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Arsenal, Chelsea, and the stereotypes that just won’t go away

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People tend to obsess, when they read football reporting and commentary, over issues of objectivity. It is often asserted that a supporter of a club should be mistrusted when he or she is consulted to give an opinion on their team, as their view is surely a ‘biased’ one. It is fair to assume that most journalists, since they have sufficient interest in the game to make a living writing about it, support a team or at least did when they were younger. Television broadcasting is awash with ex-professionals with their thinly veiled allegiances to ex clubs. So the search for an unbiased view is a futile one.

Incidentally, being objective is not the same as being ‘even handed’. One can fall down heavily on one side of an argument while still viewing the issue at hand with a cold mind and intellectual honesty. Supporters of clubs are exactly the people who should be asked for an opinion on a topic related to their team, since they are the people who watch them every week and are familiar with the fluctuations of form, tactics etc. The view of the footballing public in general tends to lag behind that of individual fan bases; taking months for instance to give a player positive recognition when supporters of that team had been signing his praises all along. Stereotypes can be hard to shake off.

This issue came back to me following the match between Arsenal and Chelsea on Sunday. It dawned on me that a several well-worn stereotypes are being peddled about both teams and managers, none of which are really appropriate. One manifestation of this, has been the obsession with the ‘boring boring’ taunts from Arsenal supporters towards Chelsea, since it neatly fitted the narrative of Chelsea being obdurate, cynical, arch pragmatists. In any case, what made them media treat the chant as if it were Arsenal fans’ judicial appraisal of the game is anyone’s guess.

The vast majority of fans if asked by the time they got home would accept that Chelsea are worthy champions. They were simply trying, in their own stadium, to have a dig at a much detested rival. Of course the chant was silly and not grounded in facts. But then, Arsenal are not ‘by far the greatest team the world has ever seen’ either, but fans still sing that to try and get behind their team and create an atmosphere that often is lacking at The Emirates.

Arsenal vs Chelsea is an ideal fixture for the media since they are often viewed as the complete antithesis of each other. Both teams possesses what the other lack; its entertaining, offensive Arsenal against the durable but tedious Chelsea. Its the Bank of England club with a history to match against the club bankrolled by an oligarch who made a killing purchasing previously publically owned assets after the fall of the Soviet Union. Its Arsene Wenger who just tells his players to do what they like and pays no attention to the opposition against Jose Mourinho who moves players around the pitch as if it were a chessboard and spends hours dissecting opposition as if they were a lab rat.

These are the stereotypes. But the truth is rather more complicated. True, there is a clash of philosophy and styles but neither team is as extreme in their nature as the stereotypes suggest. It’s a long time since Arsenal were a side driven solely by ball possession; that was back in the days of Alex Hleb and Cesc Fabregas. During that era, just after the stadium move, Arsenal were a fantastic footballing side with incredible powers of ball retention under pressure, but were lightweight and inexperienced. They were rattled when teams got physical with them, were vulnerable to slip ups against inferior opposition and exposed at set pieces. Look back at the archive filled with defeats at Bolton, Blackburn, Wigan, at home to Hull, for the evidence of this. The apotheosis of ‘that’ Arsenal was surely the 2011 League Cup defeat to Birmingham City.

That era is long gone, and Arsenal are a different type of team now, but the stereotypes persist. One recalls Jason Roberts demanding that Reading ‘get physical’ with Arsenal prior to the recent FA Cup semi-final. Though their dismal record at Stoke persists, this type of tactic no longer disturbs Arsenal. In the past two seasons they have been remarkably consistent against bottom half teams; the best in the league in fact in these fixtures. They are an experienced team, with added height in recent years thanks to the additions of Olivier Giroud and Per Mertesacker. Following the loss of Fabregas, Nasri and Van Persie, with less quality at his disposal Arsene Wenger formulated a more pragmatic approach and eked out a number of tight wins to beat Tottenham to 4th in both 2012 and 2013. They have been very adept at squeezing out narrow wins recently to, as results at Crystal Palace QPR, Newcastle and Burnley testify.

Following Sunday’s game, Chelsea’s defending was contrasted with Arsenal’s suggesting that this was the reason behind the 10 point gap in the table. In fact, in the five meetings against Chelsea since Mourinho’s return, Arsenal are yet to score a goal, suggesting the problems lie further up the pitch. But of course, this can’t be squeezed into the narrative, because Arsenal are free flowing artists and that’s the end of the discussion.

The same goes for Chelsea. They are the league’s best defensive unit and their tactic in recent weeks, prompted by the loss of their two best strikers and a tiring squad, has involved sitting back and soaking up pressure. But they are still the second top scorers in the division. They hold the record for the most goals scored in a season, achieved under Carlo Ancelotti in their double winning season of 2009/10. They were the League’s top goal scorers when they first won the title under Mourinho in 2004/5.

In the first half of this season they were definitely the best footballing team in the division, and they are noticeably less direct when compared to Mourinho’s first stint at the club when they counter attacked through Robben and Duff. Through Hazard, Oscar and Willian they are extremely measured and patient when moving the ball in the last third, too much so I suspect for some Chelsea fans. True, they are rather more chameleon like than Arsenal say, willing to change tact to meet the needs of the match at hand. But they are not quite as negative in their approach as many would have you believe.

