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City and Arsenal = Finger Pointing

By Nick Webster



Flowing end-to-end football is what most in the game love to witness and to be fair, the Premier league, certainly provides that spectacle, and yet week-after-week, set pieces decide far more matches and cause more finger pointing than we’d care to admit. Case in point, this weekend and the two matches involving past and present members of the ‘old and new big 4’, Liverpool, Manchester United, Arsenal and Manchester City.

United’s Robin van Persie scored the winner at Anfield from a debatable spot kick after Reds defender, Glen Johnson was adjudged to have fouled, Antonio Valencia, while the spoils were shared at Etihad Stadium, thanks to the inability of either side to mark up properly at corner kicks, the focus of today’s piece. Man-to-man or zonal.

So while I hope we can agree that defences are all but powerless to influence penalties or superbly placed free kicks, the corner has but a few variations that surely even the most inattentive side can deal with.

The defensive convention is simple. Either a team marks up man-to-man or a zonal system is applied. It doesn’t seem difficult but arguments about the two variations stir up passion and disagreement in equal measure.

Man-to-man marking is based on the simple premise that you stay with your assigned opponent and do everything in your power, legal or illegal to stop him from getting to the ball.

Zonal marking on the other hand, requires a little more guile, to the point where it’s considered, dare I say, ‘un-English’. City manager, Roberto Mancini and Arsenal’s, Arsene Wenger both employ defending zones.

Defenders are given an area to cover and if the ball enters their zone, they should be first to it. If they don’t win that first ball, the second ball ‘MUST’ be won. Coaches place the best headers of a ball the most dangerous areas, the near post, far post and that pocket right in front of the six-yard box.

Zonal defending promotes a collective versus a personal responsibility and that is where the problems can start because of dynamic attacking movement. It’s almost impossible to stay with runners and decisions have to be made about who and won’t be picked up.

Now either it was a collective brain fart that Arsenal allowed, Joleon Lescott, a free run to the ball or generosity by City in leaving Laurent Koscielny alone 8 yards from goal but the fact is this, on two corner kicks, zonal marking didn’t work.

Proponents of zonal marking though will say that at least their key players will remain in the danger areas as opposed to getting dragged out of position when favoring man-to-man and they have a point until you see players completely unmarked in an over crowded penalty area.

With the amount of time spent analyzing ever aspect of football especially set pieces, it amazes me that we still see goals scored in the manner we saw on Sunday in Manchester.

Surely the top managerial minds, which Mancini and Wenger claim to be, can devise a system that mixes the best of both world’s so that responsibility will always fall on the player who missed his assignment, after all, its no fun pointing the finger at four when one will do.

So while many of us like to imagine that every goal comes from the top drawer of Carlos Alberto, circa Mexico 1970, that’s simply not the case in today’s professional game especially from corner kicks where, in most cases, someone has fallen asleep.

I want to know what you think? Zonal or man marking - you’re the gaffer, you decide.