Arsenal 2-0 Wolves: Lack of end product, but Wilshere shines

by 4 years ago · 10 minute read

[goal left=”57″ image=””]
[goal left=”195″ image=””]

[matchinfo hometeam=”Arsenal” homescore=”2″ awayscore=”0″ awayteam=”Wolves” date=”12″ month=”February” year=”2011″ competition=”Premier League”]

[possession home=”51″ away=”49″]

[arsenalplayer position=”gk” top=”279″ left=”66″ icon=”gk3-53″ name=”Wojciech Szczesny”]Saves: 0[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”dr” top=”491″ left=”359″ icon=”h-3″ name=”Bacary Sagna”]Total Passes: 61
Pass Completion: 81.9%
Tackles: 3 (won 2)[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”dl” top=”74″ left=”340″ icon=”h-22″ name=”Gael Clichy”]Total Passes: 52
Pass Completion: 76.9%
Tackles: 9 (won 7)[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”drc” top=”371″ left=”200″ icon=”h-20″ name=”Johan Djourou”]Total Passes: 44
Pass Completion: 93.1%
Tackles: 3 (won 3)
Interceptions: 1[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”dlc” top=”214″ left=”187″ icon=”h-6″ name=”Laurent Koscielny”]Total Passes: 34
Pass Completion: 82.3%
Tackles: 5 (won 3)
Interceptions: 4[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”mrc” top=”357″ left=”435″ icon=”h-17″ name=”Alex Song”]Total Passes: 61
Pass Completion: 81.9%
Tackles: 8 (won 6)
Interceptions: 5[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”mlc” top=”276″ left=”412″ icon=”h-19″ name=”Jack Wilshere”]Total Passes: 45
Pass Completion: 82.2%
Tackles: 7 (won 6)
Interceptions: 1

(77′) for Denilson


[arsenalplayer position=”amr” top=”358″ left=”589″ icon=”h-14″ name=”Theo Walcott”]Total Passes: 25
Pass Completion: 76.0%
Shots (on target): 4 (2)[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”aml” top=”202″ left=”505″ icon=”h-23″ name=”Andrei Arshavin”]Total Passes: 34
Pass Completion: 64.7%
Shots (on target): 2 (0)

(72′) for Chamakh


[arsenalplayer position=”amc” top=”282″ left=”482″ icon=”h-4″ name=”Cesc Fabregas”]Total Passes: 85
Pass Completion: 82.3%
Tackles: 1 (won 1)
Shots (on target): 5 (2)[/arsenalplayer]

[arsenalplayer position=”fc” top=”317″ left=”556″ icon=”h-10″ name=”Robin van Persie”]Total Passes: 26
Pass Completion: 73.0%
Shots (on target): 8 (3)

(72′) for Bendtner

(16′) assist by Fabregas

(56′) assist by Walcott


[substitute id=”a” top=”274″ left=”445″ icon=”h-52″ name=”Nicklas Bendtner”]Total Passes: 16
Pass Completion: 81.2%
Shots (on target): 1 (0)[/substitute]

[substitute id=”b” top=”330″ left=”476″ icon=”h-29″ name=”Marouane Chamakh”]Total Passes: 11
Pass Completion: 90.9%
Shots (on target): 0 (0)[/substitute]

[substitute id=”c” top=”307″ left=”310″ icon=”h-15″ name=”Denilson”]Total Passes: 12
Pass Completion: 91.6%
Tackles: 0 (won 0)
Interceptions: 0[/substitute]

[opplayer id=”a” top=”262″ left=”806″ icon=”wolves-gk-13″ name=”Wayne Hennessey”]

[opplayer id=”b” top=”83″ left=”485″ icon=”wolves-h-23″ name=”Ronald Zubar”]

[opplayer id=”c” top=”468″ left=”546″ icon=”wolves-h-3″ name=”George Elokobi”]

[opplayer id=”d” top=”219″ left=”624″ icon=”wolves-h-5″ name=”Richard Stearman”]

[opplayer id=”e” top=”344″ left=”648″ icon=”wolves-h-16″ name=”Christophe Berra”]

[opplayer id=”f” top=”270″ left=”513″ icon=”wolves-h-8″ name=”Karl Henry”]

