Slick passing, fluid movement and a relentless desire to press the ball – No, this is not how one would currently describe an Arsenal side under the astute tutelage of Arsene Wenger. Although that particular style of play coincides with the philosophical Frenchman’s preaching his side have been far from putting it into practice of late. Last Saturday at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger did see his vision come to life but to his obvious frustration, his team was on the receiving end of it as Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City side thoroughly outplayed the Gunners at what is supposed to be their own game.
Santi Cazorla started his Premier League career in scintillating form but hasn’t been as influential recently. The former Malaga man is hardly to blame though as opponents have simply identified him as the main threat in Arsenal’s attack and have worked to stifle him. The Spaniard used to enjoy freedom in the final third to orchestrate attacks but has had to drop deeper or drift wide of his central position to receive the ball in recent times.
Cazorla needs more support
Had Cazorla been afforded more support in the creative department the ploy to mark him out of the game may have faltered but Arsenal’s lack of ingenuity have made them over-reliant on the diminutive midfielder to provide the spark in their attack. In previous years, if teams attempted to bully Cesc Fabregas out of the game they would still be left with the likes of Samir Nasri and an in-form Andrey Arshavin to contend with.
In the past, Arsenal have insisted on playing through teams with one-touch passing and quick movement but their sluggish nature of late forced them to attempt an astounding total of 29 crosses against Swansea. Delivering crosses into the box has never been their forte and the fact that those deliveries had a dismal success rate of just 14% on Saturday stands testament to that claim. In their previous two league games away to Everton and Aston Villa, Wenger’s side attempted 27 crosses in each game with success rates of 15% and 11% respectively which implies that they were unable to create chances through the middle and resorted to sending crosses into the box which were largely ineffective.
In stark contrast, they attempted only 13 crosses in arguably their best performance of the season against Liverpool at Anfield when Cazorla and Abou Diaby dominated proceedings for them. To confirm that theory we only need to look at their 6-1 hammering of Southampton that followed the Liverpool game as they only attempted 12 crosses against the Saints.
Swansea must be given credit for their performance as well. Their fans could not have hoped for a better display away to Arsenal. The most encouraging facet about their success this season is that they have evolved under Laudrup. The Danish tactician hasn’t been content with the fairly successful formula that was already in place but he hasn’t gone about dismantling things either.
Swansea have progressed under Laudrup
The Welsh side have retained their desire to pass the ball well and close teams down soon but they have added a higher level of penetration to their attack. Their more adventurous approach has seen them keep only two clean sheets this season while they had six at this stage of their last campaign. However, their desire to attack teams and find an end product rather than being obsessed with possession has enabled them to score seven more goals than they did at this time last season.
In addition, Laudrup has brought in players like Michu, Ki Seung-Yueng, Jonathan de Guzman and Pablo Hernandez who are more dynamic on the ball as opposed to Leon Britton and Joe Allen whose talents did not extend far beyond their neat passing. Meanwhile, Arsenal have added Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud to their ranks, good players no doubt but perhaps not best suited to the intricate style of passing Arsenal have associated themselves with over the years.
Wenger watched in despair
Arsenal’s defending used to be their Achilles heel. They were criticized for defending poorly and lacking grit and determination in midfield. While those problems haven’t been eradicated yet, there unimaginative attack has been their latest shortcoming.With their inability to retain players and utter reluctance to spend big on suitable replacements, Arsenal are gradually losing sight of their attractive style of play that has won them so many admirers over the years and endeared them to their fans around the globe. The passing is getting slower and the movement seems more laboured.
To his horror, Wenger now finds himself overseeing the excruciatingly slow demise of the philosophy he has adhered to over the last 16 years. That reality would have been indisputably clear to him last week as he watched Swansea comprehensively beat his team in a manner he would have been most proud of.