Paper Planes Don’t Fly

Thus far during the debates on this site I have vigorously defended Arsene Wenger’s transfer dealings this summer. The club is certainly in a far better state than many, if not all, external commentators give us credit for. However, in full honesty there are question marks and my position is rather closer to that of FTK’s than I have let on. But so disproportionate is the angst and vitriol from our own fans that I have felt obliged to offer robust defences of the manager, team, and club as a whole whenever they are attacked.
In reality our transfer dealings this summer can only leave doubts in the mind, they were certainly not an aggressive trading strategy. Abou Diaby’s injury history scares the life out of me, although I am not as concerned as others that our midfield rebirth hinges on his knobbly knees. Certainly our squad as a whole is much better in terms of depth, the only doubt rests on whether the top line talent is as good. What we have though that people seem to overlook, and consistently have done for a few summers as they predict overblown demise for us, is our football. This is heavily linked with coach, it is his job essentially in any football team.
This is where the phrase “on paper” falls down and drives me nuts. “On paper” Spurs are a good side and where last season also. I had a friend tell me last Christmas that “on paper” Berbatov was a great player, much better than Adebeyor. At the time Ade had twice as many goals and was leading the line influentially for the league leaders with the quality of his play and work rate. Berbatov was a lazy, often bored looking, enigmatic striker capable of brilliance but rarely showing it. What “on paper” meant was partly a reflection of potential through fleeting displays of natural talent, probably in excess of Ade’s I concede, and general opinion. It doesn’t matter how Berba plays, he is perceived as a very good player, in spite of his flaky production.
Opinion plays a disproportionate role in British football, as opposed to analysis, statistics and tactics. Pick up the Gazzetta de le Sport and see how detailed there tactics for a single game are, covering 3 broadsheet pages for the big teams. In Spain they give an award for the player with the most ball retrievals, something significant in a highly technical league when it isn’t returned through an aimless punt within 30 seconds. (I would love to see this in England) The point is analysis reflects reality, or at least endeavours to through reason. Whereas in England stereotypes, generally peddled by semi literate and small minded ex-pro’s and tabloid journalists, rule the day.
For example, foreign players dive; I still hear about Pires against Pompey, but people never bring up Rooney at OT. English players have more heart and by implication foreigners are soft. Clubs decades removed from any real success are “big teams”. Spurs are a decent side. Or, the old classic, the England team should be challenging for major honours. International football highlights well the difference between paper teams and real ones. A football team is not a collection of individual pieces where the sum of the parts equates to the whole, if it were England might pass the ball and even qualify for a tournament once in a while.
Football is a team game. Arsenal as a team produce football as good as any you will find and have done consistently under Wenger. Through this we are able to achieve great things and if anything the sum of the whole exceeds that of the parts. (It is not coincidence players who leave us rarely look as good again) Teams up and down the league strengthened last summer and it is rare now you don’t look at team line up before a game and think that is a damn good side. However, we have our football and we beat most teams, we are nearly untouchable at home. Away we need to dig in and that is where concerns may lie this year, but someone will protect our back 4 and don’t be surprised if they do a decent job, it is essentially a limited role technically for all its undoubted tactical significance. (Is that PGL screaming?)
Sure, only Nasri has come in to help out right away; Hleb won’t be missed. Maybe there is a space where Flamini used to sit, but we will still put 11 players on the pitch. I would wager that those 11 players will beat most teams this year, they will play good football and get results, that you can be confident of. If we play our best, we can beat anyone, there is no need to fear; the boys just have to find it in themselves to do that.
Maybe there are pieces here and there that might have looked like good additions, but we have something that money cannot buy. We have Arsene Wenger, the football he preaches and a team that knows ho to deliver it. That is something that fills me with confidence.  Remember, what we look like “on paper” and on the pitch are two very different things, there lies the managers genius, don’t lose faith in it.

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