Graham Arnold’s strengths as a manager were obvious from his successful spell at the Central Coast Mariners. He fosters a strong team ethic, coaxes the best out of individuals and drills his side meticulously in their roles on and off the ball. Failure to implement these methods upon Japanese side Vegalta Sendai shouldn’t diminish the work he previously did in the A-League, and his appointment at Sydney FC is genuinely exciting for the possibility of him perhaps being able to finally marry their ‘big club’ reputation with on-field performances.
We’ve already seen evidence of his patient approach to possession play in the Football United matches against West Ham and Newcastle United. The video below highlights the changes in this particular phase of play:
The by-effect of Antonis dropping in, as elucidated in the video, is that the full-backs then have freedom to push forward, particularly because the lack of natural width in the diamond creates lots of space for them to charge into. This will inevitably suit Pedj Bojic, who was a regular under Arnold at the Mariners with his powerful forward running down the right. Sebastian Ryall, too, proved he is capable of providing thrust in the final games of Frank Farina’s reign, but Arnold seems less encouraged by the prospect of Matt Jurman as a left-back, having explicitly said in the media he’s looking for a new left-back in the market.
Another element of the Mariners system that Arnold is bringing to Sydney is a unique approach to pressing high up the pitch. In his 4-4-2 diamond system, Arnold asks the #10 (Nick Carle), to push forward between the two strikers and become the most advanced Sydney player, leading the pressure on the opposition centre-backs. The two strikers, in turn, split wide to cover the space between full-back and centre-back, creating a temporary front three that look to push the ball wide.
In the FFA Cup tie against Melbourne City, it was obviously Bernie Ibini and Corey Gameiro (the two starting forwards) were instructed to pass off the City full-backs, Iain Ramsey and Jason Hoffman, once they moved beyond the half-way line. This had the obvious consequence of allowing them to run free deep into Sydney’s half, with Ramsay causing a few problems with his delivery and energy from the left – but crucially, in the context of the game, it opened up space for Sydney to counter-attack into. Sasa Ognenovski, in particular, was keen to hit first-time long diagonals into the left channel for Gameiro to chase. Their first goal stemmed from this exact move – Redmayne’s decision to come flying out of his box was bizarre, but it was reflective of the pattern.
This, in some way, alleivates the concern about how Arnold will fit in the gluttony of forwards he has available to him – Shane Smeltz, Marc Janko, Corey Gameiro and Alex Brosque will fight for a striker role, while the latter can play as a #10, and Ibini likely to play a deeper role to the right of the midfield diamond (as he did against Newcastle and West Ham in the Football United tour, when both Gameiro and Brosque were fit).
What’s interesting, too, about observing Sydney’s pre-season matches is the side’s obvious progression in their understanding and execution of Arnold’s structures – it felt simply like they’d ‘only’ worked on playing out from the back in the Newcastle/West Ham friendlies (which makes sense according to the timeline of pre-season), and gradually worked towards improving their pressure off the ball by the time of the FFA Cup tie. Time will tell how long it takes for the entire system to fall into place.