Sunday, 6 November 2011

Van Persie takes the plaudits but Koscielny ran the show against WBA

On Inside The Formation we'll look at an individual player's performance and analyse their input into the game. Today Joss Bennett looks at Laurent Koscielny's performance against Marseille.

In a game in which we won 3-0, it may seem strange to be talking about the defence but Laurent Koscielny’s superb performance against The Baggies – following on from Per Mertesacker’s against Marseille – means he was difficult to ignore.

Indeed, the fact we’re talking about the defence in what was actually a quiet day at the back emphasises the team performance against WBA. Robin van Persie, Mikel Arteta and Thomas Vermaelen all impressed, but it‘s Koscielny who deserves the plaudits.

As Arsenal dominated the opening exchanges – not allowing the visitors a single shot in the first half – the Gunners’ centre-backs were able to step up and play a high line. Arsenal’s defence were confident both that the midfield were in control of the game and that WBA lacked the pace to get in behind and hurt them on the counter-attack.

And of course when the visitors did begin to look dangerous, Koscielny was always there to ensure Arsenal kept a clean-sheet; including making a vital tackle at 1-0 to deny Jerome Thomas a clear sight at goal.

In total, the French defender made six “ground tackles” (winning four), three interceptions and won 100% of his aerial-duels. Despite pushing up the field, Koscielny was more than aware of the threat WBA could be able to pose on the break – making 67% of his interceptions and winning his only aerial duel in the middle third of the pitch.

But, as against Marseille, the Arsenal defence provided a relieving intelligence and reading of the game – knowing when they were in the ascendency and could push up, and when they simply had to be patient and cautious. One of Koscielny’s best attributes is his reading of the game, and together with more brutish Vermaelen, he was also able to break up play in and around the box with 60% of his completed tackles coming in the defensive third of the pitch.

by Guardian Chalkboards

Furthermore, Arsenal’s aggressive style of play and rampaging full-backs means that one of the most important job for the centre-backs is to cover the channels in the defensive phase if the full-backs have pushed on. Koscielny’s positional awareness was evident in such against West Brom; drifting wide to help out the inexperienced Carl Jenkinson and making a third (33%) of his passes, and two of his five clearances (or two of his four successful clearances) in the right full-back ‘zone’.

Arsenal have now kept their second clean sheet in a row, but only their fourth in the last ten games in all competitions. While we must be careful not to get ahead of ourselves – particularly against a free-scoring Norwich side who have scored ten times in their last four fixtures – the continued improvement of our defence has been a welcome slap in the face for media critics.

Of course, as with any team there are still some concerns - mainly over the side’s complacency when they’re in the lead and ability to defend (and clear) at set-piece situations. But the whole team have shown far more character and the new tactics are finally starting to pay dividends.

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.

Video produced by CWDailyGoonerCulann Davies is founder, head writer and video editor of Arsenal blog CWDailyGooner - a site for all Gooners interested in analysis of Arsenal's first teamers, youngsters and loanees in video form. You can follow him on twitter and read his work at CWDailyGooner.

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