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October 2016
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Style and Steel: the rise of the polyvalent player


By Don McMahon

While reviewing and watching the fallout from the Burnley game from the pundits, players and media, this comment came up multiple times in describing AFC’s gritty win against a park the flotilla team.

Adrian Clarke and Skodran Mustafi aptly described it as an ugly performance meriting all 3 points at the death. They used the terms style and steel to describe underwhelming individual performances versus a team effort that earned all three points. Here is my take on what they were referring to.

The AFC style is pretty well known to most Gooners and is acknowledged, when it works, as being among the best and most beautiful Football played today, or in the past. The Chelsea game was a perfect example of Arsenal’s stylish and one touch football overwhelming a lethargic defence and almost pathetic Chelsea attack. What is this ¨style¨ everyone talks about?

Barcelona have a style all their own, the short incisive passing, the one touch moves around their opponent’s box, the explosive combination of midfielders and attackers controlling almost 70% of the pitch, the individual genius of a Messi, or Neymar or the Vampire, the fluid and surgical passes that open up an opponent’s defence like a scalpel through butter, etc.

We are seeing something similar from AFC but there is a different raison d’etre for the way we play and that is due to Wenger’s insistence that players play from different positions from those they are used to and his need for all his players to be polyvalent.

Bellerin is a perfect example of this duality. He is a feral defender with lightning fast speed and a will to win back a lost ball regardless of the effort needed. He also possesses a great ability to lob nice sitters into the opponent’s box, where our strikers can have a go.

The Steel was in evidence during the first half of the Burnley game. We needed Mustafi (MOTM) and Kos to shut the door when Burnley came out of their shell and had a go. Yes they made a few blunders BUT we always had Cech, which means we have a spine from midfield to defence that is hard to score against and will ensure a lot more clean sheets this season.

I believe it was John Terry who said that Cech would earn Arsenal another 5-10 points each season by just being in nets for us. When I watched Xhaka, he seemed almost invisible UNTIL he was needed, and then he popped up, dispossessed his opponent and spread a great pass to his midfield partners (Santi and Ozil). Santi has a 98% pass success rate for this game which is incredible; he misplaced only 2 of 107 passes all game!

In seasons past, since the 2005 team, and due to our stringent economics forced on us by the new stadium and the Board, we have had a lot of stylish players but lacked a really solid defensive partnership in the CB and DM positions. We were often described as Barca light or a ¨you can’t win anything with kids¨team, and  Wenger acknowledged that there was some truth to these statements when he said that this is the most mature and adult team he has had since the Invincibles.

Wenger has brought together, in the crucible of the Emirates, a newer version of his 2003 team. They are not the same, nor will they ever be BUT that was then and this is today, a mega-rich league with dubious foreign ownerships, many more foreign stars than were in the league in 2003, and a rather different officiating approach than existed back then.

Teams that were perennial mid-table clubs back then have become serious challengers for the EPL title. United have been forced to play managerial merry-go-round and are still trying to get back their mojo. North London teams are in the thick of the fight and could very well continue so right up to the bitter end. The Spuds lacked steel last season, collapsing in a comically burlesque manner in the last week of the season. Will this meltdown occur again, or will they find the dominance they displayed on Saturday, for the rest of the season?

Arsenal are , for the first time in a decade, looking like they have the chemistry, the steel, the style and the player unity to offer a real and prolonged challenge for the title in 2017…..only time will tell.

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9 comments to Style and Steel: the rise of the polyvalent player

  • “Style and steel”.That totally tickles me. We going to whoop some very expensive asses this season.

  • nicky

    As you rightly say, Don, only time will tell.
    However, we need a couple of assists….
    1. No serious long-term injury absences by key players at crucial times.
    2. Belief in success by both squad and supporters that the EPL title (at least) can be ours. 😉

  • Mandy Dodd

    Can only agree, this team could become a bit special. Massive competition to even get into the first team, some very special players. This lot look strong right the way through

  • Rantetta

    Good article Don.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    If we keep our belief and work harder and move up on , we should get our due rewards this season. And hopefully with the inadvertent blessing of the PIGMOB !

    Our strength and diversity on the bench gladdens my heart, for after a very long time , we can choose to change the team shape and playing style for tactical reasons and not solely due to injuries.

    And as usual keeping my fingers crossed that our players come back safe, injury free and rearing to go.

  • para

    Damm, i had to look up polyvalent, although i guessed what was meant. Please use simpler words, took me 15 secs. 🙂

    The team is special.

    Only thing we now need to do, is to rotate a few players after max 3-4 games as we see the effects in every 4-5 game, a dropping of intensity.

    Subs earlier could help this, especially if things are not going well in 1st half.

  • Hisham


    Agree with you on the rotation of the squad. We also know that it’s not good to change something that’s not broken. I think it was Wenger himself who said that he noticed some of the players may have been affected by the number of games they have played recently.

    Of course, it’s the Manager who would know best when to change players. I’m sure players like Alexis will want to play every single minute in every game. This shows passion and commitment to the team. So, is there a scientific barometer that can measure the culpability of a player to not perform at his best?

  • bjtgooner

    Lets hope the electron density is maintained for the rest of the season!

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