Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday December 22 2010
In the immediate aftermath of the home defeat to Tottenham, the manager spoke of finding a "more direct" way of playing at home, given some rather indifferent form at the Grove this season. Since this is Arsene Wenger we are talking about, one could automatically assume he wasn`t implying that Fat Sam was about to be invited onto the coaching staff, with Rory Delap to follow in the January transfer window. In ensuing games at home to Partizan Belgrade and Wigan Athletic, it would appear that the manager`s answer has been to play an adapted 4-4-2 system, with Robin van Persie playing in behind Marouane Chamakh. I have to say, I haven`t liked the look of the system in either of those matches, games in which we struggled to create chances. That said, I accept that any new formation takes time to bed in. For instance, I think Nasri and Arshavin have looked too restricted as wide midfielders as opposed to wide forwards, whilst Robin van Persie looks completely lost strolling around the edges of the centre circle.
Moreover, greater familiarity and understanding may well iron that out in the long term, as the likes of Arshavin, Nasri and van Persie are able to comfortably swap roles and keep opposing defences guessing as to where the threat is going to come from next. However, in home games I am not entirely sure this brings the best out of Chamakh, who specialises in aerial duels and holding the ball up, talents much better suited to our set up away from home. I have to say I have my suspicions that the manager has been trying too hard to accommodate. Chamakh has been slipped into lane very nicely as an Arsenal player and his form deserves commendation. His return of ten goals is very impressive for a striker in his first four months in the Premiership. Lest we forget Thierry Henry took more than three months to register his first league goal for the club. However, I am not of the opinion that Chamakh and van Persie form an effective axis in this system. There has been talk amongst supporters of shunting van Persie out wide, which is amusing, because we tried that incredibly unsuccessfully when we were attempting to accommodate van Persie and Henry into the same side in a 4-5-1 system four years ago.
Shifting van Persie wide right or wide left ignores that fact that he has the best touch in tight situations of any Arsenal player, is the best finisher at the club and is almost as bullishly strong as Chamakh with his back to goal. In short, he belongs as close to the goal and the opposing eighteen yard box as we can get him. Besides which, to move van Persie wide means we have to take one of Nasri or Arshavin out. These are our two best dribblers. Nasri has been our Player of the Season so far, whilst Arshavin is offensively our most productive. Like I said, it would be senseless shoe horning to move van Persie. It might be harsh given his form, but if Chamakh has to sit out home games to better suit the team set up, tough titties, that`s what should happen. However, there might be a solution that has as yet been untapped. It has been common knowledge for some years that Walcott is serving something of an apprenticeship on the flanks until he inevitably makes the move inside. Arsene recently said that, whilst Walcott has the correct instinct to be a striker, he needs to play up alongside someone more physical, which the 4-3-3 system doesn`t really offer.
In seven starts and eight substitute appearances this season Walcott has eight goals. He has yet to register a single assist. Those numbers resemble that of a centre forward more than they do a wide man. If Arsenal are to adopt a more formulaic 4-4-2 approach in home matches, then maybe this is the best laboratory in which to turn Walcott into a striker. Van Persie has the skill-set to be the focal point of attack, being so strong with his back to goal and adept at finding cubby holes in opposing penalty areas that keep defenders moving around like chess pieces. (So long as we don`t have him drifting around the midfield and play him upfront alongside Walcott). Indeed, Walcott already has the experience of feeding off of van Persie in the 4-3-3 formation. Likewise, I think Walcott could operate off of Chamakh, who is a more traditional target man and the sort of foil Wenger himself identified as necessary were Walcott to play upfront. Theo could still continue his education as a wide player if we are to continue with the 4-3-3 model away from home. Though I have to admit I would only see Walcott as a Plan B option from the subs bench for away matches. Walcott started the season very strongly until injury with the national side enervated his progress. (Am I being paranoid, or has every encumbrance on his career to date emanated from his involvement with the national side?) His problem since has been establishing a rhythm because of the form of Arsenal`s chosen front three this season. If the manager is serious about tinkering with the system for home matches, I think the option of moving Walcott into the centre at least bears exploration. He is showing he has the movement and the finishing of a striker (think of the Newcastle game in the League Cup) and would still be granted the liberty to roam wide to find space. Particularly if his roaming then allowed Nasri and / or Arshavin to then cut inside. Maybe this is well meaning paper posturing that looks attractive in Microsoft Word, but won`t translate onto grass, but it maybe worth a look in my opinion. What do you think?LD.
Date:Wednesday December 22 2010
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