Sergio Busquets: Re-inventing the midfield pivot role

Karthik Venkatesh (KV) argues why Sergio Busquets is one of this generation’s most important players. Oh, and why that also makes him the perfect foil to the the sitcom character, Barney Stinson.

Sergio Busquets is the ultimate ‘Bro’ on the pitch. His game is so astonishingly altruistic that he can be fittingly compared to the perfect ‘wingman’ who will do his all to set you up with that girl of your wildest fantasies. Once he gets the ball, it seems like all he does is greet the ball and say; “Hello! Have you met my genius friend, Xavi?” Here are three good reasons why Sergio Busquets is an extremely vital cog in the Barca team and the foremost ‘team player’ in the world today.

Passing Efficiency

The prime reason for Sergio Busquets’ near perfect passing success rate is that he knows where to pass to even before he receives the ball. His awareness of the players around him is extraordinary, enabling him to complete the process of choosing and executing in a matter of seconds. In the game against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey, Busquets took an average of 1.6(!) seconds to complete a pass. In some cases, he dispatched the ball within a heart attack causing 0.4 seconds. His game is mostly about releasing the ball quickly and it is fair to say that he has more than achieved the goal. In the recently concluded La Liga season, Busquets completed 91.9% of his passes successfully.

Personifying efficiency, Busquets is technically compact, finding solutions in jet speed to pick out a free team mate. He uses the ‘fake’ to a great deal of impact to open up space in a passing lane and also ensures that he hits the ball with minimal rotation, so his team mate can play another one touch pass. Xavi Hernández, quite possibly the greatest midfielder of this generation, describes Sergio Busquets as “fundamental”. He says: “Busi sees you quickly, he always takes the simple option. He reads the game well and moves the ball with precision, in as few touches a possible.” Here is the graph showing the relation between his passes and the time it took to complete them:

[image lost]

Tactical Intelligence

Sergio Busquets performs a key role as the “pivote” of the team, playing in between defence and attack. This role involves carrying out a number of tasks. In the defensive phase, Busquets crucially moves into space to cut off passing lanes for the opponent, forcing him to play the least dangerous pass. He uses his sharp anticipation skills to win the ball back by intercepting it in midfield and immediately transfer it to a well positioned teammate. His primary function is to ‘receive and release’ and he performs this task flawlessly due to his astute reading of the game and tactical intelligence.

He plays an extremely crucial role in attack also. The basic foundation of Barcelona’s tiki-taka style of play is creating triangles. Busquets, being an imperative component in midfield, moves into space when his teammate has the ball to form triangles and increase passing options. The spontaneity with which he carries out this task is critical to the circulation of the ball and a ‘destroyer’ in midfield would retard the flow of circulation, unlike Busquets. Also, when in possession of the ball, Barcelona morph into several formations ranging from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3, and Busquets dropping deep in between the center backs is the trigger which changes the structure. When he drops in between the center backs, they are allowed to move laterally and cover space out wide. This in turn pushes Daniel Alves higher up the pitch, meaning the right winger cuts inside to make use of space vacated by Messi dropping deep, increasing the number possibilities of attack. Watch how Sergio’s off the ball movement from CDM to CB causes a chain reaction which eventually leads to a goal. “Xavi and Iniesta are the most creative midfielders in the world, but, above all, there is Busquets,” says Javier Mascherano, who is highly regarded to have a keen eye on the beautiful game. “He has the talent to play for any team anywhere in the world, but he’s made to play for this team. Literally, he’s the perfect guy. He robs the ball, he has superb technical skills and brings tactical order. I watch him and try to learn from him.”

Selfless Playing Style

Barcelona, a team obsessed with attacking football and scoring goals, scored a whopping 114 goals in the league last season. Only one of the 114 goals was scored by Sergio Busquets (1goal and 1 assist), a stat which belies the fact the he is a major force in the Barca midfield. Of his one goal, Sergio Busquets jokes that that is an error on his part: “I made a mistake once.” Always preferring to not hog the limelight, Busquets is the ultimate team man, focusing on plugging gaps and covering space, instead of venturing forward and having fun with the likes of Lionel Messi and Cesc Fabregas. Statistics show, for example, that Dani Alves, nominally Barcelona’s full-back, spends more time in the opposition half than his own. “The coach knows that I am an obedient player who likes to help out and if I have to run to the wing to cover someone’s position, great,” he says. “I genuinely enjoy watching the full-back run up the pitch and going across to fill in. I spend the game calculating: how many on the left? How many on the right?”

