During the Tuesday Club Podcast a couple of nights ago, host, English celebrity, and fervent Arsenal supporter Alan Davies raised an interesting point about Arsenal's recent attacking frustrations, notably for the first 65 minutes of the West Bromwich Albion match and the Blackburn match of the past month. To paraphrase, he suggested that Arsenal would find happiness simply in shooting more often rather than trying a lot of elaborate passing in the penalty area looking for a shot closer in, or as he put it, why try ALWAYS to thread the needle to a precise area the size of your teammate's foot when there's a great yawning 24-foot net in front of you to try to hit instead?
I must admit that my first reaction to this was that it was exactly right, but then I quickly reminded myself that frustration often leads to insistence upon doing the opposite, "common-sense" approach, and then pretty soon your team is playing like Stoke City. However, in this case, the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder if Arsenal haven't moved too far to one extreme, particularly this season.
First of all, a confession, or maybe a caveat: I LOVE long-range goals. I'd rather see a 30-yard laser than a dancing effort in the box followed by a tap-in. Look, I know that the latter is more difficult. I know that Matt Taylor can score the former, but never the latter. I know. I get that. I'm in the minority here. My favorite non-Arsenal player of all time is Matt le Tissier. My favorite goal ever is this one:
What can I say? This is just how I am. If a player dances a lot before scoring a scorcher, hey, even better (e.g. Samir Nasri against Porto last year, a goal during which I mostly chortled louder and louder before losing it).
So there's that to contend with here. But getting back to Arsenal, one of the main tactical problems that they've been encountering for a good while now is teams determined to pack it in the middle and frustrate passing lanes in and around the penalty area. This is often supplemented by very good defensive efforts such as Christopher Samba's on Saturday. Teams either play this way or look to press Arsenal hard in the midfield, but the latter strategy is more prone to coming undone after a few good turns by Arsenal or as teams tire in the second half.
When the opposition clogs the area in this way, Arsenal often attack with more width in an effort to create some space again. If this width takes the form of short passes from outside to in, Arsenal can usually find some room to maneuver. However, sometimes, as on Saturday, width only equals crossing, which isn't particularly useful when the man at the end of said crosses is Robin van Persie, and certainly not when he's Andrei Arshavin, as last year. This "plan B" for Arsenal's attack doesn't really work. Note the unsuccessful passes from the weekend, of which there weren't many, really:
Although a few crosses were successful, most were not. Even the "successful" ones weren't the most successful, really.
So the question, then, I guess, is "is there a plan 'C'"? I submit that there is, and that it involves something that Arsenal were actually very good at last year: clanging them towards goal from distance.
Many of those long-range goals were the work of a Mr. Thomas Vermaelen, and while he has been out for all but three matches this year, Arsenal are not bereft of players capable of cannoning a shot. van Persie, Tomas Rosicky, Arshavin, Nasri, Cesc Fabregas, and Nicklas Bendtner have all shown the ability to crush the ball.
Taking long range shots, too, could prove to have tactical benefits. If the opposition gets used to an Arsenal that will shoot (no pun intended, I don't think, anyway) from anywhere, they cannot sit and allow shots to just come. They will have to move out from the area and look to cut off not only passing lanes, but shooting lanes. They will have to press harder outside of the penalty area, perhaps.
What do you think? Would Arsenal benefit from more shots from distance, even if they statistically are less likely to score with a 25-yard effort than an eight-yard tap-in after five passes?