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.