Footballistically Speaking: he makes things happen

I had this bright idea yesterday. I wanted to take a look at all of Henry’s Arsenal goals and see if there were some common threads. Were they scored mostly from crosses? Was he played in neatly with deadly through balls? Did he score a lot from inside the box? You know, try to figure out what made Henry such a potent goalscorer.  I wanted to make a new observation, something that people hadn’t seen yet. So, I sat down last night with the intention of watching Thierry Henry’s goals objectively. And within minutes found myself lost in Henry’s magic. Instead of finding something new, I found something old, I was reminded of why I fell in love with Arsenal in the first place.

Watching just his first 30 goals, I was reminded of Henry’s boundless exuberance, the way he celebrated his first dozen or so Arsenal goals by running as fast as he could over to the Arsenal fans who loved him so, fists pumping, and screaming such a joyous release. I was reminded of his magical touch, the way he could take the ball at breakneck speed, freeze time with a touch, take another touch to move his marker just the inch he needed and slot past the quiescent David James. I was reminded of his speed and power, like when he took a pass from Dennis Bergkamp at the center circle, blazed past the two Chelsea defenders, then slowed down to let international teammate Marcel Desailly catch up with him, touched the ball around Desailly and shucked off Marcel’s bullish challenge before coolly opening his body and putting the ball into the net.

And, of course, I was reminded of Henry’s special genius, his blend of audacity and talent which was the wellspring from which he drew out that goal against Manchester United: backing into his defender, 25 yards from goal, in the midst of a month-long goal drought, he takes a simple pass, flicks it into the air, turns, and volleys it into the top corner. And that he did against the best team in the land. As Wenger so aptly put it the season before that fateful goal “(Henry) makes things happen”.henry

I meant to sit down and watch the game objectively but watching that video was like flipping through an old scrap book and seeing photos of a long-lost love.

It’s not at all a contradiction if I say that Vieira was my favorite player but Henry made me fall in love Arsenal. I felt a connection with Vieira’s personality or what I saw of myself in his style of play. But Henry stirred the imagination.

I came to football late in life. Discovered the game on my television one morning. And with no connection to any club in particular and no friends who were into the game, I had a completely blank slate to work with. I knew I had to pick a team, I just didn’t know which one.

I liked Arsenal right away. The way that the Highbury pitch was so close to the fans and the camera angles that were presented made it feel like I was at the game. And the players Arsenal had were exciting and unique. Every time Vieira made a tackle or placed that perfect pass forward I got out of my seat. But it was Henry who took that Vieira pass and made something magical out of it. It seemed like every time I watched Arsenal Henry scored a more and more extraordinary goal. As if ordinary goals were beneath him.

Watching Henry was a crash course in Arsenal: Arsenal have always done things their own way and here was this player who was converted from winger to forward, who played a stylish brand of football unlike anyone else in England, and who scored eye-watering goal after eye-watering goal. He was also soft spoken, intelligent, and classy. A rebel for the cause, playing beautiful football, and carrying it off with a touch of class. He was Arsenal.

And I’ll always be grateful to Henry for giving me Arsenal.



Naveen’s tactics column: It’s All About Control

By Naveen Maliakkal

First, let us boil football down to its most simple concepts. In football, a side can look to control two things—space and the ball.

Now, both teams enjoy possession of the football over the course of a match. However, matches can occur where neither team controls the ball. In my opinion, controlling the ball has to do with a team’s ability to maintain possession when they desire to maintain possession. Clearly, controlling the ball has its benefits, as one can only score if one has the ball.

Controlling space involves controlling where the ball can go. Even at the highest level, one team may be willing to concede possession. However, football matches always involve two teams looking to control space. The team out of possession looks to control areas on the pitch with the goal of preventing the opposition from successfully moving the ball into those areas. In this sense, we can define the “proactiveness” of a defensive side as the preference for controlling the space around the ball, either controlling the space the ball occupies at that moment in time or forcing the ball into a space that the side controls. Either way, the side tries to dictate the play so to win the ball.

If the team out of possession looks to control space to prevent the opposition from successfully moving the ball into certain areas and with the hope of winning the ball, then the team in possession looks to control space so to move the ball successfully into certain areas and to maintain possession.

A team that can control the ball and space, simultaneously, has potent possession. No matter how organized and disciplined the players, a defensive structure will concede space somewhere at any particular moment in time. Control of the ball and control of space allows a team to force their opposition to react to them in a more predictable manner. They can use their possession to create openings to exploit; they can create areas where the opposition inadequately controls space. They can then find and exploit spaces the opponent inadequately controls before they can react—before they can reallocate resources to regain the desire level of control of that particular space. Therefore, a team that can simultaneously control the ball and space can pull apart has the potential to dominate to the greatest degree¹.

