Sunday, 30 March 2014

Sometimes continuity is better than change: Arsenal 1 Man City 1

Arsenal 1 Man City 1

At half-time yesterday, Arsene Wenger was faced with a tactical conundrum. Jesus Navas and Pablo Zabaleta were over-powering Kieran Gibbs due to Lukas Podolski's defensive incompetence. TV pundits advocated substituting Podolski and replacing him with a more defensive player. And yet Wenger did nothing of the sort: in fact, he doubled down on Podolski.

Attack-wise, Podolski had probably offered more than any other Arsenal player in the first half and Wenger recognised this. Arsenal played even more down the left in the second half, committing more bodies to that part of the pitch and created three terrific chances from that position: first, Podolski put in a brilliant cross which Olivier Giroud might have done better with; then, he put in a cross that Mathieu Flamini did put away; and then he himself had a chance as a result of a lucky ricochet and probably should have scored.

It's a really important lesson: sometimes continuity is better than change - conservatism (with a small c) has its place. The response of the armchair tactician would have been to become even more defensive. Instead, Wenger and Arsenal went for it and were rewarded.

The ludicrous media depiction of Arsene Wenger as some sort of tactical neanderthal who only knows how to play one way is just stupid. Sure, his teams tend to play a similar style. But if you think that means the tactics are always the same, you really shouldn't be allowed to express an opinion about football. Here he was, making a tactical tweak against one of the best tacticians out there and getting it right. Still though, it's all about narratives and this is an established one.

Yestersay's result also underscores the fine margins in football: two weeks ago, Arsenal were able to play defensively at White Hart Lane because of Tomas Rosicky's goal; last week, if Giroud had taken his early chance, Arsenal might well have mirrored those tactics: instead it turned into a clusterfuck. Against City, it could so easily have gone 2-0 early in the second half because of Arsenal's continued attacking mindset. Instead, Arsenal equalised and were perhaps unfortunate not to find a winning goal. On such small margins do whole seasons change. Just look at Dennis Bergkamp's penalty in 1999 against United as proof of that.

Keep the faith.

No comments: