Arsenal – Dortmund: a beautiful game and great learning opportunity

So what have we learned from our narrow defeat against last year’s CL runners up? Almost nothing, other than this team is still a work in progress, but has made progress nevertheless.

Arsenal played with a bit more tension and less fluidity than Dortmund, and that in my view made the marginal difference. Klopp is a top-top manager: second best in the world after Louis van Gaal. He knows how to make his players play in a system of football with clear tasks and expectations per position. If a top player leaves, he will find a quality replacement in no time and gets them to fit into the system incredibly fast, and that is what makes him such a good manager in my opinion. Arsene is more laissez-faire in his approach to ‘system-football’ as he allows his players more freedom to ‘express themselves’.

Dortmund was a well-oiled machine and if and when they won the ball back, they passed it better round than we did. We struggled with fluidity in the first half as too many passes went astray and we suffered from continuous miscommunication between the players. The fact that they were a tat nervous did not help either. But the boys fought back slowly but steadily and deserved their equaliser.

We had a great shape in the first half and gave away little. However, in the attacking third we struggled to combine effectively as the continuous and ferocious pressure of the Germans allowed us less time on the ball; and then, you need certain automatism to kick in (as our opponents demonstrated so effectively to us last night) which are not fully there yet. This will come, though, and I am sure the team will learn quickly. It is these sorts of games that will speed the gelling and finding each other automatically up for us.

Now, we can say that it is the little things that make the difference in games like these, but this is the case in most games. We can also say we would not have lost this game with Flamini in the team, or even won the game with Theo and Podolski available. Maybe this is so, but we just don’t know. We can also say, we should have played for a draw and remain more compact at the back; and although there is merit in this too, we could also have lost the game with exactly that approach after which we would have said we should have played for the win – attack is the best defence and all that sort of stuff. Hindsight smindsight.

What is most important: compared to the Munich home game, Arsenal have made tremendous progress and with a bit more luck we would not have lost, possibly even have won, this game. The team has made a lot of progress in a short period of time.

But Dortmund did not reach the CL final last year by luck and once a team has humiliated a team like Madrid, collective confidence levels go sky-high, and this will last for a while. At times we played better football than them, but unlike us, they were always in control and played with a better established and ‘oiled’ system, and that’s why they scraped past us, I reckon. Nothing to be ashamed of, though.

So let’s not go on and on about certain individual players who apparently underperformed on the night, or whether certain players are far more effective in another position than they played in yesterday. Let’s also not use this game as a ‘yardstick’ how good our team really is and see failure to win as evidence that our good run until now is down to just playing the lesser lights of the footballing world (as if there are anymore lesser lights).

Let’s just see this as a great game of football, at the highest possible level, that we were not far away from winning. Let’s see it as confirmation that the team has made great progress in the last twelve months and more is likely to come. Let’s see it as a great learning opportunity for the boys without too much immediate damage done. Just wait and see how the team will progress in the next few weeks as a result of this game: Liverpool will feel the full brunt in two weeks time.

And with regards to our CL group, we are at least the second strongest team and that will tell in the end.

Written by: TotalArsenal.

In two years time, Real Madrid will beg Ozil to return – who to play against WBA?

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Apparently, Florentino Perez recently said our record signing was not able to deal with ‘the pressure’ at Real Madrid and that is why he was allowed to leave. Whatever Perez exactly said about about Mesut Ozil’s departure does not really matter to us, but for his own sake, the self-celebrating president would do wisely to make things up with our nr.11 before he has properly burned his bridges.

I truly hope Ozil will be a Gunner till the end of his career, just like our saintly Dennis did once he arrived from Inter. It might become the best yardstick of the club’s growth in stature in Europe if we could keep hold of him, whilst building a truly successful team around him.

I have little doubt that Arsene will move Ozil to another level in the next two years and turn him into an even better footballer.

He will allow him to play in the hole like a proper nr.10, and build a team around him. Yet, Wenger will simultaneously develop Ramsey, Jack, and Ox, and one or two others, into exceptional footballers, which means that the pressure to be the main man will be somewhat spread across a number of players. This is already the case right now, as the likes of Flamini, Arteta, BFG, Cazorla, and to some extent, Theo, Giroud, Rosicky and Podolski co-share the team-leading responsibilities with him.

