QPR v Arsenal: diagrams and chalkboards

April 2, 2012

The starting line-ups, and how Taarabt found space

At the Guardian I’ve written on how Queens Park Rangers played against Arsenal in their 2-1 win at Loftus Road on Saturday.

There were two key points in the victory, explained in that piece and outlined here.


First, Adel Taarabt was given far too much space, and was unquestionably QPR’s key player. He played more passes (31), more passes in the attacking third (12), took more shots (3) and dribbled past an opponent more often (4) than any of his teammates.

There were three reasons why he got space, depicted on the left:

1. Theo Walcott played high up against Taye Taiwo, which meant there was a lot of vertical space between he and Bacary Sagna. Taarabt could come deep and pick up the ball away from Sagna under no pressure. On the other side, Aaron Ramsey was playing deeper (and more central), so the same ball wasn’t on to Mackie.

2. The tilt of Arsenal’s midfield triangle allowed Taarabt into space behind them. This was a problem in two ways, both because Mikel Arteta playing in advanced of Alex Song meant space in that zone, and because the rotation of those players means they can both be caught too high up the pitch, and leave space behind.

3. Song was the first function midfielder and in theory screening the space in front of the defence, but his direct opponent was Joey Barton (who Song stamped on earlier in the season, picking up a three-game ban). Barton played not as a number ten, but as a right-central midfielder, and Song got attracted to him – again, opening up space behind.

Zamora v Vermaelen

As outlined two years ago on ZM, Thomas Vermaelen likes to move high up the pitch and leaves space in behind. Mark Hughes realised this at the start of 2009/10 with Manchester City…

…and he told his players to do the same again. Sure enough, the pattern of interceptions shows how much more eager Vermaelen is to move up the pitch, whereas Laurent Koscielny sits deeper.

Therefore, Zamora tended to move towards the right of the pitch, and QPR sent long balls towards that flank (also evident in the earlier chalkboard of Mackie’s received passes).

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