About Me

Football purist, realist and general sports fanatic. Interested in all aspects of the game, from all corners of the earth.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

New Dawn or same old Sunrise

If you wanted to discover just how desperate Arsenal had become you only needed to glance at the broadening mushroom of hysteria following their clinical performance at the Etihad last week.

In just under ten years the club had transformed from Invincible to Invisible; the decline of the barren years may have been slightly exaggerated and approached without an appropriate degree of reason but they were arid nonetheless.

Last season’s FA Cup victory may have finally put life back into the Emirate’s trophy cabinet but the club’s issues were deeper. Arsenal capitulated more than any respectable team in the Premiership on away journey’s to clubs they should have been striving to compete with at the top of the table.

Their closest competitors Everton easily disposed of them at Goodison Park. Despite David Moyes lowering the drawbridge over the Old Trafford Arsene Wenger’s men (or boys) still appeared meek and puny on the trip that once defined their season like no other.

These are the reasons why we can’t accept last Sunday’s game as a new dawn for Arsenal. A return to the old, ultra-competitive Arsenal will only come with consistent performances mirroring the City display and evidence of an aversion to defeat; something that left the club when Cesc Fabregas walked out the door to Barcelona (Arsenal had already gone six seasons without silverware by then).

As starts go however, this was extremely promising. Arsenal’s defenders, usually as frantic as a lost child in a crowded supermarket during games like this, were extremely comfortable over the course of the game. City were restricted to a series of attempts from wide areas; Arsenal allowed no shots from the area in front David Ospina’s goal.

Francis Coquelin tamed the influence of David Silva in a more alluring way than merely attaching himself to the Spaniard; instead he cut off the supply line by constantly positioned himself between the ball and the diminutive playmaker. On four separate occasions during the first half the alert Frenchman prevented the ball from reaching Silva as City’s widemen attempted to pull the ball back to him on the edge of the box.

Enough has been said about Santi Cazorla’s dazzling performance in centre of the park but if you wanted to pinpoint a moment that encapsulated the win it would not be the Asturian’s dainty feet caressing the ball to safety from the edge of his own box in the final quarter of the game; it would be him rebounding off the floor to jog back into position after Pablo Zabeleta bludgeoned the ball into his face.

Arsenal approached the game with a sense of reality this side has never displayed before. A compact, deep base was what was required against the defending Champions; a frenzied attack would have inevitably led to another wild scoreline like last season’s 6-3. Arsene Wenger has only resorted to such a reactive gameplan on one occasion before.

The club’s 2005 FA Cup triumph came after a dogged, but admittedly fortunate performance against Manchester United. With Thierry Henry injured Dennis Bergkamp lined up in front of a midfield five although on this occasion The Dutchman was simply there to make up the numbers.

The Gunners may have had most of the possession but only United offered a threat; they had eight shots on target compared to Arsenal’s one. After the game Wenger reluctantly accepted the victory; privately he vowed never to resort to such a regressive style of play again. It’s no coincidence that on the two occasions where the Frenchman has placed more of an emphasis on the opposition than his own team, Arsenal have succeeded.

It’s probably unwise to discuss Arsenal’s squad depth on the basis that they are synonymous with injuries. If however the majority of Wenger’s midfielders and attackers can stay fit it will be impossible to keep all of them content each weekend. If the players have a healthy attitude to this it will only benefit Arsenal.

Atletico’s Diego Simeone swears by competition within the squad; without it, he says, last season was not possible.

“There is only one form of motivation, the lifeline of any team: internal competition. If there is no competition between players, the team dies. It’s the only situation which strengthens the coach.”

The Argentine points to internal competition as the strongest factor behind improvement.

“Take Raúl García for instance – during the first leg of the Spanish Supercup against Barcelona he found himself out of the team. The next day, I arrive at the training ground at eight in the morning and he is already there training. And it’s not by sheer chance that after that, he was called up by the national team”.

If Wenger can foster this selfishness for the greater good while continuing to take a more pragmatic approach to games Arsenal will certainly challenge again in the future. Arsenal haven’t got a squad as good as Manchester City and Chelsea but the first step toward matching them is to be aware of your own inferiority and adapting.

A strong second half to the season should see them climb to third in an ailing league, while they were blessed with the easiest path to the Champions League quarter finals too. Success in the FA Cup, where they are now the bookies favourites, would prove the club are finally returning back to their rightful place amongst the best in England.

After watching the professional performance against City there’s only one thing that can stop them; themselves.

No comments:

Post a Comment