Ozil looks at home like a frog in a pond, and yet it is clear he is only playing at 70% of his capability, as the telepathic relationships between him and his teammates simply need time to fully develop. The really good thing right now is that we keep winning whilst Ozil, and to a lesser extent Flamini, get time to properly grow into our first team. It is fair to say that the fixtures list has been very kind to Arsenal in that respect, but we deserve it after a number of tough starts in recent seasons.

Of course, we only have to look at Ozil’s current statistics to know that his settling into the team is going hand in hand with producing the goods for Arsenal already: two assists per game is simply magic, and long may it continue. I agree with Wenger, though; the best is yet to come, and this is all to do with Ozil being able to give shape and purpose to the team on a constant basis.

Once that happens, and the likes of Podolski, Cazorla and Ox return to the squad as well, the real party can get started.

I predict that Madrid will be begging on their knees for Ozil to return in two years, and that Perez will come to see the German Wizard’s departure as the biggest mistake during his Presidential era. He might even do ‘a Robben’ or ‘a Sneijder’ and win the CL with Arsenal. Mesut is ours now and here to stay, and he will have the last laugh!

WBA line-up

I am really looking forward to the WBA game. I love to see our youngsters combined with our more experienced players and play some fine football in the process; and usually the League Cup does not disappoint in this respect. It will be really hard to predict an accurate line-up for Wednesday, and I am inviting fellow BK readers to give us their first eleven.

Who would you like to start against WBA and in what formation (and why)? Who should captain the team?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

Forget about Higuain, Fellaini or Cesar, Wenger’s biggest decision is which direction to take

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“Alas,” said the mouse, “the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into.”

     “You only need to change your direction,” said the cat, and ate it up.

A Little Fable by Franz Kafka

Like any other Gooner out there, I am excited about the calibre of players we are being linked with at the moment; experienced, hit the ground running, quality players, is what our squad needs right now.

After years of economising and having to let go of the fruits of his hard labour, Arsene finds himself in an incredible lightness of being right now. Ferguson gone, new managers/transitional issues at Chelsea, Man City, Man United and Liverpool, no more need to let our best players go, AND a canon full of gold coins.

In the meantime, football seems to be evolving again. Barcelona’s advanced version of total football appears to have been ‘decoded’. First there was the super-basic ‘park the bus’ approach by the Chavs, which relied mainly on a mega-dosage of luck, and then there was the physical/athletic all-over-the-pitch-we’ll-hunt-you-down-and-not-allow-you-more-than-two-passes approach by the Bavarians. And we have seen a very similar deconstruction of Spain by the rampant Brazilians, just a few days ago. The double-DM pivot with multi-skilled midfielders seems to be the way forward now.

No doubt, though, Total Football will strike back again; but it might take a while.

Ten PL games before the end last season, Wenger and Bould made a conscious decision to go back to basics: more discipline in defence, a change of leadership and making our double-DM pivot prioritise on protecting the back four first and for all.

It did not exactly work a treat, but oh boy was it effective: Arsenal secured 26 out of 30 points from their last 10 PL games, and somehow managed to finish above the Spuddies once again.

It was not Wenger-ball, but industrious, blood, sweat and tears, we WILL survive sort of football; once we were ahead in those fixtures, most of us were just clock watching, hoping we would somehow hold on and take the three points. It was all aimed at finishing in the top-four and it was a great feat, given how low the team had fallen.

Arsene and Bould now have to decide what sort of football they want to play next season, and it will be really interesting to see which direction they’ll choose, as this will determine who will become/remain key players and who will be bought this summer (and not vice versa).

No doubt in my mind that Arsene and Bould will want to return to a (new) form of attractive, attacking Wengerball, with less emphasis on being solid defensively as our first priority.

However, it is unlikely that they will be happy to jeopardize all the good work that was done on being solid at the back during last season. And with Maureen back at the Chavs, a mean defence might be even more important than a highly productive, and competition outscoring, strike-force.

It is also Arsene’s last year under contract and although the club appears very keen to give him an extension, our French maestro might have doubts whether to sign-up to it. Also, Arsene might want to see real progress now, and next season will be absolutely crucial for him.

He needs to choose the right style and formation of football that will give Arsenal the best chance of gunning for silverware. He will have to decide who of his current squad are up for it and where and how they should play. He will need to add quality players who can hit the ground running and fit quickly into the team. He will need to keep the entire squad motivated, despite increased internal competition. He will need to give this team the belief they can win silverware this season and ensure there is plenty of leadership and hunger throughout the team.

