Chelsea-Arsenal: What Arsène Wenger Can Use From Loss to Manchester United

Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner, returning to health for the Gunners, could play a pivotal role in Sunday's match against Chelsea, if Arsène Wenger takes a page from Alex Ferguson's book.  (Photo:  Newscom)
Arsenal's Nicklas Bendtner, returning to health for the Gunners, could play a pivotal role in Sunday's match against Chelsea, if Arsène Wenger takes a page from Alex Ferguson's book. (Photo: Newscom)

If Arsène Wenger and Arsenal can take a page from Sir Alex Ferguson’s book, the Gunners can replicate last year’s result at Stamford Bridge.

Then – November 30, 2008 – Arsenal got two goals from Robin van Persie, winning 2-1 at Stamford Bridge.

Ahead of Sunday, with van Persie recovering with a long term ankle injury, Arsenal is on the verge of falling out of the title race, and after last Sunday home loss to Manchester United, a replication of last year’s victory may seem unlikely. Without those three points, Arsenal will be six or nine points back, with league-leading Chelsea crossed-off the fixture list.

But while Arsenal finds itself in this position because of its poor showing against United, the Gunners can find hope within that loss.

In the first half of their 3-1 win at the Emirates, United effectively “tilted” the pitch to their right flank. They near-exclusively attacked down Nani’s flank, a tactic that often allowed left wing Park Ji-Sung to play inside Arsenal right back Bacary Sagna.

This deployment helped narrow the midfield, allowing United’s central mid trio of Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher to control play while patrolling less ground.

Sagna and other players on United’s left flank (Patrice Evra, Arsenal’s Tomas Rosicky) were non-factors in the first half, while Park’s presence was best felt when supporting in the middle or by jumping in to attack from the far, left side.

With this tactic, Ferguson pummeled Arsenal at their weakest point while neutralizing the Gunners’ biggest advantage. The left side of Arsenal’s back line – Gael Clichy and Thomas Vermaelen – were shown unfit, lacking form, or both. With play being funneled to that side of the pitch, United’s three central midfielders were more readily able to congest the middle and inhibit Cesc Fabregas’s effectiveness. Of particular note, the Spaniard was unable to consistently link-up with Andrei Arshavin, who was forced to create chances on his own over the first forty-five.

United went into half time with a 2-0 lead, with one goal coming through their right flank entries. Two more gasp-inducing balls across the six were generated from this advantage.

Left back Gael Clichy, still finding his form since returning to the Gunners' starting XI, was at the heart of Arsenal's defensive woes against Manchester United.  (Photo: Newscom)
Left back Gael Clichy, still finding his form since returning to the Gunners' starting XI, was at the heart of Arsenal's defensive woes against Manchester United. (Photo: Newscom)

While Chelsea possesses no weaknesses like last week’s Clichy-Vermaelen deficiency, Arsenal would be well-served to emulate United and tilt the pitch to their right flank. This will allow Arsenal to play away from the left side of their defense and prevent Chelsea left back Ashley Cole from liberally pushing forward.

After last Sunday, the virtues of playing away from the left side of their defense (while Clichy and Vermaelen regain their form) should be clear. So, let’s focus on benefits to keeping Cole pinned back.

Cole getting forward has been one of the keys to Chelsea’s season. His wide play has helped mask the sacrifices Carlo Ancelotti’s made with his narrow midfield, where left-sided midfielder Frank Lampard plays as more of a left-center mid. With Cole’s ability to barrel up the flank, the choice to keep Florent Malouda (and his left wing play) out of the starting XI is more palatable. Just as we saw from José Bosingwa on the right before injury took Cole’s counterpart out of Chelsea’s XI, the width provided by the Blues’ make-shift wing backs is an ever-present danger for an opposing defense.

Against Arsenal, this danger would be manifest when Cole’s advances forcing Sagna wide. If Joe Cole or Frank Lampard fill the vacated space or go near post, William Gallas has to account for him, leaving Thomas Vermaelen isolated at the far post against Didier Drogba, Michael Ballack, or both.

Arsenal can help prevent Ashley Cole’s pushing forward by pinning him back: providing a constant threat on their right – a threat that will force the all-world left back to consider the risks of being caught out. If Theo Walcott got the start on the right or if Andrei Arshavin shaded toward that flank, Cole would have to maintain his defensive positioning.

