‘THEO’logy the new Arsenal Religion to have faith in? Directness, Movement and Positional Interchange


An Article about Theo and so much more…….Rotation, Arteta/Flamini and Meltdown!

So, I haven’t written for quite a while, almost a month actually!  Since my last post, Arsenal beat Stoke comfortably, lost to Zagreb, lost to Chelsea, beat Spurs to qualify for the next round in the League Cup, thrashed the ‘till then undefeated Leicester, and inexplicably lost to Olympiacos.

I guess I’ve been absorbing it all in during this time:

  • The effects on Arsenal’s style of play when Theo is up front versus Giroud
  • The effects of rotation on Messrs. Debuchy, Chamberlain, and Gibbs
  • Arteta and Flamini
  • The meltdown that is Arsenal Social Media – I’d say Twitter but Facebook is no less!

The last twenty days or so have been a mix of positives and negatives.  This post will simply be some thoughts on the above points in hope to provide some perspective.


Theo has started 6 out of 11 games since the season began; including the Charity Shield.  Arsenal has won 4 of those 6 games – the losses have been to Chelsea and Olympiacos.

He has scored 3 goals – each of them were key goals i.e. either the winner, opening goal, equalizer, or a goal to take the lead.  He has assisted 2 goals – again, both assists were key i.e. either set up a winner, opening goal, equalizer, or a goal to take the lead.  You can also credit his role in Alexis’ goal to give us the lead at Leicester but unfortunately, it’s not a statistic.

It’s been interesting watching the Arsenal with Theo up front; personally, I have enjoyed it from an attacking point of view.  Here’s why:


Theo’s presence up front brings a bit more of a direct approach to the Gunners’ game.  I’m personally a fan of a quick release of the ball to the front man or men once you regain possession and not necessarily to his or their feet; but, in spaces which allows them to run onto the ball and carry it a bit further forward.  The midfield then sprints up accordingly to form an attack.  I’m not saying it’s the best way to play, I’m in no position to make such a statement; it’s just a personal preference.

Theo up front has allowed that to happen whenever we have broken down an opposition attack and regained possession.  Whether it’s Ozil, Sanchez, Ramsey, or Cazorla – they all look for Theo immediately.  He’s usually found lurking between defenders.

Whenever the Gunners have played in a way that allows the opposition to build play; the opposition’s line pushes up accordingly, we may not be able to counter every time but we can get the ball into the opposition’s final third a lot quicker thanks to Theo.

Direct approach led to Theo's equalizer versus the Foxes

Direct approach led to Theo’s equalizer versus the Foxes



Theo rarely has to receive the ball with his back to the defence – not his strongest point – because he’s mobile.  His movement allows him to run onto the ball and eventually face his marker, he’s a lot better at holding onto the ball when facing a defender.  However, he doesn’t hold on for too long either and immediately looks for a pass – we’re not wasting time basically.

Moreover, what his movement also allows is other players to leave their positions and move around – pulling an opposition player or two out of their position time to time to create gaps.

Arsenal played a cautious game versus Chelsea but it was the first time this season, in my opinion, that Theo was being used properly by our players.  Yes, the goal versus Stoke was also great use of his pace and movement but Chelsea didn’t play as high a line.  Nevertheless, Theo kept on receiving the ball in the final third with ease, usually in relatively wide areas; but, the support would come cautiously in that game because they were wary of the counter from Chelsea and rightly so.  I guess versus Chelsea, Wenger hoped for a case of two-three players being creative enough in the final third to grab a goal.

Arsenal should have thrashed Stoke as well, would that first half performance been as energetic and filled with chances if a more static Giroud played up front?  I can only wonder.

The Leicester game eventually became about Sanchez’s hat-trick but let’s not forget Theo’s role before Ozil’s sumptuous little chip to find the head of Sanchez for our third goal.

I’d like to point out that Theo’s goal versus Olympiacos did not come from the Greeks playing a high line.  It was a result of Theo’s intelligent movement within the box and, of course, Sanchez picking him out.  The two combined a few times that night, including the assist for Sanchez’s goal – a result of Theo leaving the central position which allowed another player to run into that space.  In fact, only the first goal at Leicester was a result of the high line, the other goals were a result of quick build up.  I mention this because there’s a belief that he’s only effective when the opposition plays a high line.

The Sanchez and Theo combo!

The Sanchez and Theo combo!


