Arsenal Analysis – Champions League away win does little to mask Gunners’ defensive shortcomings

PARTIZAN BELGRADE 1
Cleo 33

ARSENAL 3
Arshavin 15, Chamakh 71, Squillaci 82

Arsenal’s second successive win in the group stages of the Champions League sees them positioned favourably in Group H along with Shakhtar Donetsk, who they face in upcoming back-to-back ties. Success in Belgrade whilst deprived of key performers such as captain Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen shows that Arsene Wenger’s men are capable of negotiating their way across London to Wembley in May.

The Gunners’ approach to the game was widely recognised amongst media outlets as a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Jack Wilshere deployed as an advanced playmaker just behind lone forward Marouane Chamakh, a role Chamakh thrived in at former club Girondins de Bordeaux during last season’s Champions League. The system provided sufficient defensive stability, with Alex Song and Denilson chosen in central midfield and once in the ascendancy following a move that showcased Wilshere’s genius, and finished by a powerful Andrey Arshavin effort, the Song-Denilson axis gave wingers Tomas Rosicky and Arshavin further license to probe, which on occasion saw Arsenal adopt the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been heralded as the future of football following the World Cup.

The fluency in attack amongst Rosicky, Arshavin and Wilshere extinguished a Partizan opening that highlighted the weaknesses in the visitors’ backline. It is an area that Arsenal are depleted by injuries however improvements must be made in terms of communication. Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci failed on countless occasions in the first-half to take control and combat the threat of Cleo. With the central defensive pair flat and unsynchronised in defence, the Brazilian-come-Serbian striker toiled in the channels expertly, attempting to isolate one central defender before utilising his pace one on one. Having coolly scored from the spot, he may have had another, had Lukas Fabianski not smothered his prod goalwards after a poor Squillaci header back towards his own keeper.

Vladimir Stojkovic’s inspired performance may have acted as a deterrent to switching to a shoot-on-sight approach as Arsenal pressed for a second goal. For all Arsenal’s flair and imagination, attempting to prize a final pass beyond the defiant, 10-man Belgrade buffer amounted to little. Wilshere – even at his most inventive – was the main culprit, hastily looking to thread the ball through rather than dispatching when a shooting opportunity presented itself. Samir Nasri’s introduction from the bench not only enhanced Arsenal’s readiness to shoot from distance but it also reinvigorated Arshavin, who dimmed after a succession of fouls and his penalty was easily saved.

Chamakh took two goes to beat Stojkovic for a second time as the former Wigan Athletic loanee turned his initial header on to the crossbar. Relief gushed out of the Moroccan striker as he puffed out his chest to celebrate and the goal came from Rosicky breaking the mould of trying to pass it into the net. Having received the ball with no immediate pass available to him, the midfielder simply stood the ball up at the far post and invited Chamakh to attack it. As simple as it sounds, Partizan were caught unaware, and duly paid the price. Chamakh offers an Arsenal side renowned for incisive, one-touch football an invaluable alternative – an aerial target. Regardless of how sparingly it is used, or needed, it is something that teams better than Partizan Belgrade may overlook.

Starting XI

21 Fabianski

3 Sagna – 20 Djourou – 18 Squillaci – 28 Gibbs

7 Rosicky -15 Denilson – 17 Song – 23 Arshavin

19 Wilshere

29 Chamakh

Substitutions
74 – 8 Nasri on for 19 Wilshere
75 – 11 Vela on for 29 Chamakh
83 – 22 Clichy on for 28 Gibbs

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