PLEASE NOTE THAT YOUR VISION ARTICLES ARE SENT IN BY READERS AND ARE NOT WRITTEN BY ARSENAL VISION WRITERS.
By Luis Zelaya
i recently revisited fond memories of our greatest season ever, the 2003-2004 season when we were invincible. i needed it after the defeat at porto and also to get a little perspective on the differences between both teams. As i started seeing all the videos i felt some very mixed feelings, in part i felt awe by witnessing what is as close to perfection as it might get in football, but on the other hand it became more and more evident that so many positive aspects of that team are lacking from our young squad that i like to call "wengers experiment". some of the things i noticed that we currently lack are:
-Goals from free kicks
-A reliable striker and goal scorer
-Overall height and strenght
-Counter attacking football
-An excellent goalkeeper
-Proper wing play
-Defensive cohesion(benefitting from a reliable GK)
-Flexibility in attacking mentality
I want to clarify that i don't think that the squad at present is bad at all, i believe it is a wonderful team that needs a few adjustments to be really great, and it seems to me that it is unfair to compare the two in many ways since they are different animals, albeit with some things in common. My point is that there are valuable lessons to be learned and what better place to start than from our own past.
One thing i think needs a lot of work is the lack of depth and versatility we show going forward, as we assail opponents by constantly passing the ball around trying to find a perfect space, and because of this we suffer against the other top teams that can easily defend it and catch us on the break, or any team for that matter but especially those. It seems to me that many times it might work but when it doesn't you can feel an accumulating frustration within the squad. Some players that i consider vital to improve this are Diaby and Eboue, since they have strenght, pace, creativity, can defend, get past opponents and have a strong shot.
It really is a tragedy that many players simply don't fit into our current mentality and style of play, others are just too similar between them and are playing in unnatural positions. Most notably of the former for me are Walcottt and Bendtner. Theo needs space to take advantage of his foremost quality which is his speed, and the present model of keeping possession in the other team's half cannot help him, we need to defend deeper, let them come so he can do what he was born to do: sprint. To make matters worse our defenders are too keen on going forward which leaves us exposed at the back. We need to frustrate our rivals and punish them in the counter attack.
In the case of Bendtner his height and heading ability are currently wasted, since when Van Persie was around he was played at right flank, becoming less effective, and the way we play means that the players on the wings do not feed him enough long balls and aren't natural wingers either, so creating the space required to do so is more difficult for them. I'm not saying we need to change our play style completely for these players but simply that we need to take advantage of the main strenghts that they have and therefore become less predictable and more efficient.
For these purposes i would place theo on the left, eboue on the right, bendtner up front and arshavin or cesc behind him, depending on who is injured, leaving diaby and song sitting a bit deeper.
An alternative would be, against bottom half teams to play eboue at right back instead of sagna, since bacary can rarely cross the ball properly, thus playing at times a 3 4 3 formation while we are attacking them.
In order to maximize the effectiveness of crosses, a 4 4 2 could be used, with Bendtner and Eduardo, in the event that he returns, because as we know he can jump, score from headers or volleys, thus causing more problems for opposing defences. I for one would give traore a couple of tries on the left wing in this formation; he is fast and in my eyes he can cross the ball better than anyone else on our team.
I am aware that when eboue plays in stead of sagna he usually moves up the field and he makes a difference, and he would be ideal for this formation, that when attacking would become a 3 5 2, so neither song nor diaby would have to be sacrificed for it to work.
i appologize for going a bit much into numbers and formations, i got a bit excited, even confused but it is fun to mess around with the possibilities.
I should also mention nasri and rosicky, who are in the fabregas mould: small, creative, intelligent, but also weaker physically. Of course i understand that the team has many injuries but i think when possible it would be better not to use both of them as well as fabregas because the team loses balance. They are not wingers so they are not as effective when played in such positions, and even if they rotate we still need people more suited for that job. With the departure of Henry, the goal scoring responsibilities have been spread out amongst a large number of players, and it shows since even our central defenders have scored many goals, usually from set pieces, that need to be worked on, both offensively and defensively.
