Why did Wenger persist with zonal marking against set-piece kings?

Date published: Saturday 18th March 2017 2:31

They are “efficient from set-pieces” said Arsene Wenger ahead of Saturday’s tussle with West Brom; so why did he employ a zonal marking system against the Premier League’s set-piece kings?

Wenger had made reference to West Brom’s potency from set-pieces in the build up to the game. The Gunners boss had made reference to it in his Thursday press conference, saying they were “efficient” from set plays.

And just 15 minutes ahead of kick-off he told Sky Sports that his team “had to be competitive on that front”, saying that WBA had scored “47% of their goals from set-pieces”.

Make that over 50% now.

The Frenchman, who watched two banners flown overhead – one in support and one in favour of his departure – was more than aware of the strengths of WBA but with just 12 minutes on the clock they were undone – from a Nacer Chadli corner whipped across the near post.

And to rub salt into Arsene Wenger’s wounds Dawson thumped home another header from a corner to hand West Brom a well-earned 3-1 win.

“Sacked in the morning” chanted the home fans, and probably part of the visiting contingent too.

It’s fine to make a mistake, but to keep making the same mistake is unforgivable and one of Wenger’s stubborn traits which may well see him wave au revoir very soon.

“Arsenal were all over the place,” claimed co-commentator Andy Hincliffe after Craig Dawson had got the run on Laurent Koscienly to glance the ball past Petr Cech.

Jamie Redknapp labelled it a “disgusting goal to concede” and claimed the players have to take responsibility on the pitch. But surely if the plan is to go with a zonal system then the players are not going to abort those plans with just 10 or so minutes on the clock?

Fast forward to the second half and it was almost an action replay as Dawson charged between Ramsey and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to make it 3-1 with another powerful header. It demonstrated the vulnerability of the zonal marking system.

It raises the question: Should Arsenal have ditched their zonal marking?

Surely, against a team who possess such a big threat from corners – and that was their 13th and 14th goals from  corners this season – a man-marking system may well have been a better option?

Regardless of that it was an over-zealous assessment from former Everton full-back Hinchliffe and former Liverpool and Spurs man Redknapp because Arsenal’s zonal defensive shape looked good.

Ramsey allowed Dawson to run past him into the six-yard box and when Dawson was met by Koscienly he was, with a run, able to make his two centimeter height advantage tell and powerfully head home.

A flaw of the zonal marking system?

Most probably. As soon as players offer plenty of movement in the box then the zonal system is vulnerable, especially when there is little communication.

There is no guarantee a man-marking system would have prevented both goals but had Koscielny been able to get touch tight to Dawson he may well have managed to put his taller opponent off his stride.

While the first and third goals Arsenal conceded can be blamed on the system the second goal was a mistake by substitute goalkeeper David Ospina.

Hinchcliffe again claimed “Arsenal were all over the place”. They were not, in fact their backline was pretty good and almost caught James McClean offside. It was David Ospina, who had replaced the injured Petr Check on 38 minutes, who was to blame.

The sub dashed off his line trying to cut out a lofted through pass, only to connect with his knee allowing Albion sub Hal Robson-Kanu to roll the ball into an empty net.

Ox run drew Dawson inside

Alexis Sanchez, who was by far the best Arsenal player despite being kicked from pillar to post in the first 45 minutes, had fired them level just minutes after West Brom had opened the scoring. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s intelligent run had drawn Dawson inside and Chadli was left ball watching.

That allowed Sanchez to control Xhaka’s excellent lofted pass on his chest before dispatching the ball in off the bar and we might well have expected a barrage of Arsenal attacks after that. It wasn’t the case though and for all their possession – and they managed 77% – they were unable to fashion any good goalscoring chances and had just two shots on target.

It was the first time since February 2016 that Theo Walcott, Danny Welbeck and Sanchez had started together and Wenger will not be in rush to include the triumvirate together again.

Walcott, who you might have thought had a point to prove having been left out of this week’s England squad was anonymous and in terms of marks he would have been fortunate to earn a 4/10.

Along with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ramsey, Sanchez and Welbeck did promise some good attacking interplay in the first half but it never materialised into anything more and as bad as Arsenal’s choice of system was their attacking intent was no better.

Matthew Briggs

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