It is also important to understand that the team without the ball should set up in anticipation of winning the ball, and a team in possession should set up in anticipation for losing the ball. In the former case, such an understanding will allow for a more effective exploitation of valuable spaces after possession is won. In the latter case, such an understanding will allow for more effective control of important spaces, helping to prevent the opposition from exploiting dangerous areas, and possibly reduce their ability to control possession, immediately after the ball is lost. Football is a fluid game. A team is always attacking and always defending, regardless of whether they have the ball. Therefore, trade-offs exist between controlling space in possession and controlling space when a loss of possession occurs, and vice-versa. Concerning how a team should optimally set up in the dynamic environment that is a football match, this fluidity makes the decision-making process of players and the determination of ideal playing structures rather complex.

A modern example of a side that spent a significant amount of time effectively controlling space without the ball, and understood that they were always attacking and always defending, regardless of whether they had the ball, was Atletico Madrid’s 2013-14 team. These sides—those that rely on/spend a relatively large amount of time controlling space without the ball—tend to have to play not only in an organized and disciplined manner, but have to play with a high level of coordinated intensity.

Everyone on Atletico Madrid worked diligently to help the side control space. When Atleti looked to press their opponent’s higher up the pitch, the front two looked to press, while blocking the passing lanes into the half-space. When the ball shifted to a particular side, the wide playmaker pushed up to press, and the forward on that side had to move to deny passing lanes back to the center—the area Atleti looked to control above all others.


In their own half, either in a mid-level defensive shape or a deep defending shape, Atleti often maintained their narrow 4-4-2 shape, which helped them control the center of the pitch. To main a compact shape, the team’s shape needed to constantly move from side to side, as the ball moved from side to side. Atleti worked to flood the ball-side, looking to wall off the opposition, using the sideline as another defender.


Here, they could isolate the wide player, and look to win the ball. With them flooding the ball-side of the pitch, passes into the center of the pitch became quite risky, as Atletico had plenty of men to make interceptions, close down receivers, and/or pounce on loose balls. Atletico built their side around a physical approach to have greater success in making those interceptions, tackles, etc. in those tight spaces, to better control the center of the pitch. With their willingness to defend deep, they had to be proficient in breaking up play, lest they concede central spaces so close to their own goal, which could pose a significant threat.

Atleti did have a potentially significant weakness due to their narrow shape, and overlapping fullbacks could exploit this. When the ball moved out wide and Atleti players went to isolate the wide man from the rest of his team, there existed the potential for an overlapping fullback to receive the ball, on the run, with plenty of space to whip a cross into the box.

Given this potential threat, Atleti needed to reduce the profitability of crosses, so to mitigate the harm such crosses could do to them, and they did this by building a side that could dominate opponents in the air. For this reason, aerial domination has much more value to sides that tend to defend deep and funnel their opponent’s attack into wide areas than sides that look to defend further away from their goal.

With Thibaut Courtois, Atleti had a giant, commanding, mobile, octopus in goal. In Diego Godin, Miranda, Felipe Luis, Juanfran, and Tiago, Atleti had five players at the base of their structure who won close to or more than 60% of their aerial duels. Their domination in the air allowed them to mitigate this potential weakness of conceding space to overlapping fullbacks. It also helped them defend set-pieces (and attack from set pieces), an important attribute given the increased potential of conceding free kicks in dangerous areas due to their willingness to defend close to their goal and to proactively defend. Clearly, Atletico’s style of play and their personnel fit like a glove.

While Atletico Madrid could control space out of possession, they did need to control space in possession. For Atleti, and deep defending sides in general, operating as a counter-attacking side allowed them to maximize their ability to exploit space with fewer attacking resources, so to limit the extent to which they may lack the ability to control important spaces, when they initially find themselves out of possession. Given their decreased willingness to control the game with possession and allocate their resources towards that aim, instead of looking to create the openings into the spaces they wish to control with the ball, they let their opponent’s attacking shape create the openings for them.



Once they win the ball, they look to quickly exploit this misallocation of resources, due to the opposition’s attacking shape, through a quick attacking transition. And while Atleti look to exploit their opposition’s inability to control space in the event of a change in possession, Atleti’s defensive shape allowed them to maximize the effectiveness of their counters. By keeping a narrow defensive shape, once the ball was won, the player on the ball had a greater ability to interact with a larger number of his teammates, as the distance the ball must travel to reach a team is shorter due to the compact defensive shape. The greater ability to interact increases the players’ ability to dynamically specialize²; it increases the options the team out of possession has to take away to stop the counter-attack; it increases the ability of the ball to change direction; it increases the ability of the team to quickly move the ball into the desirable spaces their opponent does not control.

