It was Claudio Ranieri who said that being unable to speak English made a tough job “even tougher”. For players it is slightly different. The game itself is known as the universal language, and a group of players unique in the same style as at Arsenal, shouldn’t have any problems communicating that into positive football on the pitch. Or should they?
The football market is the best example of globalisation, and nobody has embraced it more than Arsene Wenger. On the first weekend of the Premiership in 1992, only 11 foreigners started on the field. By 2005, Arsenal became the first team to field an all-foreign starting XI in a game against Crystal Palace at Highbury. Just last year, Arsenal played Portsmouth where all 22 players (plus both managers) were from overseas.
There have been some great Arsenal sides largely made up of foreign stars that have won league and cup doubles, broken club records, even gone undefeated throughout an entire season, proving that having a squad with language barriers can still be successful. How can this be doubted anyway in a country cradling so many foreign stars, whose clubs have been highly successful in Europe against Spanish and Italian teams full with domesticity?
As for the practical element of Arsenal’s football, there is nothing to suggest it has been affected by the eclectic mix of languages representing them on the pitch. All of those details are rehearsed religiously in training and more than anybody, Arsenal pride themselves on a good understanding of where a team-mate will be and when he will be there. The notion of football as a universal language is a beautifully accurate one around the Emirates.
Arsenal’s problems though, lie in the moments where the team are seeking a general instruction or some clear understanding of how to control the game. When a rallying cry is needed – Arsenal going a goal down to Manchester United at the weekend let’s say – it seems there is nobody blessed with that type of articulation among Wenger’s gang. Not even the Englishman himself, Theo Walcott, seems capable of speaking the language. Then again, who would understand?
No doubts Arsenal can express themselves with the ball, but when the time comes to broadcast a public announcement, whether it’s to issue calm or gather momentum, sometimes they appear a headline short of a front page. In those moments when the ball is out of play and the opposition fans are sensing blood, Arsenal it seems are a library of languages unable to fully understand one another.
Take Manuel Almunia. The goalkeeper position is of special importance. He is the eyes in the backside of his defenders and the conductor when dealing with set-pieces – or should be. There is rarely any sort of command from Almunia is these situations, instead his bulbous eyes widen and his shoulders sink, and alas, Arsenal come under further pressure. There was one moment against Bolton where all William Gallas could do was glare heatedly into the Spaniard’s eyes when words were unable to assist.
If you have ever seen Almunia speak for the camera – uncommon for a keeper short in man of the match awards – his English isn’t exactly Oxford standard, but more like his namesake, Manuel from Fawlty Towers. Like the Spanish waiter, Almunia’s intentions are good yet completely disorganised, simply because the Spanish goalkeeper hasn’t the ability to communicate what he wants in English, or whatever he does say is probably lost in translation. All you end up getting is one of his speechless, thunderstruck stares.
The communication problem stretches throughout the team, only a ‘keeper’s hesitancy in doing so is more obvious and pronounced. Andrey Arshavin, Eduardo, Denilson, Samir Nasri and Alex Song are all men of very few words. It’s not to say they can’t establish a common understanding despite their language barriers, however, the Premiership’s frantic pace waits for nobody, especially Arsenal who rely heavily on half-time team-talks.
At 1-0 down against Manchester United, every Arsenal player seemed on their own personal mission. As the defense and midfield surged forward, it was like one of those 1980’s educational videos where Billy ventures onto the moors and doesn’t leave a note on the kitchen table. When the darkness sets in and every footpath looks the same, Billy ends up dying of hypothermia near a sheeps carcass. If Arsenal are not reading from the same map come Sunday, this season’s title race could die a similar foggy death.
Note: After FTK converted the Arsenal doubters this week, it would be unfair and wrong to destroy all his hard work by ending on such a depressing note. I think communication and understanding has been left wanting at times this season. Still, it’s FTK you should all really be listening to despite what you think of the critical piece above. All said and done, COME ON THE ARSENAL !!

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