In seasons gone by, Gooners would look upon a defensive set up by the home team on trips to the bus stop in Fulham or the Theatre of Snores, as a mark of deference to our attacking prowess, but more recently this Gooner sees this as evidence of how easily a pragmatic manager of a (possibly) slightly inferior team can beat a more talented and creative side.
Sunday’s match demonstrated that Ancelotti’s team (even though Ray “Butch” Wilkins was in charge of preparing Chelsea for this game this was very much the way Carlo would have done things) could adopt a cautious and slightly defensive approach to the game. This stemmed more from a confidence that Arsenal would allow gaps to form behind the attacking line which-if possession was conceded-allow the home team to break at pace, due to our tendency to build up attacks slowly, while more and more midfielders/forward players get involved.
While it’s true harking back to the halcyon days of TH14 and the pace he gave us is of little use when our paciest player has only recently started to develop into a goal scorer, there must be an alternative to the tendency by the team to dwell on the ball and persist in attempting to find the ideal pass through a claustrophobic central portion of the final third of the pitch.
Think back to the games at the Theatre of snores and our place last season against the original Manks – again the opposition played with a lone man up front and crowded the midfield, but more importantly they were happy to concede possession in midfield knowing that the tortuous forward progress of Arsenal attacks would not threaten their goal unduly.
Back then it would seem the obvious interpretation to this would be Fergie acknowledging his team couldn’t match our midfield passing, but as I now believe it is more that Fergie didn’t see us as having meaningful or effective possession that would be of material danger to his team’s chances of victory.
So the two teams who have consistently beaten us in recent years have worked out a way to exploit our predictability, however how much of this perceived weakness can be attributed to Wenger’s approach, if any?
While I don’t agree with some who say that Wenger does not place much emphasis on the defensive side of the game I feel there is some truth in Wenger being fallible to the human trait of concentrating on that part of a task that is most interesting to him. It’s this enthusiasm for creative midfielders that are small, nimble and technically gifted that has made the possession game a hallmark of Wenger’s team; however when a strength becomes so overriding it can become a weakness.
So sometimes things are ahead and sometimes they are behind;
Sometimes breathing is hard, sometimes it comes easily;
Sometimes there is strength and sometimes weakness;
Sometimes one is up and sometimes down.
Therefore the sage avoids extremes, excesses, and complacency.
Lao Tzu (c.604 – 531 B.C.)
In my opinion great teams always have a combination of skill and power which allow a flexibility and adaptability to counter differing types of opposition and match conditions.
There is no denying when all parts of the Arsenal passing game combine and/or are allowed to combine by the opposition and/or referees the team is unstoppable however a saying I’m fond of “The bigger the front the bigger the behind” is relevant here.
This means that, for example, the more a person seems to be arrogant and has a lot of “front” the more likely it is they are in reality nervous and lacking in confidence and have the “behind” of self-doubt. With regards to our passing game the more the reliance on that one aspect of our game the more debilitating the effects of not working on our ability to win matches and play the game our way.
The question is firstly has Wenger actually presided over the development of this teams makeup so it is over reliant on a methodical and measured build up to attacks orchestrated by midfielders of a certain type?
If so then why has he done this? I feel perhaps the zeal to create such an identifiable playing style is being given undue importance.
Perhaps a little pragmatism from our no doubt deep-thinking manager would go a long way however having worked in Japan for a number of years in which he gained an appreciation for the oriental way of life and thinking I feel he may figure the solution to the squad balance conundrum out for himself.