Of course, Arsene (and Bould) has already thought about all this and he will now focus on adding new players to his squad who fit with his vision/chosen style of football for next season. From who he will buy (and for which areas), we will know a bit more how we are likely to play next season, and how he will go about to make the last year of his current contract a winning one; maybe even a truly special one.

Maybe this time round, Arsene’s direction, and tactical, on-field choices will outsmart the cat. It is about time he did. 

Written by: TotalArsenal.

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Return of Cesc-y football to Emirates? Barca, Fab and Arsenal to benefit!

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There are relationships that don’t work due to unresolved matters that one from the couple has had with his/her ex. Now, don’t worry, this is not going to be another Dr Phil-blog about how you can improve your relationship or how to get in touch with the woman inside you. It’s about one of those transfer stories that will make your fingers clickin’ and clickin’ until September 1st arrives.

If it is true that nomen ist omen, then there haven’t been too many omens written better than the one that makes Francesc Soler Fabregas’ short name “Cesc” similar to word “sex”.

He was 17-year-old when he showed that he can cope with much older people (yes, there is a cheap reference to his love life) and even impose himself as a true class player. His maturity when it comes to passing game seemed abnormal, as his pass completion was around 90 percent when he led Arsenal’s midfield on the Gunners’ way to Champions’ League Final.

During his time in Arsenal, hopefully the one we will refer to as “The First Time Cesc Was With Us”, he took the starring role from the very beginning. Arsene Wenger gave Cesc the keys of our midfield and sold Vieira to Juventus and, later, even our formation was changed to exploit Cesc’s abilities. He took those keys and led the team on the pitch with assists and goals that it made you proud that such a player plays for your club (just remember that goal he scored against Spuds or that drive that knocked out reigning champions of Europe, Milan, on their soil).

Arsenal with and without Fabregas weren’t the same; a brief look at the stats in the last season of The First Time Cesc Was With Us tells it all. Would we have had him against Birmingham in Carling Cup Final… When he was at his best, Arsenal played silky and classy, sexy football that could be called ‘Cesc-y football’ as well. And that was some consolation for the fact we have failed to win a single trophy ever since we won the FA Cup in 2005; one of two trophies Arsenal won with Cesc in senior squad (the other was Charity/Community Shield 2004).

However, there was always a story about Barcelona. Cesc is a child of Barcelona that was adopted and nurtured by Arsenal. Barcelona gave him a birth; Arsenal raised him to world-class level. Barcelona was his first home; London was the place where he built his own (metaphorical) home.

The transfer saga about Cesc’s inevitable return to Barcelona made a lot of web-site owners happy, as they had a lot of to write about. Finally, after an ugly summer of negotiations, silent strike of Cesc, and Wenger’s reluctance to accept the fact he’ll have to sell both Fabregas and Nasri, Barcelona managed to take Cesc back in their ranks. I was angry at our manager that Barca got the player of his class so cheap – especially, after knowing that any possible replacement for Cesc would cost a lot more.

So, Cesc couldn’t resist to the call of Barcelona and he has been there for two seasons. He has already won European Supercup, Club World Championship, La Liga, Copa del Rey and Spanish Supercup. Five trophies in two years – don’t sound bad. His statistics haven’t been that bad either – 20 goals and 24 assists in 60 matches in Primera is a very decent return…except something is missing. That magical thing that made Arsenal and Cesc capable of making the other one special hasn’t recreated at Barcelona. That special thing is reserved for Lionel Messi; and even Andres Iniesta, who can arguably be called one of the greatest European players of all times, can’t come anywhere close.

Arsenal – on the other hand – went through two tough seasons without Cesc. Sure thing, Arteta, Rosicky, Cazorla, and to a certain extent even Song, in his first season…replaced Cesc in terms of goals and assists, but it seems like there have been no signs of sexy football at Emirates since Cesc left the building. Arsenal have been on a 11-game unbeaten streak in all competitions – with 10-game unbeaten streak in Premiership – but most of the games in that streak were as sexy as pulling your teeth out with rusty pliers and no anaesthetics.

Obviously, all three sides can find something for themselves in Cesc’s return to Arsenal.

