Previous names: Dial Square, Royal Arsenal, Woolwich Arsenal

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Arsenal’s "Totaalvoetbal" a First in the Premiership. Wenger and Michels, Hleb and Cruyff

By 1970’s Gooner

It has really been amazing to watch this young Arsenal team play such wonderful football with so much ease, skill and technique.

Each and every player whether a defender, midfielder or attacker possesses an astonishing amount of talent that allows him to be almost equally proficient in various positions and areas on the football pitch.

It is reminiscent of the “total football” (or Totaalvoetbal in Dutch) that Ajax introduced with great effect to the world in the early 1970’s.

Although its foundations were laid much earlier at Ajax by Jack Reynolds it was his disciple Rinus Michels during his tenure at Ajax that really perfected it.

Ajax won the equivalent of the Champions League (then named the European Cup) in three successive seasons, 1971, 1972 and 1973.

The Dutch national team under his tutelage reached the Final of the 1974 World Cup beating Argentina, Brazil and East Germany on the way. They lost the final narrowly to West Germany 2-1.

Total Football is a system where a player who moves out of his position is replaced by another and in this way the structure of the team is kept intact.

In this fluid system no position is fixed and at the extreme any player can be an attacker, a midfielder or even a defender.

And judging by Arsenal’s performances so far in the Premiership Arsene Wenger seems to be a modern day Rinus Michels.

He has resurrected total football again. A first in the Premiership.
We have often seen the Arsenal players leave their original positions and venture in areas where the opponents would not have expected.

As Markus Hahnemann the Reading goalkeeper said after the game:

“They constantly drift into new positions and organising a defence is very difficult. Our back four and midfield couldn't stick to their own positions because their men were moving all over the place"

A prime example is Alexander Hleb who wonders around all areas of midfield, left, right and center weaving his marvelous magic.

Eboue was also doing it against Reading coming infield and at one stage playing as a second forward; Clichy was covered by Flamini when he ventured forward and even Toure was trying his lack further up the field.

Fabregas found himself in the box laying the ball back for Arsenal’s center forward, Adebayor, to score that sumptuous second goal.

The same can also be said of Flamini who of all people was in the centre forward position to receive the ball from Hleb and score the first goal.

Adebayor, the center forward, was the supplier of the wonderful through ball to Hleb who then gave the assist to Flamini.

The case of Hleb is however particularly poignant when comparing the total Football played by Arsenal with Ajax of the 1970’s.

And the unavoidable comparison is with the great Dutch forward Johan Cruyff who was the system's most famous exponent.

Although Cruyff was fielded as a forward, he wandered all over the pitch, popping up wherever he could do most damage to the opposing team. Just as Hleb is doing for Arsenal.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting that Hleb is of the same stature and influence as the great Cruyff.

But he has the potential to get there. As Arsenal have the potential to emulate the Ajax team of the 1970's.

Reading Vs Arsenal Ratings plus goals on video

Arsenal put on the Harlem Globetrotters Show at Reading


Anonymous said...

Total football indeed and to think that we are only playing at 80% of our capacity!

T said...

Great post and analysis.

Wenger and Michels is a comparison that should regularly be made by the general fotoball media - but to their discredit they never do.

The beautiful game said...

Yeah absolutely. Beautiful beautiful beautiful. its so refreshing to see such philosophies adopted in such a competitive/results driven world. beauty and creativity fused collectively as well as individually is just magic! The power of ideas! you only need to think back to wenger's belief of going through a season unbeaten, and how beautifully they did it. and to think that this arsenal generation of nippers are creating something beautifully unique and revealating as with what the dutch team/ajax of the 70's gave to the world and what it did to catenaccio; and the unbeatables of03/04 is just inspirational. i must reference David Winner's book, Brilliant Oranje! read read read! Space, time, Totality and infinity! oh and beyond!

Anonymous said...

A very good post indeed. And the comparison of Hleb and Cruyff is a very appropriate one. Hleb is not a forward as Cruyff was but he does tend to drift into all sort of positions as Johan used to. Hleb also possesses as much skill if not more!

Anonymous said...

Lets not get carried away. We haven't won anything yet and it remains to be seen how the kids will react when the going gets tough.

Anonymous said...

I am a Spurs fan and I dont see what all the fuss is about. Ok you are playing good football but so are Manchester United. And on a good day so are we.

Remember you only snatched a draw at the death at home against Man U.

Anonymous said...

Arsenal are very similar to Ajax of the 1970's but they do have to now carry on and win major trophies to prove that thay are as good.

Goons_with_Guns said...

Yes, a nice comparison indeed, although I'm surprised not to have seen any article or discussion about this three years ago, as we've been doing this for sometime with the new players--albeit not as successfully as we are now.

My question is what focus the young players will have AFTER they lose their first match and if they will be able to re-acquire their composure in time to win the League. I think this is the major point to consider if they are able to be champions this season.

dave said...

A good question by goons... like the last time that the invincibles lost their first game they were crushed mentally and never really recovered losing the title that year if i am not mistaken.
This time it may be different. First they are more resilient and more combative as they have already shown which means they will go a long way before they are beaten, if they are beaten and secondly Wenger will this time prepare them to be able to accept it and move on.

Anonymous said...

Facing an ultra packed defence, Arsenal could sometimes try to 'force the next pass' which could lead to misplacements and result in quick counters. A more direct approach may be a better option. On the plus side, any team who try to attack Arsenal better get a goal or not lose a ball in midfield cos 7 out of 10 times, Arsenal's counter attack would be terminally damaging. If top teams need 1 metre of space to run the engine, Arsenal needs only 30 cm. Deny them space at all costs! haha

Anonymous said...

,,,,,I love it so much when our play comes together like it did the other night! No one in world football can match us football wise when we get going and I include Barca and Man Utd on top form when I say this. Ajax won trophies and I think that we will too. Wenger has created a marvellous squad and the frightening thing is its going to get better! What an exciting time to be a Gooner! Wrighty7,,,I love it so much when our play comes together like it did the other night! No one in world football can match us football wise when we get going and I include Barca and Man Utd on top form when I say this. Ajax won trophies and I think that we will too. Wenger has created a marvellous squad and the frightening thing is its going to get better! What an exciting time to be a Gooner! Wrighty7

Anonymous said...

I think this arsenal team should aim at remaining unbeaten throughout this Premier season. They are capable of doing so, provided that they can come away unbeaten at Old Trafford in May--what a tough run-in in May for this team. Then whether they are champions or not is irrelevant. Arsenal will have set another Premier record of going unbeaten within 5 years, a feat no team has ever done before.
But first of all, Arsenal must negotiate their tough Christmas schedule--from dec 22 to 1 jan, Arsenal will have to play spurs(h), portsmouth and everton (away), and then West Ham at home. 10 days of tough football indeed. We will see how good the team is after 1 Jan...

Well, what team will Monsieur Wenger put out at Sevilla on the 24th Nov? playing 4-5-1 again?

I can hardly wait,with a wet palm

dave said...

the toughest fixture of the up coming games for Arsenal will be Everton. They are as tough as nails and if Arsenal get a result there then there is no stopping us.

Anonymous said...

Hleb and Cruyff? Close but not close enough. Hleb and Liam Brady more like it. Check out the same low-riding socks!

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