Friday, August 12, 2022

Tactical Insight: Arsenal’s False 9 Approach And Why It Hasn’t Looked Flawless So Far

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Arka Tarun Mukherjee
Arsenal fan and football expert, Arka Tarun Mukherjee actually used to play cricket at semi pro level. An ardent student of football tactics, ATM is very passionate about the tactical aspects of the game and has a dream of being a football manager in the future.

Arsenal finished last season as the runners up as Leicester City surprised everybody to win the Premier League title. Many remarked that last season was the best opportunity for Arsenal to finally win the league as all the big teams suffered. Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool everybody underperformed as teams like Leicester, West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur, Southampton punched above their weight.

Arsenal did finish 2nd but the reason behind their inability to make use of a strong position for a sustained title challenge was pointed out as the lack of options up front.

Olivier Giroud did finish the season as Arsenal’s top scorer once again with 16 goals in the League and 24 overall but he did go through a run of 15 games in all competitions without scoring which affected the team. There isn’t anybody at that moment who could score plenty to take the pressure off him.

This season, Arsène Wenger started with Alexis Sanchez positioned as the striker and in the first two games against Liverpool and Leicester the results were disappointing. However, the striker scored 5 goals in his next 7 games while providing 4 assists as well. It was crucial to see how Wenger continued to play Alexis as the striker continually despite the player not particularly excelling as a striker who makes runs into the penalty box or holds the ball up top or wins headers.

The most important part of Sanchez’ play is his ability to drop deep and link up with the others working the channels and sometimes providing the through balls, thereby creating chances on his own.

It must be highlighted that against the opposition employing a high block, Sanchez dazzled with his pace, skill and energy but against those who set up in a low block, the Chilean struggled to make any sort of impact apparently.

Last Sunday, the game against Burnley served as the perfect example of this. From the point of view of a striker or a target man, Sanchez had a very disappointing game having just two shots on goal with one on target but throughout the game Sanchez was Arsenal’s most productive player creating 8 chances for his teammates and completing 6 of his attempted 8 takeons. The positions where he received passes from were predominantly in the midfield as he continued to drop deep which left the Gunners without a presence inside the penalty area.

All passes received by Sanchez against Burnley
All passes received by Sanchez against Burnley

This was because Alexis played as the false 9. Sanchez is very adept in playing that role as his attributes suits it and with every passing week it is becoming more clear that Sanchez is indeed performing as a false 9 rather than an out and out number 9.

The limitations with Arsenal squad at the moment is against deep defences, the false 9 role will be excellent with Alexis but it is not yet proving devastating for the opponents due to the poor finishing ability of Mesut Ozil.

Ozil’s finishing is below par and the player who can put the finishing touches to the moves is out injured at the moment; Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman is one of the best in business in executing runs from midfield and is a much better finisher than his teammate.

With the options available at the moment there can also be some other combinations which can be tested if Lucas Perez and Theo Walcott occupy the wide positions as they both have the ability to execute forward runs and finish with much aplomb, something which doesn’t happen with Walcott and Iwobi.

Walcott is the only one who makes the runs in those situations and if Theo is tightly marked then it becomes difficult with only Ozil in the attacking positions for Iwobi still lacks composure inside the penalty box.

Take ons
All take ons attempted by Sanchez against Burnley

This year is very exciting for the Arsenal fans and it was expected that with the options available, Wenger would make some sort of tactical tweak in his system and the manager has done exactly that.

It is not looking convincing at the moment for the aforementioned reasons but when we will have the required personnel fit and ready, the system can have a huge impact on the outcome against those who try to camp in their own half against the Gunners and continue to frustrate them with their defensive setup.

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