- Written by Luke Peterson
With many fans worried about tonight’s Barcelona tie, the tactical set-up that Arsenal employ will be vital in vanquishing those worries. Last year’s Barcelona games can serve as a starting point for the tactics the Gunners lay-out.
Considering the players available and with Arsene Wenger not willing to take any ‘medical risk’ on Samir Nasri, the starting line-up, at first glance, seems easy to predict. The players best equipped to stem the Barcelona attacks that we saw so regularly in last year’s Quarter-final also have more chance of unlocking the opposition’s underrated defence.
Attack – Theo Walcott
With the likes of Carles Puyol (who is an injury doubt ahead of the games), Gerard Pique and Gabriel Milito, the Barca centre-backs will always remain comfortable with the play in-front of them. Arsenal showed this last year; Theo Walcott’s pass and assist in the first and second legs respectively were as a result from direct runs in-behind from the Englishman. Dealing with pace is definitely not the strong point of the Barcelona defence, in fact it’s the weak point. The home side must attack the full-backs in this way to get any chance of goals which, considering Barcelona’s consistently high performances at the Nou Camp, Arsenal may well need from tonight’s game.
Walcott, therefore, will be a pivotal member of the attacking play from the wings. Barcelona’s lack of depth to their defence may pose a problem for Pep Guardiola when considering this threat. With another accomplished right-back in the ranks there would be the possibility of Daniel Alves moving to the left, as he has done for Brazil, in an attempt to quell Walcott’s off-the ball runs. Without that right-back, the Walcott issue is likely to be handed to Eric Abidal, a Frenchman not particularly blessed with pace at the age of 31. Walcott will need to be clever though; Abidal hasn’t earned 55 France caps on the back of poor defensive performances. If Walcott proves himself smart in his runs, Abidal will be on the back-foot every time the Gunners attack.
With Arsenal attacks needing to be behind the defence, maybe the doubt over Nasri’s fitness is a blessing in disguise. The Frenchman is highly-talented and influential but he will slow down the play and keep possession in front of the Barcelona defence. This may not be the best plan after all.
The service to Walcott off the back of any runs will need to be inch-perfect, as in the first goal in last year’s home tie. Without a broken leg, Cesc Fabregas should be able to probe the opposition defence more than against Barcelona last season. The Spaniard will be employed in a free-role when the Gunners look to get the ball, but defensively he will need to be disciplined.
As well as Fabregas, Robin van Persie must look to continue the partnership he has struck with Walcott over the past few games. Indeed, Arsenal’s most recent goal this season came from a Walcott square ball and a van Persie finish, with the initial pass coming from Fabregas in the deep position. These two instigators will be hugely important in claiming success from Walcott’s runs.
Van Persie’s technical ability should cause problems in the central areas; whichever central defenders are chosen for the away side, neither will be adept at coping with the Dutchman’s intricate forward play. He will need closing down and, considering his station in the centre, it may drag the defenders towards him. The opposing full-backs will need to be very disciplined.
Andrey Arshavin is the obvious choice on the left, although he is still highly inconsistent. Every so often he does produce in the big games however. Hopefully his unorthodox dribbling can stir up positional indiscipline from Daniel Alves. The little Russian will be far more deadly if the runs off him are smart and effective. He may have the easiest role of the attacking trio tonight as he is unlikely to be given the role of running in behind. However, this isn’t to diminish his importance; his forward passes will need to be more accurate than usual.
