What has Graham Arnold changed at Sydney FC?

Graham Arnold’s tactical adjustments to Sydney FC’s style of play have been obvious in the side’s pre-season friendlies

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.

Click the text or swipe right to continue the animation

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.

By Tim Palmer

Tim is a football coach, writer, analyst and sports scientist. He is currently Assistant Technical Director, Head of Player Development & Video and a coach at NWSF Spirit, as well as working with the Pararoos. Previously, he has worked as an analyst with the Socceroos, and in the A-League.


Hi Tim,

Under17 Joey

Under 20/under23

How many players from our Developement squads have moved onto gain 4/5 plus Socceroos caps?

From the AIS how many players have played for Socceroos.? From AIS how many players played more than 10 games in first and second year out of AIS.?

There seems to be a lot of debate on how we are not doing so well with our under 23 players making successfull careers as full,time professionals.

Does the FFA produce data/statistics on AIS production and how many players careers kick on after being in under 17, under 20, under 23 squads/ teams.

I am not sure the A League is developing or providing the right opportunities for our future Socceroos. Thank goodness a coach doesn\’t have to worry about relegation!….and have some serious australian youth KPIs.

It is amazing to see the success of FFA coaching plan with Okon and Vidmar taking significant roles in coaching. And to see Craig Foster coaching junior teams in FNSW.

Some great success in a US tournament and some very poor results in AFC youth tournament s.

Qualifying for the under 17 and under 20 World Cups and advancing to \”\”semis\”\” would be critical to player Developement and creating career awareness worldwide for them.

Do you have any plans to focus on Male youth development over the next 6 months?any facts and figures or data that is available?

Hi mate. Thanks for reading, and taking the time to comment.

In the future, this will be something the site will tackle – it\’s a big issue, and it needs to be given justice! Nevertheless, in short, I do think the system is heading in the right direction. The major issue with the pathways at the moment, for me, is the players decisions re:clubs, especially the U20-23 bracket that \’make it\’ onto the scene, then transfer to a club that doesn\’t really suit them. That, inevitably, is something unpredictable and every player is different – but it is a recurring issue that we\’re getting players leaving the A-League and getting very little game time elsewhere

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