What Can Arsenal Do To Lessen Arteta’s Loss

Mikel Arteta’s injury could not have come at a worse time for Arsenal. The race for third spot just got tighter because of Arsenal’s loss to Wigan and to make matters even worse, they have to face an in form Chelsea buoyed by their victory against Barcelona in the Champion’s League.
It’s unfortunate for Arsenal that Arteta didn’t arrive a season before, to play alongside Cesc Fabregas. The two of them, along with Alex Song could have formed the most fluid midfield partnerships in the Premier League.
One of the key traits of Arteta’s game this season is that he has been played almost for the entirety of the season as a deep lying midfielder, a position unfamiliar to him during his Everton days, where he was deployed as the more attack minded of the two midfielders. The fact that he has altered his game to suit Arsenal’s formation is a testament to his technical abilities.
Mikel Arteta has mostly operated as a ball playing central midfielder helping them maintain possession without doing anything too spectacular(leave aside the goals against Manchester City and the absolutely sensational free kick against Aston Villa). But what Arteta does for Arsenal is make them tick. He has the ability to keep the ball rolling in midfield and an unerring ability to play a correct long ball. This simple passing method has been the key to Arsenal dominating possession in most of their games.
But now with Arteta injured, Arsene Wenger’s forehead must have grown a few more brows. The only option he has at his disposal for a central midfield position is the woefully out of form Aaron Ramsey. Wenger also has the option to play Oxlade-Chamberlain in the position, considering his quite brilliant showing against AC Milan in the Champion’s League. But going against the popular opinion of not playing Aaron Ramsey, I would suggest that this is exactly what Wenger should do. Tomas Rosicky is enjoying a rejuvenated season and it wouldn’t be wise to switch him to a deeper position.
Ramsey although operating as a “playmaker” this season has only 6 assists to his name after making 40 appearances. Ramsey’s overall game play is similar to Mikel Arteta’s. Even when he plays in a forward position he has a tendency to play short sideways passes as opposed to incisive forward ones, similar to Arteta. Also, he doesn’t have urgency in his game which in my opinion is essential for a CAM, just to panic the opposition defences. This makes him more suitable to a deeper position where he is just able to receive the ball and use it more intelligently with a little more time and space. In fact, I think Arsene Wenger has been wrong in using him as CAM for so long this season.
The other option Wenger can use is to deploy Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arteta’s position. The youngster has shown maturity and fearlessness that belies his age and there is not challenge that he is afraid of. However, the only thing that goes against Oxlade-Chamberlain is his inexperience in playing in that position in the Premier League. He will be up against the wily old veterans such as Lampard and Meireles (yes he is a veteran when compared to AOC) and has to be disciplined in holding his position. Even in the match against AC Milan where he was extremely influential, there were times when he would wander off to some other areas of the pitch leaving the central area exposed.
A less likely approach would be to shift to a 4-4-2, because Chelsea will be playing with Bosignwa, who isn’t exactly the best Right Back in the world (Gervinho and Santos had a field day against him in the reverse fixture). The team shape could be somewhat like this:
———————–Szczesny————————
Sagna—–Koscielny—–Vermaelen—–Santos
AOC———-Song——–Rosicky——–Gervinho
——————RvP——–Walcott——————
But who am I kidding; Wenger will never change his formation.
So, all in all, the first option is the most likely and will hopefully bring some confidence back into Ramsey. This match will prove to be a touchstone for him as he is most likely to be played there for the rest of the season.

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Soccer Formations For Dummies

Everyone who follows football might have come across the following jargon:

“We played with a 4-4-2 but were being outnumbered in the middle so we changed back to 4-2-3-1 to pack the midfield”.

