Why the Football in (Good) Football Should Be Like Water–Or Why Width Matters

Editors Note: Professor Geoff (JGC, Geoff Chase), our American Gooner based in New Zealand, submitted the following piece BEFORE the Crystal Palace match.  Clearly he was up for the match, but also thinking about the team and our football in a very unique way.  See what you think of the article–and if Arsenal followed the Professor’s advice.  –17HT

This is a short piece on one of my many “theories” on football.   I hesitate to use the word without quotation marks.  You’ve heard from me before on defense, the all-important transition, as well as on the need for players with “Presence!” (note the ! in there).   And, now, given the WHU game, and without any idea what will happen today as I will be on one of the many airlines my career seems to subsidize, it’s time to talk about attack.

And that is where water comes in. No, it’s not about proper hydration, though I could chat on the topic a fair bit. It’s about how water flows, and how, in particular, Arsenal football, should flow the same way in attack.

First up, what do we know about how water flows. Well, the following are generally held to be true except for very rare special cases:

  • Water flows downhill.
  • The steeper the hill, the faster and more ferociously it flows.
  • It doesn’t like obstacles, and will flow both into, but mostly around, them.
  • The fewer the obstacles, all else being equal, the faster the flow.

So, how’s that like football? Well let’s say that downhill is like having more players than the defenders. On attack, we should always be seeking numbers and advantage. The steeper the hill, the better the numbers and the faster our water flows to the opposition goal. Equally, the fewer obstacles, the more direct it is.

But, even with obstacles, water can flow fast and slow. Go hiking and you will see torrents turn to trickles, and, as it finds another incline and gathers together again, back to torrents. That’s the patience part about it, and as long as it flows, it goes. So, sideways can happen and isn’t a bad thing, as long as it is flowing!

Thus, on attack, we are blessed with one of the most creative and silky midfields around. Not the biggest, or toughest, or most direct. But, silky, smooth, fast and flowing. Like water! 🙂

But, here is another fact:

–Constrain it, and it barely flows at all, requiring excessive time and wear to seep through.

Water in this form is highly corrosive and will eventually wear through obstacles if allowed to flow. But, the more constrained, the longer that takes. There is no silky smooth there, just bludgeoning and boring, with requirements for patience.

Thus, when we attack, we should be seeking numbers, letting the ball flow fast and rapid all over the field, unconstrained, to find those narrow points of access to attack. Other teams will try to sit back, park the bus, and force us to win by erosion and corrosion – sometimes, or too often for our comfort, making us rely on “the luck of the bounce.”

However, and here is where the WHU match comes in, we also constrain ourselves. When we don’t let the ball flow and hold it too long we reduce our chances to find numbers or a steep incline. When we narrow the pitch, we allow ourselves to be constrained further.

Worse, when we do that, we naturally remove the ability of our team. More directly, we try to turn water into something it isn’t well equipped to do.

What we want then is the ball moving. All over the field, using width to find numbers and create advantage. Using Giroud as a point to hold the ball and bring numbers to him to allow the pass off to find numbers, perhaps wide, perhaps not, elsewhere. Fast ball, making the pitch large. All simple stuff and all unstoppable with our midfield if we get out and do it… with the composure it requires.

And, that’s the last point. Composure… Water is a substance, Arsenal are a team of people. Water has composure by simply following the laws of physics that define its nature. Arsenal must implement and impose that composure in the style that best suits them.

Simple as that, football, the Arsenal way, and with this team in particular, is like water. Fast moving, silky and smooth when flowing well, always seeking a steep incline to rush forward and find the next gap. That is, to me, Arsenal football, the football we are best equipped to play.

So, what are your thoughts? Are we water? Or some other substance? Why?

Here’s hoping Crystal Palace is like a massive rapids of Arsenal on the attack!


31 thoughts on “Why the Football in (Good) Football Should Be Like Water–Or Why Width Matters

  • “Water is patient, Adelaide.
    Water just waits.
    Wears down the cliff tops, the mountains.
    The whole of the world.
    Water always wins.”
    ~Dr Who


  • Wow jgc,

    Something very very deep. Anyway, its a good read from Prof jgc 🙂
    Yes, water needs to flow, similar to how we pass the ball.

    However sometimes I see that when we hit an obstacle or meet some team that plays possession football, we will be devoid of better ideas. While water, as jgc say, when held back is corrosive, our lads try to break down the defense but the defense always holds firm unless there are cracks in the first place.

    When Alexis comes on or plays even the toughest of defense broke to pieces. He is the energetic water that carries the rest of the same medium to break down defenses.

