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Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Arsenal tag-teams: the components of hope

To recognise the importance of the Arsenal tag teams is to recognise why Arsenal can perform at a sublime level on most days, and look insipid on other rarer days.

In Munich, Thierry badly missed Dennis; Pat badly missed Edu after the latter's injury on twenty five minutes; and Kolo made uncharcteristic mistakes because instead of having Sol alongside him he had to contend with having Cygan as a defensive partner.

With Dennis, Edu, and Sol off the pitch, their regular tag-team partners effectively also vacated the pitch. They were physically present, but mentally they had already conceded the match.

Dennis is a legend. He is the ultimate link-man between midfield and the back of the net. He is the father on the pitch. He is the only player that Thierry and Pat looks up to. Without Dennis to look up, Theirry and Pat feel the burden of being the elder statesmen and they don't perform as they could. They need Dennis as much becasue of this as for his undoubted ability on the ball.

Thierry looked like he was lost in a Siberian desert in Munich. His face said this: I'm lost without Dennis. I'm half the player when Dennis is not around, and I don't like being half-Thierry. I like being the complete-Thierry. But he won't turn up tonight because Dennis is not here.

On big match days, Thierry needs Dennis.

Edu is a roll-royce player. His passing is ultra-smooth and he gets the team playing at a high tempo. And most importantly, his anchor play allows Pat to play at his maruding best. Pat trusts Edu. And with this trust his game moves up to top gears.

Pat doesn't fully trust Fabregas or Flamini because of their youth and inexperience. Consequently Pat feels the burden of thinking he is effectively a one-man central midfield and this stifles his play and his mindset. He doesn't just play at a lesser level without Edu or Gilberto, he looks different too. His face on the pitch says: I'm burdened.

On big match days, Pat needs either Edu or Gilberto.

Kolo will benefit from not playing next too Pascal. Kolo knows that Pascal is a liability, and Kolo does not revel playing with this feeling. With Phillipe alongside, Kolo will play more confidently. Phillipe has determination in his eyes and Kolo would have recognised this.

On big match days, Kolo needs Sol or someone he can trust.

In Munich, the spine of the team was ripped out of the Gunners. Not only was Dennis, Edu and Sol missing, but their regular tag-partners also effectively went missing. With Freddie playing in an unfamiliar front role and Asher C out though illness, it is no wonder that the real Arsenal did not turn up.

At Highbury tonight, Dennis will be back, Edu should be back, and Pascal will be out. With their tag-team partners on the pitch, Thierry, Pat, and Kolo will also return to their best. And with Freddie back in midfield and Asher C back in defence, the return of the Arsenal 49ers should be on show.

Whether or not this will be enough to overturn the first-leg deficit is another question.

The important thing is that Arsenal regain their European pride by playing with the old Arsenal power-playability for the whole 90 minutes.

With the return of the Arsenal tag-teams there is every hope this can happen. And then everything is possible.


Blogger RedsMan said...

Thank you, TS, for that summary of Arsenal's ability.

Certainly Arsenal were at strength more tonight than in the Olympic Stadium, Berkgamp returned but Edu and Campbell could not. But it was not in defence that Arsenal lacked the most, in fact they hardly lacked at all. Bayern simply played squatters' rights and aimed to camp in their third of the pitch to thwart Arsenal's attack. The more numbers they had to barricade, the better they felt, and in Henry, it can take an army.

The Gunners huffed and puffed but Bayern held steady and refrained from coming too far out of position and disturb their stance. I really fancied Arsenal to let rip on the German side at Highbury as very few teams do get to go there and play. And along with certain players returning, the desire was there to avenge the 1st leg.

The fact that it took a goal that originated from something similar to route one kicking may be significant in analysing how much Bayern aimed to keep Arsenal out of their area. Senderos found Cole, Cole sent a high ball to an advancing Henry, Lucio watched it but his attempt to meet it was not enough, and Henry executed a typical Premiership goal. Takes control of the ball with one foot just in front of and away from a defender, which gives him an angle on goal, and then with the other foot aim the shot across keeper but enough to rollinside the far post. Expert.

Now only one more goal was needed and there were 25mins to go, the Gunners are renowned for punishing teams with more than two goals within minutes, it looked comfortable. But Bayern defended with some vigour, old hand yet still playing Kahn got down to one save around the post. Lehmann himself saved nicely from a fierce shot and then thwarted another chance one-on-one with a superb piece of keepering. He is now by some distance Wenger's first choice, right up to the end of the season.

Wenger is adamant that the 1st leg cost the Gunners their place. Hindsight is a late teacher. If Arsenal had their experienced players, perhaps they could have held Bayern to a draw, and progressed. But when or if injuries and suspensions happen, the manager has to deal with it, and unfortunetly Wenger had little helping him.

3/09/2005 11:31 pm


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