This is a piece that's it's fair to say I've had swilling around in my head for a fair old while. At various times during the past season I came close to writing it, but then thought better of it, for fear of being too negative - most notably amongst these times was the away leg against PSV, when we played possibly the most insipid second half to a game that I have ever seen.
However, I've since calmed down about that, and now that I'm finally writing this piece, it's fair to say that I've probably lost track of some of the original points that I wanted to make, and the manner in which i was going to structure this - perhaps i shall rediscover these things during the course of writing this. Whether I do or not, what is certain is that I have certainly lost the bile with which elements of this article were to be written.
I want to talk about what would be the ideal way to see the team play. What are we missing, and what can be picked up from other teams, from the way they approach their fixtures.
Now, nobody would disagree with the much-acknowledged fact that Arsenal play the most attractive football in the premiership, the pretty passing patterns, the triangles, the movement.
But I also think that everyone who frequents this site could admit, however begrudgingly, that there is something to our game. In the past couple of seasons we have lost a vast wealth of experience, not just on the pitch in terms of performance, but also in the dressing room, and in knowing how to approach adverse situations. We have also endured quite a sizeable shift in our playing style. Yes, we still play incredibly attractive football, but gone (for the moment, anyway...) are the telescopic-leg-tackle of vieira, followed by rapier-like thrusts on the break which would see us kill off teams inside 20 minutes of the first half. Instead of the focal point of our game being our mercurial french maestro Thierry Henry, now we find the strings of the team being conducted by the seemingly ceiling-less talents of our young spanish star, Cesc Fabregas.
As this shift has taken place though, we seem to have lost something along the way - the cutting edge, whilst not having been blunted, seems to be found more often than not in the form of a partially-unsheathed sword, brandished more in the form of deterrent than with any great intent to wound fatally. Notable exceptions have been seen this season, Reading away being one that immediately springs to mind.
So while the team plays with a majesty in its' approach play, it appears to not always know the precise moment when to spring the catch and strike, the moment to alternate from the passing to stretch a team, switching to the thrust that sees the net bulge.
Also, there have been a few occasions this season when the team have been faced with the problem such as teams coming to the Grove and parking the proverbial bus in front of goal. Arsene has said that it is down to him and the team to find solutions to this, and it is indeed true to say that we cannot expect teams to come and play us at our game, for they know that nine times out of ten, they would be torn asunder. So this team must add more strings to its' bow. Different ways of playing. If you play with just the one way, you are gifting the opposition with the knowledge of how to set about combating this problem.
Were we to find a 2nd and 3rd style of play (the much referred to 'plan b' in previous seasons) then we would would set teams with a conundrum. Know that we will be playing them one way and one way only, team x know how to go about combating it. Give them 2 more styles to play against, and then they are unsure what one they will be faced with. This uncertainty over what Arsenal Team X will be faced with, and the doubt in their minds that if they negate one style, the team can switch to another mode with which to unlock their opposition, would give Arsenal a greater chance to win by playing the football that they love playing most.
We have made progress in the fact that teams no longer seem able to bully us out of games, so this has been a definite progression. But more can be made. And with the youth of this team, and it's scope for growth, the chances are that more will be made.
Time to look at the other teams in the top three. If you observe them, there are elements from all three that could be, however much it goes against the grain, incorporated into our game, which would go towards making the team more of a complete whole.
Let's start with the newly crowned champions - ManUSA. Now, they've won the league playing the most attacking brand of football out of the top 2, but this year seems to have seen a resurgence of their style that was much on display in seasons previously, that confidence and belief going forward, that seems to see quite a few teams capitulate, how many times have you seen teams seem to be petrified of the mancs pouring forward out wide, and centrally, in numbers. Not many in the past 3 seasons, but it used to be the norm, in the days when them and us would be going head to head for the league. I still don't think that they have sufficient quality in depth in central midfield, for me fletcher and o'shea will never truly be up to the quality i associate with the mancs. And this is a back-handed compliment to their team. But this season has certainly seen something of a renaissance in the aforementioned style which they have played with this season.
We could certainly learn to attack with the freedom out wide that they have displayed, the way they stretch teams. That I would take on board from the mancs.
Next up - Chelski. Runners up in the league, Maureen's mob have once again been the relentless grind-machine. They never give up. They are stoical, unemotional, but quite often unrelenting. You have to admire the way they carried on fighting at the Grove recently, to such an extent that it wasn't til 70 mins gone that i remembered they were down to 10 men. Yes, they play turgid football, yes they are an instantly dislikeable team, but you have to admire their sheer bloody-mindedness and refusal to buckle, and their application. We could certainly have done with that application away at PSV, during that 2nd half. So that's what I'd love for the Arsenal squad to observe and learn from Chelski.
Finally, the scousers. The 'Pool finished third, pipping us by the narrowest of margins. They are also a bit of a conundrum of a team, capable of going on an excellent run, and looking like they may finally be realising their style in which it is best for them to operate, then the next, reverting to type and completely misfiring. Our games against them this season are a good microcosm of this, in the FA Cup, we had the measure of them completely and they looked toothless, but at their ground in the league, they did for us completely.
One thing that can certainly be said about Liverpool is the way that Benitez is not afraid to drop, chop, shape and change his team depending on the opposition, and what potential problems they may pose. It is true that, if your side is good enough, you should not need to do this, as you can let the other mob worry about you. But it is definitely a sign of a manager that recognises that while he may not have quite the side with which he feels he can do this, to compensate for hi, he can mold a team on matchdays to negate the opposition. So from the scousers, I'd take this ability for tailoring solutions to specific situations.
There, I've kinda got through most of the things i wanted to rattle on about. I think that we cannot be so blinkered as to think that ours is exclusively the only brand of football to play, and that there are a few elements we could and perhaps should adopt from those around us - after all, advancement was never made by standing still, and closing your eyes to what is going on around you, thinking that you are the finished article, for there is always something new that can be gleaned from somewhere else. Absorb what is good and can be of benefit, discard or ignore that which is not. And that is what Arsenal may well benefit from.
For while we still play the best and prettiest football, at times, it is not the most intelligent...