Barcelona have their hands tied regarding Cesc’s sale to third club, due to first option Arsenal have and a 50%-sell-on-fee clause; so selling Fabregas to Arsenal for say £10m would be a better option for them than to sell him somewhere for £15m. And it would also free up space for Thiago Alcantara, who has been labelled as the next big thing from La Masia for some time.

Cesc would get a chance to return to the place where he truly belongs and where he would get the starring role that his talent deserves. He would get another chance to win a trophy as a key member of Arsenal team, as he was still a youngster when Patrick Vieira lifted the FA Cup in 2005. He didn’t get too much credit for Barcelona trophies he has won, so he might have an additional motive: “I don’t want to be remembered as the one who was part of the squad that won trophies; I want to be the one that leads his squad to the glory!”

He doesn’t need trophies; after all, he has already been a world champion with both club and national team. He needs trophies which are won mostly as a result of his contribution: that’s something that divides excellent players from legends.

Also, this Arsenal might be more appealing to him than it was when he joined in 2004. Unlike the Arsenal that was predominately built around French players and manager, this Arsenal have Spanish flavour with the likes of Arteta, Cazorla and Monreal with important roles in the squad, not to mention youngsters like Bellerin and Toral.

What is most important in the whole story is what Arsenal would get?

Arsenal would get a fantastic player who would add creative dimension needed to play proper Wengerball again. With newly found solidity in defense, Cesc’s connection with Arteta and Cazorla in creative department would propel us to title challenging heights, and probably clean the dust from Emirates’ trophy room. Also, Cesc would come as an experienced midfielder who won a championship with his best years yet to come.

Finally, let’s not forget one important fact – Cesc didn’t play any role in 2003-04 season but he participated in 49-match-unbeaten streak that ended through the well-known circumstances at Old Trafford in 2004-05, which makes him one of the rare “Arsenal 49-ers” (this one is my own coin that I use for Arsenal players that participated in 49-match-unbeaten streak – maybe it loses its worth when you know that it’s something that players like Pascal Cygan and Jermaine Pennant can brag about, but what the hell!) who are still playing at the highest level. And that might be a symbolic connection of Arsenal history (Invincibles) and future team, the one that is still, hypothetical, built around Cesc, Wilshere, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Sczszesny, Cazorla, Arteta, Walcott…that might spoil plans of Manchester duopoly and Mourinho’s Chavs next season.

Who knows, maybe at this time next year, every proud Gunner at their deserved vacation will order “Cesc on the pitch”-cocktail!

Written by: Admir.

For some Fab Cesc pictures, check out this link (TotalArsenal):

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/picturegalleries/7739588/Cesc-Fabregas-Arsenal-career-throughout-the-years-in-pictures.html?image=4

Is the need to qualify for the CL killing Arsenal’s style of football?

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I was on a French campsite when Holland played the final against Spain in the 2010 World Cup. The bar was full with Dutchmen wearing the national colours and I was one of them.

The whole tournament had been quite a surreal experience for me and many fellow Dutchmen. Van Marwijk, the Holland Manager, had somehow managed to make the Dutch play like Germany used to do: save, solid and efficient. It was nevertheless an incredible feat to get this Holland team to the final with a defence consisting of Stekelenburg (GK), Van Der Wiel, Heitinga, Mathijsen and the veteran Van Bronckhorst (C).

In order to do so, Van Marwijk opted for a wall of steel and menace in front of this brittle defence: the notorious Van Bommel  and De Jong. Basically Holland played with two groups of players: seven defensive minded players with some licence for the full backs to roam forward, and four attackers to somehow between them bring home the bacon. It worked well, and Holland did what Germany used to do: get to the final without playing brilliant football, except for the quarter final victory against Brazil perhaps.

But Holland just was not Holland, as for generations of Dutchmen the national team is expected to play attacking, flowing, total football. It felt to a large extent that Van Marwijk had been denying our identity: our raison d’etre in the International football scene.

However, being in the final of the world cup is still a very special moment for most nations in the world and especially for a weeny one like Holland, and of course most Dutchmen wanted Holland to finally win a world cup final; this was the third attempt after all.

We all know what happened in the final: the footballing team won deservedly and Holland lost – not just the final but also quite a bit of its decennia old reputation.

