“It’s important to always try and play forwards, because that’s where the goal is, but if you can’t go forward, play sideways – keeping possession is the most important thing. To do this you have to have a picture in your head of what you’re going to do with the ball before it comes to you. A good way to work on this is by playing two-touch keep-ball – five versus two chasing players – in a tight space. Working on little situations like this will help you take these skills into a game.”
Stay on the move
“Always be on the move and watch where your marker is. Vary your movement – run in behind and then come short, or vice-versa. Make your marker feel uncomfortable by running into areas where they don’t want to go. The key is to get a bit of space so you can look for the pass or run with the ball, but once you’ve made a pass don’t sit back and admire it. Look at the Barcelona players: once they’ve released it they make themselves available for another pass.”
Work on your shape
“Knowing the shape of the team is important. At Arsenal we work on ‘play-throughs’. For this exercise the team lines up in their positions out on the pitch unopposed, sometimes against mannequins, and you play the ball from back to front – from goalkeeper to striker – at match intensity. This exercise helps you learn where your team-mates are, so when it comes to a game you will know where to find them naturally. You can progress this exercise by playing one-touch.”
Alter the point of attack
“At Arsenal we work on all different types of passing. If you want to switch the play with one pass you have to strike through it – technique is more important than power. First you need to get the ball out of your feet, so balance yourself by putting your arm out like you’re striking a shot and then hit through it. Practise by working with a team-mate and pinging long balls to each other. Make it like a game situation by having another team-mate apply pressure to the passer.”
Protect the ball
“If an opponent is coming towards you face-on then you can drop your shoulder and push off with your other foot, giving you the edge. If the opponent is coming at you from behind, you have to protect the ball – that’s why upper body strength is very important. You have to be aware of the players around you, and use your arms and strength to push yourself away from challenges. If you’re small like me, you have to use your low centre of gravity and power.”
Perfect your first touch
“The most important thing about beating a player is your first touch – if that’s good you can do whatever you want with the ball. At Arsenal I’ll surround myself with rebound boards, hit the ball off one, then turn and look to hit another – using both feet. If you haven’t got rebound boards, use a wall or play pass and move with your mates. Another good way to work on your touch is by doing kick-ups or by booting the ball up into the air and trying to bring it down.”
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