Santi Cazorla is the new Dennis Bergkamp
Is this another excuse to advocate a variation on 4-4-2? Yes, unashamedly.
Does it have a basis in common sense? Yes, undoubtedly.
Am I suggesting this for all matches? Not consistently.
Was this new piece inspired by Cazorla v Reading? Yes, absolutely.
I don’t do match reviews and I have not read many today but this is more a series of tactical observations leading to a relatively obvious conclusion. Well, obvious if you concur with the observations and believe in selecting systems, formations and personnel from game to game as I passionately do, and Wenger hither too stubbornly does not!
So here goes:
Tactical observation No.1 – Both centre backs stuck religiously to their defensive duties last night. Mertesacker always does but Vermaelen has not shown the discipline required this term as a senior player and captain. He and Per rarely ventured over the half way line at all except for set pieces. Vermaelen has not scored this season in league – Good, I don’t want him to. TV5 should stick to primary duty and then will not get caught out of position high up the field, exposing Arteta or Gibbs.
Tactical Observation no.2 – The noticeably disciplined line held by our centre backs was matched by Mikel Arteta who stayed deeper than Wilshere, virtually all the time. With Arteta sitting, Super Jacky was able to play in a far more advanced role. He was making foraging runs in all directions, playing give and goes with Santi, Ox and Poldi and dictating the games tempo to an Arsenal pace. Most crucially, the deep lying role given to our Vice-Captain allowed Wilshere more licence to go forward and a freedom to play much closer himself to our main striker, in this case Theo.
Tactical Observation No.3 – The greater discipline of the 2 centre-backs and Mikel gave our 2 full backs the ability to bomb forward, link play and overlap our wide players. Both Gibbs and Sagna (a different player to the Sagna at Bradford) took full advantage. Both, at times, were our furthest advanced wide men and when they were, both Podolski and Ox seemed to know their roles. Either dropping back to cover the overlap or tucking inside for a return pass or cut back. Both worked hard from start to finish, admirably linked play with Jack and Santi and both, when appropriate, beat their full back and delivered accurate, varied and telling balls into the box. This for me was Podolski’s best performance since Liverpool away and one that clearly demonstrated to me he can play an advanced left wing role or a left midfield role with ease. Ox too illustrated a greater maturity and awareness.
Tactical Observation No.4 – Theo, as the central striker on this occasion, showed superb movement. He was in perpetual motion, not always looking to make a run to receive the ball, but often running to pull the opposition defenders out of position. This fluidity and intelligence (yes Chris Waddle, this football brain!) allowed Santi Cazorla to truly operate in the hole behind him, utilising along with Ox and Poldi the space and pockets of room our excellent movement created. The further advantage of having the out and out pace of Theo Walcott playing on the shoulder of the last defender and the pace of Podolski (surprisingly) and Ox is that it gives Santi, Wilshere and even Arteta the option of a long ball over the top or diagonally. Any defence, no matter how good they are, is petrified of a player with the speed of Theo and just as in the good old days, we have the players to pick those lobs, diagonals and through balls.
I think we can say with some certainty that it was the pace and the movement ahead of him, allied to the discipline and back up of Jack behind him that allowed Santi to effectively play as a No.10 last night.
Tactical Observation No.5 – All the above was possible because we were playing a team lining up with a four man midfield leaving 2 in the centre against, in theory, of three. However, as our 2 deeper players in Arteta and Wilshere are so superior to most, Cazorla gets a free role. The greater all round discipline and tactical changes I have observed for me meant that, in reality whilst we nominally lined up in a familiar 4-2-3-1, the reality was actually very different.
I would strongly suggest that the team that lined up for the most part of last night’s game looked very much like this:
The formation combined fluidity and discipline superbly. Discipline from Vermaelen, Mertesacker and Arteta (read Toure, Campbell, Gilberto), rampaging runs and positive overlaps from Sagna and Gibbs (read Lauren and Cole), excellent covering, link up play, running with the ball, insightful passing and final ball delivery from Oxlade-Chamberlain, Wilshere and Poldolski, (read Ljungberg, Vieira and Pires) and superb speed, movement and finishing from Theo Walcott (read Henry).
Now I am not saying by any means the class of 2012/13 is anywhere close to the level or ability of the class of 2003/o4. So please don’t think I am. What I am saying is that for many games we play domestically, the formation and tactics of last night, that worked so well between 2001 and 2005, will still be effective today.
And of course what I am am certainly contending is that last night, and I hope on many occasions into the future, our diminutive Spanish magician did play in the No.10 role filled so brilliantly for so many years by the Dutch master, Dennis Bergkamp. Make no mistake, we played a 4-4-1-1 formation last night with Areta at the base, Wilshere at point and Santi quite expertly, and with devastating results, playing in the hole behind Walcott.
Will be play this against Wigan? Assuredly yes – Won’t we Arsene?