Monday, 26 March 2012

The secret of my success? Hairy full-backs

Watching Arsenal against Aston Villa at the Emirates on Saturday felt like a watershed moment. This might appear a strange observation, coming a few weeks after the pivotal 5-2 victory over Spurs, but there was a tangible sense that we had entered a different era. That might seem pretentious for a routine defeat of an ordinary and unambitious bottom-half side.

What was different about Saturday was the confidence of Arsenal and the almost palpable foreboding of Villa. Perhaps it was the sunshine and the pristine turf, evoking memories of Tony Adams belting the ball into the Everton net in 1992, but there was an authority to our play that has hitherto been lacking. This carries the risk of complacency and sloppiness creeping in (Szczesny's clearances can be a worry), though another clean sheet is evidence of continuing focus.

The variety of our attacking play and the increasing range of options in midfield were both on display, but it was the effectiveness of the defence that was most noticeable, not just in snuffing out the opposition's threat, but in launching (and completing) attacks. Most commentators are now sagely agreeing that no club could easily withstand losing four full-backs, but this wasn't a view that got much sympathy earlier in the season. It's an oddity that full-backs tend to be the cheapest outfield players, and are usually thought to have the most limited repertoire, but they are often game-changers.

This is reinforced by the fact that full-backs are leading the fantasy football stats among defenders at the moment. I don't know if that happens every season, as I've only bothered to look closely this time round. The reason for this was a bonus at registration, which meant I ended up with 5 teams instead of the usual 1. As I didn't fancy having to weed and maintain each team every week, I decided to put together some thematic selections and largely leave them to their own devices.

Left Foot Forward is a team wholly made up of left-footed players. Bizarrely, they are now nestling in fourth position in a league of 40 teams. This may have a lot to do with Robin van Persie, but the stats show it's just as much down to Leighton Baines. Monosyllabic Grunts is a team whose players all have short surnames. Demba Ba has been my find of the season. The team has achieved mid-table respectability.

Slaphead City is entirely composed of bald players. I've had to allow a fairly broad interpretation of baldness, including players who disguise their receding hairlines by shaving the lot off, and those that try the opposite approach in the form of a synthetic weave. Despite having Wayne Rooney in attack, and Pepe Reina in goal, they are languishing just above the relegation zone in 35th position.

My conclusion is that Arsenal's improvement is almost entirely down to Bacary Sagna, who combines excellent full-backedness with plenty of hair. But, and it's an important but, his hair is under control. Benoit Assou-Ekotto has done well over the course of the season stats-wise, but I can't have been the only one to notice that his lack of hair discipline reflects Spurs underlying fragility.

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