It’s a question that has caused so many debates amongst Arsenal fans and this question more than any statistic drives our narrative to the non Arsenal world….
Can Arsenal win the “big” games?
What does that mean.
To me it means going to the North West and Chelsea away from home and winning. It’s about producing a sustainable performance aligned to a playing identity we as AFC fans recognise.
Some will say Clive… we beat Liverpool and Spurs (twice) at home and quite rightly point out we gave, in my opinion the best performance/result of our season by beating Borussia Dortmund away. But we all know until we beat Manchester United, Manchester City or Chelsea, we will never be taken seriously. Given MUFC’s lamentable showing this season I’m not even sure it’s a big game anymore but for AFC it’s a big game – as big as we have had for years.
Let me share a few thoughts on what I have seen so far this season.
1. AFC 2013 have developed a collective way of playing.
By that I mean we attack and defend as a unit. We keep a close eye on distances both attacking and defending. Think back to two defeats – Pool and MCFC – in those games our distances were too far apart. We lost our combinations and put the onus on our midfield DM (Mikel Arteta/Mathieu Flamini) to cover too much distance. When we play well, we play a fast passing tight dribbling game that has a freestyle creativity that is hard to stop.
Two of the best Number tens…
It’s not written down how we create chances as we have many free number ‘ten’ spirits who are too intelligent to deliver 81 crosses in a game. But we have not yet mastered chasing a game while retaining our collective shape. Hence the big results against us on occasions give the impression we have imploded.
But if the way we play falls apart do we have another plan? Can we consolidate and settle to contain until we find our flow?
We did it at Dortmund but we were never behind and were never forced out of our collective shape.
Do you trust Arsenal at 1-0 down to act maturely – I’m not there yet.
2. Make the game a small pitch game or we lose
Extension of number 1 above.
When AFC were at Highbury we had what I called a big pitch team played on the smallest surface in the league. I yearned for a big pitch so we could smash teams. 2004 was full of runners – Gilberto, Patrick Vieira, Thierry Henry, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole the list goes on. Athletes who could all go anywhere and compete. Arsenal now have 5-a side players who can play far better than the Invincibles in small spaces.
We are no longer athletes but technicians.
Given we are not a strong running team its key we play what I call a “small pitch” game full of sharp 5-a side technical early passes. But in those two games (Pool & City) we were forced to chase the game and its then we become naive and over commit. Our small pitch game is easy when we go one up. Once the game is stretched – can we win?
Adrian Clark on the AFC Breakdown captures it perfectly.
He highlights how our fullbacks push on very high on both sides simultaneously regardless if there is any chance to receive the ball.
This totally exposes our centre backs and in turn we lose defensive stability. All the big teams know they can outrun us and beat us with increased intensity.
3. Do Arsenal Need a DM – YES we do
Maybe not a DM but in my opinion we need a presence in central midfield. It was quite telling seeing the difference in mood focus, physicality and threat between the Ox v Palace and Jack Wilshere v Liverpool. I have real concerns that Jack attracts the wrong attention ON the pitch. Too many forehead to forehead clashes – playing to the AFC gallery that he is some kind of tough guy with goober roots.
Jack is a footballer and needs to get back to playing football like this v Barca:
Jack played simple, he received it moved it sharply in true Arsene Wenger style. He stayed behind the ball and did not make hero runs looking for a one two and taking a big foul.
I get this feeling other players do not like Jack. He is viewed as the Golden Child at AFC and now with England. I’ve seen Fabian Delph, Steven Gerrard, Gareth Bale, Jordan Henderson and Philippe Coutiinho all press Jack relentlessly and physically causing me to ask the question – Do I want AFC to be defined in his image?
Stop Picking Fights Jack and Just Play
Or would I prefer the Ox. I don’t think there is a debate – The Ox has power determination but importantly the composure and physicality to match his technique. Players don’t fancy playing against him but relish playing Jack as he can be wound up and distracted from his game.
What do you think Jose Mourinho will do when Nemanja Matic and David Luiz face up to Jack? They will crush him and wind him up.
Those that know me know I am a fan of a Vieira, Abou Diaby type player in our midfield.
Take a look at this link of Liverpool away last season where Diaby took it to Liverpool:
That was our best big team game for years. We had physicality central, chunky pace wide in Lukas Podolski and the Ox and a determination to impose ourselves early. Rodgers learned from this and watching us v City and turned the tables on us.
He outran us, he knew Henderson had the legs on Mikel Arteta and Jack and Mesut Ozil hid.
These guys too old – Can you run?
It’s my opinion until Arsenal have a centre midfield player of strength, a reference point we will never scare the big four. We lack grit – I don’t like even saying it but when it counts we have consistently showed we cannot deliver.
1. MCFC away – Tight turnaround post Napoli
2. Liverpool away – Did not show up
3. MUFC away – Did not believe in ourselves quickly enough and the flu
4. CFC home – quality gap and outrun all over the pitch
All sound like excuses to me…
We have to add this player to create the platform needed to express ourselves. In my opinion it’s our major issue and a signing of real stature is needed.
4. We need Runners to go past Giroud
Arsenal are a team that has found a way of creating an offensive collective using Olivier Giroud as its focal point. He plays back to goal bringing in runners. Huge work rate and our player of the season as he is always there.
We have a problem, we have lost our two best runners who partner with Giroud and make us hard to mark in Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey. In January when people were asking for a CF I wanted a quick, penetrative player (Cristian Tello) and a DM as its areas where we have either lost key players or in the DM case have quality issues.
Our ability to support Giroud and force teams back has gone completely. Gnabry is great but young and he tends to drive inside. One day we shall all be wearing his shirt but it’s not fair to expect him to drive the machine that is Arsenal.
Gnabry – One day you will be a Superstar my son…
The Ox wants to run the team from the centre, his first movement is to support the ball not run away from it. He wants to dictate the play by having the ball. Unlike Theo who creates targets for passers.
Can Wenger fix the running beyond problem without Ramsey. His numbers before his injury were amazing, he had the most touches, the most dribbles, most passes and the most goals than any other AFC player. Is he the one player so ridiculed in 2012 that Wenger cannot replace numbers wise and pattern of play wise.
I’m not going to preach to Wenger or you about who we should sign but we can lose games no problem but are we learning from the experience.
I’m not sure. We have continuously been bullied off our game by the bigger sides, out run and found to be tactically inflexible when the big moments arrive.
To make these issues small we need to add a presence centrally that gives us the physical confidence similar to our technical ability we have today.
I just want Vieira to be 23 again and all is ok…