36 consecutive passes leading up to the second goal and the feelgood factor rises

By Tony Attwood

Can you imagine what the response would have been if it had all gone wrong last night?

Arsene Wenger had the choice: go with a full blooded first team selection and not only aim for a win but hope that PSG stumbled, or put more back up players into the team and give Ozil and Sanchez a break.

Either approach could have led to disaster: the weaker team might have drawn or even lost, leading to a feeling that without Ozil and Alexis we were not serious challengers at all.   The stronger team that we saw could have stumbled in the freezing fog, or worse one of Ozil or Alexis might have been injured.

But football management is always a four stage process:

  1. Build up your squad by buying the right players and nurturing others through the academy.
  2. Select the right team for the right occasion with the focus being on the team not the players.
  3. Build up the social psychology of the squad so that they love playing for the club, will accept it when they are not playing, and so that other teams hate playing against them.
  4. Take the right gambles: the ones that you can win.

Of course each stage is utterly dependent on the others; if any of the four stages fall apart then the whole model starts to crumble.   Besides which no manager gets that final step in the process (taking gambles) right all the time; the great managers get it right more of the time than the lesser managers, and have a team with enough resilience to fight back if the gamble backfires.

Which is why part three of the operation (generally utterly ignored by the media, largely because anything that involves either the word “psychology” or indeed “sociology” is derided these days) is vital.   Football is a team sport.  The clue is in the word “team”.

Yet it could have “Gone wrong” last night – meaning we might not have won and/or PSG could have won and/or someone could have got injured.

But this shows football is about gambles.  We could have won 1-0 with a lesser team and PSG might still have lost, and then everyone would have said we were lucky.   The implication for the game against Stoke next Saturday would have been that Arsenal were jogging along but not setting the world alight.

However last night, although against lesser opposition this team did set the footballing world alight.  Not just because we won and scored four, not just because in the last three games in which we put out the proper first team we have scored 13 goals, not just because we looked good, and not just because Ozil and Alexis are both doing things that are out of this world (and the last time we had two such players was Henry and Bergkamp).  No not just because of that but because before the second goal we had something like 36 consecutive passes.

Watching the game I felt the number of passes was very high, but guessed something around 25 was the number.  But today the Telegraph has helpfully provided an evolving diagram of the movement for that goal, and I think the number is 36.  It might be 34, 35… it is somewhere around that number, it gets hard to follow after a while.  (And I started counting after the last opposition player touched the ball).

That is something special – even against a weaker team.  And since I have quoted the Telegraph article once, let me throw in a second point they make:

It’s easy to dismiss this win as simply hammering a dreadful side, but Basel are a decent outfit. PSG only claimed victory when they visited the St. Jakob-Park with a 90th-minute winner, while the Swiss team had beaten Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool in their last three Champions League home games against English clubs. 

So my point is not that we are on a bit of a run – that is obvious.  But the feeling inside the Arsenal squad must be exceptional at the moment – and perhaps because a lot of my own early research work (outside of football) was in the social sciences I do tend to find that oft ignored element of a team to be important.

Take any of the issues that have been raised about Arsenal over the last couple of years and you will now find them seemingly solved.

We need a new centre forward

Suddenly we looked at the goal scoring record of Alexis and realised we had one.  Better he can play on the wing or in the middle.  And we discovered that Giroud could pop onto the pitch and score.  And that £17m on yet another player who can play centre forward or out wide was not wasted – oh, he’s just scored a hattrick.  And Theo has come back to life.  And the Ox has started to deliver…

Without Santi Cazorla we are only half the team

Is there a permanent replacement for Santi as deep midfield playmaker?  On this site I’ve been over the six combinations of Coquelin, Elneny, Xhaka, Ramsey, time and again, and people are still moaning about not having a replacement for Santi.

But the point is there is no Santi Mark II, but there are other solutions.   Coquelin / Xhaka has been looking like one of them.   Xhaka / Ramsey is another.  And certainly having two such combinations that work is not a bad idea given that the defensive midfielder is the one player more than any other who can get carded rightly or wrongly in any match.  Indeed that was why Coquelin was not playing yesterday.

We need a new defender or three

Mr Wenger was criticised for not buying a new central defender earlier, and for not having a pairing ready for the opening match (remember the late finish of the Euros?)

But he bought the right man.  Indeed the right men, for we are coping even when two of our right backs are injured and a third has suffered a loss of confidence (not at all unusual after a very long period out of the game) and we still have a replacement full back and a replacement centre back.

In fact more than the right man was bought: remember Holding, and all the derision about a £2m player from Bolton?   That purchase could end up as a the deal of the century.

