Something Great

Arsene Wenger cobbled together starting lineups with spit and duct tape and Denilson and somehow the team dragged its ass over the finish line in third or fourth.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Arsene Wenger pwns Luis Aragones

Arsenal 5 Fenerbahce 2, does not tell the whole story. The summary, even the highlights, still miss an intricate facet to this scoreline. The prerequisites are revealed in the form of two questions:

Did you watch Spain during Euro 2008? And have you watched (just about) any of Arsenal's last 10 games in the premiership? If you answered yes to both of those questions, then you should have put your mortgage on the over* in this game. I'm getting ahead of myself.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, the Premiership has learned how to beat Arsene Wenger football. The way you do it is to pack it in your own defensive half and score on set-pieces or wondergoals (see Hull, Fulham, Sunderland, and almost Everton). This strategy is actually quite worrisome to me (and Jim) because Arsenal is already out of the EPL, and quite honestly, it wouldn't suprise me if we missed 3rd place this year. It would infuriate me, but it wouldn't surprise me - you just cant lose or draw this many times as Arsenal have in this young year. The proven Anti-Arsene strategy is most worrisome though, because it is Wenger that must adjust, not his opponents. Bolton has been trying this pack-it-in-and-hope strategy with talentless hacks for a few years now, but now more and more managers are willing to vitiate the beautiful game. It sounds harsh, but it's more or less the only counter.

And Arsene counts on this. He relies on a manager's pride and the watchability of a match for his game to work at its best. Have you noticed that after a loss, Arsene tends to comment that the game was boring or not a pleasing style of soccer? Or perhaps the fans don't want to see 10 in the box? Wenger feeds that stigma because his whole genius depends on it, and the beautiful game does too.

Enter Luis Aragones. Fresh off the Euro-Cup, Spain finally had the talent, and equally as important, the finishers, to play their style of football and get away with it. One could argue that Spain has often had the most talented team in big tournaments. Nobody needs to argue that they've underperformed. 28 days of unbelievable summer soccer later, Spain had finally gotten the monkey off it's back.

Glance at the title of this post again and you know where this is going. I haven't written it yet, but Spain under Luis Aragones and Arsenal under Arsene Wenger utilize eerily similar philosophies of soccer. Here's why Arsene won.

Not surprisingly, the strengths and weaknesses of any game-plan are best known by its inventor. Well, any good inventor. Some fans of the NFL thought that last year, Belichick and his Patriots were running up the score. That's not entirely true. He just knew what he had on defense, and knew that outscoring opponents, or at least an opponents strategy when playing from behind, was one that he can handle**. I've begun with an example that is too subtle but it happens alot. Tony LaRussa knows that his bullpen sucks, so he has his starters throw tons of strikes to elongate their starts. Obviously that caught up with our starters around 60 games in and then the bullpen, which I'm sure someone in management knew stunk, did the rest. These are completely separate stories all together but still, good managers know what they've got, and know what they haven't got.

The same goes for Wenger and his style of football. If you were to watch the game again now knowing the outcome, you might find that Fenerbahce and Arsenal were doing pretty much the exact same things on offense; possession, triangle passes, 2 touch maximums, slicing through-balls, and 2 touch finishes. The difference, and this was some difference (5 to 2 to be exact), was that Wenger had Alumunia off his line aggressively. That is an understatement. In fact, just watch the first 10 minutes, before Almunia really gets comfortable with it, and it almost burns him. Twice. David Guiza enjoyed the spoils of just as many (or more) threatening through balls as Adebayor/Walcott/El Diablo Diaby***. One keeper received instructions to come off his line aggresively and at all occasion, the other, had not. One keeper allowed 5 goals, the other 2. Yes, Arsenal has more talent than Fenerbahce, but if this were a Fantasy Football Finisher league I'd offer Ade/Diaby for Guiza in a heartbeat****. I would probably then have to follow that offer with an apologetic email to Guiza's owner and the commissioner that indeed I was taking the league seriously.

For all intents and purposes, the same soccer style and philosophy met on Tuesday in Istanbul. Wenger proved he's the better coach.

*It was 2.5 at open and closed at 3
** Their defense clearly sucks this year, but don't forget that
*** The Spanish announcers on 360 loved calling him el diablo, diaby. He had a good game too, so it was enjoyable.
**** Or a keeper league, roto league, regular league, real life, father figures. NOT wingmen at a bar though.