Why Arsenal Is ‘Titleless’.
Arsenal Football Club is 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 till date are the only side to have completed a Premier League season ‘UNBEATEN’. That team under manager Arsene Wenger had amongst others as players: 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.
Watching Arsenal (the Gunners as they are fondly called by football lovers) one cannot help but admire how beautiful they play at times. A style of play very similar to Barcelona (co-Incidentally their next opponents in this seasons champions league, come February 16) full of ball possession, youthful exuberance, traded passes, pace,in fact World class.But unlike Barcelona, Arsenal lately has been very barren when it comes to silverware won in recent years (2004-2005 was the last time they won the Premier league). So why is this so? What has been missing? What is that missing ingredient needed to turn this mixture of talented young players, into champions?
A side that currently boasts of great talents like: Fabregas, Rosicky, Van Persie, Nasri, Arshavin, Walcott?amongst others. With a manager who, I still believe is one of the best in the world, Arsene Wenger. This makes one wonder.
This manager seems heaven made for this club: his first name ‘ARSENE’ is synonymous with the club’s name, Arsenal.
In 2006, Arsenal came very close to winning the prestigious champions league, losing in the finals to? ….Barcelona. One is therefore forced to ask, what is missing in this club’s way of playing that is keeping them from winning trophies lately.
Let’s get one thing clear, we are interested here with factors related to tactical and technical reasons for success or lack of it, and not extra sporting factors.
Some school of thoughts believe the reasons are:
1. Personnel deficiencies: a) their goal keepers do not win enough points for them. b) Team is lacking a strong willed leader on the pitch. c) Team is too young and hence lack experience. d) Team Lacks real weight up front and hence no deadly point striker, in the mould of Henry or Adebayor. e) Most of the players are too similar in size and playing style, f) Too much injuries, g) over dependent on one player, e.g. Henry in the past and now Fabregas.
2. They are said to have problems defending counter attacks, 3. They are said to have problems defending set pieces,
4. They have problems winning against the big teams!
The list goes on and on, depending on whom you talk to.
This school of thoughts could have you thinking that Arsenal are sitting way down on the English league table today, or struggling. But no, they are not! They are as at today, few points away from first place on the premier league table. The most spectacular league in the world!
I sincerely believe that with just a few adjustments, they could very well win the league once again soon, even as early as this year.
So what is the missing factor or as I call it, The Missing ingredient? Well, it’s the ‘BALANCE’ ingredient.
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 a well-balanced control of both phases, in your favour, against your opponents, determines how bright your chances of winning trophies are.
Some might say well, wouldn’t it suffice to just have more possession of the ball than the opponent? Well Arsenal does that every season and still no titles!
It is evident that, unless you score against yourself, the opponent can score only if they have ball possession .
Arsenal rightfully plays a very offensive game; everyone tries to be implicated in the offensive play, since their game is high ball possession oriented. It needs a lot of synchronised movement to create and use space in often, intentionally reduced, available, 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. Due to this every time they lose the ball, there is the likelihood that they have lots of players out of starting positions. Meaning there is a vacuum in the team?s balance.
I remember During the William Gallas days (he had a playmakers jersey number ’10’ by the way, whilst playing as a central defender) it was common sight to find him besides his strikers in the goal area of the opponents. Leading one to ask, who was then keeping the defensive balance he should be doing when possession is lost. Do not get me wrong, he should attack, but only if he has a colleague taking over his defensive duties at the time, which was not always the case. Against the big teams you get punished! And that did happen a lot!
When you watch Barcelona play, they average 65% of ball possession, everyone, and I mean every one of the 11 players, the goal keeper included plays an important role in construction and offensive play, but 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 the “balance” is always kept.
Not only does arsenal have to and must 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 defensive minded midfielder behind the ball even when you are attacking, would give a lot of balance and security to their game.
This lack of balance does explain also why arsenal are very vulnerable against counter attacks and set plays when they play very robust and balanced teams like Manchester United or Barcelona amongst others.
Balance 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 is required. Look at the dominating arsenal team of the 2003/2004 season and compare it with today’s Arsenal?. you see what I mean?
The balance inherent in all departments of this team saw them practically bulldoze every opponent they encountered whilst setting a new premier league record in the process.
Arsenal must learn to sometimes win by playing ugly! By ugly i mean, less spectacular, effective and result oriented when things are not going their way. Yesterday the 5th of February, after having led Newcastle 0-4 at half time, they lost Diarby to a red card and still continued to play beautiful football, final result? The game ended 4-4!
On the 16th of February 2011 Arsenal take on one more time Barcelona, in the Champions league round of 16. Their last meeting being last season?s quarter finals, when Arsenal lost out on a 3-6 goals aggregate result. (2-2 in London and 1-4 in Barcelona).
I am looking forward to see this game. Not just for the end result, but to see how these two spectacular teams will perform. I cannot wait, can you?