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Centre Point

Centre Point

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.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Wednesday December 22 2010
Time: 10:46AM


I think the time has come for the switch to be made. The only problem is in home games he isn't going to get any grass to run into, I think Theo playing up top with A.N.other away from home would keep teams from pushing up and creating pressure on us (Think Barcelona). At home if RVP plays closer to Chamakh I think that could work as long we use Chamakhs ability in the air to create knockdowns for RVP where little threaded passes aren't available.
22/12/2010 11:05:00
I think the points you raise are valid and agree with your suggestion about Walcott. For me, as good as Chamakh has been, RvP was doing brilliantly in that role upfront in a 4-3-3 up until his injury last season and is able to score all types of goals (incl free kicks). If it's going to be 4-3-3, I'd revert to RvP. If it's going to be 4-4-2, then RvP and Theo upfront could be similar to the Bergkamp and Wright/Henry partnership. I could really see that working well. I just think we're not good enough without the ball in a 4-3-3, it's almost a too fluid a system that doesn't instill the discipline we need.
22/12/2010 11:07:00
Theo would get far less space down the middle than he can get out on the flanks. I think he needs another season building his strength, honing his craft sufficiently to retain and use the ball better than he does before we see him as a central striker. Whatever the merits of that it maybe that he'll only really work at all in an Overmars type role - for which he'll need more guile and experience than he has currently.
22/12/2010 11:28:00
Ive always found it strange that he has never really been tried on the left.
22/12/2010 11:43:00
In a nutshell, with another man up front with him, I think he would do well. On his own it's a waste of time! Looking at our forward options though, if we play the 433 version......... surely we can only play one of RVP/Chamakh/Bendtner?!
22/12/2010 14:26:00
I understand the point about Walcott honing his craft out wide, but hasn't he been doing that for close to five years? I don't think he gets more space out wide than he would playing upfront. Maybe I'm jumping the gun and lacking a little in patience, but whatever he needs to learn out wide really should have been learned by now shouldn't it? Perhaps it's linked in with his physical development. I think he's a bit easier to marshall out wide where his threat is isolated, if he were to move into the centre, I think he could shift about a bit and become a more varied player than he is. Maybe the idea of playing him on the left where he can make runs infield towards goal is a good one.
Little Dutch
22/12/2010 15:23:00
I sometimes get the feeling Walcott has too much time to think on the wing. He's an impact player and instinctive striker of the ball and might be better feeding off knock down balls from Chamakh, perhaps as part of a Plan B solution.
Wyn Mills
22/12/2010 17:01:00
Noth sure he will ever mature into the top drawer striker we all want/hoped for. He is doing a stellar job on the wing (in terms of goals per game) so I see no real need to change at the moment. If we did revert to a 442 (not sure we ever did play a 442 but whatever) I think it would be van Persie and Chamakh - even though they didn't really work together with RvP in Cesc's role in the 433.
22/12/2010 19:06:00
I agree Walcott gets shunted out of the game on the right hand side. And playing him on the left allows him to cut inside and take shots on goal(which he seems pretty good at ex:Shakhtar(A)). He would basically be playing an "Henry" role and i might just suit him. Despite that being said the problem will still be fitting him into the first XI. I must say there's too much quality in attack in there. Theo must work really really hard to displace the likes of RvP? Chamakh(if played in the centre) or Nasri/Arshavin(if played on the wing). He still seems like a really good substitute but as a starter I would still say no to him
23/12/2010 05:40:00
Good point Wyn. The young man usually "so much time" on the wing, that he ultimately resolves to cross or square. I think he should get a run in the centre, he's fast and instinctive - check out his hat trick against Blackpool, he took those goals with quick thinking. To be honest though, its kinda a selection headache for the manager for our front players. I agree RvP should start getting games but we kinda need Chamakh at the moment. And then there's Bendtner who hasn't played a lot of games lately. Perhaps the boss should tinker with him too.
23/12/2010 09:04:00
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