At the end of the 2018/19 season, football waved goodbye to one of the greatest wingers of his generation, Arjen Robben. The decorated Dutchman, who has winner’s medals for the Premier League, Eredivisie, La Liga and the Champions League to name a few, called time on his impressive career following the winning of his eighth Bundesliga title with Bayern Munich. Fast forward to June 2020, and the footballing landscape has altered drastically for many teams around the globe, thanks to the impact of COVID-19. The financial effects of the pandemic caused numerous clubs to cut back on budgets and staff alike – Eredivisie side Groningen suffered because of exactly this. Enter a hero – Arjen Robben, who started his illustrious career at the Dutch side in 2000, announced that he was returning to the club to help them recover from the COVID-19 impact. A player with such experience and talent could benefit Groningen in several areas, as the following analysis will show. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of Robben, highlight areas of his game that will be of great value to his latest club.
Off the Ball Contributions
Even in his final season, when he was aged 36, Robben displayed an impressive level of pace and desire to make runs into dangerous areas. While the winger is famed for the vintage move of dribbling down the right-wing before cutting inside to get the ball onto his left foot, his vision and timing of various types of runs has gone underappreciated.
The first example sees Robben located in a narrower position than you would usually expect him to be. Following a quick piece of combination play before the halfway line, Munich were able to break past Benfica’s midfield unit, leaving them in a position to execute a dangerous and direct attack with the opposition’s backline high up the pitch. The distance between Benfica’s left-back and centre back (highlighted in blue) is sizeable – either the gap between them should be shorter, or the central defender should be slightly deeper to prevent any through balls being executed quickly. However, since the space is there, and identified by Robben, he bursts into the area to help Munich continue this quick attack. While the final pass to him was unsuccessful, the timing of the run was good enough for Munich to pose a threat to Benfica.
Similar to the previous analysis, the run made by Robben in this example relies on the poor positioning of the nearby defenders, as well as their lack of focus. The scenario in this analysis is a deep attacking free-kick for Bayern, and their set up suggests that this may have been a training ground routine. Munich’s right-hand side has a heavy presence, with six of their players occupying that side of the final third, with Robben the lone attacking option on the opposite side. This routine relies on Robben’s run-timing and his pace to get the edge over his marker, with the added benefit of the defenders likely expecting the cross to be located on the other side of the box. This is backed up by the body positioning of the two highlighted defenders – neither look 100% aware of Robben’s intentions, with the deeper of the two attempting to cover the area he anticipates Robben will try to enter. If the cross was hit slightly further than it was, Robben would’ve been able to control the ball before launching a cross to one of his many teammates in the box.
In the analysis above, we see the level of game understanding and football knowledge that Robben possesses. The scenario sees the highlighted defensive unit starting to push higher before Munich quickly win the ball back and play a pass to the player in the pocket in front of the defence. As this is happening, Robben notices the movement of the defensive unit, and opts to make a quick burst run on the inside of the Leverkusen left-back as the central player receives the ball for Munich. This type of curved run performed at such pace can be difficult to defend, especially when the defensive unit is already trying to push out. It can cause confusion between the defending left-back and centre-back if they fail to communicate and reposition efficiently. Robben clearly makes this run with a vision in mind – the player in the middle receiving the pass for Munich to bounce the pass on the half-turn into Robben’s path to provide a chance on goal. However, with the speed that this attack was executed at, this is a very difficult and intricate manoeuvre.
The final analysis of Robben’s movement off the ball is another prime example of his awareness and attacking intent, as well as his ability to identify and take advantage of poor defensive organisation from the opposition. With Munich in possession wide on the right-wing, there is considerable space between the ball and the central Munich player. Robben recognises the damage that can be dealt by the central player in space and uses himself as a temporary decoy. Upon calling for the ball and then cleverly dummying the pass, he makes an attacking run in the gap between the left-back and centre back of Leverkusen. Thanks to the pace of the pass, by the time Robben reaches a dangerous area inside the box, the recipient of the ball can play a first time pass into the feet of Robben – in fact, the pass was almost too direct as it got slightly stuck under Robben’s feet, slowing the attack down slightly. However, the timing of the run was once again near perfect from the veteran, who shows that he still has a lot of pace to put to use.
On the Ball Talent
While Arjen Robben has a lot offer off the ball, he is most impressive on the ball, with a frightening ability to change a game in the blink of an eye. Whether he’s weaving in and out of players like they aren’t even there, or picking out an impressive pass, or bending a strike into the far corner, his attacking assets can be of extremely high importance to any side.
We mentioned Robben’s ability to play a clever pass, and the analysis above is a strong example of this. He starts the phase with one of his vintage moves – facing up to the defender before dropping the shoulder and cutting further inside onto his left foot. He then spots the run of his teammate who bursts from the edge of the box towards the six-yard area. After shifting inside slightly, Robben plays a lofted pass into the path of the highlighted teammate but can’t quite put the chance away. A number of attributes are on display at the hands of this move from Robben – he shows that his ability to take players on was still very much a danger in 2018/19, as well as demonstrating that he has the delicacy in his game to execute an incisive pass into a dangerous area. In a scenario where lesser players would take a chance at running past the outside of the full-back or hitting a hopeful cross, Robben had a clear idea of attack in mind and executed his part very effectively. In his final season before his return, Robben collected three assists in total, with contributions in many more attacks.
This analysis shows the real danger that Arjen Robben can add to an attack, and cause trouble for the opposition with the tightest of spaces in the shortest of durations. While he already has a Leverkusen defender facing up to him, a second opponent closes in to make it a two-on-one situation. This is where he utilizes his close control, using a couple of swift touches to weave in and out of the two opponents before bursting away into the penalty area. While this is happening, his teammate is making a supporting run from central midfield, arriving at the edge of the box as Robben faces up to find a cross in the box. The chance doesn’t fully materialise, but Robben showed immense technique in his dribbling to beat two players with one action before finding his teammate at the edge of the area. While he will add many qualities to Groningen, his ability to spearhead attacks in this fashion will help his new side rectify the attacking struggles they faced during the 2019/20 season.
The final analysis in this report epitomises Arjen Robben’s style of play. Before finding himself in the position he’s in above, he was surrounded by the three Benfica players who are marked in blue. Again, Robben used quick but close control to manoeuvre through the opposition, burst away, and set himself in a one vs one situation with the next defender. From here, he wrong-foots the defender, who can be seen almost stretching in the opposite direction to where Robben is ultimately heading. After cutting inside further and finding some space for himself, he unleashes a classic Robben shot – across the keeper with placement and power, to put his side ahead. Player who can produce such moments can earn vital points for their team across the season, even when the team might be having an off day themselves.
Groningen will be fully aware they haven’t signed a prime Arjen Robben, but they’ll be equally aware of how much he can add to their side. While Arjen may be a little slower and less able to complete 90 minutes in the 20/21 season, he has the potential to take the club up a level from their 19/20 performance. Groningen had one of the best defensive records in the Eredivisie in the 2019/20 season before it was curtailed, but also held one of the lowest goalscoring records in the division. A signing such as this will provide them with a different attacking avenue to explore, as well as having a player in the squad who has that rare ability to single-handedly turn a half-chance into a goal. His presence in the dressing room and on the training pitch will also provide a great boost to the Groningen squad, and if they can keep the winger fit, he can help them pick up some valuable points.