This is a question I am sure many of you have asked yourself recently. Most will have heard this statistic by now: if only second half performances would count in the PL, Arsenal would be top of the league! Incredible stuff!
Why is it that we start not just sluggishly in midfield and attack, but also so poorly defensively this season? Especially against the top teams we have handed the game to them through bad defensive mistakes in the early stage of the first half, time and time again.
Yet, come the second half and we are usually firing from all cylinders. The team seems to be transformed after the half time breaks: starting with real purpose and shape to our football, and fully determined to win the game at all cost. Why cannot we play with the same intensity and focus from the start? Is there something wrong with our preparations? Do our players need a rollocking at half time to make them play better; or is it more to do with tactical adjustments?
I have been thinking about this situation for quite a while and I will share some of my thoughts with you in this post. But please join in with your arguments as well, as together we might get a bit closer to the truth regarding this bizarre situation.
Paradoxically, the fact that we do so much better in the second halves of our games compared to the first ones, is both disturbing and filling us with hope. If we could only spread out our form for the entire 90 minutes of the game, our performances would increase significantly.
But why aren’t we?
I reckon Arsene and Steve do little in terms of specific tactical preparation with the team prior to a match, as in analysing an opponent’s weaknesses and strengths and determining a bespoke strategy on how to beat them. I don’t know this for sure, but going with Fabregas’ comments regarding this subject a while ago, I reckon there must be some truth in it.
Arsene is a strong believer in playing our own game/ style of football and this should overcome everything that is put in front of us. He is not alone in this: any manager who believes in a ‘total football’ approach tends to focus their energy on perfecting the system rather than adjusting it every time, depending on whom we play against. Johan Cruijff, Louis van Gaal, Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp, etc do/did it to a large extent. If the system is made perfect and maintained in that way, it will deliver the very best there is: highly attractive and very successful football.
However, it is not easy to get to a level where the team can conquer all: it takes a lot of time and effort. And it really does not help that our best players – including our two previous captains – have left us in mini-droves over the last few seasons.
I reckon, Arsene is struggling at the moment to get the team to play once more his football philosophy and tactical concept to the required levels. I really do not think our players lack the motivation when they start a game, but somehow it is not clicking between the players, and as a result, they simply underperform collectively.
At half time, Wenger and Bould can talk to the players about specifics that are not being done the way they should be done in a particular game. As a result, the players come out with a clear picture of how to be more effective and with more collective belief that they can turn things round. The turnaround in performances, from the first half to the second half, have been significant this season.
I reckon the longer the team plays together the better they will understand, and be able to execute, Arsene’s system of football and associated tactical principles. Hopefully, the team will start playing as well in the first halves as they do in the second halves, as soon as possible. It would make a big difference to the remainder of our season.
But how do you explain our underperformances in the first half, and what should Arsenal do differently?
Written by: Total Arsenal.