Standing 189cm tall, Sergio Busquets standing between his Barcelona teammates looks like Gulliver amidst a bunch of Lilliputians. As comfortable in a scrap as with the ball at his feet, Sergio is ever ready to leap to the defense of his teammates, putting himself in the dangerous situation of getting carded. The perfect amalgam of intelligence and the ability to do the dirty work for others sets him apart from his more famous and celebrated teammates. When questioned about the style of his game, Busquets says: “My only obsession is not to lose the ball and to give my all, make sure I leave it all on the pitch. I am here to help. I have to be intense.” Del Bosque agrees: “He is an example of generosity, always thinking of the needs of the team rather than himself.”

Conclusion

If Barney Stinson, the serial womaniser in the television series “How I Met Your Mother”, ever notices Sergio Busquets doing his job for either Barcelona or Spain, he would at once convince/beg Sergio Busquets to accept the coveted position of being Barney Stinson’s wingman. Even if he has to only utter the lines, “Hi! Have you met my friend Barney?” and leave, Sergio will do it so perfectly that Barney’s efficiency, just like Busquets’ passing efficiency, will touch the ninety percent mark. Such is the effectiveness and impact of Sergio Busquets, the unheralded hero of modern day football.

Advertisements

Arsène Wenger planning to keep it in the family

Arsène Wenger feels keeping his talented groups of players will allow much future success as inspired by Ajax’s “Total Football” sides.
______________________________________________________________________________

Arsène Wenger was keen to avoid any comparative superlatives with the late 60s and early 70s Ajax sides in 2004 but if his current side realise their fledgling potential, they should comfortably sit alongside the legendary Dutch team.

Emblazoned on the walls of Ajax’s academy are photographs of players who have painted a rich of history of the club; Johan Cruyff, Frank Rijkaard, Marco van Basten, Dennis Bergkamp, Clarence Seedorf, Patrick Kluivert and Edwin van der Sar to name a few. The icing on the cake? All came through club’s fabled youth system and it is that which had kept them consistently challenging in Europe until the late 90’s. “If you have a good youth development system,” says Cruyff, now part-time Catalunya coach. “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.”

But as the game became increasingly globalised and money took over (the Bosman rule has also had a particularly adverse effect), they find themselves in a precarious position. Nevertheless it’s the culture, the shared heritage and philosophy that Ajax created which has been highly sought-after.

Growing up, Ajax were the pin-up side for Wenger and have certainly played a part in shaping the manager’s thinking. “Ajax were certainly the first team in relation to my generation because they had the perfect players everywhere,” he said. Rinus Michels, the then coach watched his side grow up almost organically during the ‘Gloria Ajax’ era; a group of supremely talented players from the academy led by Johan Cruyff would garner an almost telepathic understanding and on the pitch that would be allowed to be expressed through rapid passing, pressuring together and the interchangeing of positions. And it’s this philosophy that’s not far removed from the one at the Emirates.

“I want to have success by building a team with a style, a know-how, with a culture of play specific to the club and it’s fans and with young people,” said Arsène Wenger. “Our purpose is not to say are we a great team or not but to try to improve, try to get better. You don’t try to copy. I try every time to add good players to the team based on movement and technique. We know we are mobile, we know we are technically good.”

Wenger has given Arsenal a style to rival that Ajax side, an illustrious history (although with a lack of consistency) and a youth system renowned worldwide for educating the best. “We are able to attract the most promising prospects because we have a calling card stamped Arsène Wenger,” says Gilles Grimandi. (Incidentally, Arsenal are set to profit not only from the more densely populated London area but like the Dutch did from Suriname immigrants, the Gunners from African with promising youngsters such as Benik Afobe, Chuks Aneke, Zak Ansah and Emmanuel Frimpong coming through the ranks).

The recent contract signings, 15 in total since May 2009 and with the talisman of the side, Cesc Fabregas already tied down at Arsenal for four more years, this will allow the captain to carry the current nucleus of talent forward in the next few years. Much like the Ajax team, it is thought bringing a gifted group of players forward together with a shared sense of belonging and loyalty will allow success to be sustained and create a footballing culture which evokes the same sense of collective improvisation as the “Total Football” sides.

