My first live football experiences date back to the mid to late seventies. My home team, Roda JC, was only a ten minutes cycle ride away and my dad would take me along to watch ‘De Koempels’. Dutch football was slowly on a decline after the incredible highs in the early seventies of Ajax and Feyenoord’s successes in Europe, and the national team almost winning the world cup with a new ‘brand’ of football: totaal voetbal (total football).
Roda JC, like their bigger ‘local’ competitor, PSV Eindhoven, did not play total football. My first live-footie experiences were all about fast and effective counter-football; the sort of football that was not appreciated anywhere near as much as what Ajax and the national team were capable of. But as a ten to twelve year old kid I did not understand the difference and I loved the way Roda played. Towards the end of the seventies Roda had two proper wingers: Adri Koster and Pierre Vermeulen: fast, good close ball control, and they had more than a decent cross into the box; and a classic nr.9 in Dick Nanninga: tall, good jump, and therefore scoring a lot of goals with his head.
Some of you might remember the name Nanninga. He scored a late equaliser for Holland against Argentina in the 1978 WC final which meant extra-time had to be played. He also became the first substitute to be sent off in a world cup finals. Here is his goal against Argentina, a quintessential Nanninga header:
In recent years, we have seen the slow death of the classical wingers in the PL. More and more teams play midfielders on the wing who, together with their full backs, try to ‘make things happen’ from the wing, rather than time and again try to get behind defences and put the ball into the box, or get into the box themselves to score a goal.
Whilst watching Barcelona struggle to deal with some teams who opted to park the bus against them – Chelsea, and most recently, Milan at the San Siro, for example – I started to realise there is still a future for the classical winger. Trying to orchestrate every attack through the middle can literally be one-dimensional, as the inability to stretch the opposition’s defence and get behind them from the sides can render the best teams ineffective at times.
Bayern showed us all, and especially Barcelona, how incredibly valuable proper, classical wingers still can be. Robben and Ribery are among the very best wingers in Europe, and for quite a while now. Robben scored one goal every two games on average during his time at Bayern and Ribery one in every three games, and both produced an incredible number of assists as well.
At Arsenal, we have not seen proper wing-play for a while, other than from Theo and, to some extent, Gervinho. Theo prefers to play more centrally and the Gerv lacks consistency in his delivery as well as finishing off the chances he creates for himself. Arshavin has withered slowly away on the wing and Podolksi had a rather mixed season on the left wing as well. Cazorla and Ox also had stints on the wing, but neither have impressed in terms of classical wing play, although the Englishman has potential to become an effective winger if he wishes to be one.
At times Arsenal have looked flat and one-dimensional this season, simply unable to get behind defences from the wing – with the exception of Gervinho – and therefore focussing far too much on somehow getting through opposition defences from the middle.
I wonder whether Wenger is planning to improve our wing-play next season by adding a couple of more traditional wingers to the team. With Gnabry and Miyaichi, Arsene can fill the gaps internally, or he could go out and buy a more established and experienced traditional winger.
Both Gnabry and Miyaichi have looked promising in recent seasons, but they are still young and unproven. I would love it if they get more chances next season, but with Arshavin gone now and rumours about Gervinho being sold continuing, I wonder whether Wenger is on the look-out for an experienced powerful winger who will give us thrust and variation to our attacking play (almost) straightaway.
What do you think fellow Gooners?
Written by: TotalArsenal.