Thursday, 18 August 2011

Song's role against Udinese wasn't helped because of the Rosicky/Ramsey partnership

Inside The Formation is a new feature on for the 2011/12 season. We'll be asking a writer to look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Joss Bennett looks at Alex Song's role within the side at the Grove.

As Arsenal scraped a 1-0 win in the first leg of the Champions League play-off against Udinese on Tuesday, Alex Song and the rest of the midfield seemed the most vulnerable players in the Gunners side.

Despite Aaron Ramsey assisting with the only goal of the game, he and Tomas Rosicky largely failed to build up an understanding, and a lot of the time, this left Song isolated in the middle of the pitch.

After he controversialy trod on Joey Barton at the weekend, Song arguably had something to prove to the Arsenal fans after his actions mean we’ll be missing a key player for the next three games – including Liverpool and Manchester United. But the Cameroon midfielder largely struggled to deal with Udinese’s attacking flair – Antonio Di Natale in particular found space all too easily.

Udinese had clear instructions to pack the midfield tightly and counter-attack down the wings when they won the ball back, with Arsenal’s left side being targeted the most. In the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, Arsenal attempt to deal with dangerous opposition wide-men by instructing each of the central midfielders to cover one flank as well as their usual zone in the middle – Alex Song sweeps behind the right-back when he goes forward, and Wilshere does the same on the other side.

However, in a 4-3-3/4-1-2-3, the two players ahead of Song have less defensive responsibility, and so Song is left having to cover the width of the pitch by himself; something which was particularly evident in the second half against Udinese when Rosicky clearly tired and Arsenal’s wide-men stopped tracking back. The result was that almost at every time Udinese counter-attacked, they had a man over. If Song went to the left side, Di Natale simply dropped back into the hole and either drew a centre-back out of position or was left un-marked in a dangerous zone between midfield and defence.

By mid-way through the second half, Song was clearly suffering from the amount of ground he had to cover and by the lack of support he was receiving, and the full-time stats show that he won only 45% of his duels overall, as well as conceding two fouls.

One of the more positive aspects of Song’s performance, however, was his excellent defensive work in and around the box – making one block and two clearances over the course of the game, as well as drawing two fouls, displaying his ability to hold onto the ball when under pressure; also shown by 86% pass accuracy.

Song’s performance wasn’t bad by any means – he didn’t make any specific ‘errors’ (and he averaged an excellent record of over 2,500 minutes/defensive error last season), but to me it’s clear that he’s best suited to a 4-2-3-1 formation in which he operates in a double-pivot alongside Wilshere and has the freedom and support to move forward while Wilshere covers behind him.

It is yet to be seen how much he’ll be missed over the next three games, but for him, and Arsenal to succeed in the long-term this season, 4-2-3-1 should be the way forward rather than the 4-3-3 we’ve used in the past two games.

Our thanks go to Orbinho and EPL Index who helped us with this article by providing us with the statistical information included in it.
Joss Bennett is co-editor and head writer of Arsenal blog Arsenal Report - a site for all Gooners interested in tactics, stats and the inner workings of the club. You can follow him on twitter and his read is work at Arsenal Report.

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