[opplayer id=”g” top=”315″ left=”508″ icon=”wolves-h-20″ name=”Nenad Milijas”]

[opplayer id=”h” top=”266″ left=”534″ icon=”wolves-h-24″ name=”Jamie O’Hara”]

[opplayer id=”i” top=”277″ left=”386″ icon=”wolves-h-29″ name=”Kevin Doyle”]

[opplayer id=”j” top=”207″ left=”299″ icon=”wolves-h-19″ name=”Adam Hammill”]

[opplayer id=”k” top=”330″ left=”246″ icon=”wolves-h-17″ name=”Matthew Jarvis”]

As a way to prevent Arsenal controlling the midfield, Mick McCarthy set up a very narrow 4-3-1-2, with a high defensive line to prevent Arsenal’s central players from dominating. The pushed up defensive line meant Arsenal could distribute fairly speculative passes to the flanks, where Arshavin and Walcott were switching positions and utilising their speed to get around the crowded central midfield.

Quarter by Quarter

0-15: At the start of the match, both Arshavin and Walcott were playing wider than usual, almost hugging the line in an attempt to draw Wolverhampton apart. Walcott is still the better player when it comes to defensive approach, as he adapts his position to become a wide midfielder when the opposition has the ball.

Wolves were positioning themselves high up the pitch, and as a result, tons of space opened up on the flanks for Arshavin and Walcott to run into. Wilshere and Fabregas took every chance they could to play long balls down the flanks, hoping that either of the wide forwards would latch onto them.

15-30: Arsenal continued to successfully disrupt any attempts by Wolves to narrow the play, still using the flanks to do so. But Fabregas was experiencing too much pressure in his usual position, and started coming deep to avoid it, giving him more time on the ball to make decisions and see what was going on in front of him.

Around the 25th minute, Wolves were figuring out how to deal better with Arsenal’s midfield, slowing down the tempo somewhat and temporarily easing off the pressure. At this point, Arsenal became inspired, and were trying lots of intricate passes between the 25-30 minute marks. In the first 15 minutes of the match, Arsenal were only at a 69.7% pass completion rate, way below the usual numbers. But in the 15 minutes before half-time, they had a 82.8% pass completion rate.

30-45: As pressure decreased higher up the pitch, and the Song/Wilshere midfield pivot started working well, Fabregas started pushing forward again. Wolves were getting confused about the constant positional swapping made in Arsenal’s offensive line, especially by Walcott trying to find space and opportunity throughout the width of the pitch. At this stage, the wide forwards had started cutting inside like they normally do, controlling the match enough to approach it in their usual way.

45-60: After half-time, Wolves were instructed to tackle harder, which is a very common half-time instruction from opposition managers when it comes to Arsenal. Wolves weren’t playing dirty, just firm. It gave them a way into the match, and they started keeping the ball better.

Centre Halves

The Djourou-Koscielny partnership is positionally disciplined, covering for each other in a no-nonsense approach.

As the clock continued to tick, it was evident (yet again) that our biggest problem is end product. We created tons of chances. Not just shots towards goal, but positional chances where we didn’t even have time to fire a shot in any direction. Arshavin missed an open goal, Walcott was in several good positions…even Van Persie was wasting opportunities by over-thinking his decisions. The pressure was relieved somewhat by Van Persie’s second goal, but the nervous energy we experienced in the Newcastle match was still evident in the squad.

Having said that, our defensive pair of Djourou/Koscielny is showing exceptional promise together with our new boy wonder Szczesny. They have positional discipline, cover for each other well and seem to have gained a proper understanding of how a centre back pair is supposed to behave in relation to each other. For many years now, Arsenal has been employing individuals in the centre back positions, failing to realise that centre backs need to function as one unit. We all enjoyed the forward lunges of Touré, or the tantrums of Gallas (no we didn’t)…but the Djourou/Koscielny duo is finally adding a no-nonsense defensive approach where we need it the most.