The defence and midfield will need to work together to hault the hordes of La Liga footballers who will inevitably come looking for space. People may point to Xavi and Andres Iniesta and call for them to be closed down at all times. In theory this seems as though it would work but, in likelihood, it will fail. Xavi and Iniesta will not allow themselves to be closed down; their ability to find space in front of the opposition defence is uncanny. If any Arsenal player is given the instruction solely to close down when defending it is Jack Wilshere. Alex Song is not the right man for the job as he lacks the pace or acceleration to reach the midfielders, especially when there will be two, and not one, who will aim to split the defence. Song’s job will be to cut off supply to any forward in a central area. How do you stop a playmaker from playmaking? Cut off his passing routes. With Song stationed in between and in front of the two, Xavi and Iniesta will have to look elsewhere. If Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny can concentrate on David Villa’s off-the-ball running and ability to get in the holes around defences, as all Spanish attackers seem to be able to do, then this will not be a consistent possibility for the two midfielders. However, if Lionel Messi attempts to instigate play from more central areas, as he did in last year’s home tie in particular, Arsenal have a third problem on their hands. This is where the importance of the defensive duties of Wilshere and Fabregas increases. No doubt, Arsenal’s two midfield playmakers will not sherk their duties but is it really possible to stop Messi’s passing, let alone get the ball from him?
Arsenal’s full-backs will be the most important members of the defence and, with Bacary Sagna’s suspension, the right side is a weakness. Most fans will agree that Emmanuel Eboue is not the most astute when it comes to defending. Although good in the tackle, the Ivorian is poor at the reading of the game. Any hope for the fans will come from an ineffectual performance from whoever is placed on Barcelona’s left wing, likely either Bojan Krkic or Pedro. Even then, Eboue will need to be on his guard at all times, as Villa has a tendency to drift out to the left and cut inside. The ex-Beveren man will have to keep his wits about him.
If Gael Clichy performs on the night, his anticipatory play will prove essential to the defensive unit of the team. During last season, the Frenchman had the highest number of interceptions in the Premier League but it is not only this which he will need to show against the threat of Lionel Messi dribbling. Additionally, the left-back cannot lose concentration when Messi drifts in-field as passes will still come the way of Barcelona’s right. This is total football after all; when a player temporarily changes position, another replaces him. One thing is for sure, Clichy cannot revert to roaming forward on every occasion and then fail to return to his defensive zone. He must be alert to any danger and show his skills to get to the ball first.
As far as the centre-backs are concerned, both need to turn up on the biggest stage. Djourou and Koscielny must keep their eye on any off-the-ball runs, not a strong point of the latter player. Koscielny must react when he sees the run; last ditch defending is too dangerous against the likes of Villa. The away side are unlikely to be swinging in many crosses, especially without a target-man in the shape of last year’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Therefore, the central defenders must work in tandem with the defensive midfielder in order to cut off the passes from midfield and the runs which go with them. Their job will double as soon as Messi gets involved in the centre. Neither of the centre-backs should sit deep. Very few Barca players show blistering pace off the ball, it is their intricate ball-control and short passing in between defenders which creates the danger. As Lee Dixon has pointed out, Arsenal’s defenders sat deep in the first half of last season’s home leg. In the second half each player moved their starting position slightly up the pitch and, although they conceded two goals at this time, a first half embarrassment was only prevented by a terrific Manuel Almunia performance.
Wojciech Szczesny will be in goal tonight. It will be a real test for the twice-capped Pole. Not only will he have to perform as a goalkeeper but also as an organiser. In terms of the latter job, he has shown a higher level of ability than any of the other goalkeepers in Arsenal’s ranks.
If the Gunners take note of the tactical intricacies of last season’s games they stand a great chance of beating the Spaniards at the Emirates tonight. Hopefully every player has learned from the many mistakes made in those games, but also the success they had in attack. Three goals in two games against the best team in the world is not a bad return but the question still remains: will they concede another six?
- Written by Arsenal Latest
Jack Wilshere looked composed from the outset of his first England start. The Arsenal youngster has regularly been one of Arsenals top performers this season and has given the national coach Fabio Capello no choice but to select him.
Prior to kick off the England manager praised Wilshere by comparing him to Andrea Pirlo and Claude Makelele. The Italian believes the youngsters technical ability and passing quality will help England break down opposition moves and begin England’s play, without hitting the long ball.
Wilshere started the game with the instruction of playing the holding role in midfield along side captain Frank Lampard. He regularly picked the ball off one of the back four and as is often the case in an Arsenal shirt, his first intention was to carry the ball forward.
