How often do we see Arsenal dominate a game, play the best football and not win? Too often, I hear you say.
Why does it happen, or appear to happen, more often to us than others? When it happens we hear the same old rhetoric and soundbites ” same old same old” or ” Tactical naivety ” or some other such crap.
So today I want to offer some ideas as to why this is, or at least why I think it might be.
What tends to happen is that we play the better football, dominate the play , don’t score (or don’t score enough) from the many chances we make, then the opposition either manage to get a fluky goal, we make a silly mistake or on the odd occasion they score a screamer.
Before this can come about something has to happen, we have to be the better team. And we are, on almost every occasion. We lost two games at home this year, MUFC and Swansea. We were all over both teams . Three or four nil at half time would not have been an unfair reflection of both of those games. But we weren’t. Somehow, through a combination of resolute defending and /or, poor finishing they managed to take it to the point where a late goal grabbed them the points. In the case of MUFC it took the referee missing a foul , where Marouane Fellaini pushed Gibbs (who was in mid-air at the time) into Szczesny , causing them both to hit the deck. Then a lucky deflection off Gibbs (while still on the floor following the assault) and that was that. Swansea ? I mean it was all one way trafffic and a catalogue of individual errors saw a weak header sneak over the line, just……. But make no mistake , we battered both teams.
But it keeps happening ! I hear you.
Well yes. And it will as long as we keep playing better football than the rest, they will set up to frustrate, they will commit rotational fouls, they will hope to ride their luck, they will sometimes score goals against the run of play, they will occasionally get away with it and win. Because they have little choice, Arsenal play better football. They are maximising their chances of winning. Why would they not?
In the vast majority of occasions though, it won’t succeed and doesn’t work. We still win. Its nothing new or clever, most teams do it. Not only do they do it when we are at home, but most of them do it when they are at home. The sad reality is that sometimes it works for them.
It happens to us more that it happens to other teams because we have to play against it more often than other teams. Even Chelsea set up like that home and away against us.
Now I’m not talking about the times we play poorly, Stoke away first half, the big reverses at Chelsea, Everton and Liverpool last season. On those occasions they attacked us and we were found wanting for one reason or another. No, I’m talking about the vast majority of games where we face teams that have accepted we play better football and they don’t want a game. I don’t blame them either, what else can they do? But also, what else can we do?
We want to dominate? Right ! We want to play better football than them ? Right ! We want to create chances? Right!!
Well sometimes we do all of these things and don’t score. Sometimes we can play the same way, to the same level and win easily. But once in a while we either won’t win, or even (very occasionally) lose. My contention is that it happens more to us because the circumstances are repeated more often.
I watched West Brom have 20% possession at United, ride their luck and win. I saw Barca, against Celtic, have 89% possession, about 45 attempts on goal and lose to a single goal, from a corner, Celtic’s only attempt on goal. It happens a lot. But it only hurts when it happens to us.
Monaco was the perfect example of this. Revisionist thinking has us playing awful and getting spanked. But it took a combination of the worst finishing we have seen in years, from normally efficient scorers, and Per flicking a speculative nothing of a shot, into the top corner before the madness at the end of the game. Yes we made some utterly daft plays, but the set up and tactics had created enough chances for us to be out of sight .
Now just imagine that Theo hit the defender in front of him rather that the little gap between that defender and the post, then Alexis hit the bar full on rather than the underside, despite playing one of the best games we have seen, we would have been one stroke of luck on Villa’s part away from a nightmare and cries of tactical incompetence and we never learn.
I am not ignoring that on occasions we seem to go into melt down. I’m not saying we have bad luck. I’m not saying that we can’t cut down on how often it happens. I’m just saying it happens to us more because we face teams accepting it must be a backs to the wall war of attrition before a ball is kicked.
So that is where we are, and the obstacles we face in converting quality and footballing dominance into three points every week. Is there a solution though – the magic bullet ?
Pedantic George ( AKA @Blackburngeorge )