søndag den 16. august 2009

Arsenal and Chelsea (and everyone should watch men's tennis!)

This weekend I was never home and my sporting viewing experience suffered somewhat because of it.
Some things that could have been watched on tv had to be watched online and some things that was watched online could have been watched in better quality!
Oh well it wasn't that bad but a nice reminder of why as a devoted sports addict I should always try and stay at home even moreso than I do already!

Between lots of football, Usain Bolt's insane running and a relative unknown Korean besting Tiger Woods one on one in a major golf championship, what I enjoyed the most this weekend was probably the tennis from the Montreal Masters.
Various players are just playing great tennis at an exceptional high level right now and watching them battle throughout this whole week was great.
Murray, Tsonga, Roddick and Del Potro were all awesome and Federer, Nadal, Djokovic, Wawrinka and Verdasco not far behind.
It was just one great match after another and that it set a very deserved crowd record for this particular tournament is a good sign I think.
Men's tennis is where it's at right now and if people can stay injury free, the U.S Open should be spectacular.

On to the football and once again Ancelotti and Chelsea in what was somewhat of a deja vu, even if the opponent Hull, was far from the quality of their Charity Shield one.
Again things started of slow with too much short passing going through Mikel resulting in nothing positive except for Hull that is.
I do think Mikel is a good player who when the first few times I saw him thought would become an excellent one. Of that I'm not so sure anymore. But he is very strong and can do the simple things and play an effective holding midfielder role.
What he just isn't though is any kind of effective distributor in what is clearly meant to be an attacking possession game. He won't make that very good pass to people making runs in front of him and won't make a quick first touch pass to a Bosingwa coming forward. Or be part of a nice one-two or triangle with his colleagues in the diamond.

That was his role however so he did look to do those things but the result was turnovers and/or momentum for Hull. He was never comfortable and either took too long on the ball, lost it or both.
Resulting in 1-0 for Hull and Mikel getting substituted at halftime.

Following that Chelsea then naturally improved forward. Like in the Charity Shield game play became more direct and while Drogba was beasting upfront the likes of Malouda, Lampard and Anelka were making effective runs around him.
But overall it's kinda hard to be positive about this because the chances that Hull in the first half was getting because of poor Chelsea possession they were now getting because Chelsea's team defending wasn't very effective. While the diamond now certainly was able to attack well it wasn't able to defend very good and like in the Charity Shield game it looks vulnerable to width and there is just a general imbalance to the Chelsea defending. Something that's been rare for many years now with this team build by Mourinho.

So will Ancelotti next week just scrap the "Mikel "playmaker" experiment" and settle for the powerful direct attack that the diamond at least including Ballack can produce. Even with its defensive vulnerabilities or does he skip this raw diamond altogether and try something more Chelsea proven?

Based on his comments focusing quite a lot on complimenting the 2nd half direct play, I'm guessing the first one and that will be enough to beat a lot of teams. Actually, potentially all teams. That's how good these players are but over time unless the balance improves I don't see this team reaching the level it did playing basically optimal under Hiddink and again, like I wrote last week, it could mean a great opportunity for a league title lost.

And it's still very early days of course. Lots of things can happen and I'm sure they will.

For Arsenal however everything pretty much did happen. And all of it positive. Slaughtering a normaly very solid Everton team away is a great result.
Tactically the big news has been that Arsene Wenger is dumping the 4-4-2 in favour of a more flexible 4-3-3.
In retrospect this should probably already have happened a season ago but afterall the 4-4-2 has brought him and the club a lot of success and at least in theory should be a system where the not so good defensive Arsenal players will have a better chance of handling themselves.

"No other formation is as efficient in covering space"
is one of Wenger's quotes but with the right players of course any non 4-4-2 system can be turned into one when defending.
Does Arsenal have the players to do this consistently right now?
I would say no but they definitely have a lot of players a lot better in 4-3-3 like systems than in a 4-4-2.
Their young talented central midfielders, Denilson, Song, Diaby or for that matter, world class for years now, Fabregas haven't really been able to handle themselves well enough defensively in a 4-4-2 central midfield. And on the wings neither have players like Nasri, Walcott, Van Persie, Arsharvin or Rosicky. They're just not good enough physically.
Not good enough without the ball. At least not when you're considering at least 3 rivals to the title are among the very strongest teams in the world.
The biggest counter against that without the ball weakness has of course been to keep the ball an overwhelming majority of the time. With Fabregas they have one of only a handfull of uniquely taltented players who can take a possession game to a high enough level to consistently win against tough competition.

Especially with Adebayor now gone there just isn't much justification left to try and achieve that in a 4-4-2.
All the versatile wide players would be better in three-forward lines and all the central type of midfielders much more effective with two players with them instead of just one.
One main strenght genereally of all the Arsenal players right now is also great movement.
Moving a lot both attacking-wise and defensively.
Not being solid defensive strongholds battling their zone in a 4-4-2, but they should at least be able to cover ground and perhaps, and I'm guessing this is Wenger's secret hope, be able to emulate the ball pressure that Barcelona does in their similar system immediatly after possession is over.
Not always winning the ball. That's a bonus! But at least doing enough to prevent an effective counter attack from the opponent.
Something Barcelona was very vulnerable to in Rijkaard's final season yet amazingly largely eliminated under Guardiola.
So while Arsenal's team defending still likely won't be great there is at least hope for improvement. More than in a 4-4-2 arguably,
And some successfull ball pressure and one or two of the wide forwards consistently making it back to defend a wing, could do wonders.

One of those wide forwards looks like it will be everyone's favorite player (to hate!) Nicklas Bendtner!
Even if I'm possibly one of the least patriotic people in the world I could be accused of being biased as a dane when it comes to definitely not hating Bendtner.
Instead it's quite the opposite and I think he is an extremely talented player who has that size/ability combination that can be of such great value to a team.
I'm not saying that particular combination is on the Zlatan Ibrahimovic scale but for a big strong guy Bendtner does have good technique and does have good movement.
If he didn't he could never try and play this position we're seein him in now in the first place.
Certainly a great coach like Wenger would never put him there.
Still common sense would suggest it should be the other way around between Van Persie, playing center forward and Bendtner a right-forward role.
From watching the game it wasn't even my impression that they switched around all that much.
Something I had expected when first hearing about this.

One factor is that Van Persie has improved as a striker. He has started to do these striker kind of things like more actively seeking the run in between the defenders.
And while I think that Bendtner arguably is more effective in the box itself, Van Persie certainly is still better complementing a Fabregas or Asharvin coming from behind.
He is also needless to say more reliable when it comes to the actual business of putting good scoring chances away.
It's pretty banal but has a nice logic to it: It's better for Van Persie to get most of the final touches on the very good chances our great attack creates than it is Bendtner.

But make no mistake about it. This is about Bendtner's strenghts too. While he moves well enough with the ball to not exactly be an easy matchup for most fullbacks, his strenght and size advantage over I would think almost all of them, makes him a really tough matchup and it definitely created a lot of trouble for Everton dealing with it.
Playing the deeper higher ball to somewhere with a mismatch to their advantage was a very nice addition to the Arsenal arsenal and the results were great.
In the beginning he quite easily won headers resulting in dangerous situations and when Everton consequently later felt forced to foul him, the dead ball and huge defensive fail, resulted in goals.

Of the Liverpool-Tottenham and United-Birmingham games I really only watched parts and in less than desired quality but I may post some about them later.

I did watch all of Manchester City-Blackburn but forgot to write anything about it! Mainly thoughts on City.

So actually I'm pretty sure I'll do somekind of other football entry in one of the next few days so stay tuned.

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