Fluidity Restored As Arsenal's New Signings Shine In Cologne

DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 13: Lukas Podolski of Germany celebrates scoring the first goal during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Group D match between Germany and Australia at Durban Stadium on June 13, 2010 in Durban, South Africa. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Steve Bould and Arsene Wenger would've been extremely pleased after the first half of yesterday's match against FC Köln. While both would've been delighted with the performance as a whole, Bould would've been pleased with the first goal, where Santi Cazorla's corner was flicked on by Per Mertesacker at the near post for Thomas Vermaelen. It was the type of flick on that Bould excelled at, for which he partially blames his baldness on. He also would've been pleased with the clean sheet, although Arsenal were rarely threatened. Arsene Wenger would've been pleased because all of his new signings looked like they had been playing with the club for years, instead of the weeks (singular, in the case of Santi Cazorla).

The opposition may not have been of the highest quality, but the style of Arsenal's play would've still been encouraging. Instead of the predictability in attack from most of last season, there was a fluidity about the team that had been missing since the departure of Cesc Fabregas. Santi Cazorla pulled strings from midfield, playing quick, one touch football as well as playing some through passes for Arsenal's attacking band, particularly Theo Walcott, whose outside-inside runs were finally found after a year of going on hiatus (aside from a few Alex Song magic passes).

There was, of course, fluidity in last year's team, mostly with the front three rotating and Robin van Persie dropping deep. This time, the fluidity happened in the midfield, with Olivier Giroud not dropping deep as much as van Persie did, but instead, acting as a focal point for Arsenal's attacks. His movement created space, with Giroud drifting to the left to leave space to be exploited by Lukas Podolski, Theo Walcott or Santi Cazorla, and he also created space with his ability to hold the ball up and stretch the game, forcing the Köln backline to drop deeper. One example of this was the fantastic move where Theo Walcott crossed for Olivier Giroud who knocked the ball down for Santi Cazorla charging into free space.

Most of the rotation amongst Arsenal's attacking players took place in the midfield, where all of Lukas Podolski, Santi Cazorla, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Theo Walcott found themselves playing in a middle position off the striker. The key, it seemed, was Cazorla. The interchanging of positions came from his probing play, and from his movement, and the space it created. On several occasions, he was the deepest midfielder, allowing Francis Coquelin and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to push forward. On other times, he dropped in front of Coquelin, allowing Oxlade-Chamberlain to push forward and exchange with Podolski and Theo Walcott, with one move, between Oxlade-Chamberlain, Walcott and Giroud, showing this positional rotation. Cazorla had dropped deeper, alongside Francis Coquelin, while Oxlade-Chamberlain had drifted to the right. He received the ball from Francis Coquelin, passed to Theo Walcott, who had taken up Cazorla's position, who returned the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain with a through pass inside of the left back. Oxlade-Chamberlain subsequently cut the ball back for Giroud, who was unlucky not to score.

Lukas Podolski's position was also interesting. It had been thought that he would play a wide left role at Arsenal, and although he was nominally on the left, he rarely drifted out to the touchline when Arsenal were in possession of the ball, spending more time inside, slightly to the left and behind Giroud. From here, he was able to combine with Cazorla and Giroud, and also create space for Kieran Gibbs to push forward into. Podolski's movement was very reminiscent of the way Robin van Persie dropped deep last season, which can only be a good thing for Arsenal to replace the want-away Dutchman. Podolski's second goal epitomised this: He received the ball in the midfield, and played an excellent ball over the top for Kieran Gibbs to run onto, before charging into the penalty box, to spank the ball past the stranded Köln keeper.

The movement, and off the ball running was excellent, but there were still some worrying moments for Arsenal's defence. Overall, the shape was fairly good, and there was cover when Arsenal were on the attack, with Nico Yennaris not moving forward as much as Kieran Gibbs, and Francis Coquelin staying deep. The fluidity of the midfield in the first half suggests a slight shift in the midfield shape, from a double pivot to more of a 1-2 shape and a defined holding midfielder. If it is to be Coquelin, he'll have to strike the right balance between when to press forward and when to hold his position; on one occasion, his closing down led to the corner that brought the first goal, but there were also occasions when he left the back four dreadfully exposed. Alex Song's passing was a concern in the second half, but it was notable that he didn't push forward as much. Having regained fluidity, there may no longer be a need for Song to push forward so much; if so, Arsenal look a much stronger side, both in attack and in defence.


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