The response of most Dutchmen in the campsite pub was both one of disappointment AND relief. Once again we finished runners-up, but at least we did not have to watch Holland play in such an unnatural, and mostly unattractive way again.

What has all this to do with Arsenal? Two things come to mind.

Firstly, the way we played in the final part of last season. In order to secure CL football next season, Arsene and Steve decided to sacrifice the style and philosophy of our football and play with two defensive minded midfielders in front of our brittle looking defence. It seemed  a similar solution as Van Marwijk had done with Holland. It resulted in a great return  of results but our football was hard to watch at times, as just like Holland, Arsenal played very un-Arsenal-like.

Secondly, I feel that our constant need to qualify for the CL is holding Arsene back to experiment with the team properly, and give our up and coming talents more chances to break through in the first team. Once again, I believe this is holding us back from playing attractive, attacking, Wengerball football.

Since the departure of Cesc, Arsene has been trying hard to get the team play some sort of Wengerball again, especially during the first five months of last season and  the season before. But for the second season running he has not been able to achieve this, as he had to revert back to result-orientated football during the final part of our seasons in order to secure CL football.

The big question is: will he get Arsenal back to playing a form of attacking, total football again, and if so, how is he going to do it?

Wirtten by: TotalArsenal.

Van Gaal – Klopp – Wenger: The good guys haven’t lost yet!

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Call me a romantic fool as much as you like, but football should never be totally ruled by money. It saddens me that clubs like Everton, Villa, Newcastle United, West Ham, Leeds, Sheffield Wednesday and many, many more will probably not win the title in the next twenty to thirty years; they have not got a snowball’s chance in hell, unless they find an oligarch or other rich benefactor.

It makes me think of Leonard Cohen’s song ‘Everybody Knows’:

Everybody knows that the dice are loaded
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed
Everybody knows that the war is over
Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

You could argue, as a Gooner, I should not be too upset about this at all. We are in a very good position, financially as well as from a sporting point of view, as a next round of CL-participation is once again within our reach. The stadium debt is under control and the club generates the fourth highest turnover in Europe: all ingredients are there to compete sensibly and yet effectively with the old fellow giants, MU and Liverpool, as well as the oil-funded nouveau riche, in the foreseeable future.

But I would much rather prefer proper competition, and as per Red Arse’s recent fantastic posts, there is little reason to be hopeful that FFP will increase the chances of other English clubs winning the EPL or CL in future.

It does indeed feel that the war is over and the good guys have lost. Unless, another English/Welsh club can find itself a very rich, money-no-object, benefactor, or the Oilers get bored with their plaything, the top-four over the next ten to twenty years will almost constantly be occupied by Arsenal, Chelsea, MU and MC.

But even within the top-four there is a battle raging and it is all to do with the meaning of money. And Arsenal run a considerable risk of coming close, but seldom or never be able to put their well deserving hands on meaningful silverware, whilst still remaining in the elite group of four (or maybe five, if Liverpool can work themselves back up again).

A similar battle is taking place in other European countries.

In Spain the war is definitely over as Barcelona and Real Madrid have managed to get the lion-share of all the TV money that is generated by La Liga, and these two clubs will simply continue to cream off any talents that might develop at all the other Spanish clubs. It looked for a while that Malaga, funded by oil-money, might be able to join them in the fight for Spanish silverware, but that ship seems to have sailed now as well.

In Germany, the competition appears to be fairer with five different Bundesliga winners over the last ten years, even though Bayern Munich are the most powerful club, both historically and financially. But this might all change now, as only Bayern seem to be able to keep hold of their top players, whilst all other German clubs watch their top talents being creamed off by the Spanish, Italian and English top-clubs or, even worse for local competition, by FC Hollywood themselves. The purchase of Gotze (and possibly Lewandowski) by Bayern from Dortmund is clear evidence of this. Although, it is fair to say that Dortmund do the same to their domestic rivals to some extent as well.

And let’s not talk about the Italian competition: a total shambles in recent years.

Nous versus the power of money: Ajax vs PSV Eindhoven

I grew up in The Netherlands were the competition was mainly dominated for a long time by just two clubs: Ajax and PSV, with Feyenoord now and again winning a title as well. The former was, and still is, almost always looking to play a form of total football and build teams predominantly on the best ‘outputs’ of their youth development scheme, whilst the Philips sponsored and, until recently, generally richer ‘Eindhovenaren’ preferred to buy the best from the Dutch league and whoever they could afford and attract from abroad.

