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Mr Wenger’s One-man Fight Against Anti-Football

wenger Mr Wengers One man Fight Against Anti Football

I found myself pondering Arsene Wenger’s accusations of Sir Alex and United employing “Anti-Football”. I’ve always been bemused by that term. Here are my (somewhat wandering) thoughts on the matter.

What is this “Anti-Football”? Is it the opposite of the legendary Dutch concept of Total Football? Can we establish a spectrum where Anti-Football is at one end and Total Football is at the other? With Barely Football, Somewhat Football and Mostly Football filling out the middle?

Arsene Wenger accused Sir Alex’s United of playing Anti-Football in their match against Arsenal last weekend. Usually Anti-Football refers to defensive football. The ten men who stay behind the ball hoping for a draw or to catch an attacking team out with a counterattack spurred by one or two players. The absorption of time as the Anti-Football side hopes that their defensive, regressive play can eat up enough of the clock that the other side doesn’t have enough time to mount a win.

But when Wenger said it, he was citing roughness and perpetual fouling. He was accusing United of battering Arsenal and not allowing them to play their game.

He might have meant United were playing Anti-Arsenal Football.

The truth is the English league is a rough league. That is not to say fouls should be allowed left and right. It is up to the officials to come down on bad tackles as best they can. But ultimately, Total Football cannot exist in today’s English Premier League in the purest, Cruyffian form. Total Football would crash against the walls of English defenses far too often for any side to use it convinvingly each and every week.

Wenger would love to play Total Football all the time – or some fascimile thereof. He loves football that flows. Football that bursts forward. Football that knocks on your door again and again. Arsenal’s forward-flowing football is going to work well against certain sides. And, I admit, it can be thrilling to watch. The goal-fests against Everton and Portsmouth were exciting and a great start to the Gunners’ campaign. But for me Arsenal have not solved the big problem of last season: they still need more rigidity in the middle. They need a strong defensive midfielder to anchor their attacks if they want to beat United, Chelsea and Liverpool. It will be hit or miss whether or not they can get by without such a player – like they had in Vieira – against other teams who gave them problems. They may be able to throw enough forward in attack to keep the likes of Spurs, Villa, City on the back foot that there is no chance for reprisal. But they also may get beaten back by counter-attacks once all their weight is thrown forward. Such an approach straddles a hairline. Arsenal’s season depends on which side of that line they fall.

The English sides who take the most out of a season are usually the ones who win the midfield battles. I’m not convinced Arsenal are any more equiped this season to do that then last season.

There’s no shortage of Anti-Football to be played in the campaign ahead. Whether it be the regressive, defensive style or the hard, tackle-ridden approach. It is there and Wenger will have to deal with it. The sides that prevail over so-called Anti-Football will be the ones who learn how to get around it.

Mr Wenger can take solace in the face Barcelona were able to climb that wall when they faced a hard United in the Champions League final. They didn’t let “Anti-Football” derail them. They found the angles and created the in-roads despite United’s rigid, unyeilding play.

I suppose Mr Wenger can be comforted by that. It was only one match, but flowing, forward-minded football got through the wall. Maybe he can pull it off too.

I still think he should have gone for a defensive midfielder before the window closed today, but he’s got plenty of season left to prove me wrong.

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35 Responses to Mr Wenger’s One-man Fight Against Anti-Football

  1. chengiskhan says:

    Fair points, but let’s also remember that Arsenal were still playing “Anti-Footbal” United off the park before 2 silly errors cost them the match.

  2. j says:

    Wenger did say it was NOT a penalty after the match but feels there is a witch hunt against Arsenal as the media explodes their situation as a major talking point. When was the last time Arsenal were seen to cheat like this? Most would say about 4 years back with Robert Pires where as Ronaldo, Drogba, Rooney, Gerrard and Torres do it all the time – Torres dived vs Bolton in the weekend but there was no mention.
    If there are bans from now on it would not be consistent as it would fall into the same inconistenty with the 2 footed tackles where some players get sent off but someone like Rooney doesn’t as the number of red cards for him should be way into double figures, in domestic football alone, by now.

  3. Aaron says:

    Citing “anti-football” is a manager’s way of whining about a choice of strategy that proved effective against his team. As an Arsenal fan, I was extremely disappointed with the result last weekend. And Chengiskhan’s comments are right on — Arsenal outplayed United on the day. However, hearing Wenger’s comments is an embarrassment for him and the team. They lost. Own it. If a team wants to play defensive football, or a rough style of play (see every game against Blackburn the last several seasons), then that simply reflects a choice to apply a particular strategy to a game. If it works, then credit to the winning manager. If it’s an unattractive team to watch, then that team will face the consequences when fans refuse to watch them play or buy their merchandise. But don’t criticize a team for bringing the game down or make any suggesting of wrongdoing. Face it, and find a way to defeat it. That’s the only solution.