It really is impressive, that even on the international stage, a 19 year old can be so willing to collect the ball. Always making himself available for a pass, Wilshere sometimes found himself tightly marked by the opposition still asking for the ball. Were he in the Emirates he would more often than not receive it. Asking for the ball in these positions on foreign soil at international level maybe a sign of naivety if not confidence.
His attacking fervour was often evident. Always following England attacks into the Denmark half. A few trademark one – twos with strikers dropping off allowed him a couple runs at the Danish defence.
Fabio Capello withdrew Wilshere at half time, perhaps an attempt to sweeten Arsene Wenger ahead of Arsenal’s Champions League tie with Barcelona next week.
After recently admitting he was wrong to leave Walcott behind for last summers World Cup it is no surprise Walcott started for his country tonight. Backed up by excellent domestic form Walcott was probably one of the first names on the starting sheet.
Theo worked hard all night and was always willing to track back and tackle. He created the goal by not giving up after losing control of a cross and then showed composure and good decision-making by fizzing a low cross for Darren Bent to tap in.
He faded in and out of the game as is sometimes accustomed to wingers. Glimpses of his pace but failed to really threaten. Substituted after 65 minutes doing his international reputation no harm whatsoever.
Cocky smile, untucked shirt, is it any surprise when he gets through and misses anymore? Two good early chances, as usual one was offside. Nothing knocks his confidence, which for someone who misses as may chances as he does is a good thing. Seems to be appreciated much more by the Denmark fans than he is by Arsenal. In his defence he held the ball up very well to bring his midfield into attacking positions but was outshone by the excellent Christian Eriksen.
The under fire Russian was unable to build on his recent return to club form. After scoring the winner against Everton last week and following it up with two assists against Newcastle, his Russian side went down 1-0 in a shock defeat to Iran. Mohammad Reza Khalatbari scored in the final minute in Abu Dhabi, but was immediately sent of for his celebration.
Rosicky scored just on the stroke of half time as Czech Republic went down 4-2 in the Stadion Maksimir to Croatia. Former gunner Eduardo Da Silva opened the scoring for the hosts.
The Polish goalkeeper has shined since replacing fellow countryman Lucas Fabianski in between the posts at Arsenal. His clean sheet helped his country to a 1-0 win over Norway in the Stadio Algarve.
Laurent Koscielny, Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna and Abou Diaby were all selected for France’s home match against Brazil. However only Sagna started for Les Blues in the Stade de France and turned in a good performance. Diaby featured for the last thirty minutes. Hernanes was sent off for violent conduct just before half time and France took advantage of the extra man winning 1-0.
Fabregas and Van Persie withdrew from the Spanish and Dutch squads respectively, 48 hours prior to their internationals due to illness. Johan Djourou pulled out of the Switzerland squad after picking up a bruised knee against Newcastle at the weekend.
- Written by Arsenal Latest
Huddersfield’s visit to The Emirates stadium will see Arsenal face a lower league team for the fifth time in their last seven games. The North London side are on a great run of form and have not lost in 2011 scoring 16 goals already this year. They remain the only team left in England challenging for all four trophies. However it may not be plain sailing as under Lee Clark Huddersfield have put a good run together, having lost only one of their seven games this month winning four, and are a good bet for the play-offs.
The last time these two sides met was back in 1993 over two legs in the League Cup. Ian Wright’s hat trick in a 0-5 first leg victory virtually settled the tie and was followed by a 1-1 draw at Highbury. Despite the 73 meetings in total, only two have come in the F.A. Cup, both of which Arsenal have won.
Arsenal will be keen to put the tie to bed as soon as possible aa replay would put unnecessary pressure on the squad. Despite eventually easing past Leeds, another mid-week trip to Northwest Yorkshire will only strain players who have a Champions League quarterfinal against Barcelona next month and ground to gain on Manchester United in the title race.
On the other hand Huddersfield will be relishing the chance to cause an upset the F.A. Cup is so famous for, in one of the country’s biggest stadiums. However, they also have reason be cautious of the effects of playing a Premier League side. Last season Leeds United won 0-1 at Old Trafford and subsequently failed to win in League One in their next eight games, effectively costing them the title.
