Featured in the Gooner Fanzine – pick up your outside The Emirates on matchday!!
No matter how long we endure a barren run, we always had a weapon primed for severe cases of Banteritis. Under rigorous negative focus, the majestic steed we rode into battle atop was always our flowing play. We could unlock a packed defence with our masterful artisans. We had passes up our sleeves that would flummox even the most astute defender.
Wengerball. It has been our most prized asset for some time. Even during seasons past when our squad was being pilliaged by the tyrannical might of Manchester and Chelsea were enjoying the fruits from their siege-football, the way we set up on the pitch drew admiring glances not only from begrudging journalists – but from the footballing elite.
No matter that the finest of our lockpickers had either left our bereft nest or had been lured by promises of filthy lucre. We could always test a backline with our triangular passing and Action Man Eagle-Eye Vision.
You’ve just won the Champions League? It matters not, for the finest football in the land is played by us! You sit their adorned in silverware yet the manner in which you obtained these treasures was forged deep in the bowels of the worst hell you can imagine.
You have just obtained another League Title I hear you cry? Hush your flapping gums and watch as we carve open yet another opponent with movement and passing that entices dribble from your gaping mouths! For we are The Arsenal! Victoria Concordia Crescit!
Last season however, we have played football more akin to pig colonoscopy. Replace our sure-footed pass and move fatalities and replace it with a fat dollop of tentative presence around the box. Whereas before we had attackers that were fleet of foot and would bust their sac to get into the box – we now have three or four players who take up more or less the same position just outside the box and attempt in vain to pull of a pass that requires the ball to go through more obstacles than a game of Mousetrap.
Sure, we have had legitimate excuses. With an injury list that at times put an NHS waiting list to shame and world class players missing from our line-up at intermittent points, we can point to this and shift blame. In my humble opinion though, even the season before last, we showed signs that Wengerball was struggling to shine through. On more than one occasion we have had to grind our teeth and put our footballing ideals on the backburner.
Last season has seemed to all and sundry to be the death knell for Wenger’s philosophy on the pitch. Dithering, hesitant passes – hovering expectantly just outside the 18yd box for someone, anyone, to lay it on a plate with an Ozil through ball. How many times have you screamed/shouted/gesticulated at our team to make a run? It would seem that crab-football for the first 60 minutes is the only thing on the menu at Cafe a la Arsenal lately.
The most infuriating thing about us though? If our opponent scores against us – then we throw on the afterburners. We start to cook.
Why? Why can’t we start games like we used to? Straight from kick-off, use our undeniable pace to frighten a disorientated opposition? My good friend @JamesRaulStokes makes an unpopular but wholly true point – We used to start games just like Liverpool started them when they were enjoying their Luis Suarez renaissance. From the off, we were like a dog in heat which has picked up a scent. When was the last time you can say we have done this? Aside from the 3-0 destruction of Manchester United, we have lacked the zip which used to be one of our characteristics.
Is it simply urgency that is lacking from our game? Do we need a few pubes ripped out in order to pique our curiosity? Is arrogance to blame? Do our players reserve 10% as they think that our play will be too strong no matter who we are playing? Am I asking too many questions?
With the fairytale emergence of Leicester and our maligned neighbours enjoying superiority for the lion’s share of the season, this can act as another indicator of where the future lies in regards to tactics. Ranieri and Pochettino have their sides pressing all over the pitch and their intense pressure reaps rewards. The common train of thought was that an inevitable slump would follow at the business end of the season as no team can maintain that incredible level of fitness – but upon peering at the League table, it appears we were wrong.
Our tactics seem stale, too often we have been blunted simply by sheer numbers in defence. This has always been an effective approach against us, but with a world-class playmaker in the form of Mesut Ozil playing for us, and the wealth of talent we have on show – not to mention the growth of the players who have been residing in our stable for a number of years – shouldn’t our play be so refined, so razor sharp by now, that most teams simply have no answer for us?
Dennis Bergkamp was recently interviewed by former teammate and another Gunners hero – Martin Keown. Aside from the talk of past glories in an Arsenal shirt that they shared, the Iceman also took time to eulogise about one of his – and football’s – greatest inspirations, Johan Cruyff. He said;
” At Ajax, we always play 4-3-3, always with wingers, always attacking, always trying to dominate. If you’ve got good players with football intelligence then you can form a team. That is what Cruyff had. He felt to win games without attacking football is boring, but to play attacking football without winning is useless”.
Wenger’s footballing ethos isn’t dead. He wants a pass and move mentality, to work spaces on the pitch where previously there wasn’t any. He values possession and of course, when you have the ball, then you cannot concede. What our manager DOES need to do, is update his system. He has always valued pace as an asset, so why not utilise this and counter attack with lethal rapidity like we used to? The Foxes and spurs – at times – have shown this works so very well. It is all well and good having the ball, but if it isn’t moving, then what is the point?
The other end of the footballing spectrum is the football that Mourinho-led teams play. The backs-to-the-wall, break us down if you can type of play. This would go against the Arsenal grain to play this way. Winning is the most important thing, but at what cost are you willing to pay?
Imagine paying our ridiculous prices to watch our team play, only for them to grind out every single game. We set ourselves apart from all else through our style, the Arsenal Way. Would you be willing to swap the decent play for three points?
It is a moral dilemma, but at this present time, it isn’t even relevant, as we are so far removed from what is expected. We must first revive our tactics before we can even question whether the swap would be worth it.
So, to surmise, we need to shape up. We need to inject our play with a bit of urgency and utilise the primary weapons we have to offer – namely speed of thought and body. Hopefully Gloria Estefan was right – the rhythm will get us.