Hi everyone! I’m just back from a wonderful road trip in Scotland and I was glad I could find out that the country responsible for the birth, rise and success of Sir Alex Ferguson is also able to produce something wonderful, which is reassuring.
I explored the Highlands from west to east and back, going to the most northerly point of Britain along the way. It was stunning, absolutely amazing.
Most of all, it was rough and wild all the way.
Can one associate the Highlands with the Arsenal? Of course: I would like the Arsenal to be as wild and rough.
I was watching the highlights of the game against Hull City and I caught myself being surprised by Alexis Sanchez’s individual brilliance on both goals. I never doubted his abilities and skills, obviously, and I knew what he can do with the ball at his feet but I simply didn’t expect him to do what he did. I was surprised because I can’t recall any Arsenal player being wild enough to take on opponents and try a different solution than a quick one-two or a side passing around the box. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tries something from time to time but that’s basically it.
In recent years, Robert Pirès and Thierry Henry were mastering this art and players like Dennis Bergkamp, José Antonio Reyes and Nwankwo Kanu were all very keen on a one versus one in the final third; Alex Hleb, Andrey Arshavin and even Gervinho used to do it quite frequently – although the latter had a very low rate of success, as we know – so why aren’t current players doing it on regular basis?
We definitely don’t miss players good enough to leave defenders for dead: Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mesut Özil, Serge Gnabry and Santi Cazorla are all more than capable to dribble their way past any opponent but they don’t do it – or they rarely do it.
I would like to know whether that is due to a lack of bravery and boldness or it’s a just a mere case of obedience to orders. If it’s that, then we’re in huge trouble because it would mean that Arsène Wenger is forcing his most creative players to stick to a rigid plan and encaging their skills – which would be both surprising and disturbing.
If it’s not the case then it’s even more worrying as it would mean that our players do not have the required self-confidence, bravery and determination to defy an opponent. Scary, isn’t it?
Let’s talk about roughness, now.
We all have in our eyes Mohamed Diamé challenging Mathieu Flamini to win the ball and score Hull’s equalizer – and it was painful. Of course it was a foul but the way our player was blown away by his rival was appalling – even more if we think that Mathieu Flamini was the player who capitulated so easily.
I would expect more fighting from such a player and from any Arsenal player regardless if it’s a foul or otherwsie. Play to the whistle, they say. If no whistle comes, then ensure you are rough enough to shrug your assailant off and keep hold of the ball.
It seems many of our players are too naïve or just too weak to resist a robust battle, especially in midfield.
Arsène Wenger decided to promote technique over strength and it seems the gamble is not paying off at the moment: too many short players, too many light players to cope with strong, physical opponents often resulted in loss of precious points and very avoidable goals conceded.
As long as we don’t have the cohesion, coordination and solidarity required to outnumber opponents in a specific area of the field, we are condemned to lose the majority of 50:50 ball.
As I happened to explain in another blog, perhaps Arsène Wenger is trying to create something very similar to Pep Guardiola’s first Barcelona team, but then more time and more work is needed in order to achieve that brilliant synchronization – and more patience from our side.
So far, that’s the only example of a very non-physical team able to cope with bullish opponents and win big domestically and internationally. Barcelona had Sergio Busquets, Gerard Piqué and Carles Puyol as their only strong players; the remainder of the team was composed by short, quick, gifted players.
It worked very well but would it work in the Premier League? I don’t have the answer nor I have the magic recipe, I just have an advice: Gunners, fancy a trip to the Highlands?