Special Dish: Arsenal’s Half-Season Note

Ending year 2015, Arsenal shared the top of the table with Leicester City. Both of the teams have collected equal points; i.e. 39. On the third position, Manchester City has tailed with 3 point lesser. In this second half of the season, it is predicted that the match will be fierce. This is it! It’s Arsenal’s half-season note in which Arsenal fought for finding their consistency between the injury problems and highly expectations.

Arsenal has started this season with good news. Arsenal was succeeded to be the champion in pre-season competition, Emirates Cup. Besides the Gunners was also successful to slaughter Chelsea in the opening season 2015/16 which is Community Shield. Those both victories were behind the young and potential players, offered by Arsene Wenger, who were capable to reach the first team.
Jeff Reine-Adelaide was one of those potential players being successful to steal the stage in Emirates Cup when hosting Wolfsburg. In addition, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain played excellently to defeat Chelsea. There were some young players who have been trained within the first team such as VladDragomir, Alex Iwobi, KrystianBielik, andReine-Adelaide, the gifted young player from France.

Talking about players, Arsenal’s management has been successful to snatch Petr Cech from Chelsea with 11 million Pound. Most of people expected that the management would sign in more players especially to strengthen the front line. However, Wenger considered that Oliver Giroud and Theo Walcott were more than enough to fill the attacking post in turn. For other lines, the management decided not to buy other senior players.

A matter of expectation

As stated before, Arsenal only signed Petr Cech in from the summer transfer window. As a result, Wojciech Szczęsny loaned to AS Roma for one season. David Ospina, who was the first choice last season, was also set to sit on the bench. Both of those goal keepers should retreat because Cech was capable to build a strong security for Arsenal’s back line. Cech’s experiences and charisma were his virtue to fill this position.

Besides, other players such as Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil, Santi Cazorla, and Aaron Ramsey still existed in Arsenal’s first team. The mature Francis Coquelin, moreover, was strengthened Arsenal’s central midfield. This season, in addition, Hector Bellerin was trusted to join the first team because of his stable performance as 20-year-old player last season. Mathieu Debuchy’s injury and bad performance as well as Calum Chambers’ projection as a center back made Ballerin was trusted as the first choice right back.

The combination between the young players and senior players, in which the first team composition didn’t change, as well as the experience and winner mental from Cech have made the expectation to make achievement higher. Being the winner of FA Cup for two seasons in turn, this team was expected to make Arsenal as the league winner, at least, and make a good run in Champions League.

Until this half season, high expectation still becomes burdensome. The concrete instance was after being successful in defeating Manchester City, in the following match Arsenal was defeated seriously by Southampton with 4 goal scores. Being ignorant with the tactic as well as having the “heavy-looked feet”, Arsenal seemed upsetting in encountering the players trained by Ronald Koeman.

In addition, flashing back to the past match, Arsenal was badly defeated by West Ham United in the opening match although previously Arsenal was successful to win Community Shield by defeating Chelsea. Other Arsenal’s solid performances were performed when they played with Manchester United, Watford, Bayern Munich, and Everton. Arsenal, even, was successful to score 10 goals and just conceded by 1 out of those 4 matches. However, Arsenal was being unfortunate again in Capital One Cup when playing with Sheffield Wednesday after succeeded with the good fixtures before. The loss resulted on Walcott and Chamberlain’s injury.

Those facts have proved that high expectation tends to be a boomerang. It reminds Arsenal that handling mental pressure is as important as making ideal preparation toward the match. Until this half season, Arsenal is being lucky because of the inconsistent performances from other rivals. Arsenal has to be clever to defeat the teams that can be defeated supposedly. More importantly Arsenal must be aware that winning one match does not mean winning the competition yet. Standing still on the self-confidence is the key. Remember, too high dosage of self-confidence will result to hangover as well as embarrassing self though.

A matter of tactic

It is interesting to look at Wenger’s tactic chosen until this half season, moreover when the first choice players are free from injury. When some of the first choice players got injured, Wenger tended to choose formation 1-4-2-3-1 that was adapted into 1-4-4-2 narrow or 1-4-1-4-1. Otherwise, when the first payers were in great condition, Wenger tried his experiment with the shape 1-4-3-1-2 or 1-4-1-2-1-2, narrow both. One important thing to pay attention was Cazorla’s new position.