Ever wondered what’s up with these numbers and what’s it got to do with those players on the field. Well, these are called Formations. The formation decides which player plays in what position on the field. The first digit in a formation indicates the number of players playing in defence. The second one indicates the number of players playing in midfield and the third digit indicates the number of forwards. So a 4-4-2 indicates that the team played with 4 defenders, 4 midfielders and 2 forwards. This is a basic explanation of what a formation is and there are a lot of nuances with each one of them. Let’s take a look…

1.) 4-4-2

4-4-2 is a classic formation used by a number of teams across the globes. The most basic of formations, it involves playing 2 central defenders, 2 full backs, 2 central midfielders, 2 wingers and 2 forwards. Here’s what it looks like:

This formation relies heavily on wing play. The wingers and overlapping full backs make it a point to put crosses in the box for the forwards to attack them. The central midfield pairing usually involves a defensive midfielder and a box-to-box midfielder, to break up play and spread the passes to team mates, respectively. On the defensive side, it is important for the wingers to cover for their supporting fullbacks because the system is prone to counter attacks.

A little tweaking in 4-4-2 can change it to a 4-4-1-1 where one of the two forwards takes up the role of a support striker and sits a little deeper than the other to link up play between midfield and attack.

Teams Using 4-4-2: Tottenham, Manchester United

2.) 4-5-1

The safety first formation. The formation basically involves packing the midfield with 3 central midfielders and 2 wingers. The idea is to keep possession in the middle of the park and nullify any threat from the opposing full backs or wingers. While attacking, the lone forward holds up the ball until support arrives from the midfield. Defensively, it is a strong formation because there are banks of 5 and 4 players for the opposition team to pass through.

 This formation is widely used by managers when playing away in European competitions, because of the Away goals rule.

Teams Using 4-5-1: Chelsea(Mourinho era)

3.) 4-3-3

4-3-3 is an attack minded formation that is the rage these days. The midfield usually consists of one defensive midfielder with two box-to-box midfielders. The forward line consists of three attacking players- left, right and centre. The left and right attackers can be traditional or inverted wingers so there are multiple options in attack. The success of a 4-3-3 depends on quick passing between the front three and midfield and an urge to keep possession in the tightest of situations. Due to the emphasis on attack, the defence is prone to counter attacks or balls played over the top.

4-3-3 is guaranteed to bring goals but can be carried out by very few teams because of the quality of players required to play it.

Teams Using 4-3-3: Spain, Barcelona, Arsenal

4.) 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3

A rather modern formation which is capable of morphing into many others while in play. The system basically involves using 2 midfield anchormen who break up play and support the other 4 attack-minded players. The central attacking midfielder acts as the link between the midfield and forward line. If the right players are involved, this can be one of the most dynamic of formations capable of turning into a 4-5-1 while defending to a 4-3-3 while attacking.

The central attacking midfielder is the most important link in this formation who can be capable of dictating play because of his position. However the whole attacking threat can be nullified by tightly marking the CAM.

Teams Using 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3: Real Madrid, Manchester City

5.) 3-5-2/3-4-3

The most radical formation of all. The system involves playing 3 central defenders who act as sweepers. The 2 wide men in midfield are required to track back while defending to act as wing-backs. Counter attacks can be carried out very lethally with this formation because there are always a number of options to pass the ball upfront.

Teams Using 3-5-2/3-4-3: Napoli

6.) 4-1-2-1-2

Also known as the Diamond. The midfield is arranged in the form of the diamond where the central attacking midfielder plays at the tip of the diamond and the base is occupied by a defensive midfielder or a deep lying playmaker. The remaining two midfielders can either act like wingers or central midfielders depending upon the situation. If employed effectively, this formation can act as a lot of trouble for the opposition because of the movement and interchange that can happen in between the diamond.

The formation suffers from a lack of width and is easy to attack against if there are speedy wingers and full backs in your team.

Teams Using 4-1-2-1-2: AC Milan, Paris St. German

Is It Right To Sack Villas-Boas

When Chelsea stumbled to another astounding defeat against West Brom on Saturday, the axe which has been hanging over Villas-Boas’ head for quite some time, must have come perilously close. There are two ways to look at the situation. Let’s have a look at both of them…

POV 1: Villas-Boas should be given more time to build his own team and it would be unjust to sack him now, with his team still having a chance to reach the Champions League positions.

