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Arsenal's victory against Birmingham explained in 1 graphic and 5 (longish) bullet points

1. It's always instructive to look at average touch positions because, in a sense, they show a team's real formation instead of the nominal one. With a bit of knowledge of the formation, you can say Eboue & Clichy join Djourou & Squillaci in the back 4, while Song & Wilshere were a midfield duo. You could say Nasri, Diaby, Chamakh and Arshavin were a front 4. So you'd say Arsenal lined up in a 4-2-4. Alternatively you could say it was a 4-2-2-2.

2. But we know Arsenal have been lining up in what looks like a compromise between last season's 4-3-3 and a 4-2-3-1. In this formation, Wilshere and another player (Diaby, Song or Denilson) form a double screen in front of the defence.
In reality, each of these 2 takes his turn 'sitting', while the other gets forward to create. (Hence the hullaballoo about Song going forward too much). The player who gets forward is responsible for pressing and trying to win the ball when attack might transition into defence i.e. the opposition win the ball after Arsenal have been attacking. This picture illustrates very well: http://twitpic.com/2yttp6 You'll see that Wilshere won the ball 25 yards higher than Song did.
Another very interesting thing about the current formation, especially against Birmingham is that when Diaby was played as the most advanced central midfielder, he could well win the ball, and carry the ball 15-20 yards up the field quickly. This created many many interesting situations for Arsenal.
The last point is a question which I will answer. Q: if it's a 4-2-3-1 why is Arshavin as advanced as Chamakh in the graphic? A: Because he's workrate challenged and doesn't drop deep to get involved. Or perhaps he's actually detailed to get involved as high up as possible.

3. Arsenal's game plan this season continues to be about massing players into the centre of the pitch and passing through the opposition. It's a narrow formation in attack.
Note that saying this does not mean they don't cross as some think. Arsenal do cross the ball a lot, even though they didn't do so many times against Birmingham. Of 15 crosses, only 1 found an Arsenal player, and it found an Arsenal player, not in Birmingham's box, but on the other flank! Only 1 of 6 corner kicks met an Arsenal player and it saw Squillaci powering home only for the goal to be wrongly disallowed. Against Birmingham most of the crosses were swung in not by the full backs but by midfielders and wide forwards.

4. The full backs are not required to support attack as much as in recent seasons but they continue to provide width. The central defenders sit deeper than they did in recent seasons. 1 of the 2 usually plays the stopper role and tries to win the ball as soon as the attacker receives it. The other acts as some kind of sweeper.
These graphics will suggest that against Birmingham Djourou played the 'stopper', Squillaci the 'sweeper'; http://twitpic.com/2yttp6 http://twitpic.com/2ytxk9

5. It's been 5 long bullet points which is not the goal of this format but this game had many insights into how Arsenal play this season. With better combination in the final third this should have been a more comfortable result. The lack of incisiveness in tight games remains a bit of a worry.

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