Saturday, 14 July 2018

Arsenal: Unai Emery needs to zone in on problem

Arsenal’s zonal marking doesn’t work. Unai Emery has already stated that he will change the open-play defending by implementing a high press. Now it’s time to change the set-play defending.

Unai Emery has Arsenal fans across the world rejoicing by devoting his transfer business to overhauling the defence. After performing open-heart surgery on the personnel involved, he must now contend with the tactical leftovers that he has been handed.
Emery has covered the issue of pressing. He stated as much in his introductory press conference, the first time that he could ever divulge his plans in public. It is significant that pressing one of the pillars of his tactics.
Without having seen it in action, I like the sound of the solution. Get after the opposition before they can get after you. It’s risky and can expose defences with vast spaces to defend, but it’s in complete contradiction to the timid approach that we’re used to with this team and is becoming an increasingly essential element of the modern, possession-dominant game. Certainly worth a look at then.
But that is from open play. Arsenal have had issues from set plays also throughout Arsene Wenger’s tenure, and I believe that Emery will need to both change the tactics in open play and from set pieces.
Essentially, the concept of the Gunners’ set-piece marking in recent years has been to occupy the space that attackers will move into. It is called a zonal marking system and requires that each player occupies a zone in the penalty area that they are responsible for. The problem with this. however, is immediately highlighted by the words ‘will move’.
The red and white statues that form at this moment are worthy of Trafalgar Square. Take a moment to think about playing football with the statues that ARE in Trafalgar Square. It’s simple enough science. To stop the momentum of an object, you must meet it with an equal and opposite force.
Defenders immediately hand the advantage to the attackers if they allow them the head start, pun intended. They were doing an exercise in training recently that proves the point. A jump from a standing start will give you less power and height than if you get a run onto it.
I won’t go so far as to say that zonal marking should be dropped entirely. The penalty area antics at the World Cup don’t enshrine man marking, the alternative strategy, in glory. But a pure zonal-marking system does open the team up to clear aerial vulnerabilities from set plays.
The idea of marking a zone is fine, but it must have a purpose and intent to it. Each defender must know why they are marking their zone and assume that the ball and an attacker is going to come into it.  It is when players rest on their heels that this system is exploited.
So I think, therefore, it requires evolution rather than revolution. Much like the high-press tactic that Emery has described from open play, Arsenal’s defence needs to get moving from set plays also

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