Moning fellows and ladies, y’alright?
I am. Despite the inevitable tired eyes that threaten to derail my sunny disposition, I’m feeling chipper, most probably because my first game back watching The Arsenal since visiting Wembley happens to be another trip to Wembley on Sunday. Sure, it won’t have the same expectation, nervousness or intensity, but it will still be a nice way to slide myself back in to full-on Arsenal mode. Love it.
I’ve been watching the preseason friendly games from a far at this point and, whilst trying to look at how we might fare this season, I’ve also tried to see how Arsène might have changed his team approach to games. After all, 12 points difference over Chelski isn’t going to be overhauled just because the players have had a summer together, is it?
I’m not sure it is. So I’ve been trying to watch the friendlies as objectively as I can, to see if we’ll see signs of any tactical approaches, which is difficult when the football is so disjointed as a result of the many substitutions that are needed whilst the whole squad gets back to match fitness.
I’m a pretty simple football fan, not pretending to be any kind of tactical nous or ability to spot the minutiae of a way an Arsenal team – or opponents actually – are set up. But having watched us over the last couple of weeks, it does look as though we seem to be adopting a little bit more of a forward-looking and expansive style of football. I thought I started to see the framework for this in Singapore with Santi deployed as the deepest lying midfielder. Santi! A guy who three years ago was our most creative player, pulling the strings as a quarterback. I loved it and then, at The Emirates Cup at the weekend, the way in which we overloaded Lyon with our football just before half time, meant the French team had no answer. Wolfsburg were a bit more composed, which meant we reigned in our natural intent to drive forward those quick bursts and overload on all sides, but the goal that Theo scored was still an example of our pace and ability to stretch teams on the counter.
That pace that we now have in abundance is a weapon that I hope we see plenty of this season. When we’re deep in our half and under pressure, I hope we have enough outlets to sucker-punch teams with lighting response and accuracy. Theo, the Ox, Welbeck and Alexis all have it and with Mes able to pick a pass along with Santi, they can find him.
But I also saw one other flash of something that I am really hoping we see more of this season: the high press.
It was in to the second half, relatively early on, in which the Wolfsburg left back was fed the ball from his centre half. His actions were to lump the ball out of play, but that was only because a swarm of Arsenal players led by Arteta closed down the space and his immediate options. It was a classic tennis ‘forced error’ and immediately gifted possession back to us. To me it was majestic and for that very quick moment I was reminded of the Barcelona that came to the Emirates and drew 2-2. That team I saw that night were an exhibition of the high press. They gave Arsenal little time on the ball and closed down defenders so high up the pitch it ‘forced error’ on our back four on a number of occasions as I recall.
I love the high press. It’s how you can sustain pressure on teams and keep them camped in their own half when they have possession, then when the ball is in your half it is usually at the feet of one of your players. I’d love to see Arsenal adopt the high press this season.
It has its drawbacks, I’ll admit, particularly if your side isn’t 100% switched on for the whole game. A high press against teams with cultured and mobile players is risky. You can’t afford to have your forwards pushing from the front and the midfield and defence not closing the spaces in between the lines of players. If you are not organised when adopting the high press you will get caught out if your opponents have a good enough pass-master and quick centre forwards.
But it is exciting to watch and if executed properly, can be exhausting for defences, which is why I love it. A bit of risk for awesome rewards. And the thing is, we have players who can help to press from the front yet still track back. Alexis is the perfect example, but Welbeck and the Ox do the same, so there are players in that front three who will cover ground to help the team. Ramsey too in the middle of the park will press from the front, but in order for us to be deadly, we need to have him busting a gut each time to drop deeper if we don’t have the ball.
Whether or not Arsène wants to adopt the high press I’m not sure. I’m sure I read somewhere a few seasons ago – possibly from Arteta I believe – that the coaching staff had realised that we don’t have the personnel to press high up the pitch for the duration of the whole of a football match. So the team devised a way in which it could press in patches, perhaps in certain zones. Certainly this represents the more prudent approach to pressing an opponent. But to me, having seen that Barcelona team all those years ago, I can’t shake the idea that with better and more intelligent players that we have now, ones that have the pace as well as ability to cover a lot more ground in defence and attack, we should think about trying to suffocate opponents when in possession whilst adopting the high press.
Perhaps it’s a pipe dream – that Barcelona model I saw a few years back – and not really viable in the Premier League in which players don’t get as much opportunity to ‘go easy’ before big games like Barca probably did with whatever opponent they faced before they rocked up at The Emirates that night. But to me, with the players and the ability we have as a team, I just feel we’re in a good position to be able to have a go at it, without having the same response as we had last season away at Swansea where Flamini decided he’d press high up the pitch, which didn’t quite work so well for us.
Come on Arsène, give it a go, let’s have a try and see if we can rack up some big scores this season.