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Anti-football develops another tactic

From the start of football there have been tough players – defenders for example who would say to a passing forward “go past me once more sunshine and I’ll break your jaw”. And he would and the ref would give a freekick. Maybe.

The first manager I ever heard talk openly about playing Anti-football as a complete tactic was Lawrie McMenemy who managed Southampton from 1973 to 1985. He was always on panels on TV giving his opinion, so he never got criticised – not even when he said, about one game against Arsenal in which his team was so dirty it even left the Liverpool focussed media of the day with their jaws dropping, “they’ve got more talented players than us, so we have to play dirty.”

So Anti-football was born. It is, in essence, the use of every tactic you can get away with to stop the other side playing football. There used to be time-wasting, kicking the ball out of the stand, all that sort of thing, but then rules were changed to stop it. And so clubs started to find ways around the problem – to break up the flow of more talented teams, while not getting penalised. Anti-football, the antithesis of Total Football.

In the 21st century Bolton and Blackburn took Anti-football forward by introducing rotational fouling, followed by rotational time wasting. The fouls and time wasting are there, but never by the same player, and so the number of cards is greatly reduced, but the opposition is broken and frustrated.

Aston Villa use one of the most sophisticated rotational fouling systems yet seen, and they have added another element to anti-football which I certainly haven’t seen before. When a Villa player goes down he holds his head, and the ref stops the game, in accordance with the rules. Then, having stopped the flow of the opposition, he gets up, either with nothing wrong, or (as we saw during yesterda’s game on one occasion which happened straight in front of me) to have treatment on an ankle.

Thus when the one really serious injury did occur – Sagna being totally crippled by a bad foul – play went on and Villa scored. If he’d held his head rather than waiving at the medical team, Villa would not have scored.

So the issue is, why can’t we beat the clubs that play Anti-Football? Part of the answer was given by Mr Wenger when he said, “If you want to be champions, first you want to be consistent. At the moment we are not.”

But there is more. In the great days of Henry we were able to overcome Anti-Football in all its guises because we had there players of such stunning ability that singlehandedly they could take on the Anti-Football game. At its simplest Henry would stroll out to the left and take two defenders with him. He could side-step all the lunges and kicks sent his way – often passing to Pires who through tactical know-how could get himself into the space left by the defenders who were Henry watching.

At this moment we don’t have the same supreme quality that can get the goal quickly at the start, and thus make Anti-football invalid.

But, there’s a bright side. Henry joined us in the summer of 1999, and that season we were 17 points behind the ultimate champions. The next season 2000/1 we were 10 points behind. In his third season we won the league.

My point being that some things take time. Of course it can be argued that either a) time is what we don’t have, or b) we’ve already had 3 years without a trophy.

But, contrary to that, what we have is a superb team that is inconsistent. If that team was made up of 28 year olds I would be worried, because at that age in football you can’t learn consistency. But at 21 and 22 you can – just as Henry learned his trade between August 1999 and August 2002 when he really started to fly. What we have also is an extraordinary team coming up behind.

Those supporters who left early and missed Theo’s one man tribute to those who stayed, perhaps do believe that success today is everything and success tomorrow is not worth waiting for. They perhaps won’t even be happy about the extraordinary talent at the club. They will maybe have seen Fabregas underperforming of late, and think, that’s the end.

But Cesc will get his ability back – after all it hasn’t gone totally, and a player will emerge who will singlehandledly be able to unlock Anti-football, and we will be back and running.

It didn’t happen yesterday, and that’s upsetting. The boos that rang around the ground was upsetting also. I can only hope that Theo really did carry the message back to the dressing room that some stayed, and some chanted “Arsenal” until he left the pitch.

9 comments to Anti-football develops another tactic

  • Colonel Mustard

    the players have to take the blame yesterday and yes our mercurial Spaniard wsa pants and has been all season. your not at the Euros buddy with Nando and Villa no matter how much you wish you are. Its galling when you see a mediocre team like the Poo on top with just good teamwork. a lesson to be learned.

  • don't believe the hype

    Thanks Tony, I totally agree. I was disgusted with Villa’s tactics and the hopeless refereeing as we should have had a free kick before both of their goals. But I’m not blaming that for the loss as we were just not at the races yesterday. I wouldn’t say the team played badly, but there was just something missing. There was no spark and little creativity. But I’m not whinging as I recognise a young team will be inconsistent and this will all provide experience, which will help them in the longer term.