Research by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski in Why England Lose – And Other Curious Football Phenomena, show why there such an importance in keeping your best players because wages dictate 92% of success. Indeed, one of the reasons former chairman David Dein is so keen to bring in an outside investor into the club is because wage bills are rising however with the strategy in place now, total wages only account to around 50-60% of total revenue, compared to around 80% for both Chelsea and Manchester United. The Gunners were able to create a team ethos and mentality in achieving their unbeaten run in 2004 and the same has applied to the recent successful Premiership sides.

Indeed in Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal board have struck more than an just oil. In the Frenchman they have an economist, a forecaster which is every bit as important because of the financial stringent placed on the club since the move to the Emirates and with Ajax’s current plight serving as a caveat. Speaking in September 2009’s International Football Arena in Zurich, the Arsenal CEO Ivan Gazidis said of Arsenal’s objective of keeping their best players: “We believe transfer spending is the last resort. That’s a sensible view to have. Re-signing existing players is a far more efficient system.”

Wenger expands on the importance of contract renewals, citing new player contract rules which FIFA have recently introduced but could follow the same route as the Jean-Marc Bosman case. “At the moment, after 28 you need only two years. I see the next thing coming is people saying, ‘Why is it 28 and not 27? That’s age discrimination. Why do we have to wait two years after 28 and three years before? If it goes down to two as well, you go from one extreme to the other. It could mean the disappearance of transfer fees.”

Football is very much a psychological game and Arsenal’s recent good form has owed much to keeping the group’s spirits high in the fight for the title and hopefully new era domination. “I know is that within our team we have a great hunger for success,” said Wenger. “We have great solidarity and team spirit. We are a team who has grown up together and wants to achieve things. We have not won anything yet together and that makes us hungry for success.”

Big Four learning the virtues of pressuring from the front

The greater athleticism and prizes at stake, has seen the ‘Big Four’ increase the intensity up front recently but in doing so, are aware it may leave them open at the back.
______________________________________________________________________________
song-and-kuyt

Arguably the three greatest tactical influences in the modern game are Rinus Michels’ ‘Total Football’ side, Arrigo Sacchi and the liberalisation of the offside law. In fact in South America, it is a widely held opinion between coaches that Holland’s demolition of Argentina and then Brazil in the 1974 World Cup was the last, greatest tactical innovation.

Even though Michels’ always allowed his sides to play with freedom rather than govern them with restrictions that plough the modern game, it was his tactics and style of play that lasts long in many people’s memories. His teams  played a high offside line, pressed the opposition in possession (the South American playmakers to great effect too), and were about quick passing and the interchangeing of positions. His main man, Johan Cruyff was very much influenced by the coach and his Dutch influence was felt by Barcelona when he became their manager (and eventually most successful too).

Barca played in what is now their synonymous 4-3-3 but was adaptable, allowing for triangle passes (i.e. more options in the pass). This type of football is less sustainable in the modern game and Van Gaal tried to account for this by updating the system in order to accommodate it’s pace, skill and athleticism. Hence the now direct Dutch 4-3-3 with more emphasis on counter-attacks and slightly more orthodox.

Still, Pep Guardiola, a former player under Cruyff has looked to bring back some of his philosophies. The three pronged attacked of Messi, Henry and Eto’o could may well get 100 goals between them by the time the season’s done. Guardiola’s forwards are no longer protracted by unnecessary tacking back, which invites the opposition to come at them and at the same time, tiring their own players. Instead they look to force the issue and press the full back’s and the defenders as high as possible, looking to force a mistake and maybe nick the ball. “Barcelona make the pitch look bigger than it really is,” says the former Barcelona midfielder and current Getafe coach Víctor Muñoz. “Barcelona play very high up the pitch and if they get the ball off you there, they’re lethal.”

However it is not a very much used strategy by much other teams and indeed in the Premier League, as Roy Hodgson explains; “There is less high-intensity pressing from the front in advance areas (in top-level European football). This is partly because concern of the interpretation of the offside law has led to teams to play deeper. Sides are sill compact, but this is mainly in their own half of the pitch.”

Indeed playing such a tactic requires organisation at the back and highly mobile players. Nevertheless recent games have shown an increase in it’s use by the ‘big four’. Against Villarreal at home, Arsenal never gave the Spanish side an inch and similarly against Roma. The side’s more quicker and wider style of play this season has seen higher pressure and denying of defences in playing the ball out. It helps that the full backs have been more cautious and indeed this is the same for Chelsea too. Gus Hiddink, a student of Dutch philosophies recognised his side were allowing Arsenal time and space in the FA Cup semi-final and in reaction, deployed the energy of both Essien and Lampard higher, the latter playing just behind Drogba. The result saw a more withdrawn Arsenal and they were unable to get the ball out as Chelsea were snapping on their heels.