Fabregas, Van Persie, Nasri out
Changes are expected throughout the Arsenal line-up, as they rotate their squad in an attempt to keep players fresh for the Premier League. Abou Diaby is fit again and is respected to return to the starting line-up in the place of Jack Wilshere. Thomas Rosicky should return from illness to takeover the captaincy from Fabregas and Marouane Chamakh is expected to return after losing his starting place in recent weeks to Robin Van Persie.
Bendtner and Arshavin keep places
Nicklas Bendtner and Andrea Arshavin, both of whom are out of favor with Arsenal fans, keep their place. Wenger will be keen for Bendtner to build on his excellent goal against Ipswich in the week whilst any improvement for Arshavin will be a benefit. However it is widely expected that the Russian will improve if he is given the game time to play through his run of bad form. Reinforcements are plentiful on the bench (Fabregas, Nasri, Walcott, Van Persie, Wilshere, Song) as Arsene Wenger reasserts the importance of winning silverware this season.
No such luxuries for Huddersfield who will play their strongest eleven on Sunday. The team who drew 0-0 with Colchester last Saturday are expected to start.
Regardless of how many changes Wenger makes to the starting line-up each player will automatically fill into the set formation that Arsene never strays from. A 4-3-3, 4-5-1, 4-2-1-2-1 or however you may perceive it will see a regular back four with an interchanging centre midfield three. Two wingers will sit behind a central striker however expect them all to pop up in each other’s positions throughout the 90 minutes.
The away side have also set up with a 4-3-3 or 4-4-2 this season but might opt instead for a 4-5-1 in order to stifle the passing of the Arsenal midfield. As we saw against Ipswich in the week having three in the middle plus two wide men prevents Arsenal’s full backs getting forward too much.
Key Battle – Rosicky v Kilbane
The Ireland international, who has over 100 caps for his country, is on loan from Hull until the end of the season. He has played in the centre of midfield or left back this season but will probably be charged with breaking down the supply to the Arsenal midfield. If Rosicky gets the better of the Irishman and supplies the front three with good service it could be a long game for the visitors goalkeeper Ian Bennet. Kilbane has apparently promised to nutmeg Fabregas during the game, but seeing as the Spaniard is on the bench, he should probably be concentrating on dealing with what will be in front of him come Sunday.
The Man in Black
Mark Clattenburg comes into the game fresh off the back of a slating from Premiership manager Roberto Di Matteo. During the Blackburn v West Brom game last weekend Peter Odemwingie was clearly fouled inside the opposition penalty area, but Clattenburg awarded a free-kick right on the edge of the area, which was subsequently hit straight into the Blackburn wall.
The players should be aware of the referee’s history of showing cards. In just 25 games this season Clattenburg has shown 68 yellow cards and three reds. That includes five occasions where he has shown at least five yellows in one game, two of which were during Arsenal matches.
Arsenal - Szczesny, Eboue, Djourou, Koscielny, Gibbs, Diaby, Denilson, Rosicky, Arshavin, Bendtner, Chamakh
Huddersfield - Bennet, McCombe, Peltier, Clarke, Kilbane, Kay, Pilkington, Gudjonsson, Rhodes, Lee
- Written by Rob George
'The new Theo Walcott', 'Technically better than Theo' – just some of the headlines attached to the name of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who, if reports in the press are to be believed, is days away from following Theo from the South Coast to the Emirates Stadium. But who is the latest shining star from the ever increasing Southampton production line?
Born in August 1993, the 17 year old is the son of former England and Stoke City winger Mark Chamberlain who seemingly has pace to burn but a level headed attitude which has attracted the attention of the Arsenal boss. The youngster joined the Southampton Academy at the age of seven and made his professional debut in a 5-0 win over Huddersfield in March of last year. Chamberlain made his first start in a League Cup game against Bournemouth in August 2010 and capped a sensational introduction with a goal in the Saints 2-0 win.