Although I have never supported either Ajax or PSV – Roda JC is my boyhood club – I always felt more affinity with the Ajax model of managing a club and wanting to be successful. It has led to better, more attractive football, more success/silverware, and also more respect across the world. Ajax played some of the best football ever seen and produced an incredible number of phenomenally good footballers over the decades. And nothing is more attractive and laudable than beautiful winning football.

And I believe, it’s me growing up with both models of football which has made me divide most, if not all, successful football in either the Ajax-model: total football, home-grown players, and based around sensible club management; or the PSV-model: classic football – either more attack focussed or defence focussed – mainly externally purchased players, and based around financial power/dominance within the local league.

With the arrival of oligarchs in the UK and across Europe, the ‘PSV-model’ has become more dominant recently. Chelsea and ManCity have forced themselves into the top four and onto silverware by buying the best players and paying through the nose for them, and the same is happening now in France and Russia. And I am sure more is to come.

Add to those, the might of the traditionally rich and powerful, and ‘PSV-alike’, clubs: Manchester United in the UK, Bayern in Germany, and Real Madrid in Spain, and you can see that the clubs who are less rich but try to win things with football nous and bottom-up development of talents are suffering at the moment.

There is a growing unease, especially here in the UK, that the ‘Ajax-modelled’ clubs are fighting a losing battle, and that the only way to compete is by (out) spending big: fighting fire with fire. For that we would need our existing two main shareholders to dig deep into their considerable pockets or get somebody else in who is prepared to bring in the big guns and knock the arrogant Mancs of their throne.

I personally hope it will not come to that, and there is good reason to remain optimistic. Just like Van Gaal did with Ajax in the nineties, and to some extent Arsene did with Arsenal in the last decade, Jurgen Klopp is showing us all again that with real football nous, the (financial) Giants – old or new – can still be beaten. And this should give hope to Arsenal, and the likes of Swansea and Liverpool who are going down a similar path as us.

The key principle here is to play a form of total football that can conquer all, and in which individual players become less important than the system of football and the team as a whole. Everybody knows their role(s) within the team and can be replaced without much or any loss in quality. The system of (total) football is so good that the whole of the team becomes a lot more than the sum of all individual players.

Van Gaal mastered this principle as no other in the mid-nineties, when his Ajax won the CL with a team of youngsters and good but definitely not established, great players (except for veteran Rijkaard). This was the team that beat start-studded Milan twice on the way to CL glory in ‘95: Van de Sar, Reiziger, Blind, Rijkaard, F. de Boer, Seedorf, George, Davids, R. de Boer, Litmanen and Overmars. Overmars and Davids were 22, and Seedorf and Kluivert (who came on as a substitute and scored the only goal of the final) were both under 20. Van Gaal almost did it again the year after but Ajax lost against Juventus in the CL final on penalties (the nemesis of Dutch football).

We all know how Arsene slowly but steadily build and bought together the Invincilbes, and how he has been investing a lot in developing his teams bottom-upwards, through focussing on young and promising players and developing them into top players, over the last eight years or so. He showed the rest of the UK, and to some extent Europe, that you do not need to buy established top quality players in order to compete. However, he was not able to hold on to his best home-grown players in recent years, and this has cost us dearly. And the desperation for Silverware is increasing rapidly year on year…

And then finally, there is Dortmund who under Klopp’s expert guidance are playing a new and exciting brand of total football and who, until now, appear to be immune to losing a quality player every season. For Klopp, individual players are not above the club or the system of his football, and if a player really wants to leave, he can do so. Klopp seems to find like-for-like, or sometimes even better, replacements with relative ease. Two Bundesliga titles in three year, one cup (and one double), and now in the final of the CL after beaten the Galacticos in style: some achievement!

And we can draw hope from Die Schwarzgelben recent successes. 

Now that we appear to be over the financial restraints of building the new football ground, Arsene, although in a more challenging domestic set-up than Klopp in terms of competition, should be able to hold on better to his players and start adding quality rather than having to find replacements with a limited budget.

Let’s hold on a bit longer and keep the Oligarchs away from our fine club: the home of football. The good guys have not lost, yet!

Written by: TotalArsenal.

How would Louis van Gaal manage Arsenal?

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There are two reasons why I became, ever so gradually, a Gooner: Dennis Bergkamp and Arsene Wenger. Together, one with his head and the other with his feet, they made Arsenal what it still is today for me: a great football club that is always striving towards beautiful, winning football.

I reckon Arsenal were lucky that both geniuses arrived at Highbury around the same time, but equally, Dennis and Arsene were lucky to have found Arsenal: their spiritual home of football.

They did not just share a similar vision on how proper football should be played and an appreciation of beauty in football as a worthy quest, but also deep loyalty towards the club and a desire to leave something behind for eternity. It is a real shame they still have not been reunited to manage our club together, but hopefully this will happen soon; and the announcement that a statue will be erected for our former Dutch master during the summer might indicate that a reunion is still on the cards.

Over the last few months, I have started to feel sceptical about Arsene’s ability to move us up one more level: to the platform were the shiniest silverware is handed out, and where our club belongs. I am no saying he cannot do it anymore, and as per many previous posts, there are good reasons – rather than excuses – why he has not been able to get us back again to where we belong, and he desperately wants to be, during the last eight years.

But the whole process of getting us there again must be tiring him and the pressure he finds himself under must be nearly unbearable. Luckily, Arsene has one more year left on his contract, and as some have pointed out, next season is make or break for him. Not that he will be pushed out, and I would also not be surprised if he is offered an extension to his contract this summer, but Arsene himself will no doubt use our next season as the final measurement of whether he can move our club upwards and onwards, or not.

Being a big proponent of Total Football (TF), and a huge admirer of Louis van Gaal (the manager, not necessarily the person), I have been thinking recently how Van Gaal would do at Arsenal. If we put aside the potential difficulties he would have with the British, vitriolic media – Van Gaal is a very stubborn man who says it as he sees it and does  not take fools lightly – I reckon he would be a very good alternative if and when Arsene decides his time is up.

Although both managers want their teams to play TF, they do have a different approach. I reckon there are two broad variants of TF:

  1. Highly prescriptive TF (Barcelona under Van Gaal and Guardiola, Ajax under Van Gaal, Liverpool under Rodgers, and Dortmund under Klopp?);
  2. TF with an allowance for self-expression: Barcelona under Cruijff, Barcelona under Rijkaard, Arsenal under Wenger.

The big differences between the two variants are on the one hand a strong need to adhere to sharply defined roles and tactical discipline with regards to variant one, and on the other hand, a strong need for very good footballers to really make variant two work.

Variant two can work really well, but it is a prerequisite to have a large number of quality players within the team; through either developing them or buying them, and, of course, keeping hold of them as well. Arsenal and Wenger used to be able to get, and keep hold of, world class players. There is now new hope we will be able to do this again going forward, but it remains to be seen whether this will be the case, and whether we can sustain it.

For me, Van Gaal is the master of variant one; and if it wasn’t for his difficult character and the inevitability of becoming a victim of his own success – paradoxically, he is constantly offered jobs at top clubs who already have top, top players who time and again have to be fitted into his system of football, which often leads to all sorts of power conflicts – he would now be celebrated as one of the best, if not the best, manager(s) around.

The thing is, Van Gaal would be most at home at a club with a long term vision, ambition and patience; like Dortmund, Schalke, Ajax, a sub-top Spanish side – other than RM or Barcelona, or indeed Arsenal. Van Gaal does not need many great players in his team. He calls himself a process manager and will work very closely with his team to drill them on TF tactics, specific role requirements, and role rotation. He drills a team into a footballing machine, and for that he needs flexible, adaptable and multi-skilled footballers, who can, and want to, learn from him.

He does not require a huge budget, and neither does he need many world class stars; just one or two would probably be enough for him to build a top quality team. What he did with Ajax was simply phenomenal, and I have little doubt he could turn our current Arsenal team into a top class team; given time and patience. For me, he seems the ideal man to take over from Arsene at some point in the future.

Van Gaal is perfectly happy managing the Dutch national side at the moment, but maybe he can be tempted to join us after next year’s World Cup: I am sure he would relish the opportunity. Arsene’s contract is up and he could move upwards, whilst Dennis could join Van Gaal as his number two, and do all the PR.

Arsene, Dennis and Van Gaal: now that would be some trio to make Arsenal a top, top European side for the next 10 to 15 years or so!

Written by: TotalArsenal.