In terms of team structure, Arsenal and Chelsea are remarkably similar. Both operate at present with in a 4-2-3-1. In the two in central midfield there is a defensive-minded ball winner (Matic/Coquelin) and a deep lying ball player (Fabregas/Cazorla). On the left of the three is right footed dribbler who looks to cut inside (Hazard/Sanchez), in the centre is a traditional creative midfielder or no. 10 (Oscar/Özil), and on the right a technically proficient hard worker (Willian/Ramsey). Up front there is a centre forward in the traditional mould who is adept with his back to goal and at linking play (Costa/Giroud). Arsene Wenger may well give his players more freedom within that structure; one would have to check the oft cited ‘heat maps’. Matic is a more polished and imposing player than Coquelin and Costa, given that he offers more in behind, is a more complete striker than Giroud. Nevertheless, there is some irony to be found in such tactical similarities.

The purpose of this article is not argue that there is stylistic equivalence between Arsenal and Chelsea. There are obvious differences between them and their two managers. But the depiction of each team as being at the extreme of either an offensive of defensive style needs not be done away with. It limits the discourse surrounding both teams to a narrow set of inferences and obstructs any form of nuanced analysis.

University of Nottingham History graduate. Freelance sportswriter specialising in Football, Cricket and Golf. Interested in the politics of sport.

Arsenal

It is too soon for Mikel Arteta to be considered for Arsenal job

The 36-year-old has been linked with the Emirates hot seat.

Jake Jackman

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Mikel Arteta
Photo: Getty Images

Arsenal have a huge summer awaiting them as they will need to appoint a successor to Arsene Wenger and rebuild a squad that has missed out on Champions League football for the second season in a row.

It won’t be an easy task and the board must act swiftly to make sure the club are prepared for the 2018/19 campaign.

Considering Wenger’s departure was announced weeks ago, Arsenal should have made progress in their search for a replacement.

There will be a number of names under consideration and it is important that they do their due diligence to ensure they can start to move in the right direction again.

BBC Sport report that Manchester City coach Mikel Arteta is one of the options being considered by the hierarchy at the Emirates Stadium.

(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

As a former player, he would be well received by the fanbase, but it would represent a huge gamble by the club.

The 36-year-old was part of the playing staff under Arsene Wenger as recently as 2016.

Although he will know the problems that exist at the club, he may struggle to exert the authority to correct them considering many of the current squad were his peers.

It has only been two years since the Spaniard retired from playing and he wouldn’t have expected to be in the running for a job of this size this soon.

Upon retiring, he took up a coaching role at Manchester City and the experience will stand him in good stead to move into management one day.

After all, he is working with one of the best managers of all-time in Pep Guardiola and Arteta will have played a role in the team’s record-breaking Premier League season.

That coupled with his history with Arsenal makes him an attractive left-field option for the Gunners.

However, the size of the risk attached to an appointment means that the club should look elsewhere this summer.

The club will want stability, but first and foremost, they will want success.

The fact that Arteta has no managerial experience means that he would be learning on the job and the North London side can’t afford to allow that.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Arsenal are a huge club and as the man following Arsene Wenger, the next manager will be scrutinised closely.

It would be a job better suited to a manager with experience and know-how at the top level.

The article goes on to mention both Luis Enrique and Massimiliano Allegri. Either of them would be a better appointment for Arsenal at this time, as they have both managed big clubs previously.

For Arteta, the fact that he is being linked to a job like Arsenal shows how highly he is thought of within the game.

If he wants to go into management, he needs to leave Manchester City and gain experience as a number one.

If he does that, whether it be in England or abroad, he could be ready to take the hot-seat at the Emirates Stadium at a later date.

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Exclusive: Havard Nordtveit – Hoffenheim move, Julian Nagelsmann and facing Liverpool

The Norwegian international discussed his time at Hoffenheim and his experience of English clubs.

Mathew Coull

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Havard Nordtveit
Photo: Getty Images

This summer West Ham United utility man Havard Nordtveit called time on his career with the Hammers, after just one season.

Signed from Borussia Monchengladbach on a free transfer he suffered from the London outfits’ own struggles, the change of stadium and being asked to play out of position at right-back.

After just 21 games for the Hammers, he headed back to Germany, where he had such success previously.

Now, speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Norwegian international has discussed working under an exciting new manager, facing Liverpool in the Champions League and coming through the ranks at Arsenal.

Plenty of teams in Germany would have wanted Nordtveit this summer.

He built a fine reputation in the Bundesliga during his time with Gladbach.

In fact, just hours before his July transfer was announced, he was being linked with Bundesliga rivals Hamburg.

In the end, it was Hoffenheim who snapped up the Norwegian. They had just finished fourth in the Bundesliga and it was a brilliant move for the 27-year-old.

(Photo by Patrik Stollarz/Getty Images)

But, as the former Hammer explained from Germany, it has been a topsy-turvy season:

“It went well in the first couple of months. But then my games weren’t as good as I was hoping for,” he admitted. “Then obviously I was not good enough for the team. I have been training hard and lately, it has been back to normal again.

