Rioja vs Barolo: a preview from an Arsenal perspective

July 1, 2012

In Saturday’s Guardian, there is a fantastic picture of Iniesta surrounded by five Italian players, literally encircling him in order to somehow get the ball of him. Straightaway, it reminded me of a very famous painting by Henri Matisse: ‘Dance’. In the artist’s picture, the dancers are naked and there is nobody in the middle.

Iniesta is the kind of player who can escape such a circle of top quality defenders and midfielders in a flash – leaving them behind like emperors without clothes. “When he has the ball, it’s like everything else stops”, says Torres – “He knows exactly when to release it [the ball], and he holds it so long, inviting pressure on himself and taking responsibility because, somewhere deep down, he knows that he is better than them”, says Guardiola.

Andres Iniesta is one of the finest midfielders I have ever watched playing football.

I have a similar admiration for the Italian ‘Quarterback’ Andrea Pirlo, although they are a different sort of midfielder. As I described in a recent post, he is the sort of player who, with brilliant simplicity, can totally control a game: an absolute joy to watch.

To be able to see them both again today, fighting for the second biggest football prize a nation can win, is simply mouth watering.

This evening’s Euros final between Spain and Italy promises to be a feast for the eye. The only potential blot could be the southern European nasty tendency to cheat, or the sickening waving of imaginary cards for opponents.

The two best teams have made it to the final, and this is the fourth time in the history of the Euros that the finalists have met already in their opening game of the tournament – bizarrely enough, every time with exactly eight years between them.

I don’t know about you, but I cannot watch a game that does not involve Arsenal without making a reference/comparison to/with our beloved team. Today’s game will give us a great insight into what sort of football we could be playing in the next few years.

Yesterday’s brilliant tactical post by Sagar Tarkhadkar highlighted clearly that nobody can tell with absolute certainty which formation and style of football Arsene will opt for next season. With the purchases of Giroud and Podolski, and Wenger’s announcement that he wants to play these two with RvP up front – and this combined with potentially more player purchases and hopefully the return to full fitness of JW and Diaby – it really is hard to tell what he is going to do next. Very exciting times lay ahead of us!

Today’s finalists represent two styles of football which have a fairly strong connection with the way we play currently, and have played in our recent past. I don’t really want to go into a deep analysis of formations, as we have done that yesterday. I feel we could be on the crossroad here between going some distance towards the Spain/Barca way, or towards a formation not too dissimilar to the way Italy is set up.

Are we going towards a style of football similar to Spain’s tiki-taka, with the purchase/introduction of a classic DM, who sits in front of the back four, and play a boxing-in/pressing football, high up the pitch, with two attacking midfielders in front of him? With the purchase of two more typical strikers it is now highly unlikely we will ever play anything like 4-6-0 or 4-5-1, but Arsene could be working on his own variant again of something similar to ‘tiki-taka’ football.

Or are we going to stick to our 4-2-1-3/4-3-3, or even move towards MickyDidIt89’s preference of Italy’s current 3-5-2 formation?

It all remains to be seen.

The thing is formations are not everything: you also really need a lot of good players, and a few great players, to make it work.

Iniesta is a great player and he is surrounded by a number of very good/great players. The likes of Xavi, Busquets, Alonso, Silva and Fabregas are the reason the tiki-taka football is played at such an incredibly high level. Ok, it has not been as good this tournament as it was during the WC, but nevertheless we are still watching, from a tactical point of view as well as individual skills on display, phenomenally good football – even though it might not always be a pure joy to watch. Some of the key players lack form and seem fatigued which has an impact on the quality of their overall football at the moment.

Pirlo is also a great, great player and he is surrounded by a number of very good, if not great, players too. The likes of De Rossi, Marchisio, Cassano and especially Montolivio are fantastic to watch, and the enigmatic Super Mario has potential to be absolute world class. I like the look of this Italy side, and would not mind at all if Arsenal were to be set up in a similar way – and I think we have the right sort of players for it.

Both teams have a decent to good defence and an excellent goalkeeper, so it will be the battle of midfield and how clinically the teams are in front of goal, which are likely to make the biggest difference tonight.

This final will be a clash of two styles of football, and I will be watching it with the likes of Wilshere, Song, the Ox, Ramsey, Coquelin, Arteta and Diaby in mind. I will be fantasising about how they could play for us in next season’s campaign, and how the formations and style of football on display could work for us.

I am sure the game will give us plenty of input for further analysis for days to come, but let’s hope it will live up to its promise and not be spoiled by unsporting-like behaviour.

Will it be Barolo or Rioja which ends up on top? I have a feeling the latter might turn out to be corked.

If you are watching, I hope you’ll enjoy the game.