The need for a reliable goalkeeper cannot be stressed enough, for it would all be in vain without one. Their mistakes have already cost us too many points this season, and this will inevitably continue to happen, and in this sense i don't know what the boss can do besides buying a new one.
In 2006 when we got to the champions league final, we did it with a makeshift squad, full of injuries, but managed to do so because the team applied itself, but most importantly because of henry and lehman's record breaking performance. while the offensive responsibilities can be spread out, the goalkeepong ones cannot, so unless almunia returns to form i don't think we will be able to get past even Porto.
Basically, for me, the talent is there, and even if inididually the current squad cannot match the invincibles, with a few tweaks to make better use of some players naturals abilities, it can become almost as good, but in a different way. I believe it is possible. To blend some of the old with the new and make way to something of a hybrid, but we desperatly need a goalkeeper.
Mean Lean's Response
It is an interesting comparison, a comparison that I and many Gooners around the globe will have made at some time in their lives.
However, I do not think it is as black and white or as simple to compare the two squads. I have watched the video of THAT season and it left me breathless. I forgot how good someone like Thierry Henry was, we are talking about the greatest striker in the world in my red tinted opinion. From mad Jens in between the sticks, big Sol ahead of him and the masterful Patrick Vieira in midfield, a player that I worshiped as an Arsenal supporter. Pires added his flair and play making abilities from the left with Freddie's courageous goals from the right.
I believe that we had the best strike force in Premier League history in Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp.
So can we really compare the two teams? Well no and it is not based on the quality of the teams. It is very easy to forget that we had a team full of finished articles, a team full of international players with caps coming out of their ears.
If you are going to compare the two then you really have to compare them at the same stage of their careers. If you want to question who is more effective out of Andrey Arshavin and Robert Pires then go ahead, that is a fair shout, both players have finished their growth, their development.
You cannot compare Samir Nasri at 22 against Robert Pires at 28. You cannot compare Alex Song at 22 to Gilberto at 29.
I can guarantee you that if we had a young version of the invincibles then they a) wouldn't be invincibles and b) would be being told that they are not good enough to play for Arsenal.
Alex Song, Abou Diaby and Emmanuel Eboue have proved that players do not stand still at a young age. It is a fact that is ignored by far too many people, and by that I am talking about pundits, ex players as well as fans.
I am not for one minute saying that Theo Walcott will be as good as Thierry Henry, that is pretty unlikely but the Theo of today will not be the Theo of 2013 that is for sure.
One of the biggest differences between both squads apart from the obvious experience difference is injuries. I believe that our squad of today is much stronger and deeper than the one we had back in 2003, that team would not have coped with the frequency and length of injuries as this team have.
I remember Thierry Henry playing pretty much every week without any problems, Pires apart from that bad knee problem was pretty much always available since he joined the club. We had most of our top players fit to play week in, week out and that cannot be underestimated.
When a player got injured, he was replaced by player x for a few weeks until that player came back, it was as simple as that. Our team in 2010 have had 5-6 players out at a time on far more than one occasion. That cannot be ignored.
Imagine if Henry was injured whilst playing in a friendly for France in November for the remainder of the season, imagine if our back up center back was crocked for the whole season. How about Ashley Cole out for a long period due to back problems. Could we have coped with Wiltord having a groin problem then an operation which ruled him out for months.
This is not to mention the equivalent of Walcott, Rosicky, Eduardo, Diaby, Denilson etc etc. The side may not have won the league let alone gone unbeaten. The standard of the Premier League is without question far higher than it was in 2003.
So it is not as cut and dried as it seems to compare the two. Once you take all the variables you'll find that this team are not as far away as some would like you to believe.
But wouldn't it be an entertaining match? Cesc vs Vieira, Henry vs Gallas, Arshavin vs Lauren, it would be fun.