POV2: Villas-Boas has had enough time and his methods are just not working out. His differences with the senior members of the team don’t look to be settling anytime soon and is creating a negative atmosphere in the team. He needs to go.

Although both the arguments seem fundamentally correct, there are other deeper issues that need to be considered before any decision is taken on Villas-Boas’ future. In Andre Villas-Boas, Chelsea have a manager who is capable of producing results, but needs a setup where he is able to flourish with his ideology of a high energy pressing game. This setup includes buying new players as well as grooming the existing ones too. His accomplishments at Porto suggest that he surely can do so and if only Abramovich could show a little patience this time around, Chelsea might reap the benefits for years to come.

Short term solutions are only going to hinder the progress of Chelsea as a club and it is the duty of the fans to make the owner realise this fact. Ever since Roman Abramovich took over at Chelsea, the focus almost entirely has been on buying proven world-class talents in a bid to win the League title and the elusive Champions League trophy. Almost no attention has been paid to develop and bring up the younger players from the academy. Only recently has Josh McEachran been allowed to get somewhere near the first team squad. In a similar time frame, Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United have produced outstanding young talent of the likes of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey, Wojcieh Szczesny, Tom Cleverly, Paul Pogba, Martin Kelly and Danny Welbeck. With the Financial Fair Play rules set to kick in from 2014, it has to be understood that just buying players will not be the solution.

This coming season’s transfer window is going to be a decisive one for Chelsea in more ways than one. The Chelsea camp needs to decide whether to keep the trio of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba or not. The three of them were responsible for the sacking of Luis Felipe Scolari and Avram Grant and are more than likely to end Villas-Boas tenure as well. The three of them have just too much power at the club and any manager who comes in has to modify his plans to accommodate them. This wasn’t such a big problem a couple of seasons back because back then all three of them were at the peak of their powers and were almost as good as anyone else in their position in the league. However in the current season, all three of them have gone down the slope (…yes I know, Lampard fans won’t agree) and need to be shipped out before they become a liability.

Villas-Boas will most probably be sacked at the end of the season, if not after the coming few games, and whoever replaces him should be prepared to face the axe as well. Rafael Benitez is most likely to succeed Villas-Boas at the moment and has a proven track record of winning titles. If not the titles, at least the Chelsea fans can hope that he will reinvigorate Fernando Torres into showing glimpses of form that influenced Abramovich to bring the Spaniard to Stamford Bridge for 50m dollars.

Positives & Negatives : Chelsea 3 – 3 Manchester United

First and foremost, any team leading 3-Nil, after 55 minutes, at home, should bag all the three points. The very fact that Chelsea failed to do so, puts them in the category of the losers this week. Manchester United were brave and hungrier than Chelsea and at later stages looked like the side which deserved to win. It is a case of two points dropped for both the teams as those two points could have kept the competition away from Chelsea and would have helped Manchester United to pile up the pressure over Manchester City.

Moving on…

3 Positives For Manchester United

1.) Javier Hernandez again proved his worth in his substitute appearance. He is a better player, as compared to Danny Welbeck, to play alongside Wayne Rooney. Welbeck for all his running and harrying capabilities does not have the movement to create space or ghost inside the penalty box. Chicharito does. But, Sir Alex knows better, and if it ain’t broke why fix it.

2.) Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, with a combined age of 75 years, proved to be the difference makers in the end. Giggs provided a peach of a cross for Hernandez to score and was involved in almost every forward move that United made in the second half comeback. Paul Scholes, bossed the midfield after his introduction and put up a delightful array of long passes that included everything from over the top through balls, cross field passes and simple clearances. As long as United are able to reap the benefits from these two legends, they should do so.

3.) Wayne Rooney’s passion to play for United seemed to come back in this match. He was visibly upset when United did not get the penalty appeal, and seemed the most pumped up player when United started sensing a comeback. He is an altogether different player when he is at the right place mentally, and going by Sunday’s performance, he seems to have put behind his issues with Sir Alex (at least for now) and concentrate on the bigger challenge.

