Monday, March 14, 2011
The Ball is Round but not for Arsenal
By Bagga Wilks
Arsene Wenger’s quest for a trophy is not faring well in 2011. Arsenal got to the final of the Carling Cup and the expectation was that they would have beaten lowly placed Birmingham but Arsenal found a way to lose.
In the UEFA Champions League, in the second half at the Emirates, Arsenal could have been compared to one of the better teams in the world and came away with a stunning 2-1 victory against Barcelona. In the replay against Barcelona away from home, Arsenal looked like a deer in headlights. For ninety minutes, they failed to produce a shot on goal. For ninety minutes, Arsenal had difficulty putting two passes together.
Barcelona are the masters of the possession game but their possession game is of a higher order than that of Arsenal. The Gunners are obsessed with the square pass and are constantly moving the ball across field. Barcelona maintains possession not innocuously but with players coming to the ball, the man without the ball moving forward into spaces. Barcelona’s attack is not dependent on a blind square ball floated into a dangerous area in the box but through balls splitting defenses with finishers in motion using exquisite timing.
Barcelona de-fanged Arsenal not just by efficacious offensive ball movement but by decisively shutting down the Gunners in mid-field. Arsenal’s predictability made that task easier. Barcelona could have easily scored six goals in their 3.1 victory.
Out of the Carling Cup, out of the Championship League, Arsenal matched up with Manchester United in the quarter final in the FA Cup at Old Trafford. Arsenal had the better of possession but lost 2-0. They won the battle but lost the war. The Gunners controlled mid-field but as usual ended up going nowhere. Against top teams, Arsenal’s finishing is poor. Forward ball movement is non-creative and the kicking is far from potent.
Every time Manchester counter attacked, Arsenal’s defense was in disarray. Arsenal defends as individuals, not as a unit. Ferguson finds ways of winning. Wenger finds excuses for losing.
Arsenal’s sole opportunity for silver in 2011 pivots around the Premier League. But if past is prologue, Arsenal will find a way to lose and Ferguson will find a way to win. Arsenal is at their best when all the stars are aligned. Injuries have not allowed that to occur too frequently. Sir Alex Ferguson has an array of stars but he makes do with the “arsenal” before him and through mix and match comes out triumphant. At the end of 2011, Arsenal will still be struggling to reach the top of the tables. For Manchester United, the ball is round. For Arsenal, the ball is square.