Saturday, February 13, 2010

Win for Pragmatism for Arsenal

Arsenal's 1-0 victory over Liverpool this week kept their title hopes alive, albeit their lifeline hangs on a thread.

Saying that, the biggest thing that Arsene Wenger should be able to draw from the match was a key to finding success in the EPL.

For Arsenal, in a perverse sort of way, the most satisfying aspect of a victory that, combined with Chelsea's defeat and Manchester United's draw, has kept their championship hopes minimally alive, was that it was achieved more by a brick through the window than the usual painstaking picking of a lock. For once the influence of Fábregas was not a major factor. An excellent centre from Tomas Rosicky followed by a thumping header from Abou Diaby, and all Liverpool's previously successful efforts to hustle Wenger's team out of its stride had come to nothing rather than nothing-nothing.

It was not an ugly win so much as a win for a pragmatism that Arsenal's recent performances had tended to overlook. Not until the second half on Wednesday did they appear to realise that attempting to work the ball neatly through the thicket of Liverpool players clogging the central areas was rather like trying to find a way through a gorse bush with a pair of nail scissors. So they went round the outside instead and won the match.

Maybe this result, following the defeats against Manchester United and Chelsea, will restore some rationale to the Arsenal manager's public pronouncements, which were becoming increasingly bizarre. While Wenger made no bones about his displeasure at the defensive shortcomings so ruthlessly exposed by United when they won 3-1 at the Emirates, his reaction to Sunday's 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge was that the better team had lost, that Arsenal had had 70% of the possession and that Chelsea were adept at committing tactical fouls.

This drew a sharp response from Chelsea's Michael Ballack to the effect that good football was about winning, not possession or passing prettily. He might have added that in football goals, not possession, are nine-tenths of the law. As to the strategic shoves and nudges, Wenger sounded like the man who went to a casino and was shocked to find gambling going on. Teams have been doing this for years.

There is no question that having a lot of possession will give you opportunities to create scoring chances and keep the other team from getting theirs, but in the end of the day, scoring goals and tightening things up at the back is what leads to championships.

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