Yesterday, Italy was knocked out of World Cup contention for the first time since 1958 to the hands of an unlikely tormentor, Sweden. What was probably surprising about the result (1-0 over two legs) was that the Swedes did it without their (arguably) best-ever player, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. That reminds me of Arsenal’s want-aways.
There is no doubt that Zlatan is one of the world’s best, or at least was at one point, but according to many, his absence was one of the keys to Sweden qualifying. For example, Kurt Hamrinclaims was quoted,
“Then Sweden when he is not (playing), is different; it is a team that plays as a team, maybe they can not count on the magic shot but there are eleven players fighting. Ibra is one that focuses the game on himself. Of course, he’s exceptional, but he must be at the top to make the difference.”
That got me thinking about the 2016 Euros, Arsenal’s 2007-08 campaign, and the current situation with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who I call Arsenal’s want-aways.
Arsenal’s Want-Aways & Team Mentality
Thinking back on Alexis’ performances this year, it is obvious that he has mentally checked-out. Against Liverpool, the Chilean sulked the way I did as a kid when my mother told me to clean my room.
Versus Manchester City, Sanchez hogged the ball and gave it away so many times, it was as if he was under contract for Pep already. Then, in his performances against ‘lesser’ opposition, he almost pretends that he is the only Arsenal man on the pitch.
While his behavior can be understood, at least as far as the why is concerned, it certainly can’t be excused, even for (arguably) the team’s best player. It, in fact, reminds me of the ‘it’s all about me’ mentality of Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo and, to a certain extent, Henry’s last year as a Gunner.
It is also reminiscent of his teammate, Ozil, and his lack of passion for defense. How many times have fans lamented his body language, obviously giving away the fact he is not interested in the physical side of the game?
Again, it is understandable to want to play an open, attacking style, but not at the expense of the team.
Portugal Without Ronaldo
Last summer, during the Euros in France, Portugal played terribly for most of the tournament. They scraped through the group stages, drawing all three matches and only advancing as a third-place team.
Even after advancing, the team just didn’t seem to click as they struggled to win games, in fact only winning one in regular time, their semi-final win over Wales. They slipped past Croatia in extra time, beat Poland on penalties and just edged out the hosts in the final for a 1-0 win.
For the group stage, the plan seemed to be simple, about as simple as Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid; get the ball, give it to Ronaldo, then get back and defend. The result? Only advancing due to the expanded nature of the tournament, growing from 16 to 24 teams.
For the knock-out stages, the plan was also simple, but far more effective for a squad made of half stars and half depth players; defend well, and trust that the team will get the offense they need, sort of the way Greece play. The result? Just like the Greeks in 2004, Portugal won the whole thing with 11 men playing as a unit and really weren’t affected when CR7 limped off injured in the first half.
Gunners Without Henry
After Thierry Henry’s transfer to Barcelona, he came out and explained that it was not only down to Davey Dein leaving the club, but he was also aware he had become bad for Arsenal.
“Because of my seniority, the fact that I was captain and my habit of screaming for the ball, they would sometimes give it to me even when I was not in the best position. So in that sense it was good for the team that I moved on.”
Like the legend he is, Henry was mature enough to realize that his presence was not good for the club he loved, so he did the best thing for them (and probably for himself to be fair) and move to Catalonia.
The result? Arsenal’s 2007-08 season was a solid, if fruitless one, that nearly culminated in a title win. As we know now, from Jens Lehmann’s exclusive for the Telegraph, the title challenge was on track for most of the season, despite some internal strife, mainly with William Gallas.
The team was six points clear at the top of the table in March and it took a late-season meltdown to gift the title to Manchester United.
Superstars like Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Henry will live in fan’s memory for eternity, but their presence does not always mean the best results for their club. Ozil and Sanchez will, no doubt, live on in our memories, as will their fantastic play on the field.
Whether or not those memories will be pleasant? The longer they stay and the more selfishly they play, probably the more negative their long-term reputations will be for us Goons.
That’s also not to mention the inconvenient fact that the duo staying at the Emirates may have done more harm than good for the now-lost opportunity for a title challenge.
Would results have been different if, say, Alex Iwobi had played instead of Alexis versus City?
How about if Jack Wilshere had gotten the nod instead of Ozil?
Time and time again we are reminded of the simple fact that a collective is far stronger than any individual, no matter how talented. We are also reminded that a team is forever, while a player is temporary.
There is life without Zlatan for Sweden. There can be success without Ronaldo for Portugal. Arsenal challenged without Henry and will do the same without Arsenal’s want-aways.
11 is stronger than 9 + 2.
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