After the first Champions League leg at The Emirates, some mature, educated Arsenal fans rushed to weigh in on the developments and stature of both clubs. So I decided to address some of the “arguments.” Here are a few tools to measure both clubs, and gauge how much common sense there is in the message that Arsenal fans and some British media are trying to convey.
The first leg
A shallow fan is the one that focuses solely on:
- Single game as a sample size
Take Rubin as an example. In 4 games played ‘we’ had won only 5 pts (1W 2D 1L). That single loss came in our house. Over the same number of games and roughly the same time period, albeit not at the knockout stage, the team won 7 pts (2W 1D 1L) against Arsenal. Now, since Rubin had about the same percentage of ball possesion as Arsenal did, I would like one of the numerous educated fans of Arsenal to tell me how big Rubin’s payroll is, and how much they spent on transfers.
The blame doesn’t lay solely with a delusional fan though. The media is playing an accomplice. Even Mr. Hunter, usually a fair observer.
“But Arsenal still possesses an outstanding depth of squad. Given how closely matched these two sides are, just one or two key players can be decisive in the outcome.”
Lets evaluate both sides:
- Individual quality (stats and awards, number of high quality players)
- Team quality (results, current form)
- On field performance in the first leg. One team played mistake-free in front of their home fans while other, obviously, played away during the annual dip in form and commited an uncharacteristic number of mistakes (ex. Valdes). Even so, Barca created more high probability goal scoring opportunities and dominated ball possession
- Benefits caused by referees’ mistakes
Once adjusted, how is this close to be evenly matched?
For a good laugh, lets look at some of the “arguments”:
“Arsenal made Cesc what he is now and Spain benefits greatly”
- Despite this supposedly great teaching he got, the fact remains he is still A SUB in the Spanish National Team
- He would not be able to start at Barca either
- At the time, he simply wasn’t good enough to start at Barca any time soon. The fact that he was able to do so at Arsenal speaks volumes about each team’s quality.
“Trying to develop identity of being an Arsenal player”
And what exactly is this identity you are talking about? Lack of trophies, looking at the ref as a sole reason for failure, easily pushed around by a more physical opposition and ball handling skills that pale in comparison to Barca’s? I tell ya, that is some identity to have.
“Not allowed to sign a kid if home falls outside a 90 mile radius”
“Wenger would have more foreign talent but visas”
I am asking 3 questions:
- What is stopping Arsenal from enticing such a youngster to change his residency, like they did with Cesc, or is it that the other clubs have a higher profile when it comes to recruiting local talent?
- How many young foreign talents have Barca relied on since Guardiola took over?
- I like how suddenly it doesn’t matter that there are very few English players starting for Arsenal, and that the Captain is a foreigner. All this talk about identity but the captain and, arguably, the best and most important player has DNA of some other club. I imagine this to be a painful fact to face if one is a fan of Arsenal.
Some others were trumpeting “Youth system and potential starters”
Let me remind you Barca has 7 La Massia graduates among starters. 3 of them just made a clean sweep in the Player of the Year award. Then there is a defender who is often being compared by knowledgable individuals to one Franz Beckenbauer and a starting DM for the World Cup-Winning team at the age of 22.
Another one became the first ever player to score in all 6 competitions during the single season. All these firmly anchored the 6 trophy winning team (an unprecedented feature). It just happens that they all, except Messi, are born in the same country as the one their team is originating from.
I ask now how many Arsenal youth players, if any, are of equal class (based on rationale and not what press is saying) and what is their level of contribution at the moment?
The fish stinks from the head
Wenger is French alright. His affinity to managed capitalism is of lesser importance here. What matters more is that he used to be a force and had some meaning, just like France (military power, trade and French as an official language), but not anymore. Time and environment had changed and brushed him aside. Failing to acknowledge new reality, he remains stubborn in spite of repeated failures. I find it entertaining.
Not at one point had Arsenal players mentioned their inferior skills or mental preparation as one of the significant factors in defeat. The referee emerged as a sole reason. A crucial detail.
It is also shortsighted. In the knockout rounds, what happens in the first leg has significant impact on the tie and can dramatically change the setting for the return. Case in point, had Inter not won by 2 in the first leg last year the return would be significantly different in terms of atmosphere and on-field developments.
Nobody is saying the referee’s decisions can not be assesed. They have an obvious impact. But one needs to be realistic when assessing it. Rarely is the referee’s decision(s) a sole reason for such a poor display and inferiority (possesion, passes completed, shots on goal).
Also, the Arsenal’s largest shareholder is Stan Kroenke. The man who, at the moment, owns Nuggets, Avalanche and St Louis Rams. Once called “The Greatest Show on Turf”, Rams haven’t seen the playoffs since 2005 and during the 07-09 period went on a 6-42 stretch. What these 3 have in common? Mediocre and trophy-less franchises. Now wonder then he took interest in Arsenal.
Stat of the day: Only once in the last 6 editions of EPL had Arsenal finished better than the 3rd place. The gap behind the leader was 15 points on average.
