Stay­ing strong

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - R.AGE -

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:

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