BELIEVE IN MIRACLES by AD
First of all this article is not in criticism or praise of anyone or Arsenal itself. Keeping in perspective the fact that only one game has been played in the league by Arsenal so far, I would like to suspend any reaction as yet. However, far be it for one to play a cold–water–expert presently, albeit in a much more muted and tempered scenario after the 2 – 0 loss to WHU, it needs to be stated that for Arsenal to win the League it would take something truly remarkable indeed at any time, but more so this year.
Taking up the latter issue first it is apparent to all that nearly every team in the league has spent some good money on some good players to muscle–up so to speak. A consequence thereof would be more exciting and tighter games. Games where top rung teams would face greater competition, would be pushed more, liable to be punished more, and as a result the chances of upsets would increase dramatically. I believe that the eventual winner of this season would do so with much lower points accumulated that any season in recent memory.
In tight contests teams need two qualities above all else to carry them through: (1) a watertight defense, and (2) innovation and inventiveness. At first glance both these qualities may seem oxymoronic as watertight defense in itself in the hands of nearly every coach sounds death knell for innovative football. But such need not be the case. Germany in the world cup is the most recent example of such a team. For an example in the Premier League (lets keep Arsenal out of this) take the case of Southampton (at least in the early part of the season, it’s lack of quality in depth killed it in latter part of season as fatigue and injuries took toll, barring which, I believe, Arsenal and Man Utd would be seeing a different sky today).
What binds the football of such contradictions is disciplined leaders in the midfield (here Man Utd has stolen a march on everyone else; I believe everyone is looking at them in purely footballing terms discarding the add–ons that players like Schniederlin and Schweinsteiger bring with them in terms of experience, leadership and discipline). A gander at the purchases made or pursued by Van Gaal makes it apparent that this is exactly what he will demand from his players this season (cue top light squad with only Rooney as a quality forward, the responsibility is much more on midfield to find match winners). In all probability before the transfer window closes Man Utd is going to bring in another striker who is a physical presence, can play with his back to the goal (thus bringing midfield into attack), and has good heading ability (open options for the wingers). Another cue to greater involvement for the midfield. It is the deeper lying midfield generals who in such a team control transformation from defense–to–attack, and vice versa, making sure shape and sharpness is maintained in attack as well as retreat.
So the question that comes up is that, in all its plethora of midfield players, does Arsenal have discipline or leaders to bring to fruition such contradictions. They seemed to have both in the latter part of last season. But then was it form that hid the truth underneath or actual class. With all due respect to our manager I fear it was the form. A “high point” event that has the ability to hide the cracks during good times only to expose them with greater brutally in down times. Who does Arsenal have to lead the midfield? Who is there with the ability to stare down any player, when he himself has his worst outing? Who has the ability to say Jack! You #&$% don’t rush ahead without an idea? Who can tell Ozil to loiter on someone else’s time, you may be the best no.10 for every coach but here we need you to be no.8 and no.7 also – at least to some extent? Who can tell Ramsey to stop pining for goals as he is not a striker, his main diet has to be assists with goals as glorious desserts? Who can keep our Gunners on ground when they want to fly, and pull them up when they want to bury themselves deep?
Sadly, far be it for me to utterly disavow that here, Mr Wenger may well be hiding the most wondrous secret in footballing world but, to us ordinary folks it seems that there is no one. And it does not seem like that anyone is any close to evolving into one. Leadership is fostered through discipline. For it is the discipline that prevents a player from yo–yo-ing between two extremes of his form in two games. A discipline prevents a player from having troughs and peaks in his career but have a consistency that every coach loves. A coach will any day of the week take a player who may not be brilliant but gives his coach the expected day–in and day–out without much deviation. It also fosters reliance in a team on such a player and from such a player. Unfortunately our Gunners are all exotic extremes – brilliant in one turn, hilarious in another and despairing still in another. So where would the leadership come from? Certainly not from a coach who believes that his players should be independent enough to solve their own problems on field. I wonder how abandoned Chambers felt when he was left to fend for himself on occasions at RB for the whole game, when it was apparent to everyone else that he needed some righteous intervention.
Result! The gunners have been, and shall be, exposed to fast breakaways and probing counter attacks when they are most disjointed and disoriented. As there are no midfield generals to whiplash some order in transition. It is not as if our players are a disciplined lot by themselves to take care of this. And Coquelin and Cazorla I’m afraid are not such a breed, nor is Ramsay or Wilshere (both liable to rush forth eyes widely twinkling expecting to bang a dozen past the keeper). It seems unlikely, at the moment, that Arsenal can grasp the tenuous concept of marrying watertight defense with its trademark innovation and inventiveness. But then we can always rely on miracles, and can certainly hope for them to deliver the league to us. After all that it the mark of true red & white Gooner.
Now lastly, on my remark that any time Arsenal now wins the league it would need something remarkable. This is so because our DNA has changed from the times of Vieira et al. I do believe that a football club has a DNA that dictates its behaviour especially under one coach. Results of DNA tinkering under different coaches, having different philosophies, over a small time frame are now being realized by everyone, thanks to live experiments on the subject being taken up with much gusto at Man Utd and Bayern (If the Bundesliga would have been as strong as BPL, it would have been very interesting to see travails of Bayern). Then there are such clubs that do not have an identifiable DNA owing to their history of never fostering coaching relationship for any notable time. Hence, lack of consistency a.k.a Real Madrid, Chelsea, Man City, Valencia, Inter et al. After about two decades with Mr Wenger we have a DNA. And it is NOT that of Champions. After losing so much and nearly all the games that matter, we have not been converted to “Seabiscuit”, who after being made to lose for too long in training other thoroughbreds, hankers for competition and will not take a loss when allowed to compete (kindly note reference is to alleged true story of American racing horse “Seabiscuit”). We seem to have become comfortable in losing whereof prospect of a win seems to make us uncomfortable. I don’t remember the last time we came back in a match against a top team. We seem to panic every time we go behind. We make most of our hay when we are shining in front. That is not the makings of Champions. Fortunately, contrary to real life, the DNA of a football club can change for the better through either infusion or evolution. I’m not sure that Mr Wenger, at least this year, is much of a believer in infusion and I’m certain this will not be the year of evolution. Which brings us back to hope in miracles.
COYG anyone knows any good carols for early Christmas?