The way Chelsea have been overpowering their opponents since Carlo Ancelotti took over is starting to show their title rivals just what they’re missing – muscle.
Right now, Chelsea are a frightening combination of athleticism, efficiency and skill; but in their last league game – the 2-0 win over Arsenal – it was their power that got them the result.
Arsenal dominated possession with their usual passing game, but were undone when Didier Drogba barged in to flick home a cross for the opening goal, and Alex hammered a free-kick into the back of the net for the second goal. These were two moments of raw power that resulted in three points for the team.
On the same weekend, Chelsea’s other title rivals, Manchester United, were hassled and harried all over the pitch by an energetic Sunderland side, and were slightly fortunate to come away with a draw.
Arsenal’s “Invincibles”, who went the entire 2003/04 season without losing a single game, was a team of incredible athletes. Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Thierry henry and Robert Pires were all imposing figures over 182cm tall, capable of forcing results by physically dominating opponents when all their fancy footballing wasn’t working.
But Arsene Wenger seems to have adopted a different philosophy in recent years, opting to sign players like Theo Walcott, eduardo, Aaron Ramsey, Andrei Arshavin and Cesc Fabregas, the tallest of whom stands at 178cm.
There are a few who are slightly taller, like Tomas Rosicky, Samir Nasri and Bacary Sagna; but they’re all still under 182cm.
Over the last three seasons, Wenger has sold two of his most physical players, emmanuel Adebayor and Toure; and brought in Marouane Chamakh, who is hardly a big guy in english Premier League terms.
And when he signed Thomas Vermaelen to fill the void left by Toure, much was made about his frame, which is rather short for a central defender.
Though Vermaelen has, for the most part, proven that he can compensate with that incredible leap of his, Wenger’s latest defensive recruits Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci are still not quite tall, and they don’t look half as tough as Vermaelen.
But I think it was all part of a bold move by Wenger to make sure his team stays ahead. When he first arrived in england, Wenger made Arsenal successful by revolutionising football with his fitness regime – which was basically stopping the British players from stuffing themselves with pies, chips and beer. Needless to say, it put his team ahead of the curve.
Now, he’s trying to do the same by catching on to a new revolution
Arsenal’s Theo Walcott (right) with teammate Marouane Chamakh. – short, skillful players with a low centre of gravity. “The Barcelona system”, if you will.
The logic is simple: Most teams will be looking to sign professional athletes who are tall, powerful men. But Arsenal would be a team of nippy, elusive and tricky attackers who could run rings around their big, lumbering opponents. Wenger has invested in the idea over the last few years, unfortunately without quite the same success as Barcelona.
Alex Ferguson, too, seemed to be heading in a similar direction a few seasons ago, bringing in players such as Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez, Nani, Anderson, Park Ji-Sung and Owen hargreaves.
United also seem to have opted for grace over power in their style of play. They no longer play with a specialist defensive midfielder or “hatchet man”, as Nigel de Jong has helped to rechristen the position.
The short and tall of it: