'WE HAD A GOOD WEEKEND…'
Whether you love or loathe your job, the chances are you had a spring in your step when you went into work this week.
The smiles were just as wide at London Colney where, like the fans, the players and staff basked in the afterglow of a win we truly needed.
Arsène Wenger summed it up neatly. "We had a good weekend… certainly like you!" he said after sitting down for his interview with Arsenal.com.
"I felt that the energy of the team goes to the fans and the fans give it back to the team. That’s why it starts from us. The fans want to see the team full of desire and dynamic, and then they respond even more. That was the case on Sunday.
"I felt the game could have gone both ways because it was a very balanced tie, but we always felt in the game that we were at the level of what our fans want from us."
NEW SYSTEM, NEW DAWN
That miserable night at Crystal Palace may turn out to be a watershed. It provoked a reaction from the fans, a response from the players and a tactical tweak that ushered in a 3-4-3 formation for wins over Middlesbrough and Manchester City.
Arsenal: Cazorla (plantaris), Mustafi (thigh)
Leicester: Morgan (hamstring), Slimani (groin), Mendy (ankle), Wague (shoulder)
“I’m surprised how quickly we adapted to the system,” admitted Wenger. “We worked on it in training but we had limited time. As well, I think it gave us a bit more security in a period where we need a bit more certainty and more clarity with our defending.
“Maybe as well the new system suits well some individual players to express their qualities and gives them some freedom to go forward. Overall, I feel until now it’s worked well. What’s more important is the team spirit and that’s why I insist that we have to transfer that into the Premier League.”
The insurance policy of a back three paid out at Wembley with defenders on hand to mop up dangerous situations inside the box and deal with runners in behind like Leroy Sane. But inevitably there has to be a sacrifice elsewhere when you adjust your system.
“We sacrifice a little bit possession because we played a little bit deeper,” explained the boss.
“Basically, it is similar to our [usual] system, just one player moves back into central defence. That means of course you have to play a little bit deeper sometimes. I feel the more we get used to it, the more we can play high up, because you can pressure higher up. Your full backs can push in very early. But we have been a bit more cautious because we really played under big pressure to win the games.”
DOES POSSESSION MATTER?
The stats bear out Wenger’s point about conceding possession - Man City enjoyed almost 70 per cent of the ball at Wembley. But, as we found at West Brom and Palace recently, possession isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
“Maybe [possession is less important] because the teams are very well organised to defend, and as well because some teams open up to attack,” said the manager. “The teams who defend have the quality when they go forward, with pace and individual quality to make a difference when the space is there.
“That has changed in the Premier League. All the teams have the quality to make a difference when you open up.”
THE FLUIDITY OF 3-4-3
The analytics also demonstrate that a 3-4-3 formation demands a great deal from the wide players.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Nacho Monreal have risen to the challenge - they even combined for the equaliser at Wembley on Sunday - and Wenger thinks their complimentary styles allows fluidity in the new system.
“First, their target is of course to give us width and that allows us to know that we have two players on the line. They have the quality to go forward so that when you give them a bit more of an offensive role they can express that with freedom.
“One is a full-back, the other one is more a midfielder… and the advantage of the system we play at the moment is that it’s easy to transform during the game into a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1, because Gabriel can move to right back, Nacho can come back to left back, so it’s a bit adaptable. Many times we play with Chamberlain forward and Nacho a bit more defensive, so it’s adaptable to our usual system.
“But yes, the wide players produce of course more work. There is more work demanded as well from people who play, like Ozil and Alexis, but there is as well more freedom for Xhaka and Ramsey because they have a bit of cover behind them.”
FACING THE CHAMPIONS
In the cup final we’ll be up against N’Golo Kante, the newly-minted PFA Player of the Year. He has given to Chelsea what he gave to Leicester last season, and it’s clear that our next opponents have sorely missed their old midfield lynchpin.
“Look, he has moved from Leicester to Chelsea and has been voted the best player at Leicester last year and the best player of the league this year, so it just tells you how big a player he is,” said Wenger.
“I think if you lose that kind of player, every single club would miss him. How much? I don’t know because Leicester had a difficult time at the start of the season but they did well in the Champions League even without him. Recently they have had great results in the Premier League, so they have found the balance again, but you miss always a player of that quality.
“We need to be aware of their counter-attacking, their pace on the counter-attack. You want to attack without exposing yourself. They have found defensive security again, and they have kept their threat on the long balls, on counter-attacks and with Jamie Vardy’s pace.”
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