We need a new goalkeeper

This was directed at Ospina because he made one mistake that led to a goal.  Yes, one mistake.  OK like all keepers he made a couple of slips, but really all the howling and derision in the media about Ospina came from one error.  But he has looked solid and in control in each game since.  And besides we have just put our third choice keeper on a new long term contract.  I think we are quite well stocked.

So after the game Arsene Wenger says he will feel “less guilt” if the Gunners get a tough draw in the Champions League last 16 after his side topped Group A and we can see what he means.

As Mr Wenger then said, typically underplaying the result, “It is a positive night.  We wanted to do our job and we got lucky with the PSG result.”

Yes we got lucky, but we were there to make use of the luck.

And it is that thought that led me to compile this table of all our results with an added psychological factor at the end.  Of course there is no actual science in the last column but I have simply given a number out of ten about how I think the players might feel about the club at that moment.

So to kick off, after the first game it was very low – there was a lot of disquiet about the transfer window and about the fact we lost.   There was some hope since we had players to come back, but it felt very low everywhere.  2 out of 10.   Then we got a draw against the champions, but it was uninspiring stuff, and the nutters did their “Wenger out” chants.  At least we didn’t lose.

And so on through the season.  One win at Watford didn’t change everything but made everyone feel a little better…

Comp Date Home Score Away Result  Factor
League 14 Aug Arsenal 3 – 4 Liverpool
League 20 Aug Leicester 0 – 0 Arsenal
League 27 Aug Watford 1 – 3 Arsenal
League 10 Sep Arsenal 2 – 1 Southampton
Champs Lge 13 Sep Paris St-G. 1 – 1 Arsenal
League 17 Sep Hull 1 – 4 Arsenal
EFL Cup 20 Sep Nottm Forest 0 – 4 Arsenal
League 24 Sep Arsenal 3 – 0 Chelsea
Champs Lge 28 Sep Arsenal 2 – 0 Basel
League 02 Oct Burnley 0 – 1 Arsenal
League 15 Oct Arsenal 3 – 2 Swansea
Champs Lge 19 Oct Arsenal 6 – 0 Ludogorets
League 22 Oct Arsenal 0 – 0 Middlesbro
EFL CUP 25 Oct Arsenal 2 – 0 Reading
League 29 Oct Sunderland 1 – 4 Arsenal
Champs Lge 01 Nov Ludogorets 2 – 3 Arsenal
League 06 Nov Arsenal 1 – 1 Tottenham
League 19 Nov Man Utd 1 – 1 Arsenal
Champs Lge 23 Nov Arsenal 2 – 2 Paris St-G.
League 27 Nov Arsenal 3 – 1 Bournemouth
EFL CUP 30 Nov Arsenal 0 – 2 Southampton
League 03 Dec West Ham 1 – 5 Arsenal
Champs Lge 06 Dec Basel 1 – 4 Arsenal
League 10 Arsenal Stoke
League 13 Everton Arsenal
League 18 Man City Arsenal

Of course you can disagree about the feel-good psychology in the last column, but the exact numbers are not the point.  The point is that the way the players feel about themselves and the group is part of building a winning team.  I think this has been happening.

I believe the incredible final goal against Ludogorets away gave the team a real boost, a feeling that they could always grab something amazing from somewhere, hence the 9.  And we’ve still got that feeling.  36 passes helps too.

Let’s hope it continues against Stoke, and raise a glass of something to those 36 or so consecutive passes.

Tales from Untold 

Wenger ponders whether Yaya Sanogo will ever really be good enough for Arsenal. 

CL Basel – Arsenal1-4 : A Lucas hattrick and top of the group!

Basel v Arsenal: the teams, the stats, the preview

Ref Review : Arsenal – Bournemouth

We all know November is Arsenal’s worst month. But what about December?

It looks like the squad is growing

Attending a football match doesn’t make them experts anymore than standing in a garage makes them mechanics.


13 Replies to “36 consecutive passes leading up to the second goal and the feelgood factor rises”

  1. Else where I read, ARSENAL are unbeaten away since 9 months. Had a 2 months break inbetween though. Cant verify.

  2. I didn’t see the 36 passes Goal, infact until today morning I didn’t realise that played a game yesterday evening.It has been lucky for Arsenal when I don’t watch or follow the game and I cannot stop myself from watching or following the game when I know the game is going on, So I force myself into very involving activities. But when I see the 36 pass pic there seems to be lot of back and side passes and the number in itself is too high. It is against Basel(I am not forgetting that they are swiss Champions). EPL games will not allow the luxury of 36 passes either the flow will be broken or your Player will be injured. so the only way is to score quickly and Arsenal has been doing that lately. So, I am not really over the top about tht 36 pass Goal.

