The curse of being too good

You can’t win the league and the Champions League every year. Five out of the last six of those isn’t bad, with a few other smaller trophies thrown in and the possibility of another Copa del Rey still to come this season. However, second in the league and a semi-final exit to an inferior team is being widely regarded as a failure, maybe even a disaster, for Barcelona this season.

After all, they are arguably the finest club team of all time. They also boast, among others, a player thought of by an increasing number as the best ever in Lionel Messi. Is it unreasonable to expect this stylish, all-conquering, free-scoring team that has 70+% possession in almost every game to win every trophy every season?

Unfortunately for their young manager Pep Guardiola, that is the expectation when you start so unbelievably brilliantly. After a record-breaking treble in his first season in management, our own Arsene Wenger said the Spaniard had “started his career with dessert.” Wenger should know a thing or two about that.

The Arsenal job was not his first in football, indeed he arrived with a decent wealth of experience, if not the big reputation to match it, but his impact in his first full season in the Premier League was comparable with Guardiola’s at Barcelona. He introduced a superbly entertaining style of play that fired us to the double, and repeated the feat four years later, two years before an incredible unbeaten season.

Since then, with expectations and standards lifted to new heights, he has struggled to live up to that start. He has, in some people’s eyes, become the victim of his own success. Could a similar fate be in store for Guardiola?

Obsession

The two managers share many similarities, the most obvious one being the obsession with a certain style of play, and a determination to win that way and that way alone; players have to be technically superb ahead of anything else, and they have to stick rigidly to the game plan.

What is showing now as well, is a tendency by Guardiola to put unrealistic faith in young players, something in Wenger bemoaned a great deal by Arsenal fans in recent years. Of course, Guardiola has been unlucky with injuries to Pedro, Sanchez and particularly David Villa this season, which has meant increased playing time for teenage pair Isaac Cuenca and Cristian Tello. While no doubt talented, they have come straight from the team’s academy and have not really looked ready this season, and standards are high when you’re playing in the best team in the world. However, even since the return from injury of Pedro and Sanchez, Guardiola has shown a surprising amount of persistence in blooding Cuenca and Tello. Like Wenger, when you get it so spectacularly right with youngsters like Pedro, Pique and Busquets and when your academy has produced the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi, you might start to feel you can do no wrong in that area. Wenger unearthed gems in Vieira, Henry, Ljungberg, Cole, Toure and Clichy among others, and then started giving too much time to players like Eboue, Denilson and Diaby in the hope that the same show of faith and patience would work again. It didn’t.

Club culture

Both managers, as well as players, supporters and others associated with the club will generally speak of ‘the Barcelona way’ and ‘the Arsenal way.’ I have not really heard this phrase used as much for other teams.

For Barcelona in particular, the Catalan identity is very important for the club, as Catalans are a very proud people who prefer not to be thought of as Spanish. Their recent success in bringing in home-grown players has increased the feeling of an identity in the club: not only do the players all play the same style, they are all from the same area. Their key players in recent years (for the Euro and World Cup-winning Spain squads as well), like Valdes, Puyol, Pique, Xavi, Busquets, Iniesta and Pedro are all Barcelona born and bred.

Which brings me on to the latest addition to that list, a familiar name for Arsenal fans: Cesc Fabregas. Having left the Nou Camp at the age of 16 and made a name for himself in North London, the Spanish giants were seemingly unable to accept the idea of ‘one of their own’ doing so well for another team.

Of course there was a desire from Fabregas himself to return home, but that alone would not have prompted the club to pay £30+million for him. Once again, there was an obsession from Guardiola and his players; Fabregas has to be here, has to be part of this team. It struck many that it might be difficult to even accommodate Cesc in an already talented midfield – there simply wasn’t a place for him, not to mention a need.

