Arsenal’s free-spirited style has seen them score 27 goals in 9 matches so far – how long will it be before they set their sights on the magic century?
In 2005, Johan Cruyff took a private jet along with golfer Ian Poulter to Amsterdam to watch Arsenal’s 2-1 Champions League win against Ajax. While the latter was best pleased with the result, the Dutch legend was rather disgruntled.
Despite featuring such names as Robert Pires, Jose Reyes and Catalan graduate Cesc Fabregas (however missing Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp) and Ajax featuring Thomas Vermaelen (dubbed the ‘Verminator’ by some Arsenal fans though we’ll never understand the link between a red-headed character from American Pie), Cruyff was unsatisfied.
“A very poor game,” he said. “Both teams had some injuries but even so, there was a lot of poor play, a lot of poor technique. I think the difficulties go back to the youth development systems. If you have a good youth development system, then it is obvious first team will one day be good too. It’s not hard to get things right; all that is required is a lot of hard work.”
If that is the case then Arsenal fans have much to look forward. Arsène Wenger’s forecast that we’ll see the real fruits of the club’s youth development system in ten years time is starting to bear fruit and if Cruyff’s prediction is correct this current crop of Wenger’s babes will ensure the club has the best years ahead of it. And Arsenal’s young Gunners defeated West Brom in the Carling Cup with relative comfort although not as impressive as last year’s showing in which they dismantled Wigan playing as close to Total Football you can get nowadays in what we considered to be the game of the season. Jack Wilshere was superb in the hole, Sanchez Watt was wiry and his movement troubling though the game changed with the introduction of Mexican Carlos Vela who had a hand in the two the goals.
Wenger is working to give Arsenal an identity in a similar way to what Johan Cruyff gave to Barcelona. His first team is playing a 4-3-3 and while it may or may not be temporary, it’s already looking promising. Current Catalan manager Pep Guardiola was criticised for swapping Samuel Eto’ for Zlatan Ibrahimovic but as far as he was concerned it was to make the perfect, even more perfect. The tall Swede gives the side a Plan B as now Dani Alves’ crosses have a target to aim at and allows greater ease in breaking down defence-minded teams. But the real genius lies in taking advantage of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s tendency to drop deep which allows his midfielders to advance past him unmarked and cause surprise to the opposition defence.
Such a tactic is true with Arsenal this season also with Robin van Persie the forward to play around and the support players pitching in with goalscoring duties. “It is because we have a flowing, attacking style,” says Wenger. “And as well we are all mobile, we take risks and also it is because of the quality of the players. We have players who can create and who can finish and I believe that when a team plays collectively well everybody can score in the team. And when everybody attacks in a team, everybody can score, and that’s what’s happening at the moment.”
Guardiola’s team scored well over a hundred goals last season and with Arsenal deploying the ‘universal striker’ ploy they may well end up in triple figures. So far the Gunners have scored 27 goals in 9 games, which is an average of three goals per game in all competitions. A minimum of 47 games is to be played this season and at 3 goals per game the end total will be 138 goals (maximum 189 goals in 63 games). Barcelona ended the whole season with 158 goals (105 in league, 53 other) in 62 games at an average of 2.5. If Arsenal continue at this pace such a milestone is more than within reach.