  4. Truly AFC says:

    ‘They need a strong defensive midfielder if they want to beat the likes of Chelsea, Manu and Pool’ Don’t make me laugh. Check the records of Arsenal against these teams in the league for the past 3, 4 and 5 seasons and also Blackburn and Bolton.

    Its the officials derailing Arsenal. Manu made 22 fouls but had only 3 yellows while Arsenal committed 15 fouls and had 6 yellows. What does that tells you? Cheating. The refree wouldn’t have called Rooney’s penalty if he had played for Arsenal instead of United. Its the establishment doing for other clubs to win.

    • Cam says:

      hahaha are you serious??? To compare how many fouls were made to the amount of yellow cards is just pure stupidity. Yes if one player makes a lot of fouls they will generally get a yellow card but to say its cheating??? You can tell you support the Gunners just by the lack of sense you make!

  5. randomsausage says:

    chengiskhan is correct: with the new roles for Song and Diaby Arsenal do have some backbone this season and they were passing United off the field. They lost on Saturday because a moment of lunacy from their over-rated goalie…..and then a brain-fart from one of their best players so far this season.

    United don’t play anti-football.

    If Wenger wants to point fingers — point them in the direction of Stoke, Bolton, Blackburn…..all of whom are generally unwatchable.

  6. redskin says:

    i am a football supporter from england. and everyone over here will tell you the same thing, any team that beats arsenal, according to wenger, is playing anti-football. for new fans of the epl you will soon get used to this bloke moaning. you wait and see.

  7. Evan says:

    Anyone remember the 2005 FA Cup final? Who was playing “anti-football” that day?

  8. money says:

    Did any of you all actually listen to what Wenger said (as opposed to what the media wants you to think he said)? He never branded United as playing anti-football. He simply compared Fletcher’s sole purpose on the field to foul as being anti-football. Playing physically is not anti-football, but playing physically shouldn’t imply consistent fouling with the intent to stop the flow of the game without proper cautioning.

    • Ford Prefect says:

      Agree that’s exactly what he said, and I might be inclined to listen to his complaints were it not for the fact that Arsenal drew twice as many cards in the match as United–Also agree with Redskin, this is nothing new with Wenger, he’s been b***hing like this for years

      • money says:

        weird…you are kind of reiterating my point but trying to argue against me with it.

        “Manu made 22 fouls but had only 3 yellows while Arsenal committed 15 fouls and had 6 yellows.”

        • Ford Prefect says:

          My point is that, just as always, Wenger complains loudly about the other teams tactics while ignoring that his team does the very things he’s bitching about

          • money says:

            It complains about the fact that other teams get away with stuff that Arsenal are rarely allowed to do. Was Fletcher’s tackle into Arshavin in the box any less apparent as a penalty than Rooney’s fall into Almunia?

  9. Andrei says:

    I think Arsene Wenger spoke out of frustration right after a disappointing loss. You may label him a sore looser and “anti-football” may be not the best way to describe what Arsenal manager imo was trying to convey. To me it is all about keeping football clean and fair. There has been quite a bit of attention on diving recently and how to “get rid of cheating” on the field. I believe that the focus on what Eduardo or Rooney (and perhaps Torres) did is disproportional. Why diving only? Aren’t there other ways of cheating or gaining unfair advantage that need to be brought up? How about time wasting, faking the injury or pulling and tagging in the penalty area during free/corner kicks? How about reckless tackles to “send the message” or deliberate fouling to disrupt the opposite team’s flow of play? If there is a need to introduce retrospective review as was suggested in this blog why focus on diving only?

  10. Paul N says:

    Evan, Wenger is talking about fouling excessively in order to stop the flow of the game which is what Fletcher and Carrick were doing, he was not talking about defensive play.

    To tell you the truth it is a compliment to Arsenal that Man U played this way with only Rooney upfront and could only win by a dive and an own goal. This only shows that Man U were afraid of an open game because Sir Alex knew Man U wouldve been toast, if not why did he play this way? be honest now.

    Arsenal, PL Champs this season and next also. While you guys will be buying (wasting) silly amounts of money on big name players we will be calling up players to the first team! Wenger is a genius and you know it.

