Mikel Arteta’s second-half penalty gave Arsenal a narrow victory over Wigan Athletic in Saturday’s Premier League clash.
The Spaniard’s coolly dispatched spot-kick gave Arsene Wenger’s men their third consecutive league victory, underlining the Gunners’ best run of form since March.
Arsenal’s resurgence has coincided in part with Theo Walcott’s deployment as a central striker. And although the 23-year-old was largely nullified in this tight affair, it was the forward’s willingness and direct running which led to Arteta’s match-winning opportunity from 12 yards.
Retrieving Kieran Gibbs's over-hit cross, Walcott exchanged passes with Santi Cazorla before his surge forward was halted by Jean Beausejour. Referee Jon Moss duly awarded the spot-kick.
However, the afternoon wasn’t free from anxiety for the Gunners. Roberto Martinez’s men carved out a number of goal-scoring opportunities which should have inflicted more damage on their opponents.
The FA’s Peter Glynn looks at the design of Wenger’s side and the technical excellence of England midfielder Jack Wilshere.
Theo Walcott’s positional relocation is currently the subject of choice in Arsenal discussion circles.
If the Gunners' run of festive fixtures represent an audition for the Gunners front-man, the 23-year-old will be hoping for greater limelight in the forthcoming fixtures against Newcastle and Southampton.
Although Walcott was largely restricted of impression-making opportunities at the DW Stadium, the Arsenal speedster played a leading role in the game’s turning point.
Retrieving Kieron Gibbs’s miscalculated cross, the England forward used his pace to collect the ball wide on the right before exchanging passes with Santi Corzola. Surging into the box Walcott’s route to goal was interrupted by Jean Beausejour and from the resultant penalty Arsenal had the lead.
It proved to be the frontman’s most telling contribution. The lack of overall opportunity, however, owed as much to Wigan’s well calibrated game-plan as it did to an Arsenal performance that was efficient, without providing any stylistic delight.
In his defence, Walcott’s success in central areas is not solely reliant on himself. To harness the best of his abilities regular accurate supply is necessary. Precise threaded passes into the narrow channels of space down the sides of defenders allow Walcott to utilise his pace in any foot race.
Given the clientele at Wenger’s disposal it is an attacking method, which in theory should provide much reward. Arsenal’s midfield trio of Jack Wilshere, Cazorla and Mikel Arteta have all graduated with honours from the college of passing geometry.
Here’s a Future Game practice which encourages young players to develop their incisive passing in attacking areas >>
Here, however, the visitors’ creative trio were negated by Wigan’s own midfield threesome. James McCarthy and James McArthur, ably accompanied by David Jones, worked tirelessly to snuff out any threat posed in central areas.
It was testimony to Roberto Martinez’s preparation that on many occasions the midfield battleground represented a closely contested chess match, the Latics assuredly performing man-marking duties. With central routes blocked off, clever movement and interchange of position was necessary to prise open defensive lines.
England international Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, stationed on the right of Arsenal’s front three, was one of the first to vary the movement patterns. Dropping centrally and tempting his marker Beausejour to follow, the England wideman vacated space on the right flank for the fleet-footed Cazorla to scurry into.
Here’s a Future Game practice which encourages young players to develop their creative forward movement >>
The exchange was, however, too infrequent and for large parts of the game there was an ease in the way Wigan marshalled the visitors’ attacks.
With much of the Gunners’ momentum generated by the prompts and probing of Wilshere it was unsurprising to see the 20-year-old granted his own personal chaperone. It proved to be one of his less imposing afternoons.
There was, however, still enough evidence of his intelligent off the ball movement and dynamic forward surges to provide a template for emulation among aspiring midfielders.
With Arsenal dedicated to progressing play short from the back, the England star continually provides a passing outlet for the player in possession. Closely attended to by McCarthy and McArthur, the midfielder made countless five- and ten-yard dashes to take up receiving positions.
On many an occasions his movements were not picked out, but his willingness remained undiminished. Here stands an English midfielder with an insatiable appetite to receive the ball to his feet.
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Arsenal’s academy product possesses finely tuned technical attributes and what, at times, appears to be 360 degree awareness. Repeatedly scanning the scene before receiving the ball, Wilshere’s swivelling head can appear akin to a submarine periscope.
Having a clear vision of both teams' tactical arrangement allows him to play the game in the future: anticipating and plotting the destination of the next pass.
Given the central congestion, it was no surprise that much of the game’s most productive moments were recorded in wide areas. Martinez is a brave coach, who irrespective of deploying two or three central defenders gives his full-backs licence to roam.
Here, both Beausejour and Ronnie Stam were provided with countless opportunities to attack in wide areas. Their wastefulness, however, further underlined a reoccurring theme in this column: the importance for accurate and clever final balls in the attacking third.
Arsene Wenger’s side have never quite wriggled away from the reputation that they prove brittle when the going gets tough. Here the North Londoners did, however, stick manfully to their task under considerable pressure from the hosts.
There could have been no complaints, however, had Arouna Kone given Wigan the lead in the first half after outstripping Per Mertesacker for pace, or if McArthur’s late side-footed effort had found the bottom corner of Wojciech Sczesny’s goal rather than flashing wide.
The Gunners boss will hope recent results, and a slice or two of good fortune, point to a positive second half of the season. If he can continue to cajole and develop his two prestigious young English talents, Walcott and Wilshere, there may just be a little more cheer.
Advice for grassroots coaches:
- Coaches should help young players develop the skills to prepare to receive the ball: scanning, awareness and anticipation
- Creating space often requires multiple movements to receive the ball. Players shouldn’t become disheartened if one or two of the balls are not rewarded with a pass. Here, Wilshere was constantly on the move and always looking for receiving opportunities
- Precise passing in tight areas is one method to prise open compact defences. Coaches should devise practices which test midfielders to pick out the forward runs of a striker in congested areas.
Peter Glynn is the Editorial Manager at St. George's Park and editor of The Boot Room, The FA's Coaching Magazine. Peter is a journalist and has been with The Football Association for five years and holds the UEFA B Licence and The FA Youth Awards 1 and 2.
The Future Game Tactics Column takes a weekly look at the evolution of the modern game, linking to practices from The FA's Future Game philosophy and providing advice and tips for grassroots coaches.
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