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Football Basics – Lofted pass techniques

Why use lofted pass?

Although ground passes are easier for the receiver to control the ball, there are some occasions that the only way to exploit space behind opponents is to loft the ball over defenders’ head. For example, if the back four defend well like a wall in front of the goal, then the only way to attack the space behind the back four is to loft the ball into the penalty area. Moreover, a good lofted pass can attack the space quickly. A good example was Dennis Bergkamp’s goal vs. Argentina in the 1998 World Cup. The long lofted pass was made by Frank De Boer.

Which basic techniques can be used?

There are three basic techniques: lofted drive, volley and chip. The following organisation charts shows the details of the techniques.

Air pass organisation chartFigure 1. Organisation charts showing the basic techniques of lofted pass

The following tables summarise the advantages and disadvantages of different types of techniques:

Lofted Drive:

Contact surface & approach Advantages Disadvantages
1. Instep – slightly angled  approach
  • > 40 yards
  • With considerable pace, giving little chance to recover
  • Ball not rise steeply, difficult to clear defenders nearby (<10 yards)
2. Instep – wided-angled approach

wide angle

  • >40 yards
  • Not difficult to control
  • Possible to put backspin
  • Steeper trajectory
  • Can’t be hit with as much pace as some other methods. Therefore, defenders have more time to adjust position when the ball is in flight
3. Outside of the foot

outside

  • >40 yards
  • With pace
  • Can be swerved away from defenders, making interceptions more difficult
  • Difficult to control
  • Not rise steeply
  • The ball will continue to roll away after pitching, difficult to judge the pace of the pass into space
4. Inside of the foot

inside

  • >40 yards
  • With pace
  • Be swerved away from defenders
  • Be swerved into path of attacker
  • Easy to control
  • Rise reasonably steeply
  • The ball will continue to roll away after pitching, difficult to judge the pace of the pass into space

Volley Pass:

Contact surface & approach Advantages Disadvantages
1. Straight approach

volley straight

  • Over the heads of opponents who are a few yards from the ball
  • Played early
  • Long distances
  • With pace
  • Can be “dipped” by imparting topspin to the ball
  •  Difficult to control accuracy
  • Difficult to control pace
2. Sideway approach

volley sideway

  • Over the heads of opponents who are a few yards from  the ball
  • Long distances
  • With pace
  • Played early
  • Even more difficult to control accuracy
  • Difficult to control pace

Chip Pass:

Contact surface & approach Advantages Disadvantages
1. Straight approach

chip

  • Because of the backspin, the ball will rise very steeply.
  • Able to clear the heads of opponents only 5,6 yards from the ball
  • Possible to stop the ball in a small space because of backspin
  • Only 20-25 yards
  • Players running on to the pass may find the ball difficult to control as they would be moving against the spin

Reference:

Netherlands – Argentina: Bergkamp Goal 1998 (HD), 2010 [online video]. By Frank de Jong. [viewed 23 December 2013]. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XsZkCFoqSBs

HUGHES, C., 1987. Soccer Tactics and Skills. Great Britain: Queen Anne Press

HUGHES, C., 1990. The Winning Formula. London: William Collins Sons & Co Ltd

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What is “Zone 14” in football?

Through the introduction of football performance analysis, football games has been analysed in many ways. Zone 14 was classified as the “golden square” in the pitch which helps teams score more goals. It was supported by evidences showing that successful teams had a better performance in zone 14. In this post, the two examples used would be France (1998-2000) and Manchester United (1998-1999).

Where is Zone 14?

By dividing the field into a six-by-three grid, there are 18 zones on the pitch. Zone 14 is the zone located in the middle of the pitch immediately outside the penalty area appears crucial for goal scoring (Taylor et al., 2002). It is shown in the following diagram.

zone 14 in 18 zones

The location of Zone 14 (Grant et al., 1998)

Why is Zone 14 so important?

