As we already know, Vermaelen scored the crucial 95th minute winner against Newcastle. The late goal may have been an example of Arsenal’s mental strength and fight and all that. But the fact that it was Vermaelen who scored that goal was no coincidence. He was making runs into the box and attacking crosses all day. It was a tactical ploy by Arsenal to use Vermaelen’s aerial ability as a weapon in breaking down Newcastle’s stubborn defence.
Arsenal’s center-halves need to be good attacking players. We like to build from the back, so their distribution from deep is extremely important. Wenger recently commented on the importance of a center-half’s passing as teams now often play 451 which leaves one of them free, and the attack builds through them.
So we know they have to be good passers. Vermaelen and Koscielny are exactly that. Against Newcastle, Vermaelen 53/64 passes, an accuracy of 84%. Koscielny made 58/68 at 85%.
Early on in the match, their passing from deep was important as Newcastle pressed high up. But as the match wore on, and Newcastle sat deeper in their own half, and we kept the ball high up in our attacking third, their role shifted.
Vermaelen, in particular, became almost like a midfielder, making late runs into the box to get to the end of crosses. He had 3 attempts on goal, forcing a good save from Krul from one of them, and scored from another.
Attacking runs from center-halves can be extremely useful in breaking down defences, because they are almost impossible to mark. A striker cannot be expected to track their runs, so when they invade into the opposition half unmarked, they can wreak all sorts of havoc on defences. Leaving a center-half up front as a target man isn’t as effective, because they lose the element of surprise and lacking the attacking nous of strikers, are easily marked out of the game. The key certainly seems to be the fact that they are defenders who are running from deep.
One thing that helps them late in games is the fact that center-halves don’t do as much running during a game. They are fresher towards the end and so can make those attacking runs and also use their freshness to their advantage in the final third.
So having center-halves who are good on the ball is really important, not just for building attacks but also contributing in the final third. And having a center half who can score goals, not just from set-pieces but also from open play like Vermaelen, that is an even bigger plus. People have often criticized Arsenal for not having a plan B, but using our center-halves as attacking players certainly is an effective one.