Monday, December 14, 2009

Lee Dixon's analysis of Arsenal's win at Liverpool

In the six years I played under Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger I only once saw him lose his rag in the dressing room.

Just like Sunday's game we were 1-0 down to Liverpool at half-time. Wenger came in, threw a cup on the floor and started ranting and raving.

The players were all wondering what was going on but the funny thing was he threw the cup and got a reaction, but then, being the nice bloke he is, bent down and picked it up because he had missed the bin.

In tidying up after himself he lost a bit of the effect but as players we went out there and got a result.

Wenger does not do telling off very well, it is just not a natural thing for him - so when he does, it has more of an effect.

The Frenchman expects players to know what is going wrong when they are not performing to the required level and to take responsibility to sort it out themselves.

He talks about intelligence, knowing the game, understanding when things are going right or wrong and being able to fix it on the pitch.
When that does not happen he will let rip and it is not a pretty sight.

He admits he is a sore loser but even when we got beaten he would very rarely lose his temper with us after the game, preferring to leave it until the Monday morning and come in with a clear head after he had watched the video a few times on Sunday.

In fact, his assistant Pat Rice would more often than not come in after the game and he was a much more vocal character. But even then Wenger would tell Pat to be quiet and not lose his rag.

That was difficult for Pat but it is the way Wenger runs his dressing room. Players are angry after losing games as well and that is why you get flare-ups like we have seen at Stoke and QPR recently.

I cannot ever imagine seeing that in a Wenger dressing room. You can voice your opinion to him but I never saw anyone have a go at Wenger - players have too much respect for him for it to get to that stage.

Game of two Arsenals

After Arsenal had come from behind to beat Liverpool 2-1 on Sunday, some of Wenger's players said it was very unlike him to lay into them, but their performance warranted it.

He would have asked where their hunger and drive was and called for them to get further up the pitch when they got ball.

When you play with two up front then one attacker often comes short to look for the ball and the other forward will offer something else.

With Andrey Arshavin on his own up front it put more emphasis on the two wingers to provide those options.

Arsenal play that short passing game that can be extremely effective, but sometimes away from home you have to have the option to hit the long ball when teams are closing you down in
midfield.On Sunday their wingers failed to use the space behind the opposition defence; every time they came short Liverpool went with them and it led to a congested midfield.

Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri did not try to spin into more dangerous areas and look to stretch Liverpool's defence in the corners of the pitch.

It played into Liverpool's hands as it meant their defenders could mark the visitors' forwards tightly. Then when Arsenal's passing game broke down they lost the ball too easily.

This also increased the pressure on Arsenal's defence as they were constantly on the back foot and chasing back as Liverpool counter-attacked.

Someone should have said something on the pitch because it was pretty obvious when they kept losing the ball.

But it was not until the third minute of first-half injury time that Walcott managed to get the ball deep down Liverpool's right-hand side.

In the second half Arsenal got men forward and put Liverpool under pressure on the edge of their own box.

They challenged on the edge of Liverpool's box, and gave some support to Arshavin.

Straight away they were a different side, Nasri set up the equaliser and Walcott was more of a factor and involved in both goals.

Arsenal's title chances

The thing with Arsenal is they generally have to play well to win. Sometimes they play well and lose, like at Manchester United, but when they play badly they invariably come unstuck.

Against Liverpool they showed they can grind out a result like Chelsea and Manchester United do.

Arsenal lack a Fernando Torres or Didier Drogba so Arshavin has proven he is invaluable to a side without that focal point up front.

The Gunners can score from anywhere and are brilliant at times, but sometimes when things are not going well they need someone like Arshavin to produce something out of nothing.

This little guy has that bit of genius in him where he can score from anywhere at any time.

At the other end of the field Alex Song showed what a key player he is in the second half, sweeping up in front of the back four and stifling Liverpool's attacks.
I was not that big a fan of Song at first but he has grown on me and there is definitely more to come.

I am not totally convinced they have everything in the mix to win the league, but we have seen at the weekend that Chelsea and Manchester are dropping points.

Arsenal can win the title but I am far from 100% certain that they will.

I love Eduardo but all of their strikers play the same way and they are such a small side. Wenger definitely needs to bring in a more physical forward in January but there are not many Drogbas around.

But Sunday's game was a must win for both sides and Arsenal have given themselves a chance of a title challenge.

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