early millennium trailblazers. Both tend to play as lone strikers, despite not having the physical attributes of a Drogba or an Adebayor as a result of this shift in the role of the striker.

This is much to the detriment of Michael Owen for example, who burst onto the scene as a poacher when Shaearer and Wright were entering their twilight years. But it is no longer enough for a centre forward to slide into anonimity awaiting a chance in the six yard box. Even arch goalhanger Owen has recently looked to reinvent himself into a withdrawn striker in an attempt to refamiliarise himself with a game that looks to be passing his outmoded talents by. Our own Eduardo has a fearsome reputation as an ice cold penalty box predator, perhaps no coincidence that Adebayor's goals dried up in coincidence with Eddie's injury. However, this sidesteps the fact that Eduardo has spent the majority of his Arsenal career to date on the left wing. Eduardo is a player in tune with a role that would have been much different to his striking idols when he was learning his trade. Arsenal spent many a season floundering in the Champions League until, by happy serendipity, Wenger stumbled upon the 4-5-1 formation which took them to the final in 2006.

Mainly as a consequence of van Persie's persistent injuries, contemporary Arsenal often line up with Adebayor as a lone striker, aided and abetted by playmakers Fabregas, Hleb, Rosicky and now Nasri. This allows for a more fluid approach. Jose Mourinho found success by using Drogba as a lone battering ram, flanked by two raised wingers. A look at the movers and shakers in football reveals no tangible strike partnerships. Spain and Liverpool deploy Torres as a lone frontman backed by a five strong midfield, Chelsea never did amalgamate Shevchenko and Drogba as a feared duo whilst poachers such as Kezman and Pizarro fell by the wayside. Manchester United seem to have hammered the final nail in the coffin by winning the league and Champions' League without playing a fixed striker. Tevez and Rooney work the opposition half and liberate Ronaldo to wander into the box. In the 1980s it would have been unfathomable to see a side win the league without a predator extraordinaire. One would have to wander how Lineker and Rush would adapt to the demands of the modern game.

Whilst someone like Pipo Inzaghi might be quite glad to be in the twilight of his career given the current climate, his ex team mate Gilardino seems to have been left behind in the modern game. A couple of seasons back, Arsenal's reserves featured Bendtner and Lupoli as a complimentary and prolific duo. But Wenger chose to give the more rounded Bendtner his chance, whilst the more one dimensional Lupoli has been consigned to the scrapheap. United's Giuseppe Rossi has suffered the same fate. It seems as though we might never again see a terrible twosome tearing up the top flights of European football. The goal poacher has become ousted by his leaner, fitter and more energetic cousin. Is this a constant shift in the world of football? Will my children look at me blankly when I utter the words 4-4-2 the same way I am a tabula rasa at the suggestion of the five man forward lines of the 1930s? Time, as ever, will tell.LD

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Saturday July 12 2008

Time: 4:19PM

Your Comments (oldest first)

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Interesting theme that. Arsenal have played with fluid strikers for sometime. Whether with Anelka and Bergkamp or Henry and Bergkamp the attacking threat depended as much on the 'midfield', Overmars, Pires, Ljungberg, Wiltord switching position with one or more of the front two. In fact last season Adebayor was as close as we have been to having even one out and out 'striker' for sometime. But you're right that 4-5-1 with 3 attacking midfielders is the pattern we'll see for a while I expect.
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12/07/2008 16:42:00

how about these partnerships? Zlatan-Crespo/Cruz (inter) Toni-Klose (bayern) Villa-Torres (Spain) Del Piero-Trezuguet (Juve) I think there is still a place for strike-partnersips. while not easy, juventus under tinkerman of all ppl managed to have 2 strikers of great understanding playing in tandem, both scoring lots of goals in the italian leagu! afterall, its the players that forms how the team plays. i believe it is the lack of players with great understanding (it takes time), rather than the failure of the formation, that caused managers to abandon them.
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12/07/2008 16:52:00

Teams like Arsenal, Milan, Barca et al can thrive quite nicely with just one striker because of the way they move the ball and the presence of pacey wingers. Chelsea struggles to score goals and create chances for Drogba when he plays in a 4-3-3 for Chelsea since the departure of Robben and Duff. If you do not have players who threaten with speed and crossing ability, the lone striker is doomed.
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12/07/2008 17:13:00

berba/keane say no more but honestly more top teams are tryin the lone stricker role with attacting midfielders, its bascically 451 with out ball an attack like 433.
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12/07/2008 17:25:00

To be fair, that was an interesting read, and in many ways a lot of it makes sense. But there still are a fair share of good partnerships (yes I will mention Keane and Berba) but you are right in thinking looking at the top teams in the league for example a lot of teams dont play a regular 2 up top. Mpre often than not a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3 4-1-4-1 are formations more used by sides in todays game.
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12/07/2008 17:55:00

why we have so many spuds reading our website i cannot comprehend.
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12/07/2008 18:25:00

cos there's naff all worth reading on their own site! Nice article by the way!
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12/07/2008 18:29:00

Good article, but I think Korodon makes a good point. The speed at which players change clubs in search of more money or whatever, maybe does not allow enough time for such partnerships to flourish.
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12/07/2008 18:42:00

If we had Van Persie or Eduardo fit last season we would have had a strike partnership. All clubs who have two good strikers have partnerships, the trouble is that most clubs have one that is the mainstay and the rest are crud (Man Utd have Roonay - Tevez, Spurs have Berba - Keane whereas Everton have Yakubu and the useless Johnson and Liverpool have Torres and nobody else worth mentioning) It is also worth noting that some teams have wingers or attacking midfielders that have partnerships with the strikers. Cesc - Ade, gerrard - Torres, Arteta - Yakubu, Lampard - Drogba etc.
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12/07/2008 20:53:00

a very good article. thanks. there are a few good partnerships out there but no doubt they're a dying breed.
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12/07/2008 21:11:00

Very good article. Current European tactics do seem to favor the lone front man playing off of a "creative midfielder" or service from the wings. But it's probably a bit cyclical, someone will find an extremely effective pairing and more teams will re-adopt the tactic.
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13/07/2008 08:15:00

This was a notable feature in the Euros - a lot of teams preferred playing the lone striker, lining up instead in the 4-2-3-1 formation instead. As for Arsenal, the 4-5-1 adds to the defensive solidity, but Wenger still prefers the 4-4-2. Its only injuries to RVP & Dudu that prevented him from playing that formation for much of last season. So, I expect Ade & RvP to line upfront for the gunners this season.
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13/07/2008 23:24:00

Injury permitting, we had a strike partnership of Rooney and Tevez last season, which worked wonders for us. Do you remeber the long spell in which pundits were clamingt he two had a telepathic understanding and were the next yorke and cole? (see boro' at home for details!!!). True, they are not the convential strike partnership of tall and small but it worked for us.....up to a point. Which is why we look set to aquirte the serveis of berbatov, who will work with either rooney or tevez. IMO the strike partnership is far from dead, it is simply evolved, liek everything else in football.
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14/07/2008 14:33:00


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