Positional Inter-Change

We’re still early in the season but we have seen glimpses of Theo and Sanchez understanding each other’s movement and filling positions accordingly.

However, this is where I have a problem with who we play on the right hand side of midfield – not because of who plays but more of the rotation applied to that position.  This is hampering potential use of positional inter-change from the right hand side in my opinion.

The Ox, at the moment, focuses on staying wide or tucking in slightly but that’s about it.  He’s effective, but are we missing an extra trick with him staying wide all the time?  Is it his fault though that he’s staying wide?  I’ll come back to this point later.

Ramsey is hardly a wide player and he pops up all over the place, I’m still not quite sure what to make of it to be honest!

So, these were the reasons why I have enjoyed seeing Theo up front, it was frustrating during his first couple of games but the team seems to be developing an understanding of what to do with the ball when Theo is in the side.


Having said all this, I do feel there are a couple of potential downsides of having Theo up front:

Counter vs Counter

The Leicester game didn’t see much play in the middle of the park.  It was almost constantly one team countering and then the other.  Cech kept us in the game during the last 15 minutes or so.

Anyway, my point is, with Theo up front and with our direct approach which let’s all attackers barring the DM and maybe one full back to bomb forward; it leaves us exposed at the back.  Our midfield didn’t track back as well versus Leicester at times and definitely did not for the third goal conceded versus Olympiacos.

I have long been a complainant of our midfield not tracking back quickly enough for many years – by the time they get back to help the defence, the ball is on the edge of our area!  This habit seems to have minimized over the last year or so.

However, Leicester was allowed to keep coming forward whenever possible because of this.  Olympiacos scored their winner because of this.

I hope I’m wrong in my assessment and maybe the occurrences were due to some other reason because nothing irks me more than a midfield that doesn’t track back.  There’s only so much a DM can do on his own in some situations.

Oh where oh where did my midfield go?

Oh where oh where did my midfield go?


Tall, Physical Presence in the Box

The Plan B when we run out of ideas.  Giroud provides this.  We cannot launch balls into the box if we desperately need to.  Alexis is actually quite effective in getting into positions to head the ball but those occurrences are far and few between.  Unless we work on grounded crosses of course!

Lastly, though not a pressing concern, Theo really does seem to finish when he isn’t given much time to think about his shot!  He could easily have given us the lead versus Olympiacos the other night – so could have the Ox.  Anyway, I’m hoping he’ll prove us wrong on this in the time to come.

Oh, and Theo shortens us of one defender when defending corners i.e. Giroud!

Moving on, rotation!

Rotation – Good or Bad?

Let’s quickly state the obvious which is that rotation is good for resting players during tough schedules and giving other important players game time.

Great!  So, what’s the bad?  I believe Debuchy presents a mental aspect of the bad whilst the Ox and Gibbs present a practical aspect of the bad of rotation.


Debuchy is apparently demotivated.  Can I state that for certain?  No.  However, body language, performances, and apparently he made a statement that he had considered leaving the Gunners in the summer, all suggest that he actually may be low on motivation.  Here’s a French international who has been playing top level football for some time and is now kept out by a youngster who emerged last season.

Usually we expect players to fight for their place and that’s the ideal scenario – prove your worth when you get the chance.

However, rotation has meant that we have played an apparently demotivated player.  It means we have risked results by playing someone not willing to put in that effort.  Debuchy got the job done whenever he played but we’ve all seen how desperate it was at times.

I wouldn’t fault him entirely because he should have received more support from the midfield but he just didn’t seem up for it.

If a manager prefers to play the same starting XI most of the time, and you’re not part of that starting XI, you know you’re only being played because of rotation.  Let’s not forget, players want to play as much as possible.

This is why I had reservations of bringing in an established DM as a backup to Coquelin – what motivation would an established player have knowing he’s playing backup to a player who isn’t as established as he is?

However, poor performances from players who are subject to rotation aren’t always down to motivation.

Motivation or not enough game time?

Motivation or not enough game time?

Play to Play Better

Some players need to continuously play games to find their groove, so to speak.  I believe Gibbs and the Ox are two of them.  Yes, these players are in practice because of training sessions; but, training and matches are very different.

Apparently Shola Ameobi was the best trainer at Newcastle, we all know how his career panned out.

Anyway, coming back to Gibbs and the Ox.  The former has not declined all of a sudden; he just doesn’t get to play often.  I honestly believe if he’s given a run of games, we’ll see the Gibbs we were praising not too long ago.  I’m not saying replace Monreal but we should keep this in mind whenever Gibbs plays.