Obviously, being able to analyze the options and execute in such a short frame of time requires a high level of decision-making and technical ability. Thus, to call Diego Simeone or Atletico a defensive team would not do them justice as they clearly understand how their play out of possession affected how they played in possession and vice-versa.

Now, when a deep defending side wins the ball, they often have to travel 60-70 meters, often asking their forwards and wide players to cover large distances in a short amount of time. However, as described above, these players have to expend quite a bit of energy while defending. One could have a couple players operate as passengers defensively, but then it becomes easier for the opponent to control space, while having possession of the ball—the most potent resource. Therefore, having passengers, especially against the best sides in the world, is not an option for a team that desires success at the highest level. Therefore, Atleti’s style of play places immense demands on the physical fitness of players, both in possession and out of possession.

The extreme physical demands of this style, in addition to the particular roster one has to construct to effectively defend close to one’s own goal, partially explains why some sides look to defend higher up the pitch. By playing higher up the pitch, they look to keep the play farther away from their goal, allowing them to divest from certain player attributes, like aerial ability, and allocate resources towards other desirable characteristics. They also look to win the ball in more advanced areas, which shortens the distance between defense and the goal. This means that the attackers need to cover less ground to get into good goal-scoring positions, and it increases the effectiveness of their counters/transition play.

By playing higher up the pitch, these sides also push the boundary between the “onside space”, which is the space where the opponent’s players are onside, and “offside space” away from their goal. If they did not play a high line, they would concede a large amount of free space in onside space. That would make it too easy for opponents to play through their pressing and through their lines.


However, the high line does impose a cost on the side that utilizes it—they increase the amount of offside space. Therefore, an opponent will have more success playing a ball into the space behind the defense than they would against a deeper defending side like Atletico Madrid. These sides must place a larger emphasis/depend more on the quality of their pressing at the front (this not only includes the intensity but also the coordination of the pressing, and the use of concepts like pressing triggers so that they tend to press when the particular allocation of resources by both sides makes it advantageous for them to press), have a greater need for their keeper to sweep, and rely more on the ability of their center backs to make recovery runs, as a last resort, if the offside line gets beaten. So while there may exist the potential of lowering the physical burden on the players, a side relying on/spending a large of time controlling space without the ball imposes a high physical cost on their players.³

In addition to the physical demands of relying on controlling space without possession, another problem is that it leaves the side vulnerable to two types of teams—other teams who can and are willing to spend the game controlling space without the ball, and teams that can control space and the ball.

Against teams that concede possession to their opponents, there is a risk that one team will have to play a possession-based game. Instead of having one’s opponent create openings for them, now the side must create openings with their possession. If one has tailored a XI/squad to control space without the ball, looking to attack into less controlled space, then this could prove quite problematic.

While a side might have an excellent ability to control space without the ball, that does not speak to their ability to control space with the ball against sides that give them the ball, especially if they have specialized in playing without the ball. Chelsea struggled last season when teams gave them the ball, leading to their signing of Cesc Fabregas (it will be interesting to see in the Champions League, as the English Premier League lacks enough sides who can exploit Fabregas’ poor defensive positioning and understanding, how Chelsea cope against sides like Bayern, Barcelona, and Real Madrid) and Diego Costa, giving them a better ability to control space in possession. Liverpool, without a fit and fresh combination of Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling, have yet to figure out a method for consistent success against sides that give them the ball. Their inability to control space with the ball forces them to rely heavily on individual brilliance. And with their intense high pressing seemingly gone, they have lost their ability to control space out of possession as well.

However, even greater problems can come against a side that can better control space and control the ball. This type of side has the ability to dictate terms to the opposition better than any type of side. This possession-based side must still control space when out of possession4 but it spends much less time actually doing so. Instead of engaging in the more physically-demanding side of the game with the frequency of a side like Atleti, this team spends more time in possession, imposing physical costs on the opposition. By moving the ball patiently and consistently, they looks to move their opposition around, forcing them to expend quite a bit of energy, while also looking to create and exploit openings, create chances, and defend their own goal by not conceding possession.

Now while the ball moves faster than the players, the team in possession still needs to have the ability to exploit such an advantage. In this kind of team, the dynamism in possession needed to consistently score goals, while simultaneously controlling space and the ball, means that the nature of the decision making process for each player becomes much more complex, as the team wants to give its players more options from which to choose. By reducing the constraints on the optimization problem faced by the players, the unit, potentially, has a greater robustness to the changes inherent in the dynamic environment of a football match. With the system set up to provide a player with plenty of options at any particular moment, the team has a greater need for players to identify and execute the correct option5.

