It is now mid-March and we are really getting into the business end of the season. This is a crucial time for us and a time we have notoriously been known for falling away. A clinical performance against West Ham supplemented an effective performance against Manchester United. It is clear and has been clear for a while now that the “we don’t care about the opposition” mentality of Arsene Wenger’s simply does not work, especially against the bigger teams. I don’t know if this is intentional but we saw two different Arsenals in the past week, and they brought about the same result, two important wins. We are in a great position now to defend the FA Cup and could even nab second place in the Premier League.
What a win at Old Trafford it was. The first time in almost nine years and it just had to be Danny Welbeck. You couldn’t write the script any better as we marched onto the semi-finals. One thing I couldn’t help but notice was how we were tactically. Make no mistake we weren’t at our best by a long shot. This is what made the performance, let’s say, efficient. Taking our chances, winning the game even when we didn’t look vintage.
Manchester United had 58% possession at home compared to our 42%, however, despite this, both teams had about the same amount of shots. It was us however, who had more shots on target, 8-5. They committed 22 fouls to our 11 meaning they were getting frustrated when we did have the ball, even though we had it less. In many ways we did to them what other big teams had been doing to us in recent years.
The first goal was pure class, a tactically brilliant exchange of passes by Cazorla and Ozil, before Oxlade-Chamberlain’s dribble which drew no less than 4 defenders to open up the space for Monreal. This quick passing and dribbling is what is needed to unlock defences, especially stubborn defences. Too often we are seen with the ball, retaining possession taking our time to find an opening. The opposition then just sits back and it gets easy to defend against us. Playing with a fast tempo and using technique to get past players is the best and only way to compete with the bigger teams. The second goal from Welbeck was off a mistake but credit must go to him for pressing and putting them under pressure. United were very inefficient with the ball and were made to pay.
Even though Man Utd made 123 more passes than us they only made 33% of them in the final third, as opposed to us where 42% were made in the attacking third. Arsenal’s top three players in terms of touches were Ozil, Cazorla, and Alexis, their top three was Valencia, Blind, and Fellaini to give you an idea of how attacking we were.
It is the same story when we beat the other Manchester team earlier this season, just being smarter about our football. This blueprint should be used against the bigger teams.
Against West Ham yesterday it was more of the Wenger we know and love, dominating in possession, running rings around West Ham, and in truth it should have been 5-0 or 6-0 but for some poor Walcott finishing and poor refereeing. It is great to see this sort of football, but even then, the “Wengerball” needed be tweaked slightly closer to the blueprint we had against United. Nothing major, but you could see from the goals the quick passing and movement was still required. Endless possession with no end product is only going to frustrate and we saw that frustration up until Giroud’s goal.
We have a wonderful chance to defend the FA Cup, and with Manchester City dropping points we have a good chance of finishing a respectable second in the league also. It is important though that whoever the opposition is that Wenger adjusts his tactics accordingly to get the right result. It has always been us dominating the lesser teams but struggling against the big teams. Indeed we have won 5 league games in a row, but none of them have been against the top teams. We played differently against City and United with success, and hopefully with two sides to Wenger’s tactical coin we can end the season with consistency and success.