  • Well, I had hoped there’d be a bit more response during my overnight period, but what can one really say to a piece like that?… I enjoyed it, and it’s always fun to hear different ways of thinking about the (same, old) problems… In truth, you can’t really argue with ‘water,’ can ya… 😀

    The question I have for the professor (who has hopefully made it to his destination) a couple of days on…is… What did you think of the match? Did we play with enough flow and with enough width for your satisfaction? From in-match comments it seemed like you were pleased with our initial attacking but then we maybe tightened up a bit after we got our lead and couldn’t quite turn the spigot back on when they equalized. I was pleased that the winner came from a combo of single touches from Ramsey to Bellerin to our fly-boy (Alexis) which netted the winner. It wasn’t the full width of the pitch but it was most of it.

    There were other examples too, including Ozil’s cross which Ramsey flicked on target and another (earlier) one from out left that he (or was it Nacho?…) put onto Alexis’ head which flew over the target. The first goal, even if the cross only came from the corner of the box used a bit of width, too…

    What’s interesting, I think, is that our #10 (Ozil) is providing much of the width himself through his lovely running. This allows the (nominally) wide attackers (Alexis and Ramsey) chances to move central and get into scoring positions. It’s not the rigid use of width and “traditional wingers” that so many seem to want but (to me) it seems good. If everybody is moving and switching positions, defenders have to decide how far to follow and when to let our runners go. If all our forwards just keep moving AND use their FBs I can’t see how good things will NOT happen. IMO, I don’t think it’s really clicking quite yet, but we’ve got Liverpool in 6 days and this same fixture from last season (4-1 it ended) should be the blueprint. In that one, once we started using the FBs (it took a half hour of too much play through the middle…), we really dominated and it was a romp. We can start the same 10 outfield players (while ‘Pool is forced to present a very different look) so it’s a chance to really get our game ‘flowing’ on our home pitch…

    Anyhow, I could go on and on and, I’m definitely a water person myself. When it comes to my outdoor adventures (in the summer) I always want to get into the lakes and streams rather than work too hard to climb the peaks. My favorite form of water, in fact, is snow, but maybe that’s a defensive analogy for the blanket with which I’d like to see us cover our opponents…

  • GC, that was a well thought out post and a very unusual way of looking at soccer…

    I would say, that if Arsenal were a liquid, that they would be a fine wine, a Bordeaux perhaps, gradually maturing, and hopefully we’ll pull the cork this May and celebrate.

  • Wellington Silva joins Bolton on loan, for the season…

    Zelalem linked with a similar move to Glasgow Rangers…

  • Cheers Geoff. Thank you for fully hydrating me with a fine post. 🙂 It is a lovely ‘theory’ and you touch on a number of key aspects of our game and indeed football in general. And there are some fine follow up comments as well! 🙂

    It is a delicate balance between pressure and seizing the moment on the one hand and being calm and composed on the other, and you have described this very well indeed. We are not quite there but some of our penetrating football has been breath-taking. Let’s get the balance right and see where this team can get us, starting with filling the Pool to the brim and more with Gunners’ overwhelming water. COYG! 🙂

  • Apologies all on replies,

    Here in Hungary, they had a massive storm with 1.5x the monthly average in 12 hours. One casualty was the internet in my hotel, mixed with a drive yesterday to Romania that took all my time. But, I’mmmm baaaack! :/ 🙂

    in response:

    @JW: I love Dr Who, awesome!!! 🙂

    @Nik: I would agree, but phrase it that Alexis is good at creating or making the numbers in his way. Ozil is very very good at finding them in unusual places (as a contrasting example). Overall, I would say we need to be better at finding numbers or being patient about it.

    @Kev: Bordeaux is 13% alcohol, 1% fruit and carbohydrates and 86%, wait for it… water… 🙂 .. But I like the analogy as well!!! 😀

    @TA: To me “seizing the moment” is about pressing to create numbers and downhill water. We often lately are not quite in synch to either take advantage when we realise it, or we dont see it and let it go. Again, We need to make it as easy for ourselves as possible, which is where width came in for us, and how we use Ozil, Santi and Alexis in particular. At WHU, I would refer to OGs goal in this context as Ozil turning 1 vs 3 into OG vs GK by bypassing the 3 in between to find… numbers! 🙂

