I’m not his biggest fan as followers here may know. A lot has been written about him, some good, some bad but there is one aspect of his game that he does better than most and that’s his off the ball movement. Theo is very intelligent as Jacques Crevoisier our sports psychologist told the Daily mail:
Arsene Wenger always tells me that you have to be clever to play for Arsenal and that is where he starts. Without that, you cannot fit into his system. At Arsenal I’ve done tests for all the young players. They were all outstanding psychologically. I think Wilshere’s showed him to be a bit more confident than Walcott but they all had some of the best profiles you will see.
Good off the ball movement was the hallmark of the Legendary Hungary side that famously beat England 6-3 in 1953 was their players’ tendency to drift out of their natural position and switch with teammates thereby confusing the opposition about who they were supposed to be marking. (Jonathan Wilson: Inverting the Pyramid).
Cast your minds back to the dreadful 08/09 season when we beat the Mancs at home. Nasri got all the plaudits for the second goal but if you watch the replay it was Theo’s intelligent right-left movement that distracted Vidic which led to Nasri having an acre of space to smash the ball in. When the season began he was our best player but it wasn’t only for his goals. His movement was devastating as he kept popping up in central areas similar to how Ljungberg did for the invincibles.
At full speed, Walcott he is devastating and defenders hate that. Messi even said he was the player they feared the most as you know once his brain and feet are on the same wavelength he is devastating.
Top European clubs have such players in their squads. We had Ljungberg and Pires at their prime doing this. Bergkamp and Ljungberg at the back-end of 01/02 combined effectively sealing the title for us. Bergkamp dropped deeper to receive and attract defenders and Ljungberg running infield to finish. It was so simple but opponents couldn’t deal with it. Our opponents in the knock-out stages of the Champions League have Messi and Pedro who are excellent at this. Guardiola has made Barca more formidable by making his players just as dangerous with or without the ball. As Barca destroyed Madrid you could clearly see why Madrid struggled to contain them. When Madrid had the ball, Barca players would swarm all over them. When they regained it Barca players would move into a variety of positions creating various angles for the ball carrier. Madrid didn’t know how to deal with this and you saw the result.
Nasri has recently improved this aspect of his game and you can see he is twice the player as Arsene Wenger noted:
He was a bit too much attracted by the ball and we wanted him to do more once off the ball, go in behind without the ball, because we have many players who can keep the ball.
Now he has more variation in his game: turns, runs in behind without the ball, and as well coming to the ball and taking it to his feet. So his game is improving and he is, of course, more efficient.
Robin van Persie is also excellent at it as evidenced by us scoring 55 goals in 19 games last season before he got injured. Lately our play has seemed slow and lethargic because it seems very few of our players move effectively to create space for the ball carrier. With the chavs game coming up I’d love to see a forward line of Nasri/Robin/Theo just because of their ability to create space for others to run into. Fabregas scored lots of goals last season because Robin would drag centre backs all over leading to space for him.
Diaby also scored a lot due to this and that’s why we demolished smaller teams last season as they couldn’t handle all that movement.
Off the ball movement is devastating when it’s used effectively. Paolo Maldini insisted that Arrigo Sacchi considered this aspect as key to winning matches:
Before Sacchi came to Milan, the clash between two opposing players was always the key, but with him it was all about movement off the ball, and that’s where we won our matches.
When we have so much movement off the ball is when we really play ‘Wengerball’. I hope over this break our players put in some effort to re-establish this aspect and maybe we’ll see some renaissance from our team starting with a victory over the Chavs, we are certainly due one.
Have a good day everyone!
Written by K-TR7