In the end, they got their man, and Guardiola had to find a way to fit him in. This led to a change of formation that, I believe, has played a big part in Barca’s problems this season. So determined were they to get Fabregas playing with Xavi and Iniesta – all very similar players – that the manager sacrificed the formation to get him in there. For much of this campaign they have toyed with 3-4-3 or 3-1-3-3 at times, moving away from the 4-3-3 that had brought them so much success. Three at the back isn’t really done in modern football and they have, unsurprisingly, conceded more goals. It has affected them in attack as well, with a confusion over the roles of Dani Alves (played too far forward), Iniesta (often ending up wide left, where his main skill is wasted) and Fabregas himself, who seems, quite frankly, to be in the way. A team doesn’t need that many playmakers, and the former Arsenal captain has often found himself supporting the strikers, something his finishing is generally too inconsistent for.

Let the other team have the ball

I’ve often criticised Arsenal for hogging possession. Barcelona have obviously made it work in recent seasons, but eventually teams will work more and more on simply shutting them out and killing the game. Chelsea withstood Barca pressure pretty easily yesterday with only ten men, never planning to have much of the ball. In this situation, which Arsenal have also found themselves in many times, I feel like it’s worth taking more shots even if it is just to risk losing the ball; if you give the other team the ball they have to surrender their defensive positions and open the game up a bit. Don’t give them the luxury of simply continuing doing what they’re doing.

It might seem ridiculous to criticise a team that, up til now, has blown everyone away, and that’s not what I’m doing. Everyone has an off-season (if you can call this an off-season) and they might well learn from it and bounce back. The best way to do that is through variation: the best managers, Ferguson being a prime example, have changed and adapted with the times. Most of all, they have had a more humble approach to the game, respecting that winning is what matters, not imposing a unique style and claiming it to be ‘the right way’. If there’s anything Guardiola can take away from this season, it would be that.

Wenger, too, would do well to take note.

Follow me on Twitter @markbrus

  • Tomaswojtyga

    I can’t understand this obsession of trying to compare Arsenal to Barcelona. One is a European giant who have dominated domestic ,European and world club scene, featuring some of the best players in the world( most of them home grown),capable of signing any player at any fee, coached by a visionary, ground breaking tactician.And then there is Arsenal, selling club who haven’t won any silverware in seven seasons.

    • Jas

      And you sir, are what we like to call a cunt.

    • Robbocurry

      Piss off you knob jockey

    • lucifer

      I guess you all think football started 7 years ago.

    • arsenalbob

      Imagine trying to compare your spuds with Barcelona, ha ha ha !
       

      • Mashman147

        This writer is aJohnny come lately. He knows nothing about our club. He is an embarrassment, he wants Wenger out. Mug!!!!!

    • Messybynature

      Meanwhile Barcelona are 500 million euro in debt. Have bribed the football establishment, most obvious to anyone who watched the 2006 champions league final in which the only way barca could beat arsenal is with the referees help, oh yeh just like last year with th RVP sending off. Also Arsenal were a world power in football a long time before Barcelona ie 1930’s when arsenal dominated English football and if it weren’t for world war 2 arsenal would of won a 2nd handful of titles. No football for 9 years. Also the barca style is a direct copy of arsenals invincibles style of total dominance of 2004.

  • Np

    Arsenal tipe of game is frontal, they dont hide behind gaining 10% of control waiting for an enemy mystake, besides barca stole 2 ucl cups

  • Adam

    Enjoyable read, thanks

  • Norms

    The comparison is well made.  Watching Barca’s futile passing across the goal and backwards when they should have been going around the defensive wall was far too much like watching so many Arsenal games.  I wanted to scream out at the Barca players that you don’t try to batter down a brick wall, but with slick passing run around it.

    They did just that for their first goal, and then seemed to forget what they had done so successfully.  Just like Arsenal last Monday….soooo frustrating!!

    My immediate feeling after the Barca game was that I hoped that Arsene took note.  We need to combine craft and skill with power, as we did in the golden years. Oh for a Vieira and a Petit midfield. Tippy tappy but with a directness that’s gone missing for the moment.

    We need to finish third….and we can do it if we rediscover the clever and direct route to goal.  

