My axe first came to be ground shortly after England’s exit in Brazil during the World Cup when a national news station claimed England’s failings were due to a lack of a number 10!
I then got further angst when the Arsenal twitterverse jumped on the #playOzil@10 bandwagon.
I was finally forced to the power of the pen (keyboard) reading the comments on Dave’s ‘Spicing up the tank’ part1.
People perceive 10 differently- some see it as a player who starts behind a striker whereas I see it as a critical space between a team’s midfield and defence; it’s where magic happens – It’s where the great creative goal scoring minds work and show the world the delicious honey they make to help everyone take their medicine for 90 minutes a week.
It’s where the shots, through balls, clever one-twos take place. The last two World Cup and Champions League winners started without a player at 10.
In fact all the best teams I’ve seen haven’t ever started with anyone in at 10.That’s Arsenal ’98, Arsenal ’04, Chelsea ’05, United ’08. Pep’s Barcelona – even the latest teams. They either had a starting striker drop from deep into the space – Bergkamp, Messi, Rooney, Tevez, Henry or a winger dribble into it – Robben, Ronaldo, Messi, Duff, Overmars. You even have wide men or deep lying central midfielder arriving from their right on time to grab a goal – Pires, Lampard, Ljungberg, Scholes, and David Villa. Then you have the penetrative CMs who dribble in – Iniesta, Viera, and Essien, something Jack is fantastic at.
The advantages of attacking are best demonstrated by the Invincibles. Nearly every goal scored was created in that little pocket of space. Who was going to pop up at 10 was anyone’s guess. You could have Freddie drifting through it at an angle surprising a centre back to arrive on the end of something.
Then there was big Pat who once he got up a head of steam would surge in through the space either to be on the end of a cross, through ball or perhaps a one-two. And on the left we had Bobby Pires- he’d saunter into the space from his flank’ ten to two’ to play a one-two and slot the ball into the net.
What about Thierry pulling out of the opposition’s back four to come into that space to either work a one-two into the channel and bend it to the far post or to be hands on hips on the edge and to set a friend up. Not forgetting the creator ‘God’. He enraptured me for 8 years. His touch against Newcastle, the pass against Chelsea (in the clip,) the goals, versus Leicester City. He had the gift of drifting into the pocket. He dragged central defenders out of position and midfielders into unknown territory. He did his damage by moving into the number 10’s area of business to receive the ball. He mainly dropped off his marker, the centre back. Now I know I’ve described a team and how it worked when everyone played 4-4-2 but for me it still works keeping that space free in the modern game.
This year’s treble winning Barca side don’t have a convetuinal 10. Messi dribbles into it from the right Iniesta from deep. Suarez can drop in there and even Neymar to great effect.
I felt this season’s champions Chelsea were a lot more effective without Oscar and Cesc coming into the 10 space from deep and Hazard dribbling into it without the world’s most boring Brazilian congesting the area.
I believe leaving the space free makes a defenders job a lot harder. You ask any defender they’ll sooner mark a man than space. You’re a DM and you have to mark x player. Okay in the words of my ex football coach ‘be all over him like rhubarb’ and that’s what you’ll do for 90 minutes. Now when a team has no obvious player in the 10 role a DM’s game just got harder. You’ve got to watch Sanchez when he comes inside close or stop Wilshere distributing the ball, track Ramsey’s run.
Basically the DM has a lot more to think about. Don’t get me wrong, an Ozil, a James, a Muller, or a Mata is no easy prospect for a DM. In fact Villa’s Westwood probably still sees Mesut’s shirt when he closes his eyes. However in the big games between big boys proper DM’s play more often than not and you don’t get the better of a Matic, Khedira, Mascherano, or Javi Martinez when they’re told to mark you. Because they suffocate, kick and frustrate even the world’s best number 10s. It’s so much harder and puts a lot more pressure on the communication of the defence when they just don’t know who’s going to be popping up in that glorious bit of space. When does a right winger go from being the left back’s problem to a DM’s problem when drifting infield? All these permutations and scenarios make a defensive guard more likely to open up.