A professional contract soon followed as he signed a three-year-deal with the Saints and his first league start came in a 0-2 reverse against Rochdale a fortnight later. Probably the most memorable moment of the 17-year-old's fledgling career so far though was two goals and assists in a man of the match performance against Dagenham and Redbridge in November. Chamberlain created his very own You Tube moment when he raced down the right flank beat the full-back before sending in a cross-cum-shot which looped over the keeper and in to the bottom corner of the net.
So what will £10million get the Gunners? Well Chamberlain has notched six goals in 23 appearances from midfield and looks set to be just as quick as Theo Walcott. As well as pace, the 17-year-old already looks well-built and ready for the physical demands of the Premier League and does not lack confidence. That's not to say he is arrogant, more confident of his own ability and a desire to reach the top. And any move to Emirates could have moved a step closer this morning with his father's comments on Sky Sports News in which he branded a transfer to Arsenal as the 'ideal choice' for his son.
But what does this mean for another pacey, right winger from Southampton's youth academy? Where will Theo end up? Well my guess is Chamberlain will be signed and loaned back to Southampton for the rest of the season and perhaps next season Alex will be racing up the wing and Theo will be in the centre, pace and power combined in a team full of young, talented stars.
And anyway, the move is surely written in the stars as Alex now holds the record for Southampton's youngest ever player, the previous holder? A certain Theo Walcott......
- Written by Tom Varga
After a disappointing result the Emirates, Arsenal will be looking to bounce back and show that they are contenders for the FA Cup. With the worst of the fixture congestion now over Arsene should have no excuse of disposing the Championship side after they brushed aside a poor West Ham last weekend. However, with his focus still on the league Wenger is likely to rotate once more after making this tie more difficult than he would have liked it to be.
Arsenal are currently on a 5 match unbeaten run in the league whilst Leeds have not won in their last 4, so now would be the perfect time for the Gunners to capitalize on the form of their opponents. Let’s not forget though, that at this stage last season Leeds disposed Man Utd side that beat Arsenal convincingly last season. Whilst the London team is 22 places above their counterparts we have seen time and time again the ‘magic’ of the FA cup and with a strong fan base behind Leeds, Arsenal will need to be wary of the threat the West Yorkshire team pose. Leeds can also take inspiration from Ipswich’s grafting win against Arsenal last week
Arsenal are without shot stopper Lukasz Fabianksi which could be a good thing in the eyes of most Arsenal fans this season, particular with the young Szcznesy impressing in his absence. It is also worth noting that Szcznesy put in, not one but, two man of the match performances against Leeds whilst on loan last season. The van Persie of old looked to return against West Ham last weekend so Wenger will have to choose between RvP’s finesse and link-up play or Chamakh’s powerful physical presence and work rate. My guess, against a Championship side away from home, would be Chamakh.
Wenger will stick to his preferred 4-3-3 formation which he has rarely strayed from this season whilst Leeds are likely to pack the midfield and get men behind the ball once Arsenal are in possession. Leeds will try to expose the gunners on the counter attack will worked so well for Paul Jewell’s men in the Carling Cup.
Arsene will want a response from all of his players in terms of defensive discipline and work rate in comparison to the first fixture at the emirates with a more intimidating performance from Denilson, who was at fault for the penalty. His chances have been sparse this season and with the emergence of Jack Wilshere in the centre of the park Denilson will have to up his game if he is to have a future in North London. Now that Aaron Ramsey is back in contention after recovering from his broken leg, it is time for the Brazilian to repay the faith shown in him by Arsene Wenger. Leeds will also look to pick up where they left off with Bruce leading from the back in what was an impression performance at the Emirates stadium
Mike Dean will be officiating the game who has dished out the most yellow cards this season and leaves an average of 6 fouls per booking. He has also awarded the second most penalties this season with 6 spot kicks to his name
Szczęsny, Eboue Djourou Koscielny Gibbs, Denilson Rosicky Wilshere, Walcott Chamakh Arshavin