Arsenal style of play shaped in part by the wind

Although Arsenal’s style of football has suffered slightly this season, on their day they can be one of the most appealing on the eye. However the wind may have made a slight contribution to the Gunners style of play.

Arsene Wenger has been credited with the football played by Arsenal and rightly so. His philosophy involves entertaining and maintaining an attacking emphasis. While the British football culture of passion, commitment and hard work shaped the fast paced and intriguing nature of the Premier League, Wenger vision differed amongst the masses.

I was going to write an article on why the English game is as cautious as it is this season but everyone knows why. Among writing it (and later discarding it) I found an interesting point on why one of the reasons Englsih football is less technical than other countries. The answer; wind.

Long has it been thought the weather was to the detriment of the game but never had I heard a valid enough reason until now. It came from a book by Gianluca Vialli (and journalist Gabrielle Marcotti) entitled The Italian Job sought to find the differences of the Italian and English football cultures. I wondered if Arsenal played in La Liga, will we see the same fast flowing football or would it be slower? The wind making the football quicker as less time could be focused in training on technique. Personally I still don’t think it has affected the English game much but nevertheless an interesting read. This is what Vialli had to say in his book:

“It’s all about the climate. I had a long discussion about it when I went to Scotland to see Andy Roxburgh. I worked with a Scottish youth side and had them do the same drills I would do in Italy. I realised that, between the wind, the rain and the cold, there was no way they could do it. How can you possibly teach anybody anything in those conditions? To me, it’s pretty obvious and it explains why Brazilians are more technical than Europeans and, in Italy, the further south you go the more technical they are.”

– Fabio Capello, on the cultural differences behind footballing styles

I looked at three English cities (London, Birmingham and Manchester) and three Italian cities (Milan, Turin and Rome) and evaluated data on average temperature, wind speed, rainfall and hours of sunshine per month.

The research showed clearly that there was no substantial difference in temperature and that it rained more in Turin than in London. So why did it feel colder in London? The answer came when I looked at wind speeds. The average monthly wind speed in the three English cities was 15.3 kilometres per hour, compared with 10.3km per hour in the Italian cities. That meant that in England the wind blew some 50 per cent harder than it did in Italy. A substantial difference. And if we exclude the non-footballing summer months, the gap increases. The average in Manchester, Birmingham and London is 15.6km per hour while in Milan, Turin and Rome it’s just 10.1km per hour.

I felt vindicated. It supported what I had suspected for a long time — that wind, more than any other climatic factor, influences the development of a footballer. It seems basic, it seems simplistic, but it is an absolutely huge factor. And it’s not just something that affects young players: it has an impact on how a team trains and, therefore, how it plays, even at professional level.

“One of the first things I had to get accustomed to as soon as I arrived in England was the weather. And I don’t mean the temperature or the rain but, most of all, the wind. The wind ruins everything. It forces you to do only one type of exercise. It forces you to work on either speed or continuous movement. It’s very rare that you get the chance to sit calmly and work on technique or on tactics. You have to keep the players moving, otherwise they get cold. And this is something which begins way back when they are children.”

– Arsene Wenger

The wind affects everything. You can be the most technical footballer in the world — you can be Zidane and Maradona rolled into one — but if a fierce wind is blowing, you won’t be able to do any meaningful work with the ball in the air, whether it’s volleying practice, heading or keepy-uppy. Even any kind of passing over ten or 20 feet becomes pointless when it’s windy. And it’s not just down to the way the wind affects the flight of the ball. No. As Wenger points out, the wind makes everything feel colder. You don’t want to do a shooting drill or individual ballwork when players spend lots of time standing around. You want to keep them moving so that their muscles stay loose.

I have clear memories of standing on a training pitch in Italy as the coaches explained what they wanted us to do tactically in excruciating detail. We would play for about 30 seconds, then everything would stop and they would explain it again if somebody made a mistake or didn’t make a crisp enough run. All of this, of course, was in addition to the time we spent in front of the blackboard. This type of tactical work gave us a base in terms of movement and reading the game. In England the wind makes it impossible to replicate that kind of work.

Does it explain why, generally, Italian players have better individual technique than their English counterparts and why in Italy we spend much more time on tactics? Not on its own, but it’s certainly a factor. More than any other climatic factor, the wind determines what kind of players are produced and their characteristics, both technical and tactical.

Click here to buy The Italian Job by Gianluca Vialli and Gabriele Marcotti


7 thoughts on “Arsenal style of play shaped in part by the wind

  1. I really fail to see the real causation of wind and football. It might be correlative but not causative. Certainly culture plays a large role in how football is developed in a country but wind doesn’t explain Bolton, Stoke, Chelsea in Mourinho’s time and some times Liverpool et al on their long ball tactics. That pretty much defeats the theory of wind playing against the run of play. Conversely as well, you could argue that it is more beneficial to play air ball tactics in a windy nation so that when the wind is blowing with you, you can take advantage of further kicks, faster players with the wind on their backs etc. South Americans are known to play alot of football on the beach, which is a much harsher surface and much slower. This is why South Americans tend to have so much technical skills – in an environment where you cannot move as effectively, you need to develop further skills to take on opponents. Close quarters ball control is the answer they developed to deal with the rigors of beach football. Culture and socioeconomic conditions of a nation more than anything else, in my opinion, determines how football is developed.

  2. I’m not totally convinced as well. I thought it was an interesting point but one that seemed too far fetched. The original article that I was to post was going to look at the cultural aspects and the structure of football and wind never played it’s part. For foreigners it’s more a problem but us it’s less. In fact that never usually stopped me playing football when I was younger.

  3. im so impressed. i read alot of this guys posts and the stuff he comes out with is amazing.
    i think you have to take things into consideration. i dont think this article is saying ” arsenal are fourth placed because we play technical football and its too windy”.
    its just highlighting why differnt countries produce players with better traites. and why differnt countries leagues vary from , speed, style et cetra

  4. i personally don’t buy it. i accept that you can’t quite train exactly the same way but i doubt that really has any bearing on why our players are suually less technical. it’s not a matter that we’re basically unable to train our technique to the same standard, it’s that we don’t bother trying very often. there have always been players of all age groups who have disproportionately great technique. normally every school has those couple of kids who can literally amaze you technically, and there’s only one reason why they can do it and the vast majority can’t. they are the only ones who really put much effort and time into trying to learn it. most general technique is not taught on the training ground of a pro team, it’s already had and understood from messing around in the garden or playing football at lunch time, it’s not that complicated. we don’t need to constantly analyse everything in order to teach our players some technique, if they want to learn it they will be simply learning it by themselves or in casual games as kids.

    besides which everybody knows the british are lazy as possible. our culture says we try to get away with the minimum and there simply aren’t many people who actually really bother to work properly on their technique anymore. the cold can be a bit of a factor, but i think for most of the year it’s a cheap excuse. we play football all year round and as kids probably more in the summer than any other time, so the temperature is only potentially problematic really deep into winter for 6-8 weeks or so.

  5. i think its a good analysis. there is surely a correlation with wind and football style. it can explain why lots of teams play long ball football in england. but technical skill and tactics concentration is not as a result of less technical skill, its surely culture and style that is incorporated over generations of football. there is a lot more /beach going on in south america and for those you have to be technically gifted.
    good analysis still. i like this tactical analysis of arsenal, i notice the same things.. love the blog!
    keep it up..

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