Finding Space as a Lone Striker

By Rees Linn

Youth strikers generally develop in two striker systems, and often, the transition into a system that employs a lone striker can be a frustrating one. One of the most difficult concepts for young strikers to grasp in a lone striker system is how to find space behind the opposing backline. The difficulties arise because of systematic differences in how space opens up behind defenders. In a two striker system, strikers are able to use each other’s runs to pull defenders out of position, but in a lone striker system, the midfield must be capable of working the ball into areas that force defenders to shift out of position.

This season, Robin Van Persie and Arsenal have clearly figured out what it takes to score with only one player up top; a fact reinforced by Van Persie’s incredible scoring record over the course of the 2011/2012 campaign (26 goals in 30 Premier League appearances at the time I’m writing this). One of the things that has set Van Persie and his supporting cast apart is the ability of Arsenal’s midfielders to work the ball through opposing midfields, which forces opposing backlines to shift forward to apply pressure, creating space for Van Persie to move into. Here is a quick example from Arsenal’s win against Everton this week:

1. Song receives the ball in space, and with limited help from Everton’s midfield, Distin must step forward to close down Song’s attacking space.

2. Van Persie anticipates the space opening up behind Distin and begins his run.

3. Song slides the ball into the space beyond Distin, and Van Persie is in on goal.

Rees Linn is a student of the game living in Dallas, TX. He can be reached at for writing or coaching opportunities.

Posted in Coaching | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

4 responses to “Finding Space as a Lone Striker”

  1. jacklondon says:

    In my opinion Distin did bed movement. Central defender should be 1 st defender and Distin 2 st defender( support and stay in the defence line) .
    If Distin want be 1 st defender then the midfield should takes his place(support player)

  2. Rees Linn says:

    Thanks for the comment jacklondon. I appreciate the feedback. I think what you’re saying is that the Everton CM (looks like Cahill) should have pressured Song, and that Distin should have held his line. That would have been ideal for Everton, but I don’t think Distin was entirely convinced that Cahill going to be able to close down Song before he was in shooting range. Regardless, my objective was not to point out the defensive mistakes in the example, but rather, to point out that when playing w/ a lone striker, it’s the midfield who draws the backline out of position, and the striker that must recognize the space behind. Feel free to shoot me an email if you’d like to see an additional example or two – I simply used this one because the images were the clearest. Thanks again!

  3. roy wiseman says:

    There should be countless examples considering the pathetic attempts at defending by most of these ‘First Rate ‘ teams. You only have to look at the positions and movement (lack of) of the two fullbacks in this example. I’m only surprised Van Persie hasn’t scored more goals this season.

  4. sims says:

    pathetic attempts at defending…totaly agree. This is to easy for players like RVP, defenders should see this room and close it. But as an example for ten years kids it is a good way to learn not to just run straight to the goalline.

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