It is one of the key factors to differentiate the successful and unsuccessful teams (Grant et al., 1998). Other researchers had the same result showing that successful teams attack through the centre of the field more effectively than less successful teams (Grant, 2000; Horn and Williams, 2002).

Generally, there are 4 key points that successful teams were found to play in Zone 14:

  1. More passes to all zones to the side and ahead of zone 14 (Horn et al., 2002)
  2. More forward passes from and within zone 14 (Horn et al., 2002)
  3. To make more passes in zone 14 compared with unsuccessful teams (Grant et al., 1998)
  4. To generate attempts on goal from possession regained in zone 14 (Horn et al., 2002)

The first example is France national team (1998-2000). In July 2000, France became the first nation to win the European Championship (2000) as World Champions (1998).

 France Euro 2000

France National Team in Euro 2000 (BBC Sport, 2012)

It was found that 81.3% of their assists in two competitions came from the central area (Horn et al., 2000). In other words, France’s attacking play was narrow. Another finding showed that the majority of France’s attempt at goal came from assists in central attacking area just outside the penalty area (Horn et al., 2000).

The second example is Manchester United FC (1998-99), which was the first English side to win Premiership, F.A. Cup and European Champions League in the same season.

Manchester United 1999

Manchester United 1999 (Sawh, 2010)

Grant and Williams (1999) did a research on this team and found that passing was the most common form of assist. Moreover, the majority of passing assists came from central attacking area.

What is Zone 14?

The above findings gave a brief idea what zone 14 is. Different researches have their own view but generally their opinions were very similar. Grant et al. (1998) argued that Zone 14 is the attacking midfielder area which is the crucial area for producing successful attack. Horn et al. (2000) and Taylor et al. (2002) both argued that Zone 14 is the key area which produces vast majority of passing assist. Grant and Williams (1999) did not mention zone 14 but they found that passing is the most common form of assist and the majority of passing assists came from central attacking area. In fact, some coaches know the importance of this zone but they refer it by using another name “The Hole”. However, from the perspective of performance analysis, the researchers had brought forward the understanding of how it works (Telegraph, 2002), which is shown in the following paragraph.

How to use Zone 14 effectively?

Effective use of Zone 14 must be combined with positive, forward passing and tight possession from the back of the field (Telegraph, 2002). The keywords are “positive, forward passing” which lead to the next question “where the ball should be passed?”  According to the Horn et al. (2002), teams were more than 4 times more likely to score goals by playing directly into the penalty area than playing laterally to the wings. In other words, fewer goals would be scored through possession leaving zone 14 to the wide areas. Possession time is another reason why the ball leaving zone 14 should be passed into the penalty area directly. Horn et al. (2002) found that the ball was kept in zone 14 for 2.7 seconds in average in order to score a goal. If the possession lasts over 8 seconds, then it won’t produce an attempt on goal. That means quick attack is a key point in using zone 14. No doubt, moving the ball laterally rather than forward into the penalty area is likely to introduce more passes and longer time in possession, then the threat of zone 14 would be neutralised.

Who is Zone 14 for?

The zone 14 is effective only when exploited by a skilful player who can quickly change the direction of attack with a short pass or twisting run lasting no more than 8 seconds (Horn et al., 2002). Therefore, the players with the ability to play in zone 14 are highly technical. They should be the players that were regarded as the most exciting to watch. Grant et al. (1998) mentioned Zidane and Bergkamp as examples.

Zidane

Zinedine Zidane (Rascojet, 2011)

Here is an example showing Zidane’s play in Zone 14:

Arsenal v Ajax

Dennis Bergkamp (The FA, 2013)

Here is an example showing Bergkamp’s play in Zone 14:

Balance

Although Zone 14 is so important in attacking, it doesn’t mean that teams should not make crossing from both flanks. Crossing is a very effective way to produce goals also. In fact, Grant (2000) found that successful teams are effective at using crosses to score goals. The key point is that teams should avoid using zone 14 to attack wide areas, which is proved in previous findings. Instead of using short wide passes from zone 14, teams should switch the ball across the whole field, or move the ball forward all the way down one side to attack flanks and make crossing (Horn et al., 2002). In the example of Manchester United (1998-99), it was found that the team was able to make flank attack and have the ability to penetrate through central attacking area (Grant and Williams, 1999). In the France team (1998-2000), their attacking play was very narrow so there were not many crossing assists.

