This weekend Wenger’s team were held by a thoroughly competent Sunderland outfit who rode their luck at times; The Lads put up a solid performance at the Emirates to come away with the point they arrived with. We did not park the bus, or emulate the Stoke team who played out a particularly sterile 0-0 draw at Highbury in September 1980 under Alan Durban, who famously said after the game “If you want entertainment, go and watch clowns." (He later reflected "My job was to send the Stoke supporters home happy, not entertain the bloody Arsenal fans". Durban redeemed himself to the football world later when as Sunderland’s chief scout he recommended £375,000 Kevin Phillips to Peter Reid, an investment which brought 30 goals and the Golden Boot 3 years later!)
At the Emirates Sunderland played disciplined, enterprising football, and we at least entertained our own fans going forward. The tactics were spot on and we could have nicked a goal ourselves once or twice, especially near the end through Welbeck. As Kevin Palmer has pointed out this weekend on these pages, Arsenal are becoming perennial ‘nearly men’ who do not have the vital killer instinct to win games when it really matters. But what is the root of their problem?
My blog on October 11, 2010 after the Gunners lost 2-0 to Chelsea suggested that “Arsenal played quite well last week at Stamford Bridge, but did not take their chances. As a caller to the Radio 5 606 phone-in said, there is a rectangular thing at the end of the pitch, where the ball is meant to go if you want to win games. Pretty approach work does not count in the end”.
That is the current problem with Arsenal, an addiction to pretty football. It is a deeply-held principle of Wenger's, but unfortunately it seems he would rather lose than win ugly. All top teams have to be able to shut up shop at times, to kill off games, like the great Leeds and Liverpool sides of the past. There are no “enforcers” in the Gunners’ team anymore, nobody wears the ‘don’t mess with me or…’ tee-shirt.
I believe that football has to be played to the rules but it is a physical contact sport, and Arsenal are lacking a leader, a Patrick Viera or Tony Adams who can rally the team around a collective war-cry. Every successful team needs someone we used to call a “ball-winner” who keeps going when things get tough. Sunderland have Lee Cattermole, Newc**tle have Alan Smith, and Stoke have at least 8 of them! OK, Rino Gattuso of AC Milan went too far in confronting Joe Jordan the other night, and was duly punished by UEFA, maybe he was showing his “Gentile” side.
There is a problem at Arsenal, losing Toure and Adebayor has weakened the injury-prone forward/centre-back/keeper spine of the team, even though Szczesny looks like a good keeper. Wenger seems reluctant to spend the money to keep his side fresh and competitive. We like watching Arsenal play, we loved them beating Barcelona, but what use are all those sweet memories when they don’t win anything? They come up against solid Northern teams, or a determined Birmingham side, and are put out of their stride. They have injuries, but who doesn’t?
To be fair to Arsene, he did momentarily say Sunderland defended well, and I understand that his focus must be on Arsenal. But if he becomes obsessive about his own club during games, and does not look at the quality of the opposition, we see the sort of psychotic behaviour that Alex Ferguson has been displaying this week as United reflect on their 3 recent defeats.
It is a beautiful game, a match needs 2 teams, so my advice is take a leaf out of Steve Bruce’s book and praise the opposition more when they take points off you. You in effect gained a point on Man. Utd. over the weekend, so you are allowed to smile! And good luck versus Barcelona…
and PS...if you take a look at the Newcastle Evenig Chronicle report of the game, it was Arsenal 1 Sunderland 1 - now that would have been a fair result! http://www.chroniclelive.co.uk/sport/sunderland-afc/match-reports-and-results/2011/03/07/arsenal-1-sunderland-1-72703-28291619/
©Lars J.S. Knutsen
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