Wenger: How to improve your 5-a-side
In part two of his examination of 5-a-side football, Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, provides six rules that will help you improve your 5-a-side football... instantly.
1: Play in the right position
“It’s important that you have the right players in the right positions,” says Arsene, which sounds like stating the obvious. But remember that this is the man who turned Emmanuel Petit into a holding midfielder, Lauren into a full-back and Thierry Henry into a striker.
“If you have doubts about what positions suit each member of your team, you might want to look at their personality,” he continues. “I find that quiet, efficient guys make the best strikers. If they are cool and even a little aloof, they can be very effective up front.
"Those who like to share, are more gregarious and outgoing, are made for midfield. Then you have the more aggressive ones, the type who likes to take from others, stop their progress. Make those people your defenders.”
Sorting out your team’s best positions is fundamental to your success, says Wenger. “If you get that right, their natural qualities develop, they become better in their positions and your team can progress and reap the benefits.” It’s like having Fitz from Cracker in charge of your team.
2: Choose a 1-2-1 formation
Most five-a-side players like to do a bit of everything with no fixed positions: total football, they often call it, though opponents prefer another two-word phrase: easy pickings.
So how can you set your team out most effectively? After all, you don’t have the freedom to play 4-4-2, 4-3-3, 3-5-2, 4-1-3-2 and so on when you’ve only got five players...
“Like the 11-a-side game, you do have options when it comes to picking the right formation,” says Arsene. “You can play two at the back, one in midfield and one up front, or you can have one attacker and three defenders but I would suggest a formation that nicely marries defence with attack.
“On the face of it, my recommended formation is 1-2-1. One defender, one attacker, with two what I would call offensive full-backs. These two players should fall back and defend when you don’t have the ball but be ready to get forward and attack when necessary.
This is a formation that I feel will allow you to play the best and most effective five-a-side. You’ll be strong in defence, and dangerous in attack.”
3: Find a proper goalkeeper
How do you build your five-a-side dream team? From the back, says Arsene. “First of all try and secure a good keeper, someone not just willing to stand in the goal but who’ll give you a confident last line of defence. The other option is to take it into turns but for me this is a negative tactic and doesn’t allow for any cohesion. Get yourself a goalkeeper.
“In front of your goalie, you need a good defender. This position is very important. Not only should this player be willing to block, tackle and spoil, he or she must also be comfortable starting attacks and therefore should be a decent passer.
"I like to think of the defender as a quarterback type of player. If you get it right, you can be the player who dictates the team’s performance.”
4: Counter-attack beats possession
Possession is the key to success in football, right? Well, not necessarily…
“If you watch five-a-side, most goals will come from a quick burst upfield,” explains Arsene. “One or two passes and then shoot. It is the teams that have too much of the ball and are playing too many passes amongst themselves that have the least success. Be quick, be ruthless and you’ll be successful.”
Ah yes, the good old counter-attack. “Playing on the break with quick passes from defence can be a hugely effective and entertaining tactic in 11-a-side and the same can be said for the smaller version of the game,” continues The Guru.
“By sitting back and defending you are tempting your opposition to lose their shape, frustrating them, before winning the ball and scoring on the break. But to do it well, the two full-back/midfield players are vital. They must support the defender and nullify the other team, but in a flash, break out and get among the goals.”
Which brings us to…
5: Leave your ego in the dressing room
There are so many differences between 11-a-side and its five-a-side sibling, but one universal truth remains: goals win matches. That’s why your striker has to be something special, but it’s also why a little humility goes a long way.
“Attacking egos must be left in the dressing room,” says Arsene. “Your striker needs to have a lot to his or her game. They must be eager to get in behind and to score goals, of course, but in five-aside they must also be very unselfish. They must be able to play with their back to goal, bring in the attacking full-backs with little wall passes.”
And when you are attacking, don’t forget to have one eye on defence: things change quickly in five-a-side.
“You are always susceptible to a goal on the break and should guard against it. So attack as a team but always leave a player safely at the back. It doesn’t have to be the defender: don’t be rigid, but be safe.”
6: Enjoy yourself
We all love winning, but let’s face it, the world won’t end if we lose the odd game of five-a-side football. Which is why Arsene has one final point to make.
“The last bit of advice I can give is to go out and enjoy yourself,” he smiles. “There’s nothing better than playing the game with your mates, giving it your all, hopefully winning and then going for a drink afterwards.
“That doesn’t have to be alcoholic drink, by the way,” he adds, “but if you must, go on – you deserve it.”
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