Conclusion

Zone 14 is located outside the penalty area. It is a factor to differentiate successful and unsuccessful teams because it provides most assist. The most effective way to use zone 14 is to make a forward passing into the penalty area. Moreover, the attacking play should be quick. The possession in zone 14 should not be more than 8 seconds. The importance of flanks attack should not be ignored because a successful team should be able to make both attacking styles.

In my opinion, the best way is to attack through zone 14 first as it is more effective. If they can’t penetrate through the central attacking area, then they attack the wide areas.

References

BBC Sport, 2012. Euro 2000: The French Revolution [digital image] [viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/media/images/60195000/jpg/_60195604_81575581.jpg

GRANT, A. & WILLIAMS, M., 1999. Analysis of the Final 20 matches played by Manchester United in the 1998-99 season. Insight, 1(3), 42-44

GRANT, A., 2000. Ten Key Characteristics of Successful Team Performance. Insight, 3(4), 26-27

GRANT, A., T. REILLY, M. WILLIAMS & A. BORRIE, 1998b. Analysis of the Successful and Unsuccessful Teams in the 1998 World Cup. Insight, 2(1), 21-23

HORN, R. & M. WILLIAMS, 2002. A Look Ahead to World Cup 2002: What Do the Last 40 Years Tell Us? Insight, 5(2), 26-29

HORN, R., M. WILLIAMS & A. GRANT, 2000. Analysis of France in World Cup 1998 and Euro 2000. Insight, 4, 40-43

HORN, R., WILLIAMS, M., & ENSUM, J., 2002. Attacking in Central Areas: A Preliminary Analysis of Attacking Play in the 2001/2002 F.A. Premiership Season. Insight, 5(3), 31-34

Rascojet, 2011. Zidane [digital image] [viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://www.rascojet.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Zidane.jpg

Sawh, M., 2010. manchester_united_1999 [digital image] [viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://sackthemanager.files.wordpress.com/2012/01/manchester_united_1999_cham.jpg

TAYLOR, S., J. ENSUM & M. WILLIAMS, 2002. A Quantitative Analysis of Goals Scored. Insight, 5(4), 28-31

The FA, 2013. dennis-bergkamp-testimonial [digital image][viewed 17 August 2013]. Available from: http://www.thefa.com/~/media/Images/TheFAPortal/News%20Articles/2013/dennis-bergkamp-testimonial.ashx?w=620&h=349&c=facupgallery&as=1

THE TELEGRAPH, 2002. Scientists find football’s golden square [online]. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/3028353/Scientists-find-footballs-golden-square.html

“The Invincibles” Arsenal 2003-04 Analysis (3) – Henry-Bergkamp Partnership

What is the traditional 4-4-2 forward pair partnership? Marziali and Mora (1997) had an argument about that in the book “Coaching the 4-4-2”. They argued that one player play as “target man” who is physically strong and good at heading. Also, he is able to play with the opposing goal at his back. The other player is rapid, quick with good individual skill, who likes starting from a distance and moving all over the attacking front. As the forward pair in the invincible team, I argued Henry-Bergkamp partnership was one of the best in Premier League history but it was not a traditional 4-4-2 forward pair partnership because of their 3 features:

Feature 1: Separation of Duties

Henry was the focal point of attack and Bergkamp had supporting role. This is supported by two evidences. Firstly, Henry scored 70% of forward players’ goal (exclude penalty) as shown in the following chart. However, it must be clarified that Arsenal was not a one-man team.