A. Trophies and results
B. Number of FIFA Player of the Year winners
C. Fact that Arsenal’s Captain and the best player wouldn’t be able to start at Barcelona
D. Cash flow, Income Statement (Revenue) and Balance Sheet (Total debt to Assets and ROA)
E. The general impression, almost every game Barcelona plays is entertaining and brings great amount of detail to learn from. Meanwhile, even after we account for the different characteristics of most EPL teams, Arsenal is fluent and able “to string three passes together” not nearly as often.
I rest my case.
The distorted reality people affiliated with Arsenal are experiencing is only a logical consequence of the general mindset in and around EPL. The most (over)hyped product I have witnessed in recent memory. Apple has nothing on these guys.
I look at two important metrics and a sufficient sample size to asses the quality:
- Individual: How many FIFA Player of the Year award winners had came from EPL? Since award has been insituted back in 1991, a single winner came from an English team. That is 1 in 20. And where is he playing now? In Spain. Meanwhile, Barcelona alone had whopping 8 winners. Two of them back-to-back (not including Ronaldo) and a clean sweep this past year. Excluding winners, 9 other players made it to the Top 3. It adds a new meaning to the word “quality” doesn’t it?
- Group: How many EPL teams won the Champions League and in what manner? Since the competition was introduced back in 92-93, three teams from England won it. In numbers, 3/18, less than 17% . As always, it is essential to put things in context. It took two extraordinary events, especially with Liverpool being totally inferior, and a penalty shoot out. Meanwhile, Barcelona alone has 2 Champions League Titles and a victory at Wembley in the 91-92 Season. 5 in total for Spain. Teams like Villareal and Deportivo La Coruna, of considerably smaller budgets, had reached the CL Semifinals. Valencia had played in two Finals.
- Style: It is far more eye pleasing and entertaining to watch Barca play. While 3 points have the absolute priority, Barca’s players manage to entertain an average fan more often than not as opposed to their EPL counterparts. To win in a stylish manner is more difficult and as such worth more than to just win.
Now compare this to how much money, billions, were pumped into EPL and how loud they were, not just now but for years, in advertising themselves as the best league in the world. A tragi-comical endeavor.
Telling is the way EPL heavyweights performed at Camp Nou. These leaders in the, supposedly, best league in the World have opted for an ultra-defensive approach. I prefer the term “bunker.” If not for the jerseys, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the most recent Zaragoza performance at Camp Nou.
The worst part, and the thing that really puts everything into context, comes when you look at the payroll of these teams. Players earning millions of dollars a year can’t do better than desperately defend the whole game? Zero to little shots, star forwards acting as the extra LB? Aside from paying an ultimate compliment to Barcelona, it pains me greatly what had modern football came down to with so many people being supportive of such an approach.
– There is this misconseption floating around how there are 4-6 high quality teams fighting for the title every year in England. First, since the EPL was introduced, 3 teams (manutd, chelsea and arsenal) won all but one title. For the sake of comparison, 5 different teams won La Liga during the same period. In addition, there were 11 different teams among top 3. Besides the usual suspects (Barca, Real, Atletico Madrid, Deportivo La Coruna, Valencia, Sevilla, Villareal) such giants as Zaragoza, Real Betis, Real Sociedad and Real Mallorca fought its way to the top.
– People often make mistake when assesing the quality. While important, the competitiveness at the top is not the sole measure. It is the level of play from all 20 teams that counts. While there might be more balance near the top at the moment, mid to lower teams in La Liga have more quality overall then their EPL counterparts. Except for Stoke…on a rainy night. Commitment and physicality is not the most important characteristic to have. Far from it.
The games being close and “competitive” means absolutely nothing in terms of quality.
Barcelona – Arsenal 3 – 1
“The reality is that they did not string three passes together.”
- The “Who’s the biggest book worm” contest saw some fierce competition. However, virtually everyone who had played the game at somewhat serious levels will tell you that once you get a yellow it is not all black and white afterwards. The tolerance is often stretched. Factors that come in play are home field, the stake a game carries, seriousness of the offense, behavior up to that point as well as personal animosity towards a player or a coach.
- Another thing, a lot of time refs watch the tape during the halftime and if they realize they had “blew the call” they consent to do their best to “tip it the other way” in the second half.
- It would be foolish to claim that the red card to Van Persie had no influence. It had. But we will never know to what degree. Everything else is just a speculation and can rightfully be labeled as being a ‘sore loser’ and delusional.
- The decision to start Adriano was correct. The development that will, hopefully, speed up his progress and yield long-term benefits for the team.
- I would like to see Iniesta at “false 9” position. The role Messi is playing now or in a 3-4-3 alignment. He has an extraordinary touch and dribbling, is so fluent with the ball and is now shooting more often from distance.
There are plenty of jealous fans out there trying to find the most minor of details to blow out of proportion and use for their “case” against Barca. An educated fan of The Club should use the aforementioned tools, and some others, to make a proper assesment. Upon reaching the conlusion, such fan should display calmness, confidence and know better than to respond in a pationate matter to the troll-like behavior and attacks that are not based on facts and have little to do with reality.
The only yard I prefer to look in is our own. It annoys me when a slightly above average entity, egged on by the mainstream media, is trying to force themselves into the same sentence with The Club.