There is of course the odd exception to my belief that teams are better suited without a starting 10. The main man who I instantly think of is the trophy-laden, all conquering, archetypal French man, Zinedine Zidane. The only thing which could stop him playing was his mood. I dread to think how many more goals and assists he would have if it wasn’t for his moods. He had everything – vision, intelligence, grace, passing range, a scorer of great and important goals. His was the first shirt I got that wasn’t an Arsenal shirt. But that’s enough of me drooling! There’s one attribute that sets him apart from your Ozils, Mata’s, Silva’s, James’. Going further back to his era Riquelme, Veron, Rui Costa and that was his aggressiveness. Some are, some aren’t – it’s not something that can be trained. He could start and stay in Number 10 role because he couldn’t be bullied or suffocated by a Matic. That quality sets him apart; it was also a trait found in two of the finest creators in Premier League Football – Lil Paul Scholes and our very own ice man – both had a mean streak like the great Zizou.
I really do believe Arsenal of today will be best suited playing without a 10, having a deep 3 man midfield, consisting of a DM and two deep-lying central midfielders with two wingers. Imagine being a DM against us and thinking of the players who can pop up in the pocket? Jack, Aaron, Rosicky, Cazorla, striving forward from deep. Or Alexis, Gnabry, Ox or Welbeck, coming in from their favourite flanks. Even Giroud dropping into it to link up with a runner.
Basically we’ve got countless tools to do damage in that area of the pitch. The other advantage this system gives us is it allows Wenger to realistically have a team with Wilshere and Ramsey in every week. Which judging from early season experiments has to be his long term ambition with both ear-marked as future captains. I feel they have to be in the same team and this is the way. And I think – without a starting 10 – would improve their game because they’ll both have more room to work in. Rambo can arrive into more open space to smash home and super Jack can drive into the space and wreak havoc for the opposition’s defensive shape. We need to keep that area of the pitch as uncongested as possible for our team to really kick on.
Mesut Ozil you cry! Best number 10 in the world you cry! He has to be in the team you cry! I agree with you he is great. When I manage to make it to the Emirates he captivates with his passing and movement. I also believe he has to be in the team and he fits in my team. Coquelin starts DM with Ramsey and Wilshere in front of him. I would have Alexis on the left and our main man Mesut on the right wing. Yes, our German World Cup winner starts from the right not at 10. Ozil’s not going to play as a right winger, he’s going to be more like a Bergkamp/Pires hybrid from the right hand side and here’s how.
He’s answered his critics about his work ethic in his second season being a lot more efficient in his defensive duties so we don’t have to worry about an isolated full back. He also loves having the ball on that side of the pitch, 21 of his Madrid assists came from there in open play, because the whole pitch opens up for him to run into the space where a starting 10 would be or try a reverse pass, score a goal or even stay out wide, turn back and cross the ball. Arsenal vs Chelsea – I’m Cesar Azpileceuta and I am asking myself – How far do I track him and when does he become Nemanja’s problem and not mine?
He has so many tools to cause so many problems from the right he could be even more influential given that he’ll have more time and space. I’m not saying Arsenal are currently a bad team or Mesut’s no good at 10. I think we’re a really good side who can have a good go at the Premier League next year. Also Mesut works at 10 and gives teams endless nightmares.
However great dominant teams don’t start with a player at 10; they have numerous players who decide games by scoring or creating goals when they come into that area of the pitch from other areas. For this Arsenal team and Mesut Ozil to go from good to great this is the change it has to make!
Thanks to our guest Luigi Spinola – An Arsenal Red Member, 26 years old, who fell in love with Marc Overmars and has loved wingers and the Arsenal ever since. If you want to engage with Luigi on twitter about this post or other Arsenal matters please find him @petitsponytail
Red member and 26-year-old engineer from Dorset. My life’s biggest regret is never going to Highbury. I try to attend as many games as possible. I’ve always had a love of Arsenal left wings, starting with Overmars, through Pires and Nasri, right up to Alexis. I don’t have an agenda: I just write about the game and club I love as I see it.