The new position of Cazorla as Central Midfield has made Arsenal looked more dynamic as well as easy to avoid the opponent’s high-up press through progression vertically or diagonally. As a Deep-lying Playmaker, Cazorla has a high pressing resistance level. His existence made Arsenal not easily lose the ball in the dangerous areas especially in zone 5. His vision was seen when Arsenal built the attack transition or counter attack. Cazorla and Coquelin’s pairing has given a new dimension for Arsenal.

With this new position for Cazorla, it means Wenger should make another position change dealing to Ramsey. In the previous seasons, Ramsey was always guaranteed for 1 post as Central Midfield with Box-to-Box role. But then, after Cazorla felt more fitting as the Central Midfield, Ramsey should be willing to give him space, moreover after he was absent due to injury. Wenger, then, gave Ramsey the Wide-Midfielder role. This means Ramsey’s position was still as a midfield in which he had a specific task to help Cazorla and Coquelin. The good thing was that Ramsey did not have too heavy burden to defend because his main role was to participate more in attacking phase.

Wenger’s aim to place Ramsey in right half-space was to maximize his high goal-threat. Ramsey honestly thought that this task made him uneasy. However, Wenger absolutely insisted that Ramsey would be able to maximize his ability if he got closer to the opponent’s box.

Wenger’s idea could be performed very well when Arsenal hosted Manchester United on October 4, 2015. That match resulted on score 3-0 for Arsenal’s winning. Two goals were scored by Alexis Sanchez and one was from Ozil. In that match, Ramsey played his role as the Wide-Midfielder neatly. Ramsey actively participate on in attacking phase in which he was involved in Arsenal’s first goal build up. When defending, Ramsey played narrower and got closer to Cazorla and Coquelin. Ramsey, even, often played deeper position than them. This initiative has become the beginning phase of the second goal for Arsenal. Meaning that Ramsey did not play as a Winger but as a Wide-Midfielder although Ramsey’s initial position was on the right side. Look at the following picture.

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When defending, Arsenal built 1-4-1-2-1-2 in which Ramsey stood narrowly and got closer to Cazorla. Meanwhile, the shape 1-4-3-1-2 was frequently seen as well when Ramsey moved into the center and stood “almost” in same line as Coquelin and Cazorla. Ramsey added the number of the player in the center to prevent the opponent did the overload the Double Pivot. Ramsey’s mobility, then, was maximal.

3

The picture above shows Ramsey’s mobile shape which was deeper than Cazorla and Coquelin. Although Ramsey played as Wide-Midfielder, he kept showing his high mobility as if Box-to-Box. This three-player shape helped Arsenal bossing the center, at least quantitatively.

This position, in fact, did not reduce Ramsey’s ability on coming from behind. Obviously, Ramsey still could threaten United’s box and scored a goal when hosting Watford. Indeed, Ramsey’s goal record was jumping down but he functioned appropriately from the tactic view. Look at the picture below in which Ramsey could sneak to the back side of United’s back.

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The 1-4-3-1-2 and 1-4-1-2-1-2 were the positive changes made by Wenger. These changes have modernized Arsenal’s tactic choices which were frequently familiar with 1-4-2-3-1, 1-4-3-3, and 1-4-5-1 in some matches previously. The modern shape that expanded the tactical variety a la Wenger has made Arsenal’s Center Midfield more solid and cohesive in accordance with the modern tactical development in world’s football.