Additonally, if Fabregas shaded to that flank and tried to keep the attack flowing through that side, there would be a congestion in front of Cole that would prevent him from getting forward. Combined with the threat that Fabregas, Arshavin, Walcott and Sagna would present, the benefits Cole provides Chelsea’s attack could be neutralized.

The down side to going at Cole is in the forms of John Terry and Frank Lampard. John Terry, Chelsea’s all-world left-center half, would be supporting Cole, and the strong defensive play of Frank Lampard will be prominent ahead of the left back’s position.

At both ends of the pitch, former Gunner Ashley Cole could be critical in determining if Chelsea can squelch Arsenal's title chances.  (Photo:  ZumaPress)
At both ends of the pitch, former Gunner Ashley Cole could be critical in determining if Chelsea can quell Arsenal's title chances. (Photo: ZumaPress)

At first blush, these defensive strengths could offset the benefits of pinning Cole. Couldn’t it be better to work through a middle that is missing Michael Essien? Or a left side that’s the natural flank for Arshavin?

Both options may be better, though overloading and going through the right comes with one additional virtue.

While the Gunners may not be able to work through Cole, Lampard, and Terry directly to goal, they should be able to use their numbers to get to the behind Cole for crosses. As Cole and Terry account for Walcott and Arshavin, Sagna’s overlapping could spring the right back for crossing opportunities.

With Terry stretched to account for the overload, the pressure will be on Petr Cech, Ricardo Carvalho and Branislav Ivanovic to deal with Sagna’s service. Throughout the season, Cech has been suspect in these situations, and while Ivanovic is good in the air, Carvalho is still struggling to return to the form he had prior to last season’s injury problems.

The question is who Arsenal would target with this tactic, given the overload on the right. There are not that many options left to target.

This is why Nicklas Bendtner may be this match’s most important player.

Returning to health, Bendtner has played as substitute’s role in Arsenal’s last two league matches. If he is healthy enough to start at Stamford Bridge, his size will give Arsenal an option to try and isolate against Carvalho. In addition, Bendtner has the skill set to play isolated on the left and – should the Gunners switch play from the overloaded right – give Arsenal another option, isolated against Ivanovic.

If Arsenal can maintain enough possession before sending crosses in from their right, the Gunners could also get Vermaelen forward from his position in central defense, with Alexander Song dropping back to cover while the Belgian improves Arsenal’s target options.

Winning at Stamford Bridge is always difficult, and even if Arsenal were to find a consistent avenue into attack, players like Cole, Terry, Lampard and Ballack will force Arsenal to play one of their best matches if they are to take three points. But if Arsenal takes a hint from the tactic Manchester United employed Sunday – tilting the pitch to their right flank – the Gunners can offset one of the Chelsea’s advantages, keep play away from the weak points in their defense, and improve their chances of staying in the title race.

27 thoughts on “Chelsea-Arsenal: What Arsène Wenger Can Use From Loss to Manchester United”

  1. I’m a man Utd fan and believe Arsenal have the nouse to beat Chelsea. Arsenal’s midfield did not get going last week but I don’t think they will make the same mistake this time round.

  2. I wud feel sorry for chelsea, if they fail to score nothing less than the 3pts, they have untited, liverpool, astonvila, mancity,totenham….. and we ol know how inconsistent they cud get on their away games. It wud be a disaster for chelsea if they drop all the 3pts. Mark ma word on that

  3. I am a diehard Arsenal fan but reality is I know Arsene Wenger only cares about getting into Europe and let everything else be damned. The man refused to bolster the team in obvious areas.

    He has become obsessed with winning with his players, like Denilson, Bendtner, Almunia, Diaby, etc. He wants to prove everyone wrong that he is the great mind that assembled youngsters and led them to a title, even though the results have shown anything but that.

    He never won with kids, Never. His championship teams had a blend of hard nosed veterans that knew how to battle and talented youngsters in Henry and Viera

    I mean those teams had guys like

    Ljunberg, Parlour, Pires, Bergkamp, Keown, Adams, Upson, Seaman

    not the jokers we have now like marshmallow Rosicky, garbage Bendtner, buffoon Alumunia, training room patient Walcott, Brazilian hack Denilson, I can’t cross a football Sagna (sick of seeing him run down the wing and try to pass a ball into the box that doesn’t even leave the ground)

    The only guys on this team I trust are Fabregas, Song (when he sticks to defense only), Vermaelen, Arshavin when he is playing his rightful position, he is not a CF as Wenger is trying to force him to be, when he doesn’t have the height to play that role.

