The Arsenal & Arsene Dilemma: What’s Wrong?
Arsenal suffer their worst defeat ever, losing 8-2 to Manchester United, just days after losing two of their most influential players, Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas (to Manchester City and Barcelona respectively).
They were outclassed in every department of the game by an equally youthful Man United team, managed by an equally ‘seasoned’ manager, Sir Alex Ferguson. Arsenal are currently at the bottom area of the Premier League table, 17th position.
Their fans are furious, disappointed and, from information reaching me, some are even threatening boycotts. leading Arsene Wenger (seasoned coach/manager of Arsenal) to issue an official apology to the fans.
What is wrong with Arsenal?
In the recent past, fans, the general public and, indirectly, certain current Arsenal players, have criticized the refusal of Arsene Wenger to buy top, ‘experienced’ quality players to strengthen his team and win the long awaited silverware that the club has been seeking for years. However, Wenger insists he will spend money only if the right players (at the right price) can be found.
Arsenal have bought four new players since the transfer window opened (Ivory Coast’s Gervinho and the youthful trio of Carl Jenkins, Alex Ox lade-Chamberlain and Joel Campbell from Charlton) but as you may have noticed as well, these are far from being household names that the fans are clamoring to see.
Arsenal Football Club are one of the most successful clubs in English football history, having won 13 League titles and 10 FA Cups.
In the 2003/2004 season, they set the record for the longest uninterrupted winning run in the English top flight and to date are the only side to have completed a Premier League season ‘UNBEATEN’.
That team, under manager Arsene Wenger, had, among others, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Ashley Cole, Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann, Fredrik Ljungberg, Robert Pirès, Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira.
Arsenal are also the third most valuable Association football club in the world as of 2010, valued at $1.2 billion and are today probably the best financially disciplined team in the world.
So why is Arsene Wenger being so ‘heady’ and refusing to buy experienced ‘big’ names to help win titles and appease the critics? Why has the club descended as low as it is today?
The reasons, I feel, are multifaceted!
Arsene Wenger has been manager of Arsenal for 15 years now. He is the longest serving manager in the history of this club and has won 11 titles for Arsenal in 15 years. His playing philosophy is an offensive, short passing game philosophy.
Arsenal under Arsene Wenger have seen loads of young, relatively unknown players, who later became European/world stars and were sold just before they started to decline at much higher prices than they were bought for.
This is possible because Wenger has a very good scouting network. When Arsenal was successful under Wenger, the influential and key players in his team were not the experienced world-matured stars that some are clamoring for, but upcoming, youthful stars he discovered.
I feel Arsenal’s problem or lack of success lately does not only lie with the fact that he refuses to buy top experienced players but it goes deeper than that.
Other wealthier clubs have also followed and even bettered Arsene Wengers’ search for young, unknown talent. Hence Arsenal is no longer first choice to these young players — Chelsea, Barcelona, Manchester United, Manchester City are!These players now cost more than Arsenal can afford or wants to pay.
As stated above, Arsene Wenger and the Arsenal board are trying to run (and are really successful at it) a healthy, debt-free football club, unlike the other debt-ridden but title-winning big clubs that are out there now. Be it Real Madrid, Barcelona, Manchester united, Tottenham etc, they are run in debt and astronomical debt at that!
Chelsea and Manchester City are run by multi-billionaire owners (Abrahamovic and Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan). One cannot fail to ask what will happen to these clubs should, and when, the billionaires decide to leave.
However, I believe an integral part of Arsenal’s problem lies in the tactical aspect of the game (Arsenal’s tactical setup, I believe has lead them to recruit wrongfully in the recent past).
Arsenal play very similar to Barcelona : full of ball possession, youthful exuberance, traded passes and pace. In 2006, Arsenal came very close to winning the prestigious champions league, losing in the finals to Barcelona, and they lost again last season to Barcelona, again in the champion’s league.
The beautiful game of football is built around two phases; the phase when you have possession of the ball and the phase when your opponent has possession. Your ability to maintain control of both phases in your favor, against your opponents, determines how bright your chances of winning trophies are.
Some may question if it wouldn?t suffice to just have more possession of the ball than the opponent? Well Arsenal does that every season and still has no titles.
Arsenal rightfully plays a very offensive game.(Modern football)Everyone tries to be implicated in the offensive play. They need a lot of synchronised movement to create and use space in often intentionally reduced playing areas by their opponents. They, however, do this without an equally synchronised mode for immediate aggressive ball recuperation when they eventually lose the ball.
The opponent is not constantly put under pressure in dangerous areas by Arsenal, enough pressure to make them make errors at important stages. Due to this, every time they lose the ball there is the likelihood that they have lots of players out of starting positions, far away from their opponents, meaning there is a vacuum in the team’s balance.
This is the major difference between Arsenal and Barcelona!
When you watch Barcelona play, they average 65 per cent of ball possession. Everyone, the goal keeper included, plays an important role in the construction and offensive play. Once the ball is lost, you immediately have the same amount of players (everyone) participating in the ball recovery, coupled with immediate pressure, initiated by the player closest to the ball. Hence control & team balance is always kept.
This was very obvious when they lost 8-2 to Manchester United. With almost every goal they conceded, short of the set pieces, the Man United player that gave the last pass or the one who scored had very little or no pressure when he struck.
Not only does Arsenal have to continue to play like they do, but in my opinion it would be very fruitful to also pay more detailed and structured attention to the phase when they do not have the ball.
For starters, always having a 70 per cent ‘defensive-minded’ midfielder behind the ball, even when they are attacking, would give a lot of balance and security to their game.
This lack of balance also explains why Arsenal are very vulnerable against counterattacks and set plays when they play very robust and balanced teams like Manchester United or Barcelona.
Control also would be welcomed if applied to the age distribution and size of players they have in the team. History has shown that in certain departments of a top team, maturity and size are required. Look at the dominating Arsenal team of the 2003/2004 season and compare it with today?s Arsenal?. you see what I mean?
Some schools of thought believe :
1. The Arsenal team is lacking a strong-willed leader on the pitch.
2. Team is too young and hence lacks experience.
3. Team lacks real weight up front and hence has no deadly point striker in the mold of Henry or Adebayor.
4. Most of the players are too similar in size and playing style.
5. Too many injuries.
6. Over dependent on one player, eg Henry, in the past and lately Fabregas and now Van Persie!
7. They have problems defending against counterattacks.
8. They are said to have problems defending set pieces.
9. They have problems winning against the big teams.
The list goes on and on, depending on whom you talk to.
These schools of thoughts would have you thinking that Arsenal is a dead or dying team. But no! In as much as I do agree with some of the above outlined thoughts, I still think Arsenal are one of the most spectacular teams in the world. They need some quick adjustments and a rethink but not in the ‘bankruptcy for titles’ direction.
Some playing style changes could be useful.
They are once again qualified for the champions league group stages, having recently eliminated Udinese of Italy. The season has just begun. Only time will tell.