I was recently watching a Bolton game (how sad!) and Bolton started to play the ball around using intricate passing, fast movement off the ball, and accurate cross field play. The commentator said ” Bolton are playing “Arsenalesque” football ! In the old days it would be called “champagne” football. We Gooners take it for granted, in fact there are many who believe we should be far more direct and cut out the intricacy. To them I say look at Bolton. Their fans are thrilled that Coyle has stopped the kick and run tactics of Allardyce, Lee and Megson, they love to see the ball played on the ground, and the introduction of one of our own has lifted all Bolton fans spirits.
No-one ever mentions United-esque and certainly not Chelsea-esque. As to Dipper-esque – you must be joking!!
We all know what the commentator was referring to, we call it Wenger-ball, and it is to AW’s credit that an attractive and entertaining style can be created whilst maintaining a level of success. Before I am reminded (once again) of the fact we have won nothing for 5 years, I would point out that Barca win by playing Wenger-ball - they are just better at it than we are (and they have Messi).
When Mr. Wenger arrived at the club we had been through a decade of some of the most boring football ever seen on the green fields of Highbury. Not for nothing was “Boring Boring Arsenal” sung at every Premiership ground, nor was “1-0 to the Arsenal” our anthem for any reason other than the scoreline was George Graham’s modus operandi. I can honestly say that had GG not left I would have given up my season ticket – it had become that dire. Sure we won Cups, but take Wrighty out of the team and there was nothing to entertain us – no wonder he was such a hero to us in those gloomy days. For anyone who doesn’t believe me when I write how appalling our football was, I refer them to the 3 games at Wembley v Sheffield Wednesday. I challenge you to sit through all 300+ minutes without yawning. Yes, we won the Cup Double, yes we celebrated long into the night, but we knew we were watching tedious fare. Whilst the Spuds thrilled to Ginola and Gazza, we were watching yet another brilliant defensive performance.
Bruce Rioch was clearly a stop-gap until a long term replacement for GG was employed, and it is thanks to Rioch’s foresight that DB10 was signed. He and David Platt gave us fans the indication that the Board, and in particular David Dein had ambitious plans for Arsenal’s development..
Then Wenger arrived. Bergkamp flourished, Vieira was signed showing what AW thought was a decent midfielder after the years of Morrow, Selley, Jensen, etc etc. We started to play football!! The best back 5 in history learned to pass through the midfield instead of hoofing it up to Wrighty. Other stars were signed to suit the method of play that Wenger promoted. Skilful, pacy, technically adept and instinctive players. Can anyone imagine that Graham would have signed Bobby Pires? The football played by The Invincibles was better than anything seen in the past 50 years and we have been privileged to witness it.
Whatever the opinions of the British (Sky) pundits, Arsenal are considered the entertainers of the Premiership, our football is admired worldwide. From Africa to India to Australia, we are the team that people turn on their TV’s to watch. MU v AFC is the most watched PL game (and probably the second most anticipated game in World club football). Football fans love Wengerball – it is how fans imagine the game should be played. Sure, there are doubters, those who believe that power is more valid than skill, that good old-fashioned British cut and thrust is more successful, and that if AFC had enforcers we would be Champions, but that isn’t Arsene’s way. His way is the Beautiful Game and thank goodness for that. That said, I believe there is room for a more direct style occasionally, who can forget those sweeping movements starting from an opposition attack, two passes through midfield onto an onrushing scorer (think TH, Freddie, Bobby).
We are entertained, and if we aren’t it isn’t because of Wenger’s football ethos, it is because the players don’t hit the heights every week (or sometimes every month!).
I know that many fans would give up the entertainment for a piece of silverware, but this writer hopes for the same as Wenger – to win with great football, to play with brio, to mesmerise the opposition. It can be done, Wenger has proved it, and Guardiola has shown how to do it at Champions League level.