Forward players' goals distribution

Secondly, in terms of building up goals, Bergkamp was a more efficient player than Henry which I explained last week. On the other hand, they both contributed well in terms of assist.

Assist maker

They were in the top 3 players in making assist. This forward partnership was so important in the team because they made 41% of team assists. If we consider the efficiency of making assist, their contribution is more obvious.

Assist per appearance

They were the top 2 most efficient assist makers in the team and Pires dropped to third. In short, Henry focused on scoring goals and making assists. Bergkamp focused on involvement of build-up of goals and making assists.

Feature 2: Different playing areas on the field

Henry played mostly at left flank and moved to central area to score goals. This argument was supported by two evidences by analysing where he scored goals and where he made assists. By considering open play goals, Henry scored 75% in central area (most inside penalty box) and 25% at left flank as shown in the following diagram.

Where Henry scored open play goals

This evidence is not strong enough so we have to analyse where he made assists as well to see where he played mostly.

Where Henry made assists

Two results can be taken from this diagram. Firstly, Henry played mostly at left flank as he made 55.6% of assists on the left side comparing with 38.9% on the central area and 5.6% on the right side. Secondly, if we focus on the left side, you will realise most of his assists were made in the final 18-yard of left side (44.4% of total) while he only made 11.2% assists outside the penalty area on left side. The reason of it will be explained later in this post. Therefore, we can conclude that Henry played mostly at left flank and then drifted to centre of penalty area to score goals.

On the other hand, Bergkamp played more centrally than Henry and mostly spent his time outside the penalty area to provide support to teammates. As shown in the following diagram, Bergkamp made 70% of his assists outside the penalty area. His percentage of assists in central area and right side was more than that of Henry.

Where Bergkamp made assists

A comparative analysis could be made by making a table about where they made assists which shows their different playing areas.

Henry Bergkamp
Final 18-yard area 66.7% 30%
Outside 18-yard area 33.3% 70%

It supports my arguments above that Henry focused on playing left and scored in central penalty area while Bergkamp played more centrally and stayed outside penalty area in most of the time to provide support.

This is a video example showing their position. Even they both started on the left side, when the ball was moved to right side, Bergkamp tended to move to centre and Henry stayed at left flank until he moved to centre to score the goal in the penalty area.

Feature 3: Playing styles fit in each other

Henry was strong at attacking space behind the defence. This could be analysed by looking at the assists styles of Henry’s goals. Note that the goals from penalty and direct free kick were excluded.

Assist styles of Henry's goals (exclude penalty and direct free kick)

Three characteristics of Henry could be seen in this chart. Firstly, Henry was a striker who didn’t rely on crossing assist (15%). In a traditional 4-4-2 system, the strikers rely on the crossing from two wingers/wide midfielders but it was not the case in the invincible team. Secondly, he was good at exploiting space behind the defence because the largest proportion of his goals (30%) was come from through ball. It fits his styles as he was a fast runner. Thirdly, technically he was good because he could score goals by dribbling past his opponent (15%) and by receiving passes to his feet (20%).

Even both players contributed well in terms of number and efficiency of making assist, their assist styles were different. This is supported by two evidences. Firstly, Henry was strong at crossing.

Henry's Assist Styles

33% of his assists were made by crossing. It can explain why 44.4% of his total assists were made in the final 18-yard area on the left side which is mentioned above. If you consider two evidences, 66.7% of his assists were made in final 18-yard area and 55.6% of his assists were on the left side, the final 18-yard area on the left side is the overlapped area which was Henry’s key playing area.

Bergkamp was strong at providing through ball (penetrative pass to the back of defence).

Bergkamp's Assist Styles

The result of Bergkamp’s assist styles is more obvious than that of Henry. 40% of his assists by made by through ball. It fits the previous finding that Bergkamp tended to play outside the penalty area providing support.

