Sagna – “We played to play, not to win”

The player interviews after games on ATVO are generally quite uninteresting. Most of the times you can predict what the players will say as the questions are quite leading. Every once in a while though, an interview gives me something insightful or thought provoking.

Sagna’s post match talk after the West Ham game falls in this category. In case you haven’t heard it you can access it via ATVO on this link. I will just reproduce a small part (verbatim as I heard it, but no guarantees of my transcribing skills.)

Sagna had just mentioned that the team had played poorly in the first half when the interviewer asked,

What quite went wrong in that first half, you just couldn’t seem to get going?

Sagna was surprisingly forthright,

We just played to play and not to win, that’s what happened when we just want to pass the ball. And we have to pass the ball to score goals and not to play nice football.

Arsenal players have often been accused of being goal shy, while ‘pretty football with no end product‘ is a common complaint against Arsene and his teams. To hear this from a player throws a completely different light on the matter.

Firstly, it says that this is a real issue. And if it’s happened once who is to say that it doesn’t happen often. Frankly, whenever the media hacks and critics raised this issue, I told myself that the players always play to win. Now that Sagna has split the beans, I have to reconsider my thoughts.

Come to think of it, it is only natural that sometimes the focus shifts to keeping possession rather than scoring goals. Any team that plays possession football will face this problem. Every time a player has the ball he will have multiple options to pass the ball. Most of them will be an easy pass to a team mate nearby. Creating the final ball is not an easy task so the players will regularly pick the simpler option.

The second thought is about the attitude of the team. For instance, if Fabregas is playing, the onus of creativity would fall on him. So he will be looking for the final ball at all times and the front players would be looking to make a run when Cesc is in possession. On the other hand, when Song has the ball, the attacking players might not make a run in behind. Again, this seems quite natural and logical.

When the team has a large number of changes the balance can get affected and no one would be certain when they are supposed to play safe and when they have to take a chance. The players might err on the side of caution. We can still keep the ball but our creative threat is marginalized.

I have a feeling this is related to Wenger’s comments in the recent past like playing with the handbrake on, playing with fear and things like that. I guess this can only be solved with time as the squad plays together more often. Everyone needs to know each others strengths and weakness and achieve the right balance in their decision making.

It is also easy to misread this as a lack of burning desire, something I have been guilty of. The problem is much more complex and seems to be more about confidence and belief than about desire.

Thankfully, this comment has gone below the media radar. It certainly has the potential to stir up another controversy.


18 Responses to Sagna – “We played to play, not to win”

  1. Edwin says:

    good article appreciate it =)

  2. Heffy says:

    Yeah, I didn’t catch the post-match interviews, so this is interesting to hear, although I hope the players, especially the young AND inexperienced ones, are not caught up in the media wash about how Arsenal plays pretty football and then when they are put out, they try to live up to the “pretty football” tag instead of winning. I believe Cesc was like that before, and you can see this season in his play how he has realised he needs to win the match, and pretty football is not enough. Worrying yeah? To know that to some players, pretty football is the end itself, and not a means toward an end, which is winning.

  3. Michael says:

    If this comment had any chance to stir up a controversy it would have. You are reading into it way too much, Sagna was explaining the poor first half of the West Ham match, nothing more.

  4. Maddy says:

    Yeah, I agree with Michael. I guess the context of the comment matters greatly as well. And in any case, i don’t think desire and motivation is an issue with this particular squad.

  5. Wayne says:

    I agree with Michael…while i really appreciate the articles on this blog….i feel this statement by Sagna is being drawn out of context.

    If he had said the ‘I ‘played to play and not to win then maybe there was a scoop there…but there is no way he can comment on whether the others played only to play and not to win. Seems more like what Wenger would have said in the half time team talk to motivate the team in the second half.

    • dreaming1life1as1it1is says:

      it doesn’t matter if it’s right or wrong but quite frankly that’s the real problem i guess…

    • desigunner says:

      I am sorry if you felt this was taken out of context! My attempt was to just highlight something he said (and I have mentioned that he was talking of the first half performance) and to analyze it as best as I could.

      I also agree that it’s something Wenger might have said at half time. Players won’t go on the pitch thinking they just want to play for fun. As I tried to point out, it could be difficult for the players to realize that the focus has shifted from scoring to keeping possession.

  6. dreaming1life1as1it1is says:

    thoughtful… very thoughtful….bt hw can squad be together if wenger sells players the moment he realises his potential and ask for more money…

  7. bobbygee says:

    this is true playing not lose you will lose. trust me on this. the media couldn’t get a story right if it bit them in the ass. he is rigtt. the second half was different. attack is the key. dictate the tempo. force the other team to play at your pace and tempo. bolton is a must win. http://bobbygee.wordpress.com/

  8. pig8gai says:

    This only problem of the theory that Arsenal players tend to focus on passes rather than scoring goals is that they are the top scoring team in Premier League, the only team that scored over 50 goals thus far, and they have done it without a true center forward in the squad virtually all season. How do you justify the accusation that they’re not interested in scoring?

  9. malaygooner says:

    dude. your sharp analysis on every thing arsenal makes you one of the best arsenal bloggers around.keep up the good work.

  10. […] Sagna – “We played to play, not to win” The player interviews after games on ATVO are generally quite uninteresting. Most of the times you can predict what the […] […]

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