    Reading again, I would note that how hard you press to find numbers is a factor. You cant be the Mississippi, slowly rolling to the see. Football demands steep inclines here and there. If I had to contextualise to games 1-2 we often try to hard to find a steep incline and instead find a water fall where we smash hopelessly into a still lake… Composure then is finding the right incline.. A delicate balance in any game I agree… especially when you consider the other team is water too and looking to get the ball and do the same (Which brings us back to transition)…

    @17: Gotta shower and run so will get to you later.. but

    @All: The WHU game to me showed better, not perfect, but better composure on finding numbers. We did it well and were unlucky-ish not to have 1-2 more in the book. Of course, we were lucky not to have Coq in the book too, but this article was on offense so I can avoid that little bit. 🙂

    cheers — jgc

  • Nik

    A second thought on parked buses and water… If you believe water has to flow, then back and sideways to find a new route is ok. When we press such teams really compact, you’re right, we try to force it. Sometimes though, I think, it’s better to pull back a little, regroup (slow water), and move sideways to bring the defence out and use ball speed and motion to create a better set of numbers that allows us to flow downhill.

    In and out to a holding striker like OG can be similar and has works well.

    To me, this is what I see whenever I see Ozil languidly passing back and forth and “jogging” about “aimlessly”. He’s looking for numbers and being patient, probing for gaps to flow through… Like water!

    Buying it. 🙂

    Cheers — jgc

  • 17

    Ok, I think I answered some above of your comments, particularly regrading Ozil.

    Other thoughts on game:

    A. Started well, good width and good composure / patience where the hill became flatter.

    B. Our defence is not fully in synch yet and the goal was perfect to equalise. All credit for the shot. He just never shoulda been given quite that much freedom to take it!! That will come soon I think.

    C. Just before and after equalising, to half time, we were ill composed and chasing something that didn’t need it. Trying too hard. Moments of goodness but mostly not. I think the equaliser came from too much running and frenetic I’ll directed effort to get number two and not enough patience in letting it come and holding more.

    D. Half two was better all around but still room for improvement.

    That help?

    Cheers — jgc

  • Prof, yes I have similar thoughts. And the squad is almost like water. About 70%.

    I find that when Ollie played the past 2 games the opponent defense crowded him out due to him being the target man. Alexis has to be as tall as he can be to head in the winning goal.

    Its not that Ollie has lost his touch, its the way the defense works to make him quiet. Actually I kind of like Theo being the Alexis like player on the right. His shot to goal ratio is better than the Ox.

    Maybe I am in the mind of TA, who likes Theo better than Ox, but seeing those chances both made and lost, Theo has a better head to head ratio.

    So how can we find the missing 30% for us to move through teams like water?

    Definitely we can’t play Coq and Santi together for all the games. Our captain is impressive but how much has it left in him to last the whole game? With Rambo better in the free role I do not think he will come back to central midfield.

    I am thinking Mikel with Jack will do, but how much time Jack sits out will mean alot.

    Attacking wise we have only a fit player fit for the holding striker role. Other strikers have been loaned out or sold with one still injured. And we can’t play Ollie every game too.

    So back to the question in Pre-preseason: that time we concluded that we are ok depth wise. Now we see more going out than coming in.

    That 30% can be fixed either by:
    1. Buying strikers and defensive mids which are really good.
    2. Fast tracking the players on loan and bring them back when we need them.
    3. Playing with a higher tempo to break down the toughest of defense.

    What you guys have in mind?


  • Omg I let my mind go on for a while more and it became a long reply. Sorry Jgc, but please do read my reply when you have time.


  • Nik

    Interesting points. Hard to figure the other 30% (not a bad random choice tho I think it’s nore like 20%). My take

    a. I am not sure we have to buy. I think we need to gel some and find the right combinations

    b. You make an interesting argument for a different kind of striker, perhaps more Henry-esque and fast/mobile. I tend to agree but think that the thinking at AW HQ is that Theo will, or will not, fill that role. Interesting days there! 🙂 … I could of course be very wrong in the last days of the TW. !!

    c. Where I would disagree, I would say that it is a GOOD THING when teams collapse on OG. That implies 2+ players crowding him and eliminating him, which is 2+ players -1 to cover others. Instead, I would argue we are not finding the space or players as readily as we should. I.e. we are not firing on all cylinders to make teams pay for doing that. And THAT is what is “costing” us.

    Thoughts? Just my 2p there

    cheers — jgc

  • Hi Prof Jgc,

    Hm.. I might name myself as Nik as my christian name.. though I do not have one.

    Agreed on a and c. And not finding the right space too. Water will find all holes and get through all of them. We aren’t.