Arsenal has also tried 1-4-4-2 or 1-4-1-4-1 narrow for many times when they played with the stronger or at least same level teams. This shaped was seen when Arsenal hosted Bayern Munich on October 20, 2015 and Manchester City on December 21, 2015. The two banks of four that was narrow have helped Arsenal to win the number of the players in the center. This made the opponent tend to play on the side of the field. Besides, the closer gap among the players in the midfield helped Arsenal to maintain the compaction and reduce the space that could be occupied by the opponent.

two banks of four

When applying this shape, Arsenal usually tended to defend. The aim was, first, to block the space that could be occupied by the opponent. Second, to invite the opponent to attack Arsenal so that Arsenal could occupy the space left by the opponent for counter attack. The aim of controlling the opponent’s movements in certain spaces was the solution founded by Wenger when Arsenal got difficulty in managing the counter attack from them. Besides, Arsenal also got some problem when they met the opponent with good ability of occupying space like Bayern Munich for instance. Therefore, this new shape completed with the first players who have been recovered from injury is believed as the good solution to fight with Barcelona in the next February 2016.

In addition, Arsenal was not only applying those four shapes but also the basic schema 1-4-2-3-1. This basic schema was applied in order to adapt with the opponent flow and to back up some of the injured first players.

A matter of injury

Injury has familiarly greeted Arsenal for these few years recently. Even, the injury storm has made Arsene Wenger argued with Raymond Verheijen, the World Football Academy director. Verheijen believed that Wenger was the one who was responsible for this bad run of injury for Arsenal. This opinion was based on the training system by Wenger which is “old-school” and “hard”. In the pre-season of 2013/14, Jack Wilshere also admitted that Arsenal training was quite hard and full of sprint. This method was considered as “outdated” and has been left behind.

Besides, Verheijen also thought that Wenger could not provide the training pattern that was friendly for the players. This idea was supported by the fact that the resting period for the players was not ideal. In addition, Wenger also still applied double training sessions, even triple training sessions in pre-season. During the routine training when the season was running, the players were also trained some things that has no connection at all to football, like athletic and gymnastic. For example, when the players were having shooting training, they did it with the match concept, not with dummy or mere combination.

The stress level of the muscles after the match as well as the hard training made the players easily got injured. The injured spots were mostly alike, such as back tight muscle, hips muscle, ankle, calf muscle, and the worst one was knee. Until this half season, most of the players have got injured. Some of them got their recovery for about two weeks until 3 months long. The worst injury occurred to Tomas Rosicky who has been absent for about 8 months due to knee injury. Moreover, Cazorla was predicted to be absent until this March 2016. Meanwhile, Coquelin will be ready to play again in this January or early February. Those three players were absent for a long period because of the knee injury.

If we look at the past record, the number of injury record has been decreased since Shad Forsythe was transferred in July 2014. After being the Head of Performance for about a year, this American man played an important role in reducing the injury record of Arsenal until 25%. Based on Mirror, Arsenal has wasted 2472 days just for injury in season 2013/2014. The first team has collected 85 injuries, a quite high number compared to the rivals. Shad Forsythe was responsible for managing the players’ fitness, preventing injury, and making post injury rehabilitation program that was successfully reducing the wasted day until 1834 days in season 2014/15.

Coming in January 2015, Arsenal got 11 injuries only (it’s reaching 24 cases a year ago) dealing with muscles. In addition, Arsenal only wastes 725 days lesser that last years which has wasted 1109 days. This decreasing number initiated by Shad Forsythe made Wenger adapt with the situation. In this beginning of the season Arsenal’s training pattern was a bit different. Again, Jack Wilshere stated that the training session that was taking much time, hard, and using double sessions concept has changed into positional-based training. Still, according to Wilshere, Arsenal training session felt more “well turned-out”.

Then, why was the Arsenal’s injury record quite higher compared to the rival this season? (Note: “quite higher” term here was used to compare the injury record of Arsenal to other teams, not to other Arsenal’s own record in previous seasons). Mark Verstegen, one of Shad Forsythe’ colleges in national team of Germany, provided the answer for that question.Verstegen believed that there was 65% of injury cases, either because of athletic activity or because of life style, that was triggered by the overused players. The term“overused” here refers to them who played too much without ideal resting period like Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla. As a result, the repetitive activity has burdened the joints and made the unbalanced muscles.

Those were the causes of injury toward the players until the half-season of 2015/16. The matter of deep squat can be considered as the alibi. Besides, the unfriendly schedule could also be the reason. However, the resting period that was not ideal should be considered as the main priority supposed to be handled. At least, until this half season, Arsenal could be regarded as successful to handle the absence of the first players according to the table. However, this record was considered as worrying and could cause bad result. Buying the new players or debuting the young players could be the solution if preventing injury was impossible in the recent period.

