After another exciting weekend of Premiership action, Arsenal have yet again failed to capitalize on Aston Villa’s slip up. With time running out on the 2008/09 season, Arsene Wenger is beginning to realize that it’s do or die for his young Arsenal squad. If fans at the Emirates want to see Champions League football next season then Wenger and co. will need to start picking up points, especially at home.
So why didn’t Arsenal get all three points against a struggling Sunderland side? If you ask Arsene Wenger, it’s because Sunderland’s “boring” and defensive tactics disrupted Arsenal’s usually fluid attacking prowess. As an outsider looking in, I can’t help but think this is one very poor excuse on the Frenchman’s part, and an excuse that needs to be thrown out of his repertoire of excuses.
If you asked me three years ago how the match between Sunderland and Arsenal would have been played, I could have told you back then that Arsenal would be frustrated due to Sunderland’s cautious and defensive approach. What else can a smaller club like the Black Cats do at the Emirates? For a club in the lower half of the table, a match against a Big Four side (although those credentials are being seriously tested now) and a trip to one of the Premier League’s most daunting grounds represents an impossible challenge. For these teams, walking away with a point means a point earned rather than two points lost. The same cannot be said for the home side; a club that is much bigger and a club that claims to desire a Champions League spot should be picking up maximum points at home.
Wenger, and many other Premier League managers, need to stop complaining about negative tactics and realize that different clubs play different styles. Not every club can play Arsenal’s attacking style, just like Arsenal can’t play Sunderland’s “boring” style (although I’m sure the Arsenal of old would beg to differ). It’s a matter of survival for every team in the league, and every club will do what’s best for them.
Instead of complaining about this, managers and players need to find ways of conquering these less than ideal tactical approaches. As I said above, everyone knew well before the match that Sunderland would be playing defensive. Wenger had ample time to prepare his side for this, ample time to tweak his tactics, yet he still couldn’t get his players to put the ball in the back of the net. How many times did it take Liverpool to figure out that Everton would be playing defensively this season? Even in their third match against each other this season, Rafa still wasn’t prepared for David Moyes’ “negative” tactics, and the Toffees ran out winners in their FA Cup fixture.
As a football fan it’s never exciting to watch smaller clubs play defensively, but it would be foolish to think anything else. There is no incentive for Sunderland to go gung-ho at the Emirates if it just means they are going to get hit on the counter. Instead, Ricky Sbragia played an intelligent game and left London with his tail in the air.
From here on out, let’s hope that Premier League managers are smart enough to prepare for each fixture. We all know how certain Premier League teams play, and the managers know that even better than we do. All of the excuses in the world won’t give Arsenal those two extra points, so Wenger should turn his eyes to the future and fix his mistakes. It’ll be better for himself, better for his team, and better for football. Aston Villa, on the other hand, won’t be so happy.
Hear Brian and Taylor discuss Arsenal’s match against Sunderland on the Premiership Talk Podcast.