“It’s good to be back in Germany and also I needed half a season to get to know the new coach and the new system. I am looking forward to the rest of the campaign.”

Nordtveit started the season playing in the Hoffenheim back three, but found himself out of the squad entirely from mid-December until last month.

Despite his problems, he did not sulk and simply worked hard to get back into the first-team:

“I am not that person,” proclaimed the Norwegian international. “I have been in that situation before with West Ham and Gladbach. It’s all about giving everything you can instead of moaning.

“You have to be positive,” he continued. “This is a team sport. You have to give your best for the team. If that means you are playing or not you know that you will get the chance in the end.”

This season Hoffenheim and Nordtveit were challenging for the Europa League.

However, at the start of the campaign, the Bundesliga outfit were in Champions League action for the first time in their history.

They took on Premier League side Liverpool in the qualifying rounds, with Nordtveit playing in both games.

Liverpool were not yet working under Mohamed Salah power but still proved far too strong for their German opponents over two legs:

“We knew they were strong. With their attacking forwards they are brutal. We had a very good home game. But in the end, it is a little better a feeling to know we went out of the play-offs against a team that reached the finals,” Nordtveit explained, with a sense of vindication for his club’s exit.

“What Klopp has done with the club is massive and also Salah, at this time, maybe is Europe’s best player.”

(Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)

Hoffenheim’s entrance to the Champions League was masterminded by their brilliant young coach Julian Nagelsmann. The 30-year-old is just a few years older than the Norwegian but has proven himself a top manager:

“He is fantastic,” said an excited Nordtveit. “He has great experience and his own style of play. It is a lot of tactics for every new player. Also when I came in then there was a lot of new things I had to learn quite quick.

“I am now starting to see that I learn something in myself to get into the rhythm that he wants. He is like a young, bright, football professor.”

He then gave him high praise, by comparing him to his former Gladbach boss Lucien Favre:

“He reminds me a little bit of Lucien Favre. He thinks about football 24/7. Small details, always, which can mean we take the three points.

“If I could compare him with someone it would be Lucien Favre, which is not a bad comparison.”

Nagelsmann’s clear ability has seen him linked with taking over from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal.

The Norwegian came through the ranks at Arsenal, but made it clear that he spent most of his time working with the current Arsenal assistant Steve Bould:

“I spoke with him of course but he was more observing the training. I was more with the reserve team.

“I was more with Steve Bould, the legend. He was quite important for me, a really good guy. I think he was one of the more important guys in Arsenal when I was there.”

Working under the Arsenal legend as a young defender must have been a big learning experience for the Hoffenheim player, who speaks highly of his time at Arsenal:

“I went quite early, about 16,17,” remembered the talented utility man. “It was perhaps the most important choice I did in my career because there I learnt how to do the basics in football.

“I did not play much with the first-team but the experience of training with the first-team and getting to know English football and a really high standard was really important to me.

(Photo by Nikolay Doychinov/Getty Images)

“From there, when I moved to Germany, I had the perfect base to have an OK career.

“Jack Wilshere was there before he finally broke through to the first-team. We had Wojciech Szczesny now second goalkeeper for Juventus. Many of the players are having big careers.  

“For me and a lot of the players we were quite lucky to have this opportunity.”

But Nordtveit still remembers his time fondly. He still follows the club, where good friend Granit Xhaka is also playing.

The Gunners have been unable to put a smile on the face of Nordtveit by picking up the Europa League trophy in Arsene Wenger’s final year.

However, with London outfit set to compete in the competition again next season, under a new manager, the two could well come face-to-face. 

That would be an opportunity Hoffenheim’s intrepid Norwegian would relish.

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Arsenal hero Patrick Viera would be an underwhelming appointment for Everton

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Photo: Getty Images.

The managerial merry-go-round is warming up ready for another summer of action and it looks increasingly likely that Everton could be involved as fans grow more and more unhappy with the management of Sam Allardyce. What may come as a greater surprise is that the club could turn to Arsenal hero Patrick Viera to replace him.

According to Metro, Viera is admired by Everton owner Farhad Moshiri and fits the profile that the Toffees are looking for of a young and dynamic coach to take over at Goodison Park.

Viera has also been linked with the opportunity to replace his former coach Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, where he remains a legend, but is currently under contact with New York City, part of the Manchester City group.

(during the UEFA Youth League Quarter Final match between AS Roma and Manchester City on March 17, 2015 in Latina, Italy.

The Citizens would reportedly not stand in his way of a Premier League move and Everton would be happy to offer more than the £2 million that he currently earns per year, but it would be a hugely underwhelming appointment for the blue half of Merseyside.

Whilst Viera has done well in Major League Soccer in New York, he has not achieved enough to have caught the eye of such a high profile club were it not for his playing career.

Given the finances reportedly available to the next Everton manager and the huge pressure to get an underperforming squad up to scratch and matching expectations, it would be a big gamble if the club were to put their faith in Viera.

He may well have potential, but it would be a surprise to see a club of the size and resources of Everton being the ones to give Viera his first opportunity as a Premier League coach.

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