    • Cam says:

      Paul N, This has been the way United has played Arsenal for years!! Wenger is just upset that he didn’t win a game he probably should have. Fletcher played like the Roy Keane of old, tough and brutal. If Arsenal had won the game, would Wengers reaction or comments have been any different? I think we all know the answer to that one.
      When you say they only won by a dive and an own goal, firstly I’d say Almunia took Rooney down regardless of where the ball was, and Arsenal can hardly make comments about diving at the moment considering 1 player has been banned for two games and 1 yellow carded in the game against Man U! The match stats even show that out of the seven players who committed the most fouls, five were from Arsenal. Arsene Wenger is throwing about this term “anti-football” which is a little bit ironic considering that his own team are culprits of it.
      You are ignorant to say that spending money on “big” name players is wastefull. Most often than not, those players become the most influential on the pitch and have a HUGE impact on the way a side plays.

      • money says:

        The thing is, yes Arsenal are culprits of fouls, and lo and behold, they are getting penalised accordingly. Meanwhile, other teams are getting with less penalties while playing just as physically.

  11. LI Matt says:

    The term “anti-football” was first used for the hack-first-ask-questions-later Argentine clubs of the late ’60s who turned the Intercontinental Cup into a series of brawls.

    That’s probably what Wenger had in mind.

  12. randomsausage says:

    money……thanks for the perspective. That makes it even more interesting.

    I thought Fletcher was Man United’s best player — not only did he disrupt midfield, he passed better than anyone else for ManYou….especially Carrick who was absolutely pants.

    If The Fletch is anti-football, what the heck is Rino Gattuso?

    • money says:

      Fletcher being United’s player this game isn’t really saying much considering how poor their midfield play was. There are many players that could be employed for less that could have done the job Fletcher did, IMO. He was also one poor referee away from using horrendous defense to give Arsenal a PK.

      • randomsausage says:

        The whole Fletch/pen thing is a bit of a non-starter….thanks to Arshavin scoring about 5 seconds later (it was more than that, but you get my point).

        To me it was a definite penalty — Fletch probably did just glance the ball first but still took out the man….thus it was a penalty.

  13. eplnfl says:

    Wenger was correct but that does not mean Untied was wrong. Man U. played the game the only way it could to get a win. Coming from a independent lens Arsenal outplayed Man U last week and man for man maybe is more talented. Never was Man U more fortunate in the last few years to come away with a win against a quality foe.

    You saw two great teams, and managers battle it out. In the end, it was good football for the fan. Yes, Man U was lucky on top it.

  14. Cam says:

    I was always told to play our game not theirs, which I think suits this article! If United “let” Arsenal play their own game it could have turned out differently, probably with a big loss to the Devils. I was also told, to go in hard until the ref pulls you up and gives you a card…sometimes you get away with fouls you shouldn’t, sometimes you don’t and as a player you pay the ultimate price. It’s football and until such time as the Video Ref system comes in will human error/judgement be a deciding factor.

  15. Jeff says:

    Wenger’s comment was ridiculous. What was United supposed to do let Arsenal run circles around them? Maybe if Arsenal played more like United they would actually win something.

  16. Dan says:

    If you can remember last season arsenal played very well against the top 4. i.e. the liverpool, Mancs, and Chelsea you say they need a stronger midfield to beat.

  17. NSBG says:

    IF AM NOT MISLED, TO CONCLUDE YOUR VIEWS IT’S TO WIN YOU SHOULD USE ANY TACTICS POSSIBLE EVEN ILLEGAL AND UNFAIR ONE’S! WIN AT ALL COST!

    AND THEN WE TRY TO TEACH THE KIDS IN FOOTBALL SCHOOLS TO PLAY FAIRLY AND WHEN THEY WATCH TV OR GO TO STADIUM THEY SEE EXACTLY WHAT YOU SHOULD NOT DO AS A FOOTBALLER, BEING REWARDED BY WINS AND TROPHIES!

    GREAT — IF THAT’S THE FUTURE OF FOOTBALL IT’S SAD, SO SAD!!!

  18. NSBG says:

    THE POINT IS THAT NO TEAM IN ENGLAND CAN PLAY TRUE, REAL, TOTAL FOOTBALL AS ARSENAL DO AND WHAT THEY’VE LEFT WITH IS SOME “ANTI FOOTBALL” TO KNOCK THEM OUT. COZ IT’S ALWAYS HARD TO BUILD BEAUTIFUL FOOTBALL BUT SO EASY TO BE DIRTY AND NON ATTRACTIVE BUT GET WHAT YOU WANT!