60-90: In the last half hour, the tempo and overall passion fizzled out in both teams. Wolves had a chance or two, and were able to keep hold of the ball pretty well at times, but Arsenal reverted back to a traditional 4-4-2 in their defensive approach, learning from the Newcastle fiasco. Wolves were getting tired at this stage, and didn’t press the way they should have pressed, but instead of trying to exploit it, Arsenal lowered their defensive line to a deep and narrow wall, and the match was essentially over 10 minutes before the final whistle.

The Threat On Our Left

In the first half, Wolves were trying to cause some harm down their right flank, with Adam Hammill making runs towards Clichy, and Zubar providing support behind him. But with Wilshere’s focus and Clichy’s resolute attitude, they defused the threat by Clichy taking on the role of the disruptor, and Wilshere providing passing options and applying pressure on the opposition.

Arsenal Tackles

Every tackle made by Arsenal. Yellow means successful, red means unsuccessful.

Wolves were focusing heavily down their right, identifying Arshavin as a weak defensive player, and probably assuming Clichy, Wilshere and Arshavin would be easier to penetrate than Sagna, Song and Walcott on our right. As the statistics show; almost half (48%) of all successful tackles made by Arsenal were in our left defensive half of the pitch.

Clichy was so efficient in this zone (7 tackles won out of 9), that Wilshere could focus more on what happened in the middle of the pitch, helping Song and Fabregas to neutralise the narrow three man wall Wolves set up in O’Hara, Henry and Milijas.

On the opposite side of our defensive half, only 5 successful tackles were made – two from Sagna, two from Djourou and one from Koscielny. This was the space occupied by Matthew Jarvis, with Doyle and Elokobi providing support. Wolves should have realised that they had more luck going forward down their left flank, as Sagna is normally pushing high up the pitch, and Song can get caught out of position at times. Putting pressure on Djorou/Sagna/Song would probably have given a better result throughout the match for Wolves, since Wilshere and Clichy were impressively dominating their defensive zone.

Alex Song: Man-Marking?

My initial prediction before this match was that Wenger would instruct Alex Song to man-mark opposition players running into his zone, as a preventive training measure for the Barcelona clash on Wednesday. In the Everton match, Song was tracking the runs of of the opposition, as if he was preparing for the runs of Iniesta or Messi, latching on to any runs made by either Arteta or Saha.

With Song playing his normal zonal approach against Wolves, questions could be asked whether or not there is even a plan to deploy Song in a man-marking role against Barcelona. Last year’s fixture proved that man-marking Messi takes lots of pressure off for the defensive line, and I would prefer him tracking runs like that again.


Our possession wasn’t impressive, only 51% over the whole match, but we made up for it with a higher-than-average passing rate of 82%. Problem was that Wolves also had a high passing rate (78.3%), which would explain the possession numbers. Overall a good exercise for the Barcelona clash, whether or not Wenger wants to admit to this or not.

Robin van Persie was yet again showing his impressive form, having scored 10 goals in the last 7 Premier League fixtures. Wilshere was also impressive, probably a confidence boost from being selected for England and doing very well, despite all the media hype. Him and Fabregas were distributing passes all over the pitch, using intelligent positioning and decisions to predict runs and movements of their teammates.

But, and there is a but…the amount of chances we missed today is not acceptable. It’s not worth having so much passing talent, and players able to create scoring opportunities, if the end product isn’t there. Against Barcelona, this aspect must improve.

Bring on Wednesday!

Second Opinion by Joss Bennett

Arsenal named a more or less unchanged side from the dismal 4-4 draw at St. James’ park with the exception of Diaby, who was both injured and suspended being replaced by Alex Song who is first choice anyway. 20 year Wojciech Szczesny started in goal again, despite Almunia now being fit, and looks set to start the big game on Wednesday ahead of the more experienced goalkeeper who kept Arsenal in the game during the first half against Barcelona at the Emirates last season.

Wolves named the same side that ended Manchester United’s 29 game unbeaten run, with new signing Jamie O’Hara keeping his place in a narrow 3 man central midfield. The biggest question in Wolves’ line up for me, was who would play where in the middle. O’Hara has been used in several positions during his time at Tottenham and Portsmouth, while Karl Henry has often been the man instructed to deal with Fabregas in these fixtures.

