International Rescue For Spain, Arsenal Brains Into Gear
Out with the old, in with the new. Spain’s deserved triumph over Italy in Kyiv last night signalled the completion of season 2011-12, pre-season training has begun for those outside of the Premier League and is a week or so away for those within the citadel. Even when facing a full complement of opponents, Spain were the better side. It felt like a step too far for the Italians but nothing should detract from their efforts in reaching the final.
They faced a Spanish side which had mastered the Italian technique of doing enough to qualify, doing enough to beat the opponent in front of them whilst occasionally riding their luck. Spain caressed the ball and I understand the criticism; it was not dynamic at times, chess on the football pitch emerged as they pulled opponents out of shape.
Arsène, whilst openly admiring the Spaniards, was critical of the manner of previous victories in this tournament, noting that they appeared more negative than before. He accused them of betraying their philosophy which is too much of a media-friendly attack. Spain have grown-up. 2008 saw them play with a refreshing naivety in winning the trophy; it was their first chance to show their style on the international stage. 2010 was a step further. Now, as the team to beat, they face more organised opponents, foes who will hassle and harry whilst trying to deprive them of the space in which they want to play. Possession must be retained in order to probe to find the gaps.
Further, it omits a crucial point. Vincent Del Bosque is being lauded for 4-6-0, in the media’s eye a tactical masterstroke. It was but only to the extent that his key striker was missing. David Villa understands better than most the philosophy of tiki-taka (or tiki-tika as mi suegra called it). He knows the movement required of the central striker in that formation. I am sure that Torres does as well but the only time he plays in that formation is with the national squad; it is not often enough. Equally Negredo and Llorente cannot have impressed Del Bosque otherwise they would have featured from the start last night. Necessity was the mother of invention.
Wenger believes in the style as well as the substance. He wants to win trophies beautifully and that is a critical stick with which he is beaten. It is, as usual, too simplistic. The failure on the pitch is a result of the financial constraints; they led the club to the path of youthful promotion but now the balance is being redressed with a squad of experienced young players mixing with older heads. That impatience for glory manifests in the criticism of style over substance is one that Matt touched on yesterday in his excellent post. Arsenal do play negatively when the situation requires it; they win ‘ugly’ which is why Arsène’s criticism of Spain sits uncomfortably. All Champions win when playing badly; they all do, even The Invincibles. All of Wenger’s titles have been won with sides that could turn on the style as well as grind out draws and wins. Last season saw signs of that returning, particularly in the second half of the campaign. This season will need it more often from the outset.
One of those experienced heads is Andre Santos whose interview with The Elastico was illuminating. One of Arsène’s so-called “panic buys“, he has put that to bed. According to the player, contact was first made with his agent in March 2011. That being the case, it is ludicrous to say that he was a rushed signing. He was an identified target. His signing was at the last minute but from Santos’ own words, it is clear Arsenal had done a considerable amount of homework on the Brazilian before pursuing the transfer.
It is an interesting conversation, not least for the revelation that Pele kept the young Santos’ hopes up by favourably comparing him to Roberto Carlos. That comparison is not hard to understand (fnar-fnar! THWACK! That’s enough jokes about Pele’s commercial activities – Ed.) with previous coaches having noted that the Santos’ attacking instincts have brought on many premature (THWACK!) grey hairs. Curb your enthusiasm, indeed.
He is aware of his failings which is a good start but what I found refreshing is his desire to improve, to become a starter for Arsenal. There is a key battle between Santos and Gibbs for left back. The latter is a bright prospect whose career has thus far been blighted by injury. He has a lot of learning still to do but is a strong candidate for a long career at Arsenal in that position. That the left back area has not been the target of summer transfer speculation is a signal that we have good cover.
He views his first season in England positively, despite the injury which kept him out of the side for three months. In the great scheme of things that is not too long a spell, as Jack Wilshere will testify. However, it is not appreciated the problems it caused Santos having just arrived in England. Isolation as he notes, was a big problem but reading his comments, his age and family life counted in his favour being more settled than a youngster in the same position.
Elsewhere Theo Walcott is apparently a target for Chelsea whilst Roberto Mancini doesn’t think that Robin van Persie will be joining them. Either that or he has been told in no uncertain terms to be quiet on the matter. If I recall correctly, his bullishness over Samir Nasri was followed by a day of peace and quiet before the return to inelegant braying. He got his man then; this time? Who knows. Hugo Lloris can be snapped up for £16m if Arsenal want him – which I don’t think they do – and in any case, is he genuinely better than Szczesny by a sufficient margin to warrant a sizeable fee. I know memories are selective but my overriding recollection of him is as a bit of a flibbertigibbet when it comes to crosses.