Don’t get me wrong, I admire Arsene Wenger‘s ‘technique-above-all’ philosophy of football as much as the next guy, but what does irritate me is the lengths he will go to to defend his ethos when it is found wanting – which is fairly often, as it happens.
Arsenal can be a joy to watch but they also have the uncanny ability to frustrate you to the point of hernia – case in point being Monday’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Blackburn Rovers.
After being harried out of their comfort zone all game by Blackburn, Wenger openly criticised his Rovers counterpart’s gameplan, bemoaning Sam Allardyce’s approach and again – in the process – packed his own players into those cotton-wool wadded, bubble-wrapped trinket boxes he keeps them in;
“On both goals we were unlucky with the decision of the referee [Martin Atkinson] Blackburn’s main purpose every time was to stop the keeper. I cannot understand why he did not stop that.
We were unlucky to lose but we did not produce enough quality, but I do not know any more what is a foul and what is not a foul. Every time [the ball was crossed] Fabianski was pushed.
There is no purpose to play the ball from the Blackburn players – they don’t even watch the ball. He [Fabianski] had two players in front of him all the time and every time it was to stop him getting the ball.
In football, when you don’t go for the ball and you stop the keeper going for the ball, it is a foul. I think the referee cannot allow that. I am very disappointed the referee lets that happen in a football game, it is unfair to a goalkeeper.”
Allardyce countered with typical stoicism;
“We know that the weakness for Arsenal is balls in the box and we did that positively. We have seen that under pressure Fabianski’s handling is sometimes suspect.
We felt that the more balls we put in, the deeper Arsenal would go and the more bodies Fabianski would then have to go through.”
Seems perfectly reasonable to me. Packing out, then bombarding an out-of-form goalkeeper’s area with high balls are ‘page one of the manual’ tactics yet they still continually foxed Arsenal’s prissy defenders.
I don’t particularly advocate Blackburn’s throw back strong-arm tactics. (Of course they’re not great to watch but, as we are constantly reminded, football is a ‘results’ business – and you can’t argue that Blackburn have been coming away with ‘results’ all season) but they are as much part of the game as the kind of fifty-needless-touches-tippy-tappy-step-over-passing-triangle-walk-it-into-the-net goal that the nouvelle football-watching audience seem to crave so desperately.
This week’s excellent Soccerlens Podcast raises an interesting point. You never hear Chelsea or Manchester United whining about any of their physical confrontations – they just rumble on, harvesting points. Maybe this is the crucial difference between the teams who are genuinely contending for trophies on all fronts and the mere pretenders to the throne.
Arsene Wenger seems to have instilled a ‘we’re-too-good-to-be-tackled’ mentality within most of his players – especially the midfield – and his apparent persecution complex is crippling his player’s attitude toward the physical side of the game.
As is, Arsenal aren’t going to win anything in the foreseeable future – a fact that all but the most defiant of Gooner will admit to and one good, hard, objective look at the current squad immediately reveals the problem.
No spine, and too much fluff.