    I’m sick of the lame lines out of Wenger’s mouth,
    “we need more qualiteee”
    “I have moneee too spend but only buy at z right price”
    “I challenge my players too ween at Chelsea”

    blah, blah, blah. The real story is all Wenger wants is to turn a profit for the Arsenal board and get into Europe every season, while having 60,000+ at the Emirates, that is all that matters to the board and Wenger.

  4. Lets look at the Arsenal squad and the hot garbage in it

    Almunia – this guy should be playing in one of the Scandanavian leagues or Spanish second division with Recreativo Huelva or some outfit like that. I would love to see Wenger sit this bum, who doesn’t inspire any confidence in defense and instead go with Mannone in goal.

    Gallas – who knows with him, the guy was photographed a while back smoking a cigarette, nuff said

    Sagna – he is okay, just don’t ask him to cross a ball into the box, he is dreadful at it, but Arsenal keeps having him try to do that with Arshavin of all people in the box and a cross that never reaches the box.

    Vermaelen – A good buy from Wenger and a solid player, one of the few I have faith in

    Clichy – like Sagna okay, nothing much to talk about, has some pace but if no one on Arsenal can get in the box and be a physical presence it doesn’t matter how may crosses you make from the wing.

    Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, Denilson all reek of mediocrity in midfield

    Only Cesc and Song are worth talking about in midfield, one attacking the other defending.

    Eduardo – wow his fall was precipitous, ever since he got hurt he has become afraid of contact and is a shell of the player he used to be.

    Walcott, Bendtner- Yawn

    So we don’t have a world class goalkeeper, we don’t have a world class striker healthy and playing since RvP is hurt and we wonder why the team is second tier to United and Chelsea. Not hard to figure looking at that roster.

    1. writing two posts in a row with the same drivel doesn’t reinforce your point. stick with one post and leave it at that.

  5. I don’t believe Arsenal’s strength lies in its “individual players” (Fabregas excepted). They are a collective, and as such play the best “pure” football in the EPL. They can tear apart some good sides. However, I do believe they are a bit weak when it comes to the “aggressive” side of the game, but most times their football makes up for this. (United fan).

  6. “Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, Denilson all reek of mediocrity in midfield.” Must….refrain…from…childish…name…calling. Did you also forget to dismiss Arshavin? Or does his talent not correspond with the theme of your comment, Macfan. I’m a Chelsea supporter but retain enough impartiality to be able to see the error of your breakdown of Arsenal’s squad.

  7. Right now all the gunners need to stand onto their feet firmly n give support to their boys, Boyz go for them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. “Posted by barry February 5, 2010 at 7:26 am

    “Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, Denilson all reek of mediocrity in midfield.” Must….refrain…from…childish…name…calling. Did you also forget to dismiss Arshavin? Or does his talent not correspond with the theme of your comment, Macfan. I’m a Chelsea supporter but retain enough impartiality to be able to see the error of your breakdown of Arsenal’s squad.”


    You’re a Chelsea fan, I watch Arsenal week in and week out as an Arsenal fan and know what I see with my own two eyes.

    Tell me how Diaby, Rosicky, Nasri, Denilson are not mediocre at best when it comes to world class midfielders on the top teams in Europe.

    Arshavin wasn’t mentioned because he is forced to be playing up front thanks to Wenger who refuses to buy a right and proper striker. Arshavin is not a striker, yet that is where Wenger is trying to play him. Sheer madness. Wenger just doesn’t get it.

    Look at what Chelsea did to them at the Emirates, as long as teams

    contain Fabregas
    control the midfield by bossing around Nasri, Rosicky, Diaby
    leave Arshavin isolated when he is put up front
    test Arsenal’s shaky ability on set pieces from free kicks and corners because of weak defending and that egghead goat Almunia in goal

    Arsenal will be taken to task by the teams they are competing with for a title.

    Isn’t the pattern clear, Arsenal has sold talent more than has been brought in by Wenger. His next signing will be some kid from the French League 2, to be ready 5 years from now.

    No championship aspiring team loses the way they lost to Chelsea and United at home. Arsenal looked like boys against men.

    They were bossed around in midfield, key players were left isolated and contained and just gave up the fight, and that knucklehead goalkeeper continues to play like garbage. Would Chelsea or United want Almunia in their goal. I mean they have Cech and van der Sar, world class keepers, while we have that oompa-loompa in goal, that doesn’t know when to come off his line.