    I AM ARSENAL FAN, AND I WANT VALUE FOR MONEY NOT WHAT SOMETHING LIKE EVEN A NON-PROFESSIONAL FOOTBALLER CAN DO – KICK PLAYERS AND FOUL THEM CONTINUOUSLY!!
    WHEN ARSENAL FOULS THEY GET PUNISHED, WHEN MAN UTD FOULS YOU’RE 80-90% SURE THEY WILL GET AWAY WITH IT! IT’S A TRADITION IN EPL!
    AND THEY SAY ARSENAL ARE NOT STRONG PHYSICALLY – RUBBISH!!!

    • Cam says:

      So your saying you could get out there and compete against Arsenal? I’d highly doubt that!!! I think you should look at the Serie A for “anti football” not the Premier League. The EPL can produce some of the most beautiful football ever seen and for you to say “its always hard to produce beautiful football” is just blind. One incident that loses you the game and you get all righteous and start spewing out stupid comments. It’s typical of an ARSEnal fan to complain about “value for money” and having to watch “dirty football” when they lose. Maybe you should stop watching Arsenal and you would have a better chance of watching beautiful football?? I’ve been watching the premier league for almost 9 years now and can tell you, this has always happened at Old Trafford and will never change! Wenger is just diverting attention away from the Eduardo incident and trying to compare his own teams dirty style of play with that of a game he quite clearly shouldn’t have lost! All you Arsenal fans need to re-watch the game in an un-biased view!

  19. Sam Hiser says:

    Wenger’s reaction highlights Arsenal’s weakness: it’s tendency to wilt under pressure. And its tendency to play one way — beautifully.

    United will always have the benefit of a license to physicality at Old Trafford. There is just too much pressure on the refs there. Wenger must, himself, adapt to reality. Beautiful football is a luxury and an attractive default, but there are other necessary modes.

    Arsenal must learn to win ugly, but win nevertheless. This does not seem easy for Wenger to appreciate.

    • Andrei says:

      What would Arsenal have had to do “to win ugly, but win nevertheless” in this particular game? Dive more in the penalty box? Intimidate United with the physical play? Until probably last 20 minutes United couldn’t complete more than two passes even without such physical pressure from Arsenal.

      IMO there are only two things that Arsenal has to do in order win in the games like this. 1) Van Persie needs to put his act together and start scoring from the sitters. 2) No more Diaby-like mental breakdowns. Neither of these has anything to do with winning ugly.

  20. HargosLeftKnee says:

    Please, this is just Wenger diverting attention from a very unfortunate loss – as any coach would do. United weren’t overly physical in that game, particularly compared to some previous encounters (ask Mr. Reyes…). 22 fouls in 95 minutes is far from atypical.

    He’s also throwing more red herrings out with the references to foul per yellow card. It’s not some ratio game. The severity of the offense if what determines if it is a yellow. See Gallas and Rooney, who were both rightly booked for single challenges.

    Also, everyone goes on about Arsenal dominating the match – but it was typical Arsenal. They actually created very little of note in the final third, and United actually had more possession. This on a day when United were undeniably rubbish. United always play like this against United – invite them forward then try to break at pace. And it has worked the last few matches.

    Football isn’t just about passing triangles and give n gos – if that’s all Wenger wants he should shift to 5 a side. Italian and German teams have done rather well for themselves without ever playing that kind of game. When Arsenal click it does indeed make a work of art, but football is also about winning.

    • randomsausage says:

      I suspect Wenger doesn’t like actual matches that much and would rather just be at the training ground watching his work of art play against itself.

      That, I believe, is the true definition of “wanker”.

  21. Cam says:

    ^^^^^^^ hahahaha absolutely hilarious!!!! ^^^^^^^^^^

  22. Simon says:

    Remember last season when Arsene Wenger said that the Stoke City players “deliberately tried to injure his players!” He always comes out with ridiculous comments when his team loses. Thats his was of deflecting the attention away from his teams bad perfomances and towards whatever controversial talking points he can think of. Arsenal (and West Brom last season) are great at passing the ball around there own half withnobody around them, but as soon as they have to break down 2 banks of 4 they have no chance! Then they come out with the usual “we had more possession we we were the better team” nonsense!! Football is not about who has the most possession or who completes the most passes, its about who scores the most goals before the final whistle goes!

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