Mick McCarthy decided to go for a 1-2 midfield, rather than the 2-1 he may have used; either Milijas would play a similar role to Fabregas behind the lone striker, or he would hold his place in the centre with one of O’Hara and Henry playing behind, man marking Fabregas.

Wolves’ Width

It was Karl Henry who started in the centre, in fact, alongside Nenad Milijas who is the most attack-minded of the Wolves midfield. I expected Jamie O’Hara to take the left central midfield slot (MCL) – having played in more advanced roles at times, he would naturally drift into the left-hand channel and help limit the space of Bacary Sagna, or provide through balls to Adam Hammill.

Wolves' Width

Wolves' full-backs pushed up but were dragged out of position by the clever movement from Walcott and Arshavin.

As it was, Wolves adopted a very narrow width across the field, and this hindered them both going forward and defensively. McCarthy set his team up in a somewhat unconventional 4-3-1-2 formation, similar to Arsenal’s in the sense that Kevin Doyle dropped very deep and two natural wingers pushed up into the space behind him. This was a mistake. The two wingers naturally played deeper than they were asked to, and if the idea was to press from the front, it failed – Arsenal simply played wider and got the ball out to Sagna and Clichy whenever they could.

The two wing-backs played on pretty much the same level throughout the game (usually Sagna has the more advanced role, before Clichy begins to push on and join attacks late on if the game is already pretty much won) and the freedom of the whole of their channels. The other reason the wing-backs were so useful was because of the movement from Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin. A 4-2-3-1 formation means there is one less person behind you than in a 4-3-3 and so the wide-forwards have to play deeper; in this case, Walcott and Arshavin used their pace to run off the shoulder of their markers or drag them inside, perhaps limiting the space of Cesc Fabregas, but likewise creating a huge gap for Sagna or Clichy to exploit.

The final reason Wolves were hindered by the width was their failure to utilise their creativity up front. Adam Hammill was one of the Championship’s best players, thriving as a creative winger just as Adel Taraabt is doing for QPR and Matt Jarvis has reportedly attracted interest from teams in the top-half and higher positions in the league such as Tottenham & Liverpool.

Arsenal have often struggled when defending crosses into the box – 51% of the goals we’ve conceded have come from set-pieces and Newcastle’s crossing and dominance in the air was a key factor in their comeback from four goals down last week and Wolves caused all sorts of problems in the air when the two sides met at Molineux. However, instead of having either two out and out wingers to push Sagna and Clichy back, or even two in-cutting wingers to trouble Koscielny and Djourou, they were deployed ahead of Doyle, who is good in the air, but by no means a target man meaning Song, Koscielny and Djourou were pretty comfortable at the worst of times.

Arsenal’s Midfield

Arsenal clearly learnt their lesson from Newcastle (and the various other similar games) and started as they did in Tyneside. Arshavin was deployed almost as another central-midfielder, or an attacking midfielder – certainly more narrow than he often is – and this was presumably an attempt to encourage him to work harder and be involved in the build-up, not just the end of a move.

Like Newcastle, Wolves held a very high defensive line, trying to limit the space in our creative midfield, but instead just decreasing the area Arsenal’s midfield had to press. The two wide men did an excellent job of leading the line in terms of pressing, and Fabregas was really up for this game – at one point he pressed the ball from his own half and forced it all the way back to Wayne Hennessey. Arsenal’s pressing was the perfect example of what we need to do against Barcelona in mid-week, closing down the space quickly, and more importantly, as a team rather than a couple of players closing down and others not looking interested. The pace with which the whole team closed down the space when Wolves had the ball, particularly in the first half (which wasn’t often) meant they were forced into playing rushed, inaccurate long balls which rarely found their target.

As mentioned, Fabregas’ creativity was limited by a packed midfield but Wilshere deputised brilliantly and played a more advanced role than he has done recently – more like he was doing at the start of the season – and was clearly brimming with confidence after his first start for the senior England side.