    If we had exactly the same team as last season and appeared to be going backwards I might be concerned. But, this season we have players getting their first run in the team (Walcott, Bendtner and Denilson) players making a comeback after a recent run of injuries (Diaby, Van Persie) new players (Nasri) and a player who had a hard summer, not enough rest and no pre-season to speak of (Cesc). As a result they are having to learn a new way of playing and adjusting to new personnel and whereas a fresh Cesc firing on all cylinders could provide that little bit of magic, it just wasn’t there yesterday.

    The crowd was also very subdued and did little to lift the team. But I was very happy to be one of a sizeable group who stayed to clap and cheer the team off regardless of the result. As for the booing, I think that was directed at the referee and linesmen as it started after most of the team had left the pitch and whilst the 3 blind mice were walking off.

  • Ateeb

    Sure I know where you’re coming from. The Villa player started with the anti-football, especially at the start of the second half when we were looking to break, by fouls on Nasri and Cesc. However we lacked with urgency as well. Theo’s pace if of no use when faced with a team that has parked the bus infront of the goal.

    I aggree that it has been more of a mental problem rather than the lack of quality players, that explains the inconsistent form. But if things continue this way untill january, than I expect Wenger to sign a creative player rather then a defender or a defensive midfielder. Apart from other things it would also encourage competition, which is completely lacking. As poliziano rightly notes, Denilson has been the success of the season, and IMO not dropable. But maybe we need a wide player, or someone in the mould of Rosicky/hleb.

    Last season we had Hleb, Rosiscky and Cesc as the creative force. Two of them are no longer playing. The games we lost, were mostly down to our attack not creating any chances. When that happens, it also puts pressure on the defense. So if we were to buy, come january, it seems only right to buy attacking players, rather than defenders or defensive midfielders.

  • why worry abt anti-football when our players seem afraid to make strong tackles when they hav to? It’s better we look at what our own players r not doin well. To me it’s aggression we used to have back in the Vieira days, now we hav a soft squad which is simply not good enough and likely to finish outside the top 4.

  • don't believe the hype

    afrix, I totally disagree with you. The first strong tackle made by an Arsenal player led to a booking. Villa made countless tackles, which got only a talking to until finally a card was produced to ironic cheers from the Arsenal fans.

  • Kevin

    I think “don’t believe the hype” has it right – the booing at the end was largely aimed at the officials. My brother is definitely not an Arsenal fan but after he’d seen the whole match he said it was one of the most one-sided displays of refereeing he’d seen for years.

    As many of you will have seen from the Opta stats, our team commits the fewest fouls but is most likely to get a yellow. On Saturday our two central midfielders were given very soft yellows really early in the game which almost certainly left them anxious about getting a second, which could explain why Afrix thinks our lot were afraid to tackle. This apparent bias against us seems to be happening more and more often. I don’t subscribe to conspiracy theories – though I’m beginning to understand why others do – but why this is happening to us in England but not in Europe just adds to the mystery.

  • don't believe the hype

    Kevin it’s hard not to wonder about conspiracy theories when it was just so blatant yesterday.

  • Oh yes don’t believe the hype, you are talking about Denilson’s tackle, sadly his tackle was a once off, you are booking led to the whole midfield not getting stuck in during the whole game! it’s as if you are saying the ref was soft on Villa maybe he was still not an excuse for us to go soft. These days Wenger boasts about us being on top of the fair play league, am not saying we should be a dirty side but we should be aggressive as we once were. that will mean the likes of Villa do not come to the emirates and boss around the midfield! I actually think we don’t think we need a new Flamini, we need a new Vieira, a big bully in the midfield who won’t take nonsense from the opposition!

  • Grant

    I saw this post over at ArsenalFCBlog and I loved it. I had a feeling someone had written it on another blog and so I searched a few lines. It is too good to waste in unsearchable comment sections…
    The anti-football comments were very interesting, however, I always find reading and writing about Arsenal is the most interesting thing in the world of Football. You are completely right when you say that we have an extraordinary amount of talented players at our club. They are horribly inconsistent at the moment, but you are once again correct when you say that they will learn. They had an amazing season last time around and I will not bet against them pulling together and having an amazing season once again. They will fight for trophies – of that I am sure.
    The Arsenal fans that stayed after the game and chanted “Arsenal” while Theo paid tribute to them – that sounds exactly like something I want to be a part of… Unfortunately I live in Australia… But I will be over there as soon as possible when I finish my degree…
    Arsenal fans, don’t lose hope. We have an amazing team, a great manager and the best club in the world!