I hate the self styled Special One. I’ve often called him the Dark Lord of anti-football, a man capable of taking all joy out of the beautiful game. Irrespective of how one might feel about him, no one can deny the tactical genius of the manager who must not be named.
I had mixed feelings about this semi-final. I want football to win and by consequence I want Barcelona to win. Yet, the performance of Inter had some beauty in itself. Any fan who considers himself a student of the game would have learnt a lot watching the Nerazzurri carve out a win against the reigning champions of everything.
A supposedly defensive team with only 28% possession scored three goals while an impeccable attacking machine boasting the greatest talent in world football and 72% of the ball could only fashion one. Can it get any more counterintuitive than that!?
The simple truth of the game was that Inter were far more efficient with their possession than Barcelona were with theirs. Of course they were helped by the vast open spaces in the Barca half and to some extent by the referee and his assistant but no one can claim the result isn’t a fair reflection of the game.
With less than half the possession the hosts created almost the same number of chances as the visitors. In part it is a testament to the dark arts of defence that Dark Lord has mastered and the rest to the uncomplicated nature of their attack. One of Inter’s strengths was the speed with which they converted a change of possession into a chance on goal.
It took me back to the days when Arsenal could massacre a team that pushed forward and lost the ball. One player wins a challenge, the striker exploits the space available, a couple of support players blitz forward and the ball is in the back of the net before the opposition realizes they’ve lost possession.
Look at the goals Inter scored. They always had 2 or 3 players in the box and Barca hardly got their midfield back in support. Their back four just wasn’t equipped to deal with a rapid attack in numbers, very few defences can.
A number of Arsenal fans have been wondering why we can’t do this anymore. Yes, we do score some goals on the counter but not as many or as often as we should be. I remember the other day, I think it was against Wolves, when we had a 4 V 1 situation in injury time and still managed to mess it up. These days even the likes of Wigan and West Ham can set up camp in the Arsenal half leave alone the might of Barcelona.
This isn’t an easy question to answer. The simplest explanation is to blame the quality of the players. The obvious counter argument is that if we have so many sub-standard players how could we have been in the title race with 5 games to go and comfortably above teams that have outspent us for years!?
As I said, it’s not an easy question to answer. What we do need is an acknowledgement of the fact that we’ve lost an edge on our counter attacks. Then we need serious work on improving this aspect of our game. For a long time I’ve been getting a feeling that we are content with only one style of play. We try to keep the ball and break the opposition down.
On rare occasions, we come up against a team like Barca who can keep it better than us. Result – a clueless Arsenal side running around in desperation, fighting but yielding to elementary mistakes borne out of an unfamiliar game style.
Our other problem games have been against teams with a solid defence and a strong counter attack. United and Chelsea have mastered this game plan against us, Man City and Tottenham have taken a leaf out of their book. Sunderland were defending for a draw and got a freak goal for the win, while the Wigan game was too crazy to be classified into any category.
If we wish to develop into a squad capable of challenging on multiple fronts we need adaptability. A complete change of personnel and manager cannot be the answer. Acknowledgement of the need, dedicated training, hard work and some tweaks in the squad could be.
As always, the onus is on Arsene. His future and that of many of his youngsters depends on it.