As Fabregas dropped back to find space, Wilshere moved forward and had two or three chances to shoot himself but chose, unselfishly to pass to Walcott (twice) and others. Wilshere’s creativity in this game was more like the sort of play we saw from Fabregas last season; looking for short passes and one-twos or dribbling with the ball himself and again, went on a couple of good runs into the box, drawing fouls or creating scoring opportunities. However, as the game progressed, he clearly tired and Fabregas was desperate for a goal and pushed up into his more familiar role once it was evident Wolves had pretty much given up. At this point, Wilshere dropped back to the holding role he was instructed to play for England and started playing a role that has become very popular for a lot of midfielders this season…

“The Quarterback”

This season, especially in recent weeks, Arsenal have been much more willing to get the ball into wide areas, and play a more direct style of football (without actually going route one!) Yesterday, Wilshere was key in encouraging this – taking the game by the scruff of the neck at times when Arsenal looked to be taking their foot off the gas and dropping back to control the game in a deeper role.

Wilshere - Quarterback

As the game went on, players tired and Wilshere dropped deep to play defence-splitting long balls exploiting the pace of the wide players.

Together with Alex Song, Wilshere has formed a useful double-pivot in midfield in the game against Wolves he displayed a wonderful array of passing ability.

Alex Song is the ball-winner, allowed some freedom to roam but largely used to break up attacks and play more simple passes often to Wilshere, who used the pace of Walcott and Arshavin in the wings to ping the ball forward and create chances from almost nothing – just as the quarterback does in the NFL.

This has become especially useful in a season when Fabregas, despite some magnificent performances, has not always looked motivated (much like the rest of the team in some games) and a season when Theo Walcott has vastly improved his off-the-ball movement, finishing and composure.

The more direct ball has also been used by Fabregas this season, though and was particularly evident against Leeds in the FA Cup when he came on changed a game with two superb passes to Walcott who used his pace to exploit a tired Leeds side and win a penalty.

Conclusion – Wolves “Spanked”

A very good performance from Arsenal and a thoroughly deserved three points that I will take every time. Taking chances is still an issue, but the players shouldn’t be too worried – Hennessey had an inspired game and several last ditch blocks kept the score respectable. Barcelona will provide a much tougher test, though and by all accounts, Wolves didn’t offer much attacking threat and made some key tactical errors which were only addressed when it was too late. A win and three points keeps the pressure on Man Utd, who only won their match because of a brilliant goal from Wayne Rooney.

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  • Omar

    Great article. I’m too disappointed by the amount of possession we had and I expected it to be 60% +. As for the game against Barcelona it will be tough as they press to a ridiculous extent so much so that I don’t even think our defence will have a second to pass the ball out of defence, and as the Emirates pitch is not as big as Camp Nou it will be tough to find space me thinks. I also remember from last season’s game at home that we basically had to play long balls up to Bendtner even though the game was being touted as the two best footballing sides in the world going up against each other.

    • Joss Bennett


      Yeah, we were discussing this in the staffroom (I said there had to be a mistake…) I’m trying to find excuses for the possession stats but I can’t really other than the fact we clearly took the foot off the gas after 2-0, knowing that Wolves hadn’t offered much all match and weren’t likely to, either.

      You’ll see in my preview (coming soon!) that Barca’s pressing comes from the front. A lot of teams just have a high defensive line and a midfield that presses but Villa/Pedro/Messi all work very hard to win the ball back as early as possible.. It doesn’t help that La Liga isn’t exactly packed full of physical players (neither are we) but we can’t just run scared like we did in the first half last season, where we showed them far too much respect and got a little lucky in the end.

      With the Emirates pitch being shorter, there SHOULD be less space to exploit should Arsenal push up in defence. The positive about those long balls is that Barca can’t deal with them haha

  • Arsenal Column

    Hi, firstly I’d like to commend you on what looks to be an exciting website but it also proves an exercise of over-complication.

    The heat-maps show a 4-3-1-2 but only because the two wingers continued swapping sides, so as an average touch map, it has to find a halfway point. Hence showing the formation as that when in fact, it was a 4-5-1. Doyle dropped deep and roamed around and generally the wingers stay up and hugged their respective touchlines.

    But also there is a lot of presumptions such as Arsenal playing a lot of individuals and Wolves targeting the left. The latter could just happen naturally as there’s more space but even so, Clichy squeezed the play well.

    For the former, it shows the strategic planning Wenger has in place and that he wants all-rounders. The two defenders work well as a pair because, essentially they are very similar. They want to squeeze up the pitch, look to win the ball back early and very mobile.

