There has been a lot of talk from the supporters, managers and players about the state of the pitch at the JJB Stadium and the affect it had on Arsenal’s performance against Wigan on Saturday. Anyone who saw the game would have noted that the pitch was an absolute shambles, making Arsenal’s passing game an almost impossible task and undoubtedly favouring the home side’s more direct style of play. But while the playing surface certainly robbed the away side of their ability to play in the manner that they prefer, Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini has refused to blame the pitch for his team’s inability to take all three points home from the trip to Wigan.
“The pitch was horrible but what can you say? It was the same for both teams. Of course we like to play and we had to play more long balls so it was more difficult for us. But you cannot moan.”
He’s right, of course, but I’m still going to have a good old moan about it anyway. It was by far the worst pitch that Arsenal have had to play on this season and at the end of the day was nothing short of unacceptable. Premier League clubs, no matter how small, make enough money to maintain their pitches in a manner far above that at the JJB and Wigan should be ashamed with what they produced on Sunday.
Coincidentally, I had to play on a similarly difficult pitch for my club side, University of Queensland, last weekend. While I don’t play to anywhere near the level of a Premiership player and subsequently could not expect to play on the best quality pitches in the world, the one I had to play on on the weekend at Toowoomba (look it up!) was exceptionally difficult, perhaps even the most difficult I had played on since playing first grade football.
It wasn’t that the grass wasn’t nice or there were patches missing or anything like that, it was just that it the ground underfoot was so hard and the surface was incredibly bobbly. It made controlling the ball insanely difficult and dribbling at pace almost impossible. Now, my club is reasonably strong in its division and prides itself on playing a good brand of possession football, something we regularly achieve at our home ground or any other that allows for nice, crisp passing to be executed. As you can imagine, the pitch we had to play on in Toowoomba did not allow it.
The result? A 0-0 draw with very few chances, characterised by shambolic dribbling and passing and a clearly inferior home team having a great deal more success in handling the conditions. And while my teammates and I tried our best not to blame the pitch for our poor performance at the end of the match, I couldn’t ignore the fact that at the end of the day it played a pretty big part. We lost focus because everything we normally do with such ease did not come naturally and it totally ruined the flow of our game. As a result, we never really got going.
Sound familiar? Of course it does. And while there is no point moaning about the state of the pitch ruining Arsenal’s chances of beating Wigan on Sunday there’s also no point going over the top about how poorly the boys played. At the end of the day, despite dropping two valuable points, Wenger’s side are still in a great position to win the Premiership, as the manager outlined after the match.
“It is tighter than ever. We dropped two points today and we are going through a patch at the moment. But the team is still focused. We want to remain calm and determined then we’ll have a very good chance to do it.”
With Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal still to play each other one more time there will be plenty of opportunities for Wenger’s team to win the league. Indeed, this Arsenal side have shown time and time again that playing the best sides tends to bring out the best in them and I’ve no doubt in my mind that they can come through difficult trips to Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge with the results the require. And if they can combine that with consistent performances against the league’s lesser lights then it could well be enough to win the Premiership.
What do you think?
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