Opinion: less touches means more efficiency
Paininthearsenal's Andrew Dowdeswell claims Arsenal players are not quick enough taking decisions with the ball at their feet, explaining our struggles in a 2-1 win vs Huddersfield.
"In Saturday’s 2-1 win over Huddersfield Town, Arsenal, a team renowned for their possessional dominance having averaged the fifth-highest possession in the Premier League so far this season, had just 45% of the ball. They average north of 55% possession this season.
"Unai Emery has extolled the virtue of possession before. He wants his team to play with bravery, control and creativity, and to do that, they must first win the battle of possession, especially in the midfield areas. His insistence on them building out from the back is a clear indication of that.
"But versus Huddersfield, the worst team in the Premier League this season, losing 12 of their last 13 matches, Arsenal were largely unable to build attacks and enjoy extended periods with the ball, exerting their control over the match as a result. Huddersfield pressed relatively high up the pitch, not allowing their visitors time and space in deep areas, attempting to suffocate the service into the front three.
"There are two main ways to circumnavigate a high-pressing strategy. The first is to be more direct, looking for searching passes into the attacking channels, turning the opposing defence and forcing them to run backwards. The other is to try and play through the lines with quick interplay, fizzing the ball through the phases of play until an angle is worked to move into more advanced areas.
"Under Emery, Arsenal have predominantly attempted the latter approach — that said, while they have tried to play through the press, they have continually fallen short and ended up just punting the ball long after a series of meaningless backwards and sideways passes. But they have executed the strategy extremely poorly. That was again the case on Saturday.
"Their issues are clear to see: they take too long to play. I do not know if the precise number is tracked, but I would love to know how many forward passes they made without taking a touch to control the ball first. All of the deeper players, from Bernd Leno through to Matteo Guendouzi, were guilty of taking far too many touches. At one point, Shkodran Mustafi held the ball at his feet for four or five seconds, waiting for movement ahead of him.
"In these instances, you could blame the lack of options. But sometimes, a player must admit that the option to play forward is not available. When that is the case, the next best pass is the simple and speedy one. There is nothing wrong with a five-yard, square ball if it is played quickly and it helps to confuse and unsettle the opposition’s shape.
"The worst thing a team can do is take more touches than is necessary and slow the play right down. That is what Arsenal did against Huddersfield. In fact, it is what they have been doing all season. No wonder they cannot play against the press."