  3. Another good piece. Have you considered management or teaching football management- the 4 points are quite intuitive.

    The psych factor is a thing but I’m not sure how you measure it but kudos to you for giving it a go. One thing that can be scientifically measured is results. We have played 23 this season, winning 15- 65% win rate, plundering 54 goals and conceding 18 – 0.78 per game and 8 clean sheets to our credit.
    If all counted in a league table fashion we would have an astonishing 51 points from 23 matches. Leicester had 47 at that stage last season.
    Kudos to Wenger for quietly going about building a squad over a number of years while everyone accused him of not spending or actually not doing it in one transfer window as the media cajoles the fans into believing that’s what we want.

  4. Hmmn,
    it’s happy time for we the Arsenals after we’ve first realised our number 1 aims to qualify for the CL again, again and again…. for 17 consecutive seasons. Wow! And also for us to have miraculously realised our 2nd objectives to mount the top spot in our group on the final day of the group stage campaigns. So what else can we say other than to give thanks to God for His favour that cometh upon us.

    Save for defensive purposes to protect our advantage in the game by denying the opposition to have the ball or using it trying to draw the opposition players out from their defensive shell, 36 consecutive passes are delightful to watch. But for me, it’s too much of a tiki-takaring with the ball. It can be a waste of productive attempts time to score if negatively employed. And should the ball be seized by the opposition, it could lead to a dangerous counter attacks. As the overpassing team got momentarily lost. Cesc Fabregas audacious long pass to Diego Costa at the Etihad last Saturday has said it all.

    Even the exponent of tiki-taka football, Pep Guardiola and the instrument – Barcelona fc team he used in propelling the invention have appeared to be restricting the project to a lesser degree in application as it’s no longer effectively sustained dominance in a game due to it being countered by the park the bus strategy team which seems to have weakened it one time dominance at a period in time.

    Therefore, the Gunners may put 20 to 40 passes together in a match to entertain it’s teeming supporters. Fine. Or do it for defensive reason by using it to draw out the stubborn park the bus opposition team.

    By and large, for me, the devastating 1 – 2, 1 – 3, 1 -4, 1 – 5, 1 – 6 & 1 – 7 passes, maximum and it’s a Goal! are enough for me. But of course I am not a footballer nor am I a football coach. Therefore I could be wrong in my thinking.

  5. Tony,
    Are you sure about Holding possibly being the signing of the century? I always thought that was the capture of the former Olympic Stadium by West Ham.
    That is according to the delectable Baroness Brady. 😉

  6. Nicky, yes Ms Brady has said it was the most successful stadium transfer of all time. An interesting claim.

    But I really do rate Holding, and I rather suspect his is going to be the transfer I will be quoting for quite a while when people talk about buying kids for a few million rather than REAL players.

    Dammy – the only time I ever got the government to pay me (rather than the reverse) was to set up the School of Education Administration and Management, which I ran for quite a few years. Not quite football management, but the skills are the same. Thanks for your compliment.

  7. As usual the BT Sport show adopted a negative view about us yesterday. The preview was based on how we had failed to win our group over the last few years and then our chief supporter on the panel , the appologist Ian Wright , only said we would win in order that he avoid the usual criticism on twitter for telling the truth.Having won the panel then went into fits of giggles that as a result of our victory would could draw Bayern Munich again. How sad that this should be the case and how laughable that the editorial staff had got it so wrong. Incidentally their highlight show that followed did not begin with our triumphant victory but the dynamic non result draw between Citeh and Celtic. At this point I gave up.

  8. I am quite convinced that holding is a real steal and the real deal as we say across the Pond. However there are some absolutely fabulous deals Wenger made the past few years with Lucas, Mustafi, El-Neny, Gabriel, Xhaka and Alexis representing great value for money.

    What really gets me excited is that we still have Wellbeck, Per,Bellerin and Santi to return over the next 3 months, only strengthening our already formidable side. I don’t see Wenger addind anyone during the January transfer window unless we get more injuries to key players…..andlets hope that doesn’t happen.

    I AM concerned with the way the PIGMOB seem to be returning to their wicked ways when it comes to the Arsenal. However, we seem to have found a solution to the tramway parking side of Football and the tactical dynamism AFC have shown is really positive and impressive.

  9. Forgot to mention Wilshere, Sanogo, Chambers and Akpom, and Reine-Adelaide being available either now or next season, as well!

  10. Are we really contemplating the number of passes? I don’t care if the pass once or 100 times. The important point is the team is in a great moment, and we should all be thankful for the results. The entire team, players & coaches & support staff, are working very hard to achieve these results.
    It’s not fair to sit behind a computer and complain about the manner in which we topped our CL group!

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