The Ox isn’t quite sparkling like he did last season.  Last season he got to play a run of games on the trot; it isn’t happening this season.  He isn’t as fluid with the ball as he was last season.  The positive note is that glimpses of that fearsome combination of ability on the ball and pace was evident at times versus Olympiacos.  I really hope he’s played more, we’ll see him come good.

Moreover, with reference to a point made earlier, perhaps more game time will help him develop a better understanding with Theo and maybe we’ll see inter-change of positions from the right flank as well – imagine that!

Lastly, Debuchy may also be a victim of this – it may be a mental thing or it may simply be that he needs more game time to find his form again.  It’s hard to say in his case.

Moving on!

Arteta and Flamini

I won’t write much here as this is already quite a long post as usual!  I’ve seen Arteta getting stick from fans for Zagreb; personally I thought the whole team especially our attack was off that day.  The attack was just so static and really can’t offer a perspective as to why they were.  I can’t say it was an attitude problem because I’m not interacting with the players on a daily basis!

However, I thought Arteta was great when he came on at Leicester.  There were two instances where he really stood out for me in that game – one was at the end of the first half where he just stood up to Mahrez refusing to be tricked, eventually Mahrez resorted to a tame shot from outside the area.  The second instance was in the second half when he lost a header on the halfway line then chased back, Vardy had the ball out wide right, came inside but Arteta stayed in front of him.  Vardy lost his patience and tried to cut inside further which allowed Koscielny, I believe, to easily dispossess him.

Arteta can do a job.  Apart from being a good passer from the back, he knows his limitations defensively and uses not only his positioning to his advantage but also stays calm when faced by an attacker.

I don’t have many thoughts on Flamini, he has the energy but he really is a last resort if I were to manage the team.

So that’s that with these two, moving on to the social media meltdown!

AKB, WOB, Europa League, Mediocrity, etc.

I avoided Twitter and fan forums on Facebook after every defeat in the last twenty days.  The knee-jerk reaction to every loss is unbelievable!

The same arguments and points are made over and over again.  The WOB will be in fine form after a loss but rarely have a nice thing to say if we win, the AKB brigade in fine form when we win but won’t say much when we lose.

Apparently we’re going to be playing to win the Europa League.  Apparently the season is over – you know, because we’re 3 points behind the league leaders.

Apparently we’re in a mess because we didn’t sign Cech or didn’t play Cech.  Never mind teams that have invested lumps of money and aren’t exactly running away with a trophy already.

Wenger needs to change his ways because we saw the same mistakes lead to a loss versus Olympiacos – really?  I can definitely spot on mistake as the same and I’ve already mentioned it above about the team not tracking back – how often have we seen that in 2015?  Letting in a deflected goal, same mistake or same rotten luck?  Ospina misjudges – same mistake or poor selection from Wenger?  I agree that in a must-win Cech should have played, but did anyone foresee Ospina committing that sort of mistake considering his form this year?

Honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing Arsenal knocked out early if it means we’ll mount a better title challenge.

The romantic in me wants to see the Gunners up their game and get at least 4 points out of Bayern and go onto qualify for the next round.  I certainly don’t think it’s unachievable.

Who knows, maybe the Olympiacos game will lead to a mental turnaround like, as I believe, the loss to Monaco did last season.

There are times where I wish I had time to watch other top teams, that have world class players that our fans wanted, play and monitor those players – see if they miss chances that our players miss, see if they make poor decisions on the pitch like our players do sometimes.  It would certainly lend weight to statements like “if we had world class players, they wouldn’t let this happen”.

There are so many other statements I’d like to address but I’ll stop now, maybe do a separate post on those.  This post is long enough.

United on the weekend, all I’ll say is that I fear United in a different way post-SAF; before I was afraid because I knew they were capable of playing really well.  Now, I’m afraid that despite playing poor or average, they can still get a result!  Regardless, I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win because we’re only 3 points behind and it’s early in the season but a draw is the minimum requirement.

Lastly, I barely gave a mention to Alexis but the Chilean picked up form right after he scored his first goal – I felt his form actually picked up during the Leicester game and continued during the Olympiacos game.  Here’s to hoping the Chilean will carry on like this!

Your thoughts and comments are always welcome, I always reply, or you can always tweet me. 





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