3 Negatives For Chelsea

1.) AVB’s poor decision making when it comes to substitutions, continues. An absolutely baffling decision to replace Daniel Sturridge with Oriol Romeu. Agreed that the substitution in itself was correct, as Romeu helped stem some of the attacks from Manchester United. But the choice of player for substitution was wrong. If there was any player who deserved to leave the field at that point of time, it had to be Florent Malouda. The Frenchman was absolutely anonymous and ineffective in the second half, and should have been the person to make way.

2.) Gary Cahill’s stuttering start to his Chelsea career. Throughout the match Cahill, looked threatened by the power and pace of Welbeck and was lucky not to get sent off within the first 15 minutes. There is a theory that says he will improve if he is put alongside John Terry instead of the eccentric David Luiz, as Terry is a more vocal defender and organises the defence better, but shouldn’t Cahill be better.

3.) Fernando Torres has had enough chances now and is still not gaining confidence, even after the pressure on him has relieved a little, following Drogba’s departure to the African Cup Of Nations. His ability to play on the shoulder of the last defender is lost. His shot taking ability is lost. His decision making ability inside the box is lost. If at all anything has improved, it is his overall work rate and assists. But he was brought in to score goals, and he is not doing it at the moment. Quite frankly, if he hasn’t been able to do it so far, it would be foolish to pin your hopes on him for the rest of the season.

Comparing The Bench Strength Of the Top 6 Premier League Clubs

As the Premier League heads into the busy festive period, all the teams in the league are scheduled to play almost twice every week. Although this can be a treat for the fans, it is more often than not, a headache for most managers due to injury and exhaustion concerns. Couple this busy festive period with the impending African Cup of Nations, and the need for a strong squad is felt more than ever. A good bench can save the managers of this dilemma, but it’s a problem nonetheless.

As six teams: Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham, Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool, battle it out for the League title and Champions League spots, let’s take a look at the bench strength of these teams.

Manchester City
Manchester City

Bench: Edin Dzeko, Adam Johnson/Nigel De Jong, Alexander Kolarov, Kolo Toure, James Milner

Manchester City, the firm favourites for the title, boasts of a bench which has players which can walk into the starting 11 of any other Premier League team. Such has been the amount of investment in the squad that City will have no problems heading into the tight fixture list. Strong competition for places can be a double edged sword as, though it can bring the best out of players to push their claim for a starting 11 spot, it can also lead to dissatisfaction due to lack of playing time. However, with the success that City is enjoying, it will be foolish to jump ships at this juncture.

Manchester United
Manchester United

Bench: Dimitar Berbatov, Javier Hernandez, Ryan Giggs, Park Ji Sung/Ashley Young, Fabio/Rafael

Pretty much like Manchester City, Manchester United also boasts of a world class bench. However, lack of playing time is not a concern for these players as Sir Alex has been rampant this season with his rotation policy, even rotating his goalkeepers at times. United also won’t have problems with the African Cup of Nations as they will only lose Antonio Valencia from their starting 11. United traditionally have always performed better after the Christmas interval, and with the bench strength that they have, it is hard to argue against the idea of them not doing it again.

Tottenham Hotspur
Tottenham Hotspur

Bench: Niko Krankjar, Steven Piennar, Roman Pavlyuchenko, Sebastian Bassong, Sandro/Tom Huddlestone

Tottenham have arguably the weakest bench among the top four at the moment, but with the motivation of pushing for a third place, the players coming off the bench are also putting in better than decent performances. Spurs have effective backups for all the positions on the pitch, but lack a game changer in their ranks, unlike City and United.

Chelsea
Chelsea

Bench: Fernando Torres, Florent Malouda, Branislav Ivanovic, David Luiz/Paulo Ferreira, John Obi Mikel

Similar to United, Chelsea also have a strong rotation policy but that seems to have been dumped at the moment due to the tough times that the club faced in the recent weeks. Chelsea have a host of top class players to choose from the bench, capable of making an impact whenever they are on the pitch. They are lucky not to be facing an injury crisis at present and are only poised to lose Mikel to the African Cup of Nations.