    Like I said Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board are content to finish in the top 4 and play in Europe, but world class clubs should demand more than that from their team. I would like to see us actually lift a Premier League Trophy again, not settling for bridesmaid position to Chelsea and United.

  9. “posted by denis February 5, 2010 at 7:42 am

    Right now all the gunners need to stand onto their feet firmly n give support to their boys, Boyz go for them!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”


    Even the manager is not giving support to our boys denis. He knew the situation with van Persie, our loan reliable striker being essentially out for the season and yet he did not make 1 move in the transfer deadline.

    I have 0 faith in Eduarado, Theo Walcott is in horrid form, Arshavin is not a striker, yet Wenger sat with his thumb up his bum and talked about how he had money to spend.

    After the fact he mentions that when the transfer deadline closed. What is going on here. I’m not saying Nasri, Denilson, Diaby, Eduardo, Bendtner, are not good players, I reserve that honor for Almunia, but what I am saying is that they are not good enough to win a league title. If we are content to mingle with Villa, Spurs, Liverpool and now Man City then so be it, but we are not in the class of Chelsea and Manchester United or we would have won a significant trophy in recent seasons ahead of those teams.

    Chelsea and United came to the Emirates and silenced Wenger, most telling was his comments after those dreadful losses or lack thereof. He knew the true story in the results and a lot of it is down to his decisions made in recent years at this club. He is just a zealot about proving “his youngsters” are capable of lifting the title.

    1. here you go again. refuses to buy a striker? uhhhh, ummm, van persie…injured. again the two consecutive posts don’t make people automatically support your points. just post once and see what happens if you really think you are on it.

      1. This is a free forum mate, quite being a first rate prick, if you don’t like what you read then knob off, but don’t go telling folks what to and what not to write.

        I made my posts about the Arsenal squad if you don’t like that so be it. But you aren’t going to tell me what to and what not to write, Who are you the board police.

        Everything I posted was in reference to footie, you on the other hand made two posts to make the same smart @ss remark, when I fully read your first one.

        Why is it that every forum tends to have the one arsehole that thinks he can tell others what to and what not to say. Get a grip mate, this isn’t China.

        1. If this is a free forum, then why are you telling me what I can and cannot say? I might have agreed with your first point. But then you repeated it without anyone even saying anything and it just weakened your argument. Then did it again after this response.

  10. “Arsenal’s Fabregas reasserts his love for Barcelona” according to Soccernet

    New year and same old, once again soccernet (the tabloids) mention Cesc and Barca. I can only imagine this squad if he ever wants to leave.

    Even Fabregas a few weeks back had mentioned that Wenger needed to sign a powerful striker to help out this team upfront against opponents who will be physical and close down Arsenal, denying time and space.

  11. Poor finishing was not the problem with Arsenal losing to Man Utd. Not at all. United missed plenty of good chances. The game could easily have been 6-2 maybe in United’s favour. Arsenal are a good side, and I think Wenger has done wonders with his limited budget (unlike Chelsea, United, City). He should be commended for having his team constantly in the top 3-4 from very little outlay. To reinforce my point, look at how ecstatic United and Chelsea fans are if they beat Arsenal. This proves they are a good side. You don’t hear them going raving about beating the likes of Tottenham etc etc. (United fan)

    1. I would love to do nothing more than come on here and gloat and brag about Arsenal as the greatest and we will take on all comers, etc, but the reality is that is not the case in the standings.

      Good team, Yes, Championship team I don’t know about that though. Its not even that Arsenal lost to Chelsea and United at home, but the way they lost, they were outplayed in both of those games at home and made to look like they took steps backwards against teams ahead of them in the standings.

      In order to win the title, if they aren’t going to beat ManU and Chelsea, they would need to not slip up against any of the other lower teams in the table, ala Manchester United last season.

      Too often though Arsenal do slip up against the lesser opponents at vital times during the campaign. Not to mention this season more teams are competing for that European spot with Villa, Tottenham, Manchester City all joining Liverpool this season for one of those top 4 spots.

      A world class team’s fortunes should not rest on whether Cesc and van Persie can stay healthy all season. There should be more balance in the squad. That is what the old Championship Arsenal teams had.

      I love beautiful football but there comes points of the season where you have to get dirty as the season drags on and too many Arsenal players on this current squad don’t do that. I wish we had a couple more Alexander Song’s in the squad and less Rosicky and Nasri.