A matter of Champions League

Arsenal was included into Group F in the Champions League with Bayern Munich, Olympiacos, and Dinamo Zagreb. This combination made Arsenal become the rival of Bayern Munich and pass to the next stage. At the end, Arsenal was successful to be the runner up although it was not easy to achieve the winning.

The opening qualification league for Arsenal was in Maksimir, Dinamo Zagreb’s stadium. That night, Wenger rotated the Goal Keeper for Champions League. Cech who was the first choice in the league should sit. On the other hand, David Ospina, the first player in the previous season, played as the starter. Unfortunately, Arsenal did not play as a team since in the beginning, especially when they defended. Entirely, Debuchy, Arteta, Ospina, and Giroud played below the standard. Even, Giroud got red card because of two fouls that didn’t need to do. The final score was 2-1 for Dinamo’s winning.

After the bad opening match, Arsenal hosted the Greek Champion, Olympiacos in Emirates. Arsenal obviously needed to win after going back from Croatia with nothing. Ironically, Arsenal was defeated in their own home and fell down to Group F table as the bottom. Olympiacos went home with 3 point and won the game with 2-3. More bitterly, Ospina failed to make a good performance and even he made an own goal that made the situation worse.

On the third match, still in Emirates, Arsenal met Bayern Munich. The pressure in this match looked heavier. Facing the giant Bavaria, The Gunners really needed to win in order to fix their position in the group table. Wenger was anxious to have Ospina played on that important match. Cech played and mostly they played quite good tactically. Ballerin was the highlight that night. Arsenal got their winning with 2-0 and had the chance to pass from the bad position in the table.

However, the return match in Bayern’s home has made Arsenal’s chance to pass from the bad position in the table went away. Arsenal has to admit their losing with 5-1. It means Arsenal should be dependent to the other match in order to pass from that bad position in the table. Moreover, Arsenal should fulfill some requirements to pass. The fight was started when they hosted Dinamo Zagreb in Emirates. Again, Arsenal was forced to excel for the sake of their winning. Brace from Alexis and one from Ozil have become the chance for Arsenal to fix their position in the table. Moreover, Bayern generously helped Arsenal by defeating Olympiacos.

The important match was held in the Land of God, Greek. Arsenal had to score 2 goals without being conceded to qualified. In the middle of the thrilling atmosphere, Arsenal played very well. This bad habit happened frequently. Arsenal was able to play appropriately and rise from the failure after they were down at the bottom. At Olympiacos home, Giroud became the hero with his first three goals for Arsenal.

Being successful to pass the difficult situation, this north London’s Armada has been waited by Barcelona, the Defending Champion. The match of Round of 16 will be held in February 23, 2016. This big match will be held in Emirates. Will Arsenal be able to excel one more in defeating Catalan ruler? Big task! Arsenal obviously has a chance. Keep the faith!

Brief conclusion

Until the half season of 2015/16 Wenger has made many changes dealing with the tactic and player selection as well as the improvement of training pattern. Talking about tactic, some experiments have been tried by Wenger and those showed a positive result. Unfortunately, the series of injury has blocked Wenger to continue his experiment. Talking about the player, Wenger tried to be out of habits at least for these 2 seasons recently. Wenger bravely took a risk by having Kieran Gibbs to play as the Left Winger since in the beginning of the match. This experiment was not too bad but it seemed that Gibbs has not understood yet with what Wenger’s wanted. Talking about the training pattern, it seems that this matter is going to be the internal “enemy” for Arsenal. As explained before, some injuries were contributed because of the training pattern that was not ideal. There was some improvement for it, indeed, but it has not showed a good result.
Mentality still becomes the important issue that should be overcome soon to achieve the best consistency level. Arsenal also must play with the best level and do not repeat the same St. Mary’s Tragedy or the Sorrow in Bavaria since at this moment it can be said that Arsenal has got a big chance to become the champion. Again, the key to pass the half season 2015/16 is consistency. Yes, consistency is the key!

#COYG

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