Scoring Goals & Landing Planes

Posted on January 22nd, by batmandela in General, Gunner's Handbook, Opinion. No Comments

Today is International Pet Peeve Day. (It’s not, really. I just made that up.)

But I do have a pet peeve that I’d like to take for a walk around today’s blog. Unfortunately, it’s a rather large pet peeve, I haven’t taken it for a walk in ages, and I didn’t bring suitable pet-peeve-dropping-collection equipment – so please tread carefully.

(Looks like stroganoff. Feels like stroganoff. Tastes like stroganoff. Better not step in it.)

I’ve noticed in the last few, er… hundred games or so, that Arsenal seem to want to dribble the ball into the net. We’re pretty competent when it comes to reaching the opponent’s 18-yard box, but breaching it is another matter completely.

We appear to be loathe to shoot from distance, when tactically, a decent shot on target is a fantastic way to bypass a bus parked on the edge of the box. There is always a strong chance that a keeper will spill or parry, in which case the advantage is with the attacking team – because then defenders, as well as attackers, are now rushing their own goal. And, hey – if the keeper misses… well: goal! Who’d’a thunk?

A decent strike into a crowded box, whether or not on target, can break down the most rigid and structured defence. Deflections are the keeper’s worst enemy. No Number 1 – no matter how talented – is a match for a ball that behaves like Lee Harvey Oswald’s magic bullet. Besides: defenders get nervous when the opposition enters the penalty area – for obvious reasons – and when they’re nervous, their arms get flappy – and flappy arms get hit by balls.

The teams that consistently score the most goals are those that get the ball into the danger area as quickly and as often as possible. I’m ignoring the fact that those teams happen to have players already in, or hurtling towards those danger areas – ready to pounce on loose balls, capitalize on goalkeeper mistakes, and toe in the odd ball by reaching around their defender(s). Sadly, our best crosses seem to be aimed at no-one in particular. We don’t have a ‘scavenger’ striker like Aguerro, Suarez or Hernandez – whose speed, guile and awareness make them so lethal in the box.

It happens all the time: we’ll get the ball quickly to the edge of the opponent’s box, and then pull up the handbrake, lose the advantage, and wait for our midfielders to arrive so that we can tippy-tap the ball from left to right and back again, always keeping a respectful 20-yard distance from the opposition’s goal. It’s like swing-ball. And it’s frustrating as fuck.

On the rare occasion that a player on the edge of the box tries to play a sneaky through ball towards the goal, it’s more often than not over-hit. And when it’s not over-hit it seems totally unexpected. It trickles towards the goalkeeper and the intended recipient shrugs, while the passer throws his arms up in despair.

I’m not sure if this is something we do during matches because we practice it a lot. If that’s the case – I wish we wouldn’t. I’d rather we practiced a drill something akin to the Barcelona five-second rule: except one where we have to produce a shot on goal within 60 seconds of receiving the ball in defence. We have some pretty speedy players, who perform best in acres of space. It seems obvious to me that we are at our most lethal (and the opposition at their most vulnerable), when they’re bunched up in our half, on attack.

So: what’s the solution?

Well, it struck me how much Arsenal on attack resemble airplanes circling an airport – desperately in need of an air-traffic controller (ATC) – so I decided to do some research into the matter. As we’re forever told, air traffic controlling is one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. How do they cope – with hundreds of lives affected by every decision they make?

There are probably few air-traffic controller-slash-footballers good enough to play for The Arsenal, and in-ear headphones are not yet legal: so having an actual ATC on or near the pitch is not a feasible option. So someone is going to have to print out this blog and give it to Arséne next time they see him, so that he can teach the players to be their own ATC’s, and land a couple of planes before they crash and burn…

I’ve taken the Skybrary entry for “Stress in Air Traffic Control” and adapted it to make it relevant to the discussion at hand. I think you’ll agree that it makes interesting reading.


Stress in Air Traffic Control Goal-scoring


Air Traffic Control Scoring goals is a highly demanding job which requires high levels of responsibility with inherent stress due to its nature and the complexity of tasks involved. Just like the [air traffic controllers] who work in an intensive, stressful environment, [professional footballers] on the edge of the opposition’s box face very high levels of stress.

[Scoring goals] entails a complex set of tasks demanding levels of knowledge and expertise, as well as the practical application of specific skills pertaining to:

The Cognitive Domain:

· spatial perception

· information processing

· movement detection

· image and pattern recognition

· prioritizing

· logic reasoning and decision making

Communicative Aspects:

· verbal filtering (including phraseology and language clarity)

Human Relations

· teamwork

· communication strategies

The [footballer] must constantly re-organise and adapt his system of processing information (often done under time deficit) by changing operating methods (in particular: cognitive processes, conversation, coordinating with other footballers, assistants, anticipation and solving problems) as they arise and interact with each other.

This is carried out by means of the precise and effective application of rules and procedures that need to be quickly selected and applied according to differing circumstances.

It is evident that the job entails, on the whole, high psychological demands while being subjected to a considerable degree of external control.

Sources of Stress in [Scoring Goals]

The most common sources of stress reported by footballers are connected with both operational aspects and internal organisational structures.

Sources of stress related to the operational aspects (list not intended to be comprehensive):

· Peaks of traffic load [=Opposition team parks the bus]

· Time deficit [=Clock ticking down]

· Operational procedures [=Pre-discussed tactical choices]

· Limitation and reliability of equipment [=Fatigue]

Sources of stress related to organisational aspects (not comprehensive):

· Shift schedules [=Tiredness due to lack of rotation]

· Management [=Tactics/ squad selection]

· Role conflicts [=Playing out of position]

· Unfavourable working conditions [=Pressure to perform]

These stress factors related to both aspects can affect the job satisfaction and the general health of footballers. In fact, as the workload increases the footballer tends to:

· employ more procedures which are less time-consuming
[=Repeat simple, effortless choices + defer responsibility]

· relax certain self-imposed qualitative criteria.
[Begin to rely on Hail Marys or hang onto the ball too long]

It is evident that the number of decisions to be made becomes a stressful condition when the controller’s decision-making capacity is stretched to the maximum; this can lead, in case of overload, to a very risky situation often addressed as a “loss of the picture”.

In addition, it is frequently reported that, many errors often occur during periods of light and non-complex traffic. This point highlights the need of extra effort required to regulate the psycho-physical reactions, maintaining a high level of arousal and vigilance even in conditions of “light traffic load”.

This might explain why we tend to be so ineffective against ‘lesser’ teams: sometimes not even managing a single shot at goal – let alone on target. And why, annoyingly, the more we build up pressure, the less likely we seem to be able to score.

So – instead of sitting on the bench for the majority of games, as has been Wenger’s wont of late: he needs to regulate the team’s level of arousal and encourage them to remain vigilant, so that we they don’t go round and round, run out of fuel, and then crash and burn.

With the whole of Goonerdom on board.



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