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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 March 2006, 13:28 GMT
How Arsenal proved the Real deal
By John May

Arsene Wenger has performed a rope trick to solve Arsenal's problem of how to play in Europe.

Former Arsenal and England coach Don Howe feels the Gunners are now better suited to the demands and wiles of the Champions League thanks to Wenger restricting players to specific roles.

Arsenal's single-goal win over two legs against Real Madrid was something of a tactical master-class, proving to Howe the Gunners now have the know-how.

Howe told BBC Sport: "Arsenal's record in the Champions League in previous seasons hasn't been that impressive.

"They had a tendency to get caught out against teams who are very good at the classic European game of hitting the opposition on the break."

Howe explains how Wenger plans his European campaign.


"This might be dictated by the personnel available to him. He hasn't got Lauren or Ashley Cole, so he's given the full-backs limited defensive roles.

"He's tied them in so they don't go galloping forward. They will offer support, but you won't see them right up the pitch very often.

"The back four has looked a solid unit, and the key to it is Kolo Toure. He's been the consistent factor whether it's been Philippe Senderos or Sol Campbell alongside him."


"Against Real, Arsenal played five in midfield, with Alexander Hleb, Jose Antonio Reyes or Robert Pires tied into to tight roles in front of the full-backs.

"It locks up the flanks, makes it hard for teams to get around them and when they hold their position, Arsenal don't get caught on the break."


"Wenger has asked Cesc Fabregas and Gilberto to do a specific job for him in midfield, one that might go against their attacking instincts, but which is vital for the team cause.

"He's fixed them in front of the back four, which offers protection, and when they win the ball they're both good enough players to pass the ball and ensure Arsenal keep possession.

"Their role doesn't mean they're not allowed to get forward, but their principal task is to allow Freddie Ljungberg to break."


"By playing Hleb, Fabregas, Gilberto, Ljungberg and Reyes or Pires across the middle, he's made an inner circle behind Thierry Henry.

"With Fabregas and Gilberto fixed in place in front of the back four, Hleb and Reyes in front of the two full backs, it allows Ljungberg more freedom to make his runs into the box.

"Playing Ljungberg just on the left side of Gilberto allows Freddie to make what we call out-to-in runs, that is, from a wide position into the middle, which makes it very difficult for defenders to pick him up.

"Henry is given the freedom to move about to make him as hard to pick up as possible. Sometimes he'll drift out to the left, or he'll come back into midfield to pick up the ball, or stay right up front.

"His brief is simply to go wherever he can to pick up the ball."


"Premiership teams have worked out how to play against Arsenal, and they do it in one of two ways.

"One way is to get in their faces, press them all over the pitch, get physical with them and allow them no room, time or space.

"The other way is to drop off, to effectively give Arsenal space in the middle of the field where they can't hurt them, then present them with two solid banks and say: 'come on, try and break us down.'

"I don't think Arsenal have played what you would really call a physical team in the Champions League yet.

"That might change if they come up against an Italian team, I'm sure that AC Milan or Juventus would be able to mix it up.

"But it seems that Arsene Wenger has geared Arsenal's game up to be more effective in Europe at the moment."


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