More often than not, Arsenal’s play has drawn comparisons with Barcelona. Infact, it is common to hear the Catalan giants and the Gunners being hailed by pundits as the two sides in Europe that play football most aesthetically. And the similarities are there for us to see: both sides play a beautiful brand of soccer that is founded on one touch crisp passes. Both teams rarely use the longball tactic and both teams don’t rely on physical players but rather small but technical players. But what many people fail to notice is that here is where the similarities end.
At a closer look, you will discover that although both teams like to keep the ball, they use different approaches. Let us take the best sides for both teams. The Gunners side of the 2007/08 season that had a midfield quartet of Mathieu Flamini, Cesc Fabregas, Aliaksandr Hleb and Tomasz Rosicky and a strikeforce of Eduardo, and Van Persie / Adebayor was according to me, the best at playing the game Wenger wanted. And the current Barca side that has Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta as the midfielders and the genius of Messi, David Villa and Pedro as the strikers is the best at playing Barca’s game.
While Arsenal’s game is based on quick, onetouch passes that sometimes develop into long passes, Barca’s is based on short but slow passes and you will rarely see Xavi launch a long crossfield pass from deep to find Pedro the way Cesc does at the Emirates. Arsenal also have pace and their play involves alot of running and passing while Barcelona’s play is built on the ability to hold onto the ball and press to get it when its lost. The Catalans are aided in this by the fact that most of their players are good dribblers hence have good ball retention skills. The Arsenal of 07/08 had pace to burn and even upto now you can see that Wenger is trying to groom the current side to play like them. The side was also capable of lightning counterattacks. I remember watching the Gunners against Reading and Reading won a corner but within seconds, the Gunners had scored on the other side with a brilliant counter attack. The Reading manager later said, “When I heard the cheers, I thought we had scored….some of these fixtures are mismatches.”
That season, the Gunners were capable of combining domination with a lethal panache attacking football, that, although is missing in the current squad at times, embodies Arsenal soccer. Most recently before the two sides clashed at the Emirates, Barcelona coach, Pep Guardiola, admitted that the Gunners forwards were very pacy and singled out Theo Walcott for praise, “once he has the ball, you need a pistol to stop him.”
That’s so unlike Barca who lack pace and instead rely on patient build-up coupled with individual genius. So before you slate Wenger and Arsenal for trying to imitate Barcelona, stop and think first! Because the two teams have different styles of play and Arsenal’s style is unique in Europe.
Keep the faith!