Are Arsenal Playing Total Football?

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After a below par performance at West Brom, that secured a vital point, Saturday’s game against Norwich was an opportunity for the Gunners to demonstrate their title credentials. Had the team drawn or lost their and their early season form put down to a freak blip of good fortune. But, the way they confidently dispatched Norwich, playing some of the best football the fans have seen in years will convince many that the team are genuine title contenders.

Arsenal’s man of the moment Aaron Ramsey has described some of the football Arsenal produced against Norwich City on Saturday as “breathtaking” and you can’t argue with a man in his sort of form. What is most encouraging is that the side has coped fantastically despite injuries to key players. This has required some to play out of their preferred positions; Jack Wilshere on the left wing and Sagna at centre back. But there has been no hint of complaint and has allowed for some tactical experimentation.

The area that has undoubtedly seen the most improvement this season is our midfield, and not just because of the arrival of Ozil. Since the departure of Van Persie, questions have been raised over our strike force, but what has been encouraging is the way the midfield has stepped up their contribution in terms of goals. With the likes of Cazorla, Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain now returning to full fitness it would be hard to argue there is a better midfield in the Premier League.

Jack Wilshere has been particularly impressive recently and seems to have put his smoking troubles behind him. Having previously only scored one Premier League goal, the England midfielder has scored two in as many games. His opener against Norwich on Sunday was particularly satisfying, capping off a superb one-touch move with a calm finish that a 30-goal-a-season striker would be proud of.

In terms of a strike force, we are still a player short. Giroud is a more than handy goal scorer, but his style of play relies on holding up the ball for other players to run beyond him. His excellent touch and vision have seen him rack up a high number of assists, including two against Norwich, showing that he brings much more to the team than just goals. The fact that the likes of Ramsey Wilshere and Ozil have adapted their game to fulfill this need shows a great sense of understanding within the side.

Wilshere’s goal will rightly grab all the headlines, but it was Mesut Ozil’s first goal that really demonstrates the free flowing football that the side is currently playing. Having our 6’ 4” striker providing a cross from out wide for a central playmaker to score his first ever headed goal shows the flexibility and fluidity of Arsenal’s play.

Wenger may have been forced to pick five central midfielders on Saturday due to injury, but the way the players swapped positions and exploited space in the final third deserves comparison with the great Dutch sides of the 70s and Barcelona of recent times.

Total football is term that is often misused, especially in the Premier League where a string of three or more passes is considered over-complicating things, but the way Arsenal’s midfielders have been playing recently is the closest I’ve seen in this country.
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Photo via Ronnie MacDonald

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