STYLE AND STEEL
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.