Dutch…Not French!

You may think Im crazy, but Im not actually comparing this Arsenal side to that great Ajax team, more towards the entire Dutch culture towards football and it appears to relate to this new Arsenal side. Naturally it is easy to look at past Dutch players at the club, when you had arguably the most influential player of his era in Dennis Bergkamp. He often said, I guess Im not interested in scoring ugly goals, and this is clear to see nowadays with a number of flair players at the club, preferring to pass the ball to create an opening and scoring a pure goal.

It is this moral superiority of aesthetically better football, which causes defeats against inferior opposition. The Dutch have had a nemesis in the shape of the dreaded penalty shoot-out, and it is interesting to note that in 1998 World Cup Semi-final penalty shoot-out defeat against an inferior Brazil only Overmars and Bergkamp scored their respective spot-kicks, perhaps showing a different, perhaps English perspective towards this lottery. It is because of this moral high ground that perhaps the team have subconsciously not tried as much against teams in the lower half of the table, an argument clearly proven in the results against those very teams. Moving on to the coach, Wenger is similar to the Romanian Stefan Kovacs, in his footballing philosophy. Both allowed their players freedom, in their style of play and used a closer man-management approach rather than the disciplinarians whom they succeeded in George Graham and Rinus Michels (excluding Bruce Rioch).

It was in Kovacs years as coach, in which Ajax swept all aside in front of them, with a freedom to play and destroy. Both emphasised a team ethos and perhaps it is because the lack of a true leader that Arsenal failed. The most technically gifted players were the captains in Henry and Cruyff, and while one was tactically accomplished, and a leader, the other had a glaring, demotivating stare. While both left their respective teams, Cruyff, because he was voted out of the captaincy, and Henry, for personal reasons, they were both repressing the rest of their team-mates.

It was rumoured that a number of the other Ajax players were disconcerted by Cruyffs influence at the club, while the youngsters were intimidated by Henrys glare and the enormity of his accomplishments. While this Gunners team is nowhere near in the league of that great Ajax team, it can accomplish success through a style of football based on Michels idea, but with football now faster and more physical it would be impossible to create such a team. Ajax, like Arsenal in recent years did defeat big teams, such as Shanklys Liverpool but could not bring home trophies due to a lack of experience, in similar fashion to Arsenals near misses in the Champions League and Carling Cup. Yet they eventually achieved greatness as Wenger can do so with this young, underrated team. Wenger even appears to be attempting to build such a side, with versatile players such as Hleb, Flamini and Sagna all a part of the Arsenal line up. He has even recently encouraged his defenders to burst forward, such as Toures run leading to a powerful penalty in the match against Fulham, and also Gallas’ forays forward against Ajax in preseason. Naturally you wouldnt expect to see van Persie as the furthest player back in a totaalvoetbal-esque approach, as some sort of shape and discipline must be required to play in English football today.

This comes through the reliable Gilberto and Fabregas axis, with allows the full backs to burst forward and overlap as they did effectively against Sparta in the Champions league qualifier recently. Arsenals tempo currently is too low to play such a brand of possession football as the extra few seconds allows the opposition to reshape their defence. Therefore there must be an option back in an attempt to retain the ball, this is why Gilberto must be open and cover any defensive position. It is this sort of decision making commonly seen in van Gaals Ajax of the nineties, where simplicity was used and triangles created on the pitch as is possible in the 4-5-1/4-3-3, which the Gunners are recently adopting. It is such simplicity, which Arsenal lack, for example, if the ten outfield players where on the edge of their box, Arsenal would try and pass through, when Cruyff would say, pass around the majority.

The fluid attack gives Arsenal more options and a surprise in who will have the final shot on goal, but because of this style odd play, the team must become more efficient (another Dutch trait in which there is a lack of killer instinct) and defend as a unit. Speaking of a unit, there are many potentially brilliant players at the club, but there must not be too many individualistic players, which causes a friction in team spirit. The same can be said of Holland at international tournaments, where each player is seeking personal glory and cannot even utter a word of the national anthem. This was similar to the spirit at Colney in 2005/06, with a split of the invincibles and the younger players. Greed and money is a common issue in football just ask Ashley Cole, this is a Dutch characteristic which appears frequently and thankfully there appears to be no sign of such an unnecessary attribute in the Arsenal squad currently.

It was obvious that having different style of player up front changes the perspective of the game, while, the rest of the team, play aesthetically superior football, which in reality has little end product, using an awkward figure point changes the attacking options. The Czech Republic team with Jan Koller had skilful players such as Nedved and Rosicky, but rather than a flat pass as a final ball, Koller provides aerial threat, and a physical style that mixes well with the flair players and their tiki taka, as Sid Lowe of the Guardian put it, style of play (pass and move). In conclusion, this is why against gritty teams, which Arsenal feel superior to, should be up against a Bendtner style player, who won a number of headers against the huge (but average) Zat Knight, because Bendtner does not play that style of Dutch football, but the more efficient German style (if you forgive me for another stereotypical comparision). He is still young, thus his technique will improve as will his experience of top flight football. Therefore, Arsenal must strive to use a player that can adapt to their playing style, but also bring one of his own, and that is difficult in today’s game.

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