For the second game in a row, our opponents have dominated possession. For the second time in as many games, we’ve won 2-0. For a team usually known as pass-happy and possessive, it’s startling to see Arsenal come up short in the possession game yet still come away with a win. Going back a few weeks, we see games that feel a bit more like vintage Arsenal. Against Sunderland and Stoke, we held the ball 61% and 60% of the time, winning each match 1-0. However, we’d be hard-pressed feel a whole lot of pride in these games, as each came against inferior teams that we really should have dominated in both possession and goals. That we did dominate the former but not the latter is not all that reassuring.
By contrast, we now have two matches in which the other team dominated possession to little avail as we came into their stadiums and won 2-0. We’d expect Bayern to keep the ball and they did: 55% possession. Even as Swansea’s style imitates our own, we might expect to dominate due to superior skill and personnel. However, Swansea actually outdid Bayern and held the ball for 57% of the match. Each time, we won and did so comfortably.
In the middle, we have the Spurs game, one in which we dominated possession 60%-40% but lost. Not that this is rocket science, but it does point out how irrelevant possession is in determining the outcome of the game. Does this suggest that we’ve adopted a new style, a less-aesthetic but more successful approach to close out the season, or is it more of a temporary admission that we lack the skilled players needed to successfully pursue the “total football” style we’ve pursued in years past? I doubt that it’s the latter option if only because Swansea itself has shown that they’re capable of it. With the possible exception of Michu, I don’t see anyone over there whom I’m willing to admit is better than any of our boys. I hope it’s not the former. Part of why I do love Arsenal is down to the fluidity, motion, and passing that have come to define the team under Arsène. I’m certainly not saying we should all sit on our hands or scan the table for another team to root for by any means. I’d rather stop following football itself.
At any rate, I hope that all we’re seeing is a newfound dedication to solidity on defense, and a deeper commitment from each player on the field to defending. If this forces us to concede the possession game to our opponents, so be it. For all of the silly goals we’ve conceded, a bit more structure and consistency in front of goal can only be a good thing. If it continues to yield clean sheets, so much the better. Sure, possession is a kind of defense as well as a form of offense. There will be time to recalibrate our approach in order to establish the kind of possession and attack we’re used to and known for. We’ve shown twice now, once against a team that had more than held its own in three matches against us and once against an elite team that manhandled us thoroughly, that we can still score without dominating possession. If we were seeing possession drop along with goals, we could wring our hands a little more nervously. For now, my worry, and that of anyone else inclined to fret over such things, can be put to bed.