Liverpoo’s big matches have seen them having to pressure high up the pitch in order to force the issue but as a result were left more open at the back, and the susceptibility of the full back’s were punished. United are relentless pressure machines and although they have recently been a bit more disciplined up front (Rooney out wide), when they have the ball are almost playing a 4-2-4, suffocating the opposition.

With the traditional 4-4-2 hard to play, pressuring the opposition high up has also decreased in it’s deployment but when implemented, can be particularly effective. The question is, is it really a viable tactic to be used regularly like Barcelona do or is too risky?

Fabregas still the key in Wenger’s quest for domination

The Gunners are still ever reliant on Cesc Fabregas to pull the strings with Arsenal’s passing game having suffered this season, especially against the stronger clubs.
______________________________________________________________________________
fabregas-v-gerrard

The passing stats after the thrilling 4-4 draw at Anfield read Arsenal 281 successful passes and 44 unsuccessful. Contrast that to Liverpool and they made 327 successful passes and only one misplaced pass less at 43. Last season, the 1-1 draw on the same ground saw the Gunners culminate a massive 432 accurate passes compared to Liverpool’s 201. The Red’s made it hard to play with their direct style but how different was it to last season? Nevertheless it is marked difference from the possession kings that is known as Arsenal.

With Rosicky and Fabregas out for large chunks of the season, and Hleb  having departed in the summer, Wenger has recast his side to a more quicker team, able to get the ball from A to B swiftly especially with Walcott and Arshavin on either side.

Wenger has always liked his sides to keep the ball; pass quickly with great off the ball movement and dynamism, his ‘Invincibles’ side arguably perfected it. The current side seems to have perfected only half of the formula and while being more dynamic is not a bad thing it means the ball will come back more. Against the lesser sides, the Gunners are comfortable at moving the ball around (although matches against Fulham and Wigan showed their limitations) but when faced up against the stronger sides, Arsenal are more counter-attacking.

As shown by some of the great attacking teams of recent times, keeping the ball is a great form of defence as well, denying pressure on the back line. Barcelona and Manchester United are relentless pressure machines and although they may be open at the back at times, more than balance it out with their ability to keep ball and suffocate space. Liverpool and Chelsea on the other hand are more direct and while capable of keeping the ball, it too means the ball will come back more often than for United and Barca. However that’s why they are the masters of space and efficiency; never giving an inch while looking to make best advantage of what’s available.

When Fabregas is not dictating play from the central midfield role, the Gunners are less possession based and when the skipper is moved higher this means someone must take a greater mantle in circulating the ball. As shown against Liverpool, the side failed to string together a long enough sequence with the ball. Which is not to say Fabregas is not good enough for the number 10 role, he needs the movement around him and capable passers. The modern day game sees the ‘universal playmaker’; it is a team duty just as it is to defend.

Wenger admits his most greatest influence was the “Total Football” Ajax team of the late 60s and early 70s. A team which was built up with a core of players from the academy and played revolutionary football, interchanging positions and keeping the ball.

Samir Nasri may be the player which typifies his vision, which is most likely to be in a 4-4-1-1. The Frenchman’s cameo in a defensive midfield position at Liverpool underlines Wenger’s faith in him, as the manager could easily have put Fabregas back. Maybe it was so that Fabregas could still thread the defence splitting passes but Nasri showed that he has the ability to be a worthy central midfielder or even deeper.

The Bergkamp role seems tailor fit for Van Persie who in that position, has made the most assists in the Premier League and could allow Walcott and Arshavin to play out wide. The team has great potential but one which is still over-reliant on Fabregas to pull the strings but when everything gels, should see a dynamic yet ball-hogging Arsenal side.

There is every chance the Gunners will click with each other very soon but while the team is still young, there is every chance that it may take longer than expected. In the meantime however, Fabregas is still king.

Wenger transplants a more direct approach after losing creative brains

Wenger has recast his Arsenal team to a more direct and quicker side this season after the loss of key creative midfielders.
_______________________________________________________________________________
andrei-arshavin-002

Arsenal received the bad news this week of another set-back to perennial sick note Tomas Rosicky or it would have been even worse had their not been another little figure orchestrating proceedings. The ‘Andrey Arshavin factor’ is in full flow with the Russian displaying the right amount of creativity and dynamism that has so been missing for the last couple of months and indeed maybe even the whole season.

