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By Tony Attwood
This is the time of year when some Arsenal fans find it hard to understand why Arsenal are not splashing the cash, and why other clubs seem to be able to spend so much more.
Such anger can be expressed in numerous ways including Football London’s which has a relentless agenda of suggesting that the club is in turmoil. As with their current anti-Arsenal headline, “‘Absolutely pathetic – disgusted!’ Arsenal fans react with fury to Liverpool’s Fabinho swoop.”
Apart from missing the rather important word “some” in front of “Arsenal fans” – or maybe better, “We’ve found half a dozen Arsenal fans who…” which is more accurate, the problem with this approach is that it is against the entire culture of the club.
Arsenal have not gone to the edge of bankruptcy for 108 years – longer than most clubs – and have not relied on loans from a director since Sir Henry Norris (who bailed the club out from its near bankruptcy) recovered the loans he had made into Arsenal so that the club could first build and then later buy Highbury Stadium.
Since then Arsenal has been self-sustaining. Now we might not like that, and indeed I’ve acknowledged in articles that we are quite unlikely to win the League or Champions League with this model because we are up against the wealth of the Emirates Investment Authority in terms of Manchester City, the worldwide marketing of Manchester United which was initiated in the late 1950s, the wealth of Abramovich which supports Chelsea, and the investments from Fenway Sports which owns Liverpool.
This tradition of Arsenal being self-sustaining is so central to the club that although I can have great sympathy with demands for the owner to put money into the club, beyond the profits and income from player sales, to make such a change would be to transform the whole nature of the club.
It so happens we have reached the age in which individual teams can dominate a league so constantly, that everyone thinks it is normal. It certainly hasn’t been that way in England throughout the League’s history, for although there have been periods of dominance by clubs such as Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United, these have not been as absolute or long term as the dominance of Bayern, Celtic, Juventus etc.
But this is not all there is, any more than all of Arsenal’s faults can be put down simply to having a poor defence. As has been expressed here before, at the very least we have to say that Arsenal had a poor defence away from home, but actually quite a good defence at home.
And once we get to that sort of debate we should find ourselves also looking at what has happened to clubs in the Champions League. As others have pointed out before me, Juventus had not let in a single goal in 21 of their previous 25 domestic games when they suddenly let in three to Real Madrid. Barcelona were unbeaten in the Spanish League and 15 points in front of Real Madrid when along came Roma (third in the Italian league) and beat them.
There have been a number of surprising results in the Champions League in the past couple of years and commentators have struggled to explain them. The CIES Football Observatory found in one analysis that over one in five of all Champions League games ended with a winning margin of three plus goals. And that was not just in the unbalanced group stages – the same figure can be found in the knock out stages.
And the figures show this has been going on for eight seasons. But go back nine years or more and it was only one in eight.
So what has happened? The most likely explanation is that as the dominance of domestic leagues has continued by one or occasionally two clubs in each country so the culture of the defence has changed. What is the point of having defenders who can defend if they rarely have to defend in the domestic league. Let’s have defenders who can play the ball. After all if you are winning every game in the League you have to entertain the crowd with something. Ball playing defenders is one idea.
The great vulnerability of the mega-clubs living on the backs of ceaseless championships in their home league is that their defenders get used to a certain style of play which has all become too easy for them. The Champions League final was played between a team that came 17 points behind the leaders in the Spanish League, and a team that finished 25 points behind the leaders in the Premier League. Those two teams have not had it easy in their leagues – and so their defences were ready to defend rather than ball play, when it came to matches.
Thus winning the domestic league might not be any sort of indication of how a club will do in the Champions League. Except maybe that it means that club is unlikely to win in Europe.
Which raises the question: will the serial league winners in leagues such as Germany, Spain, Scotland, Italy, France, and I suspect (unless something very unexpected happens, from here on in England) be able to make this adjustment? And will non-champion teams realise that defensive defenders rather than crafty ball players, can actually overcome the serial winners?
- Why are Arsenal suddenly getting interested in the older generation of players?
- To What Extent Should Malicious Tackles Be Accepted As Part Of The Game.
- How far are we behind our rival clubs?