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  • Bigsy

    Let gooners have their moment, IF they fail to make 3rd and Chelsea win it, I would laugh my head off,  but in all fairness they are already a broken bunch of fans, they know Arsenal shouldn’t be out of the title by October, they know 7 years without silverware is appalling byt their standards, we don’t need to laugh at them they are tormenting themselves far more than we could, 2 points from 9 Ha Ha ..yeah you are looking good !!!!!!

    • arsenalbob

      Every dog has its day, when did you lot last have yours?

    • Berg10

      I’d call it more a diversity than “broken fans”, the sort of thing that comes with having such a huge following that goes unnoticed at smaller clubs.

      Agreed, 2 from 9 isn’t good enough but the tricky ones are out of the way, win our last 2 (Norwich Home, WBA Away) and we’ve nailed it, you have a couple of tricky away games and a more than capable Fulham team to come.

      A couple of months ago all we heard was “power shift” “Sp*rs to win the league”….ha ha ha! I’d laugh if Chelski win too and listen for the excuses, even big ears Lineker is resorting to insulting AW on TV, getting to you are we lads? Pretenders!!

    • DANTHEHOTSPURMAN

      BIGSY I WAS OVER DA MOON YESTERDAY WITH OUR  TOTAL FOOTBALL EXEBITION AND IN A WAY GLAD ARRY IS STAYIN WITH US COZ UNDER HIM WE PLAY FREE FLOWIN FOOTBALL DA VBEST IN DA LEAGE…WHOS TO SAY WE MITE AV GOT ANOTHER 1 DAY RAMOS IF HE LEFT AND THAT WUD AV BEEN CRIMINAL….BIGSY DO U RECKEN WE SHUD NOW GET BEHIND ARRY AND SPUR DA LADS ON TO PIP DA BOTLERS FOR 3RD PLACE?????????

      • Messybynature

        Your spelling is terrible. Learn to write properly. Anyway I am a gooner and I think Harry would be great for England. The only reason why spurs have fallen away in latter part of this season is for the same reason arsenal did last season. They fought on to many fronts for to long and had they just concentrated on the prem and fa cup they would still be in 3rd.

        • Messybynature

          I know to should be too!!!

    • Mashman147

      Still laughing…..

  • John_in_Norfolk

    The two unhappiest men in football this morning are Bigsy and Daniel Levy,  Bigsy because his club (who haven’t won the league in half a century) is now stuck with Old ‘Arry and Levy because he’s missed out on £10 million in compensation AND he’s stuck with football’s version of Arthur Daley.

    • Berg10

      Will there be an exodus at WHL? Modric, Bale, VdV, Greedybayor anybody!

      • John_in_Norfolk

        Berg10,

        Not just those four, I think their ‘keeper will go as well as Ledley “one leg” King, I can’t see them buying any quality so maybe we could help them out with one or two  replacements, Almunia and Squillaci for a start. 

        • DANTHEHOTSPURMAN

          JOHN I REMEMBER U SAYIN STUERT PEARCE IS A GREAT MANAGER HAHA AND BIGSY PUT U IN UR PLACE U NO SHIT ABOUT FOOTBALL ENDOV!!!!!!!!!!!

          • John_in_Norfolk

            Wrong again Dan!  I said Pearce would be a better option than Old  Arry if only for his experience at international level. 

             

        • Berg10

          Steady JiN…don’t want to improve their squad!

      • DANTHEHOTSPURMAN

        OI BERG SHUT IT!!!!!!!!!!

    • DANTHEHOTSPURMAN

      OI OLD MAN SHUT IT!!!!!!!!!!!

      • John_in_Norfolk

        What’s the matter Dan?  What don’t you like?  The fact that Spuds haven’t won the league in fifty years, that’s fifty years, half a century, or that half your puny squad will be off at the end of the season, or is it that your stuck with Twitchy?
         
        Type your comment here.

        • DANTHEHOTSPURMAN

           AT LEAST DA OPOSING FANS DONT TAKE DA MICKY OUT OF OUR MANAGER LIKE THEY DO TO FLAPPY HANDS WENGER HAHAHAHA

          • Berg10

            Well, cretinous actions from knuckle dragging morons would appeal to you wouldn’t it mate?

    • Jenny

      ha ha ha..!