With Arshavin and Walcott operating out wide against Blackburn and Hull City, it is quite a marked difference from the wide men of Hleb and Rosicky of last season, who making up for their lack of directness interplayed with quick, one touch passes. The creative abilities of the wide men often accused Arsenal of being over-elaborate but the movement caused much uncertainty among opposition defences.

“I like to have one behind the striker, and one or two on the flanks who come inside,” said Arsene Wenger. “I always feel that if you have players who can deliver the decisive ball in all areas of the pitch, you have many more chances of being creative. If it’s only focused on one central part, where it’s usually more concentrated, you have more space on the flanks to create.”

With Hleb and Rosicky both preferring to cut inside it resulted into the more pass-focused play and while the ‘Invincibles’ were the original pass masters, with Ljungberg and Pires wide, had greater dynamism and penetration to go with it. For most of this season Arsenal have had to use Nasri and Eboue but as both prefer to come inside, to play such a passing game requires players to play around them and that is where Fabregas has been missed.

“When he’s there, everything goes through him but when he’s not it can take a while to adapt because the game goes through different ways – it’s plural,” said Wenger. “When it’s Fabregas it is more one-way traffic at the start of the build-up.” As a result their has been an over-reliance on the front four recently which requires quicker build up play and more directness from the wings. The possession keeping when teams have taken the initiative to the Gunners is as of yet not as strong as it can be; a lower percentage of possession to both Fulham and Aston Villa would have been blasphemous last season. The shield of Denilson and Song/Diaby have improved immensely but as of yet not as expansive as the Spaniard however they are slowing gaining in confidence  and the signs are good.

The partnership raises an interesting point; Arsenal have always had a midfield shield in front of their defence but who also had the creative potency but with Fabregas it is always him plus one, maybe leaving the team open at times. He has created plenty of goals and has been the heartbeat of the side but ultimately the club’s trophy haul during his  years at the club suggests he wasn’t success. Of course it is an absurd statement given his talismanic status but if Fabregas pushes up could put a lot of strain on the defence hence Flamini’s impact last season. However both Denilson and Diaby have shown they can match the Frenchman for industry both clocking up 15,000 metres against Roma and are still under the age of 24 (when Flamini made his breakthrough). Fabregas has shown, upon given the captain armband that he can undertake a more dictating role to achieve a greater balance while his tackling has always been understated.

The more direct play have grown naturally but given Wenger’s statement on how Arsenal have had to adapt without the Spaniard, it seems more manufactured. After the match against Hull, Arshavin stated Wenger wanted the team to play more quicker in his half time team-talk. “He told us that while we were doing the right things, we needed to speed up a bit to get the result.” The late Renus Michels, who was former Holland manager during the ‘Total Football’ era feels such a counter attacking style has shown to be most efficient when ‘short term success is desired.’ In his book ‘Teambuiding: The Road to Success’ a team in phase two will usually implement this style as their main style while those in phase three master what he call ‘ball circulation’ something not many teams can do.

The team must master the ‘ball circulation’ component to be able to determine the correct moment to start the attack. However, ball circulation is a means, not a goal in itself! To carry the play on the opponents half of the field places high demands of the build-up. There is not much time and space to work in and you have to deal with high defensive pressure. Fast combinations and excellent positional play are a must. Circulation football!

To lose possession close to the middle line when building-up is almost ‘suicidal’ in this risky style of football. One touch passing is also a must in the building-up team function of this strategy. This demands additional tactical insight from the players as situations quickly have to be surveyed. Each player has to anticipate even more.

To carry the play means that one time you choose to play in a high tempo and the next time you use delaying tactics to slow the play down. A play-making team must take full advantage of the space and must have defenders who can quickly change the point of attack, wing forwards who remain on the outside, etc.

The transition from defence to build-up must be executed very quickly. The team tactical manpower in the centre of the field(central defenders, midfielders and striker) is of great importance.

During the build up, the tactical coherence between the central defenders who must be thinking of playing the ball forward, the attacking midfielders and the central striker is very precise work. When possession is lost, it starts in the opposite direction. Good ball circulation puts high demands on the quality of the positional play, the mastering of the tempo and the speed of action.