    For b, I reckon Le Prof has finished with the TW and would not be buying. Seems that way for him though we might think otherwise.


  • Sorry, Njk

    Read the font wrong and./or saw someone else abbreviate you that way. Apologies!

    I agree about “b” as well… He may well not buy. I am not too fussed if he doesn’t. I think we could use some other DM but he may well be satisfied with Coquelin and Arteta – not bad choices really, for our style so… The striker thing will be what it is. I think many want it but hear no substantive rumors. We will see in 11 days or so I guess! 🙂

    cheers — jgc

  • Prof, I think Nik is better 🙂 or just simply JK.

    Yes we can all say about who we should buy and such, but Le Prof has the final say.

    Interesting 11 days.


  • Basically what it said is last time I checked most of the players were water signs.
    I noticed it when in certain months loads of players would have birthdays
    It’s not that I am an astrologist but it does make sense , 1 the manager would want players on his wavelength 2 that the players are on the same wavelength
    I don’t know if Wenger did it on purpose or not.
    They are not all water signs but last time looked a couple of seasons ago they were.
    I can’t be assed to even try to on an I phone lol
    But I agree prof
    Arsenal are like water .

  • That was suppose to say most were.

    I tried to send 2 other comments 1 knew failed
    The second was explaining that I had had written loads and that’s why it start with a wired way.
    It maybe different now.
    As I said I can’t check on an I phone it’s to slow.

    Hope you all catch my drift

  • That’s a bit of a twist on an already interesting topic.

    It reminded me of a Bruce lee quote

    Let’s just hope we are an unstoppable tsunami against Liverpool
    A truly unstoppable force
    Then il be going to the Stoke match afterwards.

  • Looks like everyone has said all they want to?
    I always seem to be the last comment and miss the chat. Oh well night all

  • Alexis Giroud theo
    Would be my first three names in the sheet this match
    ..,..Ozil …….santi
    …………:le Coq

  • Hi PG

    Missed your comments as I am more of a morning type when in Europe! and totally off schedule when in NZ! 🙂

    In general, not sure about the astrology part, but, if we win then we win and all is as it should be. High-falutin analysis or otherwise!

    For me this match. A largely unchanged (totally) lineup would suit. I was not unhappy abvout the CP game. We need to up our composure quotient which is a metric I just made up. Composure quotient or CQ = ( minutes of time composed and playing smart) / (90 minutes) x 100 to get percent. The maximum 100% would be ok by me!! 🙂

    cheers — jgc

  • Hey PG, sorry there was nobody out to play for you yesterday. Please keep coming back and giving us your views. 🙂

    Love the ‘CQ’, JGC. In my line of work it stands for Clarification Questions but yours is a welcome diversion… 😛

  • Guys, if we are really to measure by CQ we get maybe a 60%? At times we are good and composed, but when the opponents attack us and hold on to the ball we will get flustered.

    A 60 percent is quite OK for me. Some people will mention 50% or 70%, but I feel neither. We are I’m between.

    PG, yes I certainly hope we can break down the pool’s breakwater.


  • JK

    Against a team like CP we should, totally IMO, be approaching 90% … And in fact anyone. We dont have to be winning but playing smart/composed is a must in this tight a league. Totally my opinion of course! 🙂

    cheers — jgc

  • Totally agreed Prof. The stats was for 2 games averaged out. We have to be 90% for the pool game. Turn them into fools.


  • Somehow I feel that even against CP we are not yet 90%.. maybe 80% or 70% for me as quick counters against us still let us down.. I meam not from the defenders perspective, but from the midfielders perspective.

    That was why we gave them a few chances to pull ahead after they went 1-1. It was almost 2-1 when they hit the bar.

    And after we got ahead, we gave them plenty to chances to draw. We should not play this risky game. We have to be very consistent against pool’s players.


  • Hey fellas, I just published a new post, but I’ll let TA announce it (haha)…

    One final word on the water…and the ‘composure’ water has to break through barriers, parked buses, etc., or find a way around them. Indeed, we need that composure, that feeling that we can make chances and take them and let the goals come to us rather than trying to force them in. Patience, belief, confidence–we need all of them and maybe that’s the essence of composure, knowing that if you’re not the drop of water which wears down the stone, or breaks through the dam, maybe your teammate–one of your fellow drops of water–will be the guy… Give it your best (most composed) effort OR, if your teammate is better placed, put him in and trust him to do the job.

    Anyhow, I hope the power is fully on–for the Professor in Hungary and for the team next Monday when (finally) we get to play again…

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