    (Sorry to be a damp squib, the feedback should make this site an even better project).

    • Joss Bennett

      Not a “damp squib” at all, we appreciate any constructive feedback an experienced blogger like yourself can give us..

      Good point re: Wolves’ formation – Checked the chalkboards (I don’t do graphics, so blame Ix =P) and the two wingers are clearly constantly swapping. Even so, when they were on their starting sides (Jarvis started right, Hammill left) they tended to naturally try and cut in anyway when they had the ball. It wasn’t until late on that they actually started getting to the byline and trying to cross it in.

      For me, Doyle was wasted dropping so deep – he’s not a target man, and even if he was, it’s not ideal playing long balls up to a lone striker.. He rarely made runs into the box and generally Song dominated his zone behind Fabregas.

      I think it’s a fair assumption that Wolves deliberately targeted our left hand side – Clichy is often seen as a weak link, and maybe they looked to expose Arshavin who has been criticised for his work rate. Arshavin actually did pretty well in a deeper role than usual for me, obviously he has pace so he spent some time moving forward on and off the ball, but was more willing to track back.

      He made a couple of tackles, and was often a short option for Clichy, who quite often gets caught trying to play his way out trouble:

      Re: The two centre-backs, I completely agree. My opinion is that they are essentially both ‘ball-playing” CBs – happy to pass it out of defence and get tight to their man but equally are both fairly quick for CBs and have enough pace and awareness to cover for each other.

    • Ix Techau

      Quick note about the Interactive Pitch and the swapping wingers: I agree that the average positioning is affected by players swapping positions, but the IP shows the average positions as supplied by Opta, not much I can do. Early on I opted against having formation info like ZM (general positions from a defensive stance), as I think true average positioning is much more interesting from a tactical standpoint. Granted, it doesn’t always portray the whole truth, but for the most part it’s very useful for a tactical analysis.

      As you say, the wingers were swapping positions, and so the average positioning misrepresents reality slightly, as would any change in formation do (if, lets say, Arsenal switch from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 at half-time). That’s when it’s important to not only analyse the numbers, but also observe what’s actually going on in the match. I see the Interactive Pitch as a tool, not an answer. ;)

      Also, I agree that some behaviours aren’t necessarily intentional, more a product of other things coming together at once. But in the case of Wolves targeting Arsenal’s left flank, I thought the number of tackles made in that zone told much of the story throughout the match.

      Thanks for the constructive points, it’s still a very young site, and I don’t think we’ve found our true identity yet. Such things form over time I guess, and from now until the end of this season, there will be a lot of trial and error to learn what works and what doesn’t. But in the 2011/2012 season, we should have plenty of useful features, tools and information, even for bloggers like yourself to utilise, if needed.

      Love Arsenal Column by the way. =)

  • Adnan Chowdhury

    Nice article.

  • Mani

    Great article once again. This has quickly become one of my favourite Arsenal tactics blogs. Keep up the quality posts guys.

    I’m really hoping to see us pressing high against Barca, because that seems to be the only way of stemming their flow (other than parking the bus, but I’m sure that we would never do that, so our only option is to play a very high pressure game). Teams that look to attack but not actively block off passing lanes on the defensive front against Barcelona consistently fail. Look at el Classico and the Almeria game. Conversely, Barca’s toughest challenges so far this season (that don’t play with 11 men inside their own box), Villareal and Gijon this weekend, succeeded to the extend that they did mainly because of their pressure applied high up the pitch (Gijon did so in the early part of the game, got the lead, then parked their tank).

  • Daniel Monksfield

    Another awesome post, the IP is great too. It’s clear Wilshere has come on a lot recently, I enjoy watching him play, him and Fabregas have been linking up well together!

    We really do need to convert our chances though, although RVP has 11 goals in 7 games which is obviously great, we need to finish any slight chances we get on Wednesday against Barca. I really hope we can beat them at the Emirates and hope for the best at the Nou Camp!

  • Rob Marrs

    This is a beautifully put together site. Great reading too – keep up the great work.

  • Marco

    What a great post and a great site! Really nice analyse! Good work!

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