I must admit I was quietly impressed with Arsenal last week in the Champions League against Marseille. They outplayed and suppressed a team in form and given their own form this season a lot of us expected worse. Having said all of this, they were perhaps lucky to get the win.
One of the biggest problems for me was Alexander Song. To most it probably looked like he had an reasonable game with one particular deft second half tackle that saved Arsenal’s skin (although he then tried to dribble out of his own box with several Marseille players closing in), but his antics and the other two players in central midfield left Arsenal almost impotent in this area of the pitch.
It’s been said a thousand times that the contemporary Arsenal lack the muscle of Vieira in a defensive midfield role, but last night brawn had nothing to do with it and it was tactical play that let Song down and almost cost them 3 points. I have written previously (twice in fact) about what role Arteta would take up in the midfield three and as expected he’s actually playing quite deep and not really getting between the lines like Fabregas used to. Song didn’t help this last night and would often allow Arteta to pick up the ball deep and overlap him forcing the Spaniard to then play the holding midfielder rather than get forward. This led to several situations where Arteta almost got caught in possession which would have allowed a counter attack a free run at the back four (a bit like the goal conceded by Man City against Villareal the night before).
On top of this Rosicky wasn’t much use either. He was playing the spearhead role of the middle three, but would also come deep forcing a large gap between the front three and the midfield. You could argue this was because of the bog of three central midfielders against three and an almost pointless fight for space. The knock on effect were huge in my opinion, with at one point Song getting into that attacking midfielder role and not really having the technical skill to unlock the defense, or Arshavin having to come over from the left and leaving them almost ineffective down that side.
The decisive factor that led to the win was the introduction of Ramsey. He took on the spearhead role appropriately like he has most of the season for club and country. I don’t understand why he wasn’t picked to start and seems the logical choice for this particular position out of the current Arsenal crop. Hopefully Wenger will show more faith in him in future.
Finally I can’t understand why Wenger is so adamant that that Song must be an attacking factor and why he cant simple support the back four and two other central midfielder as defensive insurance. This seems particulary important given how frail they look at the back, and away from home, and against a three man central midfield!