By Myles Palmer
Arsenal 0 Derby 0
Coaches need to be pragmatic,not schematic.
They need to build their style of play round what their best players do best.
Arsene Wenger proved brilliant at that when he changed the team in the summer of 1997.
He sold Merson,signed Overmars & Petit, and created the clever,dynamic choreography which won the Double.
That team stuttered in December,but regained its momentum and made memorable headlines.The critics drooled. That particular football ballet was excellent for two seasons.
But then two prima donnas became moody, ruined the 1999-2000 season,and then flounced off to sign fat contracts at the Barcelona Opera House.
So Mr Wenger signed three exciting new dancers to pep up the company.
Robert Pires, a creative inside-forward/winger,a bit like Nottingham Forest genius John Robertson,but taller and quicker. A winger with the craft of an inside forward.
The versatile Lauren, a gold medal-winner at the Olympic dance festival in Sydney last month, has quickly become a reliable new member of Mr Wengers troupe.
And the wonderfully ebullient Sylvan Wiltord,from Bordeaux, shows alot of potential
The key point is this : Wiltord is not as easy to fit in as Overmars, Anelka or Petit.
I think it is because of his style.
During 1998 and 1999 I watched many clips of Wiltord playing for Bordeaux.
He was not a poacher like Ian Wright. It seemed to me that Wiltord created a lot of his own goals.He would get the ball in a wide position,beat a man and shoot.He would get the ball, beat two men, and shoot.He would carry the ball, play a one-two,and shoot.
Wiltord was two-footed, fast,honest,tenacious,very persistent. He produced goals by his energy and invention on the ball and round the ball,rather than by his runs off the ball.
He had many qualities but scoring with headers was not one of them.And he didn’t really score from crosses either.
Arsenal fans always moan that, “We don’t get enough men in the box.”
That is deliberate.That is policy.The only time Arsenal get a lot of men in the box is in the last ten minutes,if they are not winning.
Basically, Arsene Wenger wants his team to attack narrow, to attack surgically,with precision and pace, creating one-on-ones with the keeper.
Since Arsenal don’t score from crosses, they don’t really want crosses.So they don’t need width.
If you concentrate on playing narrow, with an extra man in the middle third of the pitch,sprinting through the defence, you should win a game against Derby, the only team without a win in the four divisions.
Unfortunately,the choreography was under-rehearsed. Saturday was a wet day with a strong swirling wind. Better conditions would have favoured Arsenal’s style of play more than Derby’s dogged defending round a back five.
Derby defended very well,broke dangerously, and did everything efficiently,except finish.
All Arsenal’s goal attempts against Derby were shots from 25 yards or one-on-ones.That is too limited.It’s not enough weapons.
They need more variety in their choreography.Their repertoire should expand in the coming weeks as Pires and Wiltord and Lauren are integrated into the ballet.
Basically, at the moment, Arsenal have an arsenal that is too small.
Having said all that,Derby is just a hiccup. They should beat Everton at Goodison next Saturday.
And Manchester United, with Fergie away at his son’s wedding in Johannesburg, might draw at Maine Road on Saturday morning,or even lose.
12th November 2000.