      Opposition players shouldn’t be able to bully you off the ball, push you around and deny you time and space on the ball to pass it around, without you being able to push back and outmuscle them.

      Some fellow Arsenal fans get upset when these things are pointed out but beautiful football doesn’t win you the title, results do and the goal is to get those winning results as consistently as possible.

      Maybe I’m just too old school remembering when Arsenal had Seaman, Adams, Winterburn, Dixon, Parlour, Keown and could win 1-0, today even when Arsenal is up 1-0 late on you feel they need another goal to avoid dropping points. Something isn’t right about that.

  12. I think there is too much emphasis on “winning” at all costs. United have played some damn miserable games this year and won, and played very well (v Chelsea) and lost. Everyone says Arsenal play the best football (even United and Chelsea fans say it) and the majority of the Arsenal fans would be very happy with that and then maybe come 2nd or 3rd in the EPL. Nothing wrong with that. Everyone can’t be the “winner”. Somebody has to come 2nd, 3rd, 4th etc etc. Would you rather see your team grind out winning results but playing badly week after week. As a United fan I would not go to Old Trafford and watch them play crap (but win). It’s not worth the 50 quid. Part of me would be happy, but it’s not what football is all about. There has to be some balance. We all want to be top of the table, but at what price?

    1. “There has to be some balance”

      Therein lies the key world, balance. Too often teams know they can focus their energies on taking Cesc out of the game and control midfield, because too much of the game goes through Fabregas to get Arsenal going in a game.

      Tell you what mate, you can have 2nd or 3rd this year then and I’ll take the league if you don’t mind. :)

      I’m intrigued to see how they respond at Chelsea. Wenger stated that this stretch was crucial for the team to get some points and maintain touch with the leaders. So far

      Villa – Draw
      ManU – Loss
      Chelsea –

      Even Samir Nasri has come out and said they can’t lose at Chelsea or the chase for the title is over “”Defeat is forbidden,” he told L’Equipe. ”That would mean the end of our title chances. But any other result would leave us in the running.”

      We shall see what they do.

  13. I think discounting Arsenal out of hand against Chelsea is a bad, bad idea.

    The last team that Chelsea played was Hull City and they drew 1-1. When United player Hull City they picked them apart 4-0.

    Chelseas form has been pretty poor for a while now with a few good patches. I am going with Arsenal winning it.

  14. This is an important game for the gunners and I think the single most important game to date in the Premier League for both teams. For Arsenal, I know if they lose this, the season is still not over, but will be difficult. People who are now after Wenger, those Arsenal fans, who just two weeks ago thought he was God. I mean, its just becoming routine for Wenger. Every single game he’s being scrutinized by people like Macfan and others. Note that these same people will come out and praise Wenger as being the greatest tactician, if Arsenal win. I have in fact stopped listening to these sorts of garbage. Look, Wenger is a great coach and any team in the World love to pick him up as Manager. I hope Arsenal win today and shut these sorts of nonsensical juveline tirades.

    1. Well I hope you took the opportunity to watch the game today and saw what a team full of grown men can do to a team that doesn’t even have a legitimate striker in its lineup.

      Look I’m an Arsenal fan and will continue to be Wenger or no Wenger but I am amazed at the Arsenal fans who go into hissy fits about other fans who question what is the endgame for Wenger when we have to rely on Robin van Persie and Cecs Fabregas being healthy and in form for us to put together wins.

      No one is after Wenger, what they are after his his constant claims of

      *Having money, yet he has sold more talent than he has acquired in recent years, turning profits on that and yet not fixing obvious areas of the team that needed to be strengthened.

      *Claiming that this team is championship capable, yet the issues are glaring on this roster.

      *Having a goalkeeper in Alumnia that is speculative at best in net, nowhere near the level of Peter Cech or Edwin van der Sar in his ability to read the game and help out the defense.

      You claimed “I hope Arsenal win today and shut these sorts of nonsensical juveline tirades.”

      Actually as an Arsenal fan you should be hoping they won today to narrow the gap on Chelsea to 3 points instead losing and dropping 9 points behind as they did today.

      Like Wenger who wants to prove everyone wrong and that you win with kids, it seems some Arsenal fans prioritize the wrong reasons as to why we should want this team to win.

      I can care less what others think, my first and foremost interest is to see Arsenal win a Premier League Title again and if Wenger isn’t making the moves to strengthen our club to do so then he should be called out.

      He always won with veterans mixed in with talented youngsters like Henry and Vieira.

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