In terms of style Arsenal can be classed to be in the middle of the two as they rebuild but with the players Wenger has at his disposal they can offer the correct blend of circulation football and dynamism that the ‘Invincibles’ perfected. Arshavin has only to adapt to English football and the teams understanding, Samir Nasri is still developing his dribbling to be a more effective winger but has the capability to deputise for Fabregas in the near future. Defensively the team is as strong as ever, maybe due in part to the more cautious approach and as the team are young, can get even better.

Arsenal should continue to develop momentum and with a good end to the season and pre-season to adapt to each other, the team has the variety, interchangeability to be potentially beautiful to watch and explosive at the same time.

Arsenal must be praised for sticking to the fundamentals of total football

As systems are now created with individuals in mind and ‘between-the-line’ players it is refreshing to see Arsenal stick to their philosophy of ‘Total Football.’
____________________________________________________________________________

nicklas-bendtner-0012

Would the signing of Andrey Arshavin change the Arsenal style? That’s the question that has been going through my head as this saga unfolds and one that has become cannon-fodder to the media.

Often seen trudging back to the halfway line when detailed to do his defensive duties for Zenit and Russia, could the attacking midfielder fit in to a set-up where it is about the performance of the individual within in the system. For his club and country, the system is accommodated to suit him. It is easy to see why; blessed with great technique, balance and dribbling, he is one of the most effective players in the final third. “Arshavin is a footballer who can make something out of nothing,” says Russia coach Gus Hiddink.

Zenit and Russia are not the only teams who look to exploit key individuals abilities by creating a system which accommodates their strengths and weaknesses. Kaka has little to no defensive duties playing in between attack and midfield. Ronaldo is given the freedom of the left touchline while on the other side Park runs up and down tirelessly. Barcelona have created a quite brilliant system to take advantage of the magician Lionel Messi.

“Today’s football is about managing the characteristics of individuals and that’s why you see the proliferation of specialists,” says former AC Milan coach, Arrigo Sacchi.  “The individual has trumped the collective. But it’s a sign of weakness. It’s reactive, not pro-active.”

Arrigo Sacchi’s AC Milan team played a fluid and compact 4-4-2, winning the European cup twice and his footballing philosophy influencing a whole host of coaches. His thinking was more systematic but derived from the core of ‘Total Football.’ It was an almost harmonious set-up where there was great fluidity, interchangeability and compactness. It was about the performance of the individual within the system and together with the system, given their ability they could beat anyone.

“There was no project; it was about exploiting qualities,” he said. “So, for example, we knew that Zidane, Raul and Figo didn’t track back, so we had to put a guy in front of the back four who would defend. But that’s reactionary football. It doesn’t multiply the players’ qualities exponentially. Which actually is the point of tactics: to achieve this multiplier effect on the players’ abilities. In my football, the regista – the playmaker – is whoever had the ball. But if you have Makelele, he can’t do that. He doesn’t have the ideas to do it, although, of course, he’s great at winning the ball. It’s become all about specialists. Is football a collective and harmonious game? Or is it a question of putting x amount of talented players in and balancing them with y amount of specialists?”

This has shifted the emphasis to between-the-line players. “There are trends in football,” says former Roma manager Carlo Mazzone. “This is a time of between-the-lines players. From a classic 4-4-2, we now have a 4-1-1-1-3-0 as we have at Roma.”

Arsenal play a fluid 4-4-2 but there is no detailed between-the-line player when attacking while defending it is more about covering and marking the space. The movement and passing allows players like Fabregas, Van Persie and Nasri to utilise these channels. The total footballing sides of Dynamo Kyiv and Ajax played also a high back line, pressed the opposition in possession, passed quickly and had the fluidity to interchange positions. Of course on a defensive side this may course some strain; more mobility in defence and in the cover in midfield but it is working.

“We need to stick to it – because this is how Arsenal is. The Arsenal way is in our system now, it grows into you, and I don’t think it’s clever to change your philosophy,” Arsene Wenger says. “Things take time, and you often see clubs sacking managers for fun, and they don’t get anywhere. You need a long-term strategy. At Arsenal, the players have time to grow into the system, and if we stick to our principles we will get silverware.”

Arshavin is a great player and there’s every possibility he will fit in and maybe enhance the football being played. Total Football was possible in an era where such play was new; the ability to play the offside trap whereas now hardly any team does. The Gunners are getting close as close as possible in the modern game and as the next batch of kids have displayed against Wigan in the Carling Cup, it can be very destructive. Not many clubs are doing it their own way and it is refreshing to see so and even more when the players get better.