“A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!“ – Shakespeare, from Richard III
This seems to be the battle cry recently about our play, especially after the Mancs episode and any less than brilliant effort of recent. Substitute a “horse” for “the magic guy who links all play and bosses midfield” or just “Cesc” and you about have it summed up… or use “Iniesta” if it suits.. 🙂
That it comes from Richard III a Shakespeare play with a central theme about the tension between fatalism, and let’s face it we are all Gooners, and free will, makes it the perfect quote to encapsulate our desire for (even?) more and our fatalistic attitude that we are forever short that one magic piece of the puzzle. That it takes place in England, even better!
However, as I have said before, football is a game for anyone who can count to five. Even better, if you explain this later, hold up four fingers to emphasize just how simple a game we are talking here. It is always better to attack with more players than the opposition have, … always. It’s that simple, or more succinctly, it is better to play 3 v 2 than 2 v 2 or 2 v 3. Obvious, no? So, how to get from there to our current “issues” such as they might be?
The main thing is that on attack, the motion is fluid and players have to make themselves available to stretch defenses and create numbers. Simple as that. If you are continually playing “uphill” into (larger, pressing) numbers you are one long ball away from the opposite. This is guaranteed to be true because unless the ref has failed to count accurately both sides have the same number on the field. Want more evidence, Ozil, game 1 for Arsenal, long ball to Ozil on to Giroud, goal… From uphill against numbers to 2 v 1 and goal…
Football is a simple game! Don’t believe me? Try Da Vinci, he was Italian so you know he was probably into football:
“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”
which of course matches our prejudices about Arsenal football! J
So, what’s gone wrong? I don’t think we lack a single guy, but offense is a team or unit game. Not one player, but all working to create numbers where it matters. In particular:
Defending third: The extra player added is almost always a defender coming up just a little. This is where Sagna, Gibbs and even BFG excel.
Middle third: this is where it all happens, and where the football pundits always look to say “see XYZ wasn’t into the game today, or was taken out of today’s game”. But, in reality, it’s the added player that makes it all easy. Usually, an outside back coming forward or overlapping, or a striker coming back. Witness OG on goal #1 I believe vs Napoli, coming back to about 40m from goal and on the side line, to flick on Ramsey and then Ozil and .. history! OG was the extra player there even though Ramsey had the ball and was unmarked for a moment. He made it 2 v 1 and we were away.
In other games it has been other players.
Attacking third: Well you rarely get numbers there if you didn’t already have them so it’s about creative motion, like TR pulling defenders to allow others to score, or about OG isolating himself 1 v 1 for a cross with the defender blocked out (witness Spurs goal!)
Overall, it’s about the extra man and the effort made to get there to provide the impetus and numbers to take out defending players and create opportunities.
Thus, link up play, that drive that some feel we are missing, isn’t one player, it’s the unit. The unit is not fully succeeding to get the most out of what it has as component parts.
So, why is that? Some reasons might include two F-words (no, not those Cockie!):
- Fatigue: we are a bit thin with the (love this but forget where I read it) “injury sniper” targeting us most frequently this year. OG, AR, Ozil are all a bit over played. Santi is underplayed and coming back into form as is JW
- Familiarity: Santi is new to Ozil, as is most of the team. Same will hold true as Theo, Ox, Poldi come back. Gelling takes time and we need be patient, especially as Ozil has at least one bit of magic each game, and is patient enough to be the guy who “runs away” to create space.
And that’s it. The main issue with wishing for “the one” the “focus of all our attention” is that it’s bad, single minded football. For evidence I point you towards two cases in point:
- Arsenal with RvP and without: With him, all balls went one place. We were predictable, defendable and beatable. Without, we were better, maybe not in placing last year, but better as a team. Now, even more so!
- RM vs Barca: Both are galactic teams. But one is a galactic team with a titanic striker (CR 7), ie RM. The other is a titanic team with a galactic striker (Messi), or Barca. Is it any coincidence that the slightly more team focused unit has edged solidly ahead in recent years? I think not myself.
Further, for those doubt witness last years champions league finalists. Both BM and BD had excellent teams who happened to be made of top stars, not vice versa really. Especially, BM as BD were a bit thinner in squad and thus in my mind fortunate with the injury gods, and would that we were so! J
Thus, for the Mancs game, I put it to a bit of fatigue. The fatigue means the last step doesn’t get made, the last effort doesn’t get put in, and thus the last bounce of the ball doesn’t go your way. We are thin and will rectify that shortly. One hopes. But, I don’t think we lost so much as didn’t have that last step.
In general, one plays with the team or hand one is dealt. We have a great team. Iniesta would make us different but not improve us. We need to find the right combinations and effort to get numbers with those we do have. When we do that right on defense and transition (as I have written on), and on attack with the extra players coming forward, we are unstoppable. If we lack anything it is the confidence in our own ability to make it so. Or to quote the bard, about the team and the fans perhaps:
“Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.” From Measure for Measuire.
I.e. if we lack anything it is resolve, which I think is growing every game despite any apparent setbacks, and perhaps explains slower starts first time around against “big names” like BD and the Mancs (but not Spurs or Liverpool, so how about that! J ).
And thus endeth my rant. Attack, like defense, like football is a game played by, and won or lost by, teams, not individuals. Some may play better or worse, but if one is marked or pressed out, others should be there to take it all forward with impact. In fact, focus on one, like Ozil, should make it easier for others!
We need to see more of this and I think we will as we gel further and players out injured come back into play.
Thus, to end, as I started, with the Bard… but modified because football **IS** poetry, really:
To want a single star, or not to want such: that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler to seek singular stars or simply seek crass numbers
‘Gainst the slings and arrows of outrageous competitors
Or to take arms against a sea of pundits, agents and second guessers…
And that is your question.. I think we play beautiful football and increasingly with resolve. We don’t need the right star, we need to be a bit better rested, which may require some reinforcements in January, and to gel even more than we have, and to go into the biggest games with a touch less anxiety and a bit more “tude” from the get go. We have already shown we can play beautifully and create the numbers that signal victory, next comes even more consistency.
Or to be more simple. We don’t need another Fabregas or Iniesta or anyone else. We already have the stars and perhaps the whole squad, we just need to get the numbers!
Or even more simply, football is a simple sport and religion with many small intangibles. Like any religion, we simple folk are always striving to explain the various “slings and arrows of fortune” with simplistic answers like “if only we had player Q” all would be solved, or “it’s player Y’s fault”. But, really, so much is simplicity of numbers, and the inevitable complexity of creating them versus an active opponent seeking to do the same!
What do you think? Do we need to replace parts, or get the current parts better?
Will the threat of Theo’s speed and ability to create numbers make Ozil even more unstoppable, or really speaking, make him less able to be targeted?
Who are the best of those out injured to complement or augment our midfield to be the “multiple threats from everywhere” that it is (and has already shown it can be)?
Written by: jgc