Arsenal
Arsenal

Bench: Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Yossi Benayoun, Ignasi Miquel, Tomas Rosicky/Emmanuel Frimpong/Francis Coquelin

Arsenal are currently serving their customary defensive injury crisis that hits them at this point of time every season. With all four full backs out, Arsene Wenger is having to field four central defenders at the back four. They are also likely to be hit hard by the AFCON as they will lose Marouane Chamakh and Gervinho during this period. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Park Chu Young and Ryo Miyaichi are most likely to be introduced to the bench in the coming weeks.

Liverpool
Liverpool

Bench: Andy Carroll, Jamie Carragher, Jonjo Shelvey/Jay Spearing, Dirk Kuyt/Maxi Rodriguez, Martin Kelly

Liverpool too have a strong enough bench but are a little inexperienced when compared to their rivals in this regard. With Lucas Leiva injured for the rest of the season and Luis Suarez set to serve his 8 match ban, Kenny Dalglish will be forced to rotate his central midfielders and strikers, but that shouldn’t be too much of a problem as Dalglish would most probably use Jordan Henderson and Craig Bellamy in these positions.

P.S. – The list above does not take into consideration the goalkeepers of respective teams and lists only the most probable bench line-ups.

Crisis Averted For Chelsea, But Sterner Tests Await Villas-Boas

Chelsea somehow managed to come out unharmed from a suicidal pit that they dug for themselves. If there were doubts being raised over Chelsea’s qualification in the Champions League, they answered their critics in some fashion. Andre Villas Boas finally seems to have found a stable and working solution for his striking problems, as Didier Drogba put in a vintage performance to make sure that the fans miss him when he finally leaves at the end of the season.

  Drogs & Boas
Drogs & Boas

As relieving as the victory might have been, and Villas Boas’ post match interview clearly indicated relief, there are still some issues that need to be addressed to make sure that a stylish victory to ensure qualification is not a false bliss. Chelsea managed an extremely lucky victory this weekend against Newcastle, and although the scoreline read 3-0, it could have been very different had David Luiz been sent off in the 4th minute and Newcastle’s three shots that hit the post would have gone in. But, since no sport derives points from a case of Ifs and Buts, Chelsea’s victory can not be taken away from them. There are some definite positives and some glaring negatives that can be derived from these two victories.

Among the positives, Villas Boas has finally learnt from his mistakes and realised that the high backline that worked so well at Porto isn’t going to cut in at Chelsea, at least with the players that he has at his disposal. In both the matches Chelsea played with a deeper backline, so even though there were defensive lapses, the players did not have to make up ground to cover the attacking player. Secondly, Villas Boas finally seems to have found out the striking combination that works. Didier Drogba might leave next summer, but there is no lack of commitment from his part. Daniel Sturridge was absolutely frightening against Newcastle at the weekend, wrecking havoc every time he cut inside from the right hand side. He is definitely the future of the English national team, with the only thing that needs to be adjusted – his attitude.

For the negatives, David Luiz still plays like he is being controlled using a playstation controller by a 10-year-old kid (Gary Neville said so). Frank Lampard and Mr. Chelsea – John Terry, still control the Chelsea locker room, with the latter deemed almost untouchable, however poor the performance may be. For example, against Newcastle, John Terry made a goal line clearance. As heroic as it may sound, a point can be made that his lack of positioning in the first place forced him to make the goal line clearance. A misfiring Fernando Torres is a concern as well, as Abramovich certainly did not spend 50 million pounds to keep him on the bench. Villas Boas needs to feed him some confidence and get him up, running and scoring to keep the Boss happy.

As delighted as Chelsea fans may be, because of these twin victories, they need to look no further than the weekend. Manchester City. A victory against the Citizens can certainly spur the Blues to push for the title but a defeat can be equally demoralising, especially after such a monumental week. Villas Boas and Chelsea are safe for now, but one wrong turn at this juncture can steer the club towards a downhill spiral and as everyone including Villas Boas knows, Roman doesn’t tolerate that.