Therefore, a side that looks to control the ball and space requires the intelligence, decision-making, familiarity, and technique, both on-ball and off-ball to control space with the ball. Essentially, a greater emphasis is placed on each player’s ability to extract information from their environment, understand the proper action given that information to optimize the team’s performance, and then have the ability to execute the proper action, with this process constantly running throughout the match. Referencing Hayek’s Use of Knowledge in Society again, the greater the ability to profitably decentralize the in-game decision-making process, the great the ability to exploit the benefits of local knowledge—the knowledge players reveal on the pitch, during a match, which is unknown until revelation and revealed through the trial-error-feedback loops they engage in through their actions and by observing the actions of others.

To avoid the need to rely on the intelligence and ability for players to coordinate their action, a manager could look to make the game simpler for the players, limiting the number of options available to his players. Essentially, a manager works to reduce the transactions costs of his players’ interaction with one another. However, in limiting the number of options, a team becomes easier to defend, as they become predictable. They have less of an ability to interact with one another, reducing their ability to dynamically specialize, and control space, either in possession or out of possession. They also have the potential to lose the ability to exploit the local knowledge that players reveal over the course of the match. All of this makes them less robust to the dynamic nature of a football match.

They also need as many players on the pitch with a high level intelligence, decision-making ability, familiarity, and technical ability to maximize their ability to exploit the space, wherever and whenever it exists on the pitch, and to maximize their ability to control the ball. This, in part, is why some sides have looked to play midfielders at center back. They may also prefer a goalkeeper who can play with the ball at his feet to increase their ability to maintain possession, to potentially draw their opponent higher up the pitch, and to provide more interaction among the XI in possession. Much like a side out of possession should look to defend as an XI, a team that wants to maximize their ability to control space and the ball should look to attack as an XI (Avoid specialists, embrace dynamic specialization).

This control of space and ball style of play seems to have a higher degree of difficulty. With an insufficient amount of the elements needed to pull this off, the possession-based team may control the ball without adequately controlling space, leading to truly sterile possession. Or worse, they could lack the necessary control of the ball to sufficiently limit counter-attacking opportunities for the opposition, which would lead to their possession going from sterile to self-harming.

Yet, in addition to having greater potential for dominance and optimal on-pitch resource allocation a side that controls space and the ball has a higher ceiling it can reach and this style may allow a side to sustain success over a longer period of time. Controlling possession could help them experience less wear-and-tear, as they can let the ball do more of the work needed to control space rather than spending more time moving their bodies to control space out of possession. By playing higher up the pitch and with a potent system of counter-pressing, the side controlling space and ball seems to have a greater ability to limit the amount of energy expended over a long-period, keeping the game in the opposition’s half of the pitch.6

Therefore, if a manager wanted to find a way to give his club a sustainable long-term ability to compete at the highest level of European football, while maintaining an ability to compete domestically, then trying to develop a playing style based on control of both space and the ball seems like the way to go. And maybe that is exactly what Arsene Wenger is trying to do this season.

Follow Naveen on twitter @njm1211

¹Controlling the ball without controlling space is what I would define as sterile possession. A side like that cannot use possession it to create chances, and if the opponent can gain control of the space around the ball, they cannot even use possession as a form of defense.

²Much like Adam Smith’s idea that specialization is limited by the extent of the Market, essentially the ability of agents to economically interact, the ability for profitable specialization on the football pitch, at a particular moment in time, has to do with the ability of players to interact with one another

³While I think Diego Simeone and Jurgen Klopp are excellent managers, I do wonder whether their style of play has a greater potential to run an English side into the ground. There are a few potential reasons but none seem bigger than the lack of a winter break.

4This is normally achieved through counter-pressing, facilitated by their attacking shape, which not only allows the team to win the ball high up the pitch, but also limits the need to make long recovery sprints. Outside of counter-pressing moments, some system high pressing, dropping deep, and then looking to push their defensive lines further up the pitch, when possible, can serve as another way to control space. Adin Osmanbasic has a nice video of this using a pre-season match between Bayern Munich and Barcelona before Pep’s first season at Bayern.

5There is nothing as elegant as the pricing system of an economy (see Hayek’s The Use of Knowledge in Society) to help footballers make complex and coordinated decisions about the allocation of resources, such that a transcendent extended order forms.

6Granted, the impact of playing style changing the marginal returns to various skills could reduce our ability to empirically observe this. A team that defends deep and relies more on their ability to control space without the ball experiences greater returns on skills like strength, size, physical robustness, etc. A team that relies more on controlling space with the ball probably