Thursday, 5 March 2009

Forget it! Arsenal's search for the perfect goal, and Spurs' obsession with a glorious past!

By JOE MORRIS.

Arsenal, it seems, are determined to score the perfect goal. There are moments when they try to walk the ball into the net. Somebody, you feel sure, ought to give them a paint brush rather than a football!

Maybe too many cooks do spoil the broth. Then again, Arsenal fans have probably had too much of a good thing in recent years.

During their 1-0 win against Roma in their Champions League qualifier last week, Arsenal were over-elaborate to the point of absurdity. At one point in the first half they strung so many passes together that you almost expected them to trip over.

Everybody knows about the classical passing game and of course it's a feast for the eyes. But now and again it seemed that Arsenal were over-egging the pudding.

Over the years, European giants such as Barcelona, AC Milan, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich have devised a game for their supporters that is beyond our understanding. Their defenders move the ball out of defence effortlessly, midfielders look for incisive through passes and strikers try to blast home the final product. Simple really.

The longer the game went on the more it seemed likely that Arsenal would end up in a cul-de-sac. There can be no doubt that some of Arsenal's football has a breathtaking artistry about it. Under Arsene Wenger they are deliciously well co-ordinated and technically exquisite. If somebody took their artist's easel away they'd probably go home and cry. Besides, you'd hardly snatch an ice-cream away from a child if they were actually enjoying it.

At the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Argentina came as close as any international team to scoring that perfect goal. In one remarkable sequence of 27 passes Argentina quite literally toyed with Serbia and Montenegro before scoring.

Thirty-six years earlier, the masterful Brazilian side of Gerson, Tostao, Rivelino, Carlos Alberto and the incomparable Pele dragged Italy from one side of the pitch to the other in the 1970 World Cup Final. After one gloriously giddy passing movement, Alberto crashed the ball into the net.

Tottenham, of course, used to be the flag-bearers for stylish and imaginative football. Whatever the outcome of their Carling Cup Final against Manchester United the fact is that Spurs are not quite the same any more.

The general feeling along Tottenham High Road is that since the heady days of Bill Nicholson and, to perhaps to a lesser extent Keith Burkinshaw, the glitter and glamour has moved across London.

The likes of Aaron Lennon, Tom Huddlestone, David Bentley and Robbie Keane are still pleasant to watch. But in a season of struggle and strife, Spurs are like a creaking ship without a decent captain. After a disastrous start to the seaon with only two points from eight games, Spurs almost capsized.

But no longer are Spurs the floating cruise ship of the Swinging 60s and 70s. When Bobby Smith, Danny Blanchflower, Cliff Jones and John White picked up the ball it was as if somebody had sprinkled stardust over them. They passed and ran with the ball as if it were a carefully-rehearsed dance routine. The ball seemed to be attached to them like an umbilical cord.

A decade later and Spurs were still strutting their funky stuff. Alan Gilzean, Ralph Coates and Martin Peters from West Ham made more than the sweet music of their 1960s predecessors. Gilzean and Coates were natural water carriers and playmakers while Peters was just years ahead of his time. Like Glenn Hoddle and Osvaldo Ardiles they made the ball do all the work. Hoddle would often stop, dwell on the ball and have a cuppa tea - but he knew where Spurs were going.

Now Tottenham find themselves in desparate trouble at the wrong end of the Premier League. The more succesful teams over the years have always been able to trust their experienced players. At the moment Spurs are simply finding out more about each other. When Juande Ramos was driven out of the club Spurs didn't know what day or month it was.

The appointment of Harry Redknapp has stabilised the club in a way that only he could. Redknapp is one of those reliable footballing men who calls a spade a spade. He'll buy players who fit almost seamlessly into the team, maintain discipline within the club and then buy himself the cheapest suit on the market. For Redknapp, smooth continuity is almost essential.
But as he demonstrated at West Ham and Portsmouth, once poor and mundane players become putty in his hands. Luka Modric may have been a notable exception but both Modric and David Bentley have now flourished. Modric is an excellent player but it became obvious that he needed a comforting arm around his shoulder.

Both Roman Pavlyuchenko and Darren Bent are fighting for places in Spurs' forward line while Robbie Keane continues to give his impersonation of a travelling gipsy. Rejected and spurned by his boyhood dream team Liverpool, Keane is a goal-scorer extraordinaire who would score for any side in the world.

But for Spurs the season remains in a state of chaotic uncertainty. At this point in the football seasosn, the crocuses come out, managers look tense and terrifed and Sir Alex Ferguson just checks his watch.

The top four of Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Aston Villa are like immovable lorries. Manchester United are beginning to disappear into the sunset and the rest are just gasping for breath. Business as usual in a way.

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Also on the Soccermongery: A powerful piece from James-Guy Jacobs on football under Nazi Occupation: Dynamo Kiev's Death Match