Thursday, 6 January 2011

Leeds wingers could harm Arsenal

Michael Cox, editor of the Zonal Markingtactics blog, takes a look at five ways Leeds United could pull of a Cup upset against Arsenal.
No-one gave Leeds United a chance when they were drawn away at Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round last season, but a solid defensive performance combined with a breakaway goal from Jermaine Beckford gave them a memorable victory.
Can they do the same against Arsenal this season? Here’s five key tactical points for the game.

1. Simon Grayson started the season using 4-4-2, but Leeds will probably line-up in the 4-2-3-1 shape he has favoured in recent weeks. Arsenal will dominate possession, however, so this will frequently look much more like a simple 4-5-1.
Max Gradel on the left, Robert Snodgrass on the right and Ross McCormack in the centre will be given license to link up with Luciano Becchio, the main striker.

2. Becchio has been in fine form this season, scoring 13 goals. He’s the kind of striker Arsenal may have problems with – he’s strong and very good in the air, and will try and test Arsenal’s centre-backs’ physical ability.
Expect Leeds to cross the ball as often as possible, whilst free-kicks will be pumped forward directly. On the ground Becchio is a decent player but easier to deal with because he’s very left-footed – pushing him onto his right foot is an effective way of stifling him.

3. Leeds may have a problem at left-back. Their regular there so far this season has been George McCartney, but his loan spell has ended and so he has returned to Sunderland. Grayson is trying to get the Northern Ireland international back before this tie, but might be wise not to play him if the extension goes through.
McCartney had a torrid time up against Theo Walcott last season at the Emirates, with Walcott constantly outpacing him and Steve Bruce eventually having to switch McCartney with Anton Ferdinand to stop Sunderland being opened up so easily. The other option would be utility man Andy Hughes, a decent tackler but at 33, he might also be prone to the pace of Walcott.

4. A solid defence will be key for Leeds, but keeping clean sheets has not been their forte so far this term. Defending across the width of the penalty area and keeping it tight between the lines to deny Arsenal’s creative players space to work in will be important, but specific tactics will depend on which attackers Arsenal use.
Robin van Persie likes to drop deep and link up, whilst Marouane Chamakh offers more of an aerial option – but this might be a game for Dane Nicklas Bendtner to get a rare appearance – he’s scored on his last two starts.

5. Leeds should look to get the ball to their wingers as quickly as possible to take on Arsenal’s full-backs, who can be left exposed by the wide players. Left winger Gradel is a direct player with explosive pace who struggles with consistency but occasionally looks unstoppable, whilst on the right Snodgrass is not as quick, but is better at beating his man to work space for a cross.
As a whole, Leeds are obviously technically inferior to Arsenal, but those are the two players capable of producing a moment of magic to spring a surprise.

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