The different playing styles of these two players brought out two main benefits. Firstly, they provided variety of assist styles to benefit the team based on their strengths. Secondly, Bergkamp’s assists style (through ball) fits Henry’s goal scoring style (attacking space behind the defence) perfectly. This is shown in the following video example:

In conclusion, I would like to use a table to summarise my analysis.

Henry

Bergkamp

Separation of duties Goal scoring + making assist Build-up of goals + making assist
Playing areas Left flank + final 18-yard area More central + Outside penalty box
Playing styles Attacking space behind defence + crossing Playing through ball

Their partnership was not a traditional 4-4-2 forward pair partnership. I argued that it was still an excellent partnership in Premier League’s history because they fitted in each other based on their strengths.

Reference:

MARZIALI, F. and V. MORA, 1997. Coaching the 4-4-2. Spring City: Reedswain

“The Invincibles” Arsenal 2003-04 Analysis (2) – Were Arsenal a one-man team?

No doubt, Henry was the most important player in “the invincible” squad. However, were Arsenal a one-man team in 2003/04 season? This question would be analysed in this post. As the top goal scorer in the team, Henry scored 41% (30) of the team goals (73) in that season.

goal scorer

As shown in the above chart, Henry absolutely outperformed other players in terms of goals. Apart from Henry and Pires, nobody else scored more than 4 goals. Probably the best striker in the world at that time, Henry was able to do something different comparing with other strikers. For example, a target man needs crosses provided by teammates. A poacher needs through ball or penetrative pass. However, when somebody gave Henry the ball, he had the ability to do the rest by himself. For example, the following video shows how good his dribbling was.

 

In this goal, the assist was made by Henry as well because I will code it as “self-assist” if the goal scorer scored the goal by beating opponents by dribbling. My definition of “one-man team” is that the team is heavily (or just) relying on the performance of certain player. Was that the case in the “invincible” squad? The above evidences and examples may suggest a “yes” but I argue Arsenal were NOT a one-man team because of three reasons.

Reason 1: Pires was an efficient and reliable goal scorer also

There were seven penalty goals which were all scored by Henry, so it would be fair to take them out and look at the goal distribution again.

goal scorer exclude penalty

Henry’s 23 goals took 35% of the team goals. As shown in the chart, there was a second reliable goal scorer in the team as well. Pires scored 14 goals which were 21% of the team goals. Apart from analysing the number of goals, the efficiency should be considered as well. The top 5 goal scorers in the team were taken out. Their number of goals were normalised by considering their number of starting appearance as well.

goals per appearance

Henry was still the most efficient striker, scoring 0.61 goals per appearance. The goal scoring efficiency of Henry and Pires were much better than the rest of the team. The above two charts show that in terms of goal scoring, Arsenal were not only relying on Henry due to the presence of Pires who was a efficient and reliable goal scorer as well. When the position of the goal scorer was considered (own goals were taken out), it further supports my argument.

number of goals with regard to the position

The forward players scored the most (33 goals) which was 53% of the team goals. However, it also shows that the midfield of Arsenal was a strong goal scoring force by scoring 44% of the team goals. I agreed that the forward players heavily relied on Henry who scored 23 out of 33 (70%) forward players’ goals. However, it was not the case for the whole team.

Reason 2: The responsibility of making assist were shared by several players

Apart from being the top goal scorer of the team, Henry was also the top assist maker as well, making 18 assists in that season. Only 3 of them were self-assist by dribbling past opponents before he scored. However, Henry’s effect was not as obvious as shown in the goal chart because he took only 26% of the team assists. 

assist maker percentage

The chart shows that the responsibility of making assist was well shared by several players. The most obvious top 3 assist makers were Henry (26% – 18 assists), Pires (17% – 12 assists) and Bergkamp (15% – 10 assists). This chart could be analysed in two perspectives. Firstly, Arsenal had a good strikers’ partnership of making assist. Although Bergkamp hadn’t scored many goals (4), his contribution in making assist was obvious. The Henry-Bergkamp partnership took 41% of the team assists. Secondly, the 6th assist maker was Cole who was a left back. Considering the left side combination (left back, left midfielder, left forward), the Cole-Pires-Henry combination took 49% of the team assists. That means for every two goals Arsenal scored, one of them was assisted by one of the left trio. It shows how strong the left side of Arsenal was (I will write a post for this topic in future). The above two evidences show that even Henry was a world-class player, there were some top players playing with Henry at that time. By considering the position chart, it shows that the effect of forward players in making assist was not as strong as goal scoring, decreasing from 53% to 48%. 

number of assists with regard to the position

The contribution of defenders increased a lot from 3% in goal scoring to 10% in assist making, while midfielders had a more or less same percentage (44% and 42%).

Reason 3: Henry was NOT the most efficient player in building up goals

Looking at the assist can only give a clue about the final pass; it doesn’t show you the build-up of the goal. In order to analyse the players’ contribution in the build-up of the goals, the players involved in the goals have to be considered. Note that the set play goals were excluded in the following charts. 

number of involvement in open play goals

Only the top 6 players were shown in this chart. In 52 open play goals, Henry was involved in 35 of them (67.3%). There is a little gap between the top 2 players (Henry – 35, Pires – 30) and the other players. It shows that Henry and Pires were still the two key players in Arsenal’s build-up of goals. Similar to the assist chart, Bergkamp got the 3rd position. However, in the starting line-up of Arsenal, Bergkamp had the least starting appearance (21) comparing with Henry (38) and Pires (33). It shows another picture when the appearance was considered to normalise the data. 

number of involvement in open play goals per appearance

In fact, the overall trends of two charts are very similar but Bergkamp’s performance and efficiency was the best when the data were normalised with number of appearance. For every single starting appearance, Bergkamp was involved in building up at least 1 goal. On the other hand, the difference between Henry and Pires became much less (only 0.01) which imply that their efficiency were pretty much the same. With the age of 34 in that season, Bergkamp didn’t play as much as before and wasn’t the focal point of attacking. However, with his high level of technique and vision, he still played a key role in building up the goal even he was not the person to make the assist every time. The following video is an example to show Bergkamp’s vision and technique to pass a “killer ball” penetrating two lines of defence.

 

To conclude, there is no doubt that Henry was a key player in the “invincible” squad. However, Arsenal were not a one-man team because other players played key roles in different aspects. Pires provided efficient and reliable source of goals. Cole had a great contribution of making assist. Moreover, Cole played a key role in assisting Pires and Henry in the left side because the combination of these three players took half of the team assists. Although Bergkamp didn’t contribute much in scoring goals, his contribution was mainly focused on assist and build-up of goals. He was the most efficient player in building up goals.

“The Invincibles” Arsenal 2003-04 Analysis (1) – Squad and formation

Arsenal 2003/04 unbeaten title-winning team have been voted as the Best Team in the Premier League’s 20 seasons awards. It is the first team to win the Premier League title having not lost a game. The last team to achieve it was over a hundred years ago. It was a big achievement that earned the nickname “The Invincibles”. Therefore, it is worthy to analyse this team to see what we can learn. How did they play? What were the characteristics of the players? It may not have the best players in every position but the chemistry they formed was the best at that time. I am trying to find it out through analysing the 38 league games.

Arsene Wenger used 22 players in the whole season. However, Justin Hoyte and David Bentley had only made 1 appearance, comparing with the rest of the team making at least 9 appearances (more than 20% of the 38 games). Therefore, it is reasonable to exclude these two players and focus on how Wenger used those 20 players in the whole season. This was the first team line up:

formation

Goalkeeper Jens Lehmann played every league game in the whole season.

Defenders:

defender appearances

The above chart clearly shows that Cole, Lauren, Campbell and Toure were the first team players of the back four. Keown had more substitute appearances (7) than starting appearances (3); especially four of them were in the last four games after Arsenal had won the title on 25/4/2004. Therefore, Cygan was the first choice back up in the centre back position. On the other hand, Clichy was the back up of Cole in left back position. Who was the back up of Lauren in right back position? Wenger used a different approach. Instead of putting a right back player as the backup of Lauren, Wenger used the versatile Toure wisely. The following diagram shows Wenger’s approach about the backup of right back. When Lauren was not available, Wenger moved Toure to the right back and let Cygan played as centre back:

versatile Toure as right backEven Toure moved from a centre back to a right back, he was more than a defensive right back. His speed and strength made him playing well as an attacking right back also. The following video is an example.

In short, the versatility of Toure gave the consistency in Arsenal’s defence, letting Wenger used 6 players mainly throughout the season.

Midfielders:

midfielder appearance

The chart of midfielders is not as obvious as that of defenders. It shows that more rotation was happened in midfielders. However, it still shows that Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg and Silva were the first team midfielders. Edu shouldn’t be ignored because he was Wenger’s first choice substitute in midfield, having 16 substitute appearances. In fact, if total appearances were considered, Edu had 29 (13+16) which is the same as Vieira.

Only 6 midfielders were mainly used in the whole season showed the versatility of these players, especially the two backup players Parlour and Edu who played as both central and wide midfielders. Moreover, Pires and Ljungberg were able to play at both flanks. The combination of these 6 players gave the flexibility and consistency of a solid Arsenal midfield.

When Ljungberg was not available, Parlour was the first choice of Wenger to replace the right winger role:

first choice of right winger

When these two players were not available, Pires played as a right winger as Edu played as a left winger:

second choice of right winger

It happened 4 times during the season. However, Wenger used a different approach in the late second half of the season, keeping Pires as left winger and put Wiltord or Reyes as the right winger.

When Pires was not available, Wenger moved Ljungberg to the left and played Parlour as the right winger:

first choice of left winger

If both Pires and Ljungberg were not available, Edu could play as a left winger also.

The rotation in central midfield was simple. Parlour and Edu were the backup of Vieira and Silva. However, the interesting point is that even Edu was the first choice substitute in Wenger’s mind; Parlour was the primary backup central midfielder when either Vieira or Silva was unavailable. There were 18 games when one of them was unavailable, Parlour started 11 of them and Edu started only 7 of them.

The appearances and rotation in midfield could be linked to the analysis of formation. In 4-4-2, the central midfielder substitutes were still able to cover the wide position as wide midfielder or winger (e.g. Parlour in right flank, Edu in left flank). It is because the two strikers playing upfront are the main goal scoring power. The substitutes could act as a supporting role in wide position even though they are not good at attacking. Comparing with the 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 nowadays, it is rarely to see a central midfielder to take over the winger position because the winger position in these formations requires more attacking attributes due to the lone striker system.

 Strikers:

striker appearance

Henry was definitely a first team member starting all 38 league games. Therefore, what Wenger had to decide is using whom as Henry’s partner. Wiltord got more chances firstly. In the first 10 games, he started 5 times and played 3 times as substitute. However, he was not in Wenger’s first team plan since then. Bergkamp, having 21 starting appearance, was the partner of Henry in most of the season. However, may be because of Bergkamp’s age, he didn’t play many games continuously. Wenger used Kanu, Aliadiere and Wiltord as the backup. The situation changed after January’s transfer window. Reyes joined the team and got the chances immediately. The total number of games Reyes played in half season (13) was more than Wiltord (11), Kanu (10) and Aliadiere (9) playing in the whole season. Note that in some exceptional cases, Wenger used Reyes and Wiltord as left and right wingers.

For further analysis of Arsenal invincibles squad, please go to the links below:

Part 2 – Were Arsenal a one-man team?

Part 3 – Henry-Bergkamp Partnership

Part 4 – Henry, Pires and Cole