‘It’ll be free-flowing’: Arnold sets out Socceroos’ attacking stall
Kuwait City: Mile Jedinak and Tim Cahill were the twin leadership pillars of the Socceroos team for the best part of 10 years, but Australian football also came to rely on the duo for goals. While their international retirements will undoubtedly leave the national team short on experience, their absence will also compel the squad to seek new and more varied routes to goal.
Highlighting how predictable the Socceroos' attack had become recent years, their last seven goals in competitive games came either from the head of Cahill or a Jedinak set-piece. Following their departure, new coach Graham Arnold has seized on the opportunity to rebuild Australia's attacking gameplan.
Arnold has spent the bulk of his first two training camps working on his attacking rotations in an attempt to create more chances for more players. An intensive restructure first took place at a camp in Turkey last month before being refined in Dubai last week. It will be on display for the first time against Kuwait on Monday night (Tuesday morning, Sydney time) in Kuwait City and could bear the hallmarks of some of Europe's elite.
"We've done a full analysis of the top teams across Europe; Manchester City breaking records last year with the most goals, Barca, Juve – we see a common theme to replicate, about getting numbers an area in the penalty box in front of goal. The more you get in, the more chance you have of scoring. Then it's about getting the delivery right," Arnold said.
Instead of being contained out wide, Australia will look to attack more centrally and aim to always have four players inside the box attacking every ball. The fluid attacking rotations Arnold employed to such effect in his trophy-laden spell at Sydney FC will be the basis of his style with the Socceroos.
"It's about playing players to their strengths. Australians always have great disciple, great attitude, that's the least you expect. With the attack, we're giving them rotations, options and freedom. Freedom to express and show their qualities, especially in the opposition half, and freedom of choice," he said.
Arnold won't rely on on the same players for goals nor the same formation in attack. He plans to use different players for different roles and has already identified lighting quick winger Matt Leckie as a potential solution to the centre-forward role.
"When I heard about it it was pretty exciting. Ive played there a few times for the national team," Leckie said. "It can be dangerous, especially if we want to hit them on the break. Sometimes a lack of concentration from the opposition defence and one ball in behind can be very dangerous. Im looking forward to it if I get the chance to play there."
The Hertha Berlin winger is unlikely to start at the arrowhead of Australia's attack in Kuwait but remains an option for the future in that position. He will retain his usual position at right wing, set to support Apostolos Giannou as the centre-forward with Robbie Kruse on the left wing. Against Kuwait, Tom Rogic is fancied to start as the number 10 behind Giannou but is another who could be tipped to play as a centre-forward.
"I have a little bit of time to see but we have Giannou and [Tomi] Juric here, we have [Jamie] Maclaren back at Hibs. We have a different style we can play with three up, Leckie can play through the middle," Arnold said. "Rogic can play as a false nine so we are giving them options and it won't be set in stone. The system doesn't make the players, it's about the style which will be free-flowing with an emphasis on pressing."
There will be no abandoning of Australia's sound defensive structure as Arnold inherits a stable backline built by his predecessor, Bert van Marwijk. However, they will function more aggressively when they go forward and with more bodies, leading to more options. After years of relying on Cahill and Jedinak, the Socceroos could find themselves with plenty of saviours in attack if Arnold gets his way.
"I believe we played a certain way for one person to score, we played wide, went wide and delivered. We'll have a couple of different ways; we'll go wide but have three or four in the box, not one. We'll play through the middle. I have complete trust that these boys will make a great statement on Monday night," he said.
Dominic Bossi is a football reporter with The Sydney Morning Herald.