Variety and Subtlety: Getting the extra points out of your team.

This is our second article submitted by guest blogger Llama3.

This is the first guide I have written in a while actually (Pairs & Combinations has taken most of my attention in the last 18 months). I thought it was about time I looked at a few other useful things to inform your tactical decision making. So the subject today is Variety and Subtlety – specifically looking at what individual players can do for your squad, and learning to see the differences in players. So time to look at my Arsenal and see what I mean by this. I am going to look at 3 positions, and show a pair of players that have similarities that fit into my tactical style and philosophy, but at the same time offer something different and how to utilise them. So, first up Kieran Gibbs & Nacho Monreal.
Left Back

So first up a look at the comparison in attributes of Gibbs & Monreal:

Kieran Gibbs has the following PPMs:

Nacho Monreal has the following PPMs:

So let’s look at the similarities:

  • Both are quick and energetic
  • Both like to get down the left flank
  • Both are technically sound

This means that I can keep the same style and tactical set up that I always employ. I am confident that if I select Gibbs or Monreal, that both players will perform adequately in the role, offering me overlapping runs down the left flank, and penetration in the final third. So, what’s different about them though…?

  • Gibbs is better on the ball – his dribbling, first touch & flair are all better than Monreal – this means he is more likely to create an assist for me through some individual skill
  • Gibbs is a bit quicker too – which will only enhance his ability to take on opponents directly – his recovery pace therefore is also better
  • Monreal is more intelligent – his teamwork is better, as is his concentration – so offensively he will combine with the midfield a little better, and defensively he is less likely to be caught out.
  • Monreal is also more aggressive – his aggression and bravery are excellent, and helps him win the ball in a one-on-one duel a little more often, as well as a better aerial presence
  • Monreal is stronger – which links with his aggression – he is slightly stronger, a slightly better leap, which when combined with his aggression and defensive nous means he is the better “defender” of the two.

This is where a subtle tactical variation can reap rewards. Kieran Gibbs may be better at breaking down a tough defence, as the quality of his ball in the final third is likely to be better, and his recovery pace if I get caught on the break is also a touch better too. I may conversely decide to play Monreal in a tougher game, as he is less likely to be caught out defensively, and is more likely to offer additional aerial support in my team which is slightly on the short side. The other option I have with these players, is to play both on the left flank, with 1 in front of the other – this is a common way I tend to see out a result. Playing a Defensive Winger ahead of an Attacking Wing Back – meaning we have a disciplined tracker, and a good defensive relationship.

Right Wing

My next debate is on the right flank, where I now look at 2 candidates – Theo Walcott & Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain has no PPM’s.

Theo Walcott has the following PPM’s:

So again, let’s look at the similarities:

  • Both are very quick
  • Both have a relatively direct/positive nature
  • Both are quite balanced mentally, with decent work rate and intelligence

In my team, I play a fairly direct player on the right wing to add some width and directness to the team. This allows me to play combination play on the left, but attack down the right quickly to exploit gaps and use pace. Both players though have major differences:

  • Walcott is much better in front of goal
  • Walcott is quicker than Chamberlain – despite the fact Chamberlain is quick, Walcott is faster, and more agile too. This makes Walcotts pace much more dangerous.
  • Chamberlain is a little stronger
  • Chamberlain is a much better dribbler – his Dribbling, Technique & Flair are much better than Walcott’s – this combined with his strength means he is less easy to knock off the ball, as well as being better with the ball at his feet.
  • Chamberlain is a little better defensively – as well as his strength, his concentration, decisions and bravery are better.

Utilising these 2 players is actually a straightforward decision. Theo Walcott is much better at getting in behind a high line, or finishing chances because of his electric pace and his much better finishing – quite simply you want him to finish off the moves, and less of the creating. Walcott’s PPM’s also enhance this, as he likes to use his pace to get past opponents, as opposed to relying on technical skill. Chamberlain however is trickier with the ball at his feet, and is a much better creator. Chamberlain would be better against an organised defence trying to keep shape as his dribbling is more likely to create space by unseating the organised defence – whereas Walcott can exploit larger gaps, or a higher line with his finishing and pace to get away from his marker.

Central Midfield

Finally my central midfield choice (well one of them anyway); Aaron Ramsey or Jack Wilshere. With the system I play, Arteta is the more defensive of my trio, with Ozil/Cazorla often playing ahead of them. This means I have room for only 1 of these 2 gifted midfielders. Once again, they fit what I want from my supporting central midfielder, but they offer a different take on the role.

Aaron Ramsey has the following PPM’s:

Jack Wilshere has the following PPM’s:

The notable similarities are:

  • Both are technically excellent
  • Both have excellent teamwork and work rate
  • Both are defensively capable

My supporting central midfield player has to be able to everything to greater or lesser degrees. They must be technically good, with a good engine. However the player needs to be able to play a reliable part defensively, assisting my more defensive central midfielder.

The differences between these 2 players are:

  • Wilshere is much more direct – he has better dribbling & flair, and his PPM’s encourage him to get forward as soon as possible
  • Wilshere is much more aggressive – his aggression & bravery are high, and his PPM encourages him to get into challenges
  • Wilshere is a touch more intelligent – he has better anticipation, leadership & teamwork
  • Ramsey tends to pass as opposed to dribble – he has mildly better passing, and tends to try killer balls often
  • Ramsey is a better goalscorer – his finishing is much better than Wilshere’s
  • Ramsey is a better tackler
  • Ramsey has a better engine and fitness

In terms of using these 2 players, Wilshere is more likely to create a chance through a moment of individual skill – and I also expect him to make more positive runs off the ball to force a chance or opening. If I elect to play a high pressing game then Wilshere’s aggressive style will suit this plan, especially as any fouls his style causes are likely to be higher up the pitch, away from goal. Ramsey on the other hand, is less aggressive, but picks his tackles a little better, and is more disciplined and a better choice than Wilshere in a game I expect to sit a bit deeper. Ramsey is also a better goalscorer and therefore more likely to finish a chance created with a late run into the penalty area. The difference in movement is also important – Wilshere will tend to make a direct run in behind, or into advanced areas to score goals, however, Ramsey will tend to stay with play, rather than bursting ahead, but will look to make a late surge into the area, or, get onto a cut back from the byline.


The key to using these subtle differences to their best, is to think about your game plan and which player will maximise what you are trying to do. If I want to press aggressively, then perhaps should I play Wilshere ahead of Ramsey? Should I then go with Monreal to add to the aggression? Or should I go with Gibbs to make use of his better recovery pace? The next aspect of this, is to know your players. This may be an obvious point – but I know my players attributes (not maybe every single attribute exactly, but I have a very good idea who has what attributes), and PPM’s as well as these dramatically tailor the style the player adopts. Using this knowledge from my memory, I know that Giroud plays with his back to goal, and Welbeck tries to beat the offside trap – both players fit the system, but I can pick which player will suit the style I am going to play most effectively, which will complement the team as a whole. Making the right changes and adaptation as you go can honestly earn you anything from an extra 5 points a year, to maybe 10 or 20 points. It is 1 thing to have a game plan, but it is another making the game plan work.

2 thoughts on “Variety and Subtlety: Getting the extra points out of your team.”

  1. Would you advocate change of role alongside change of personnel as well?

    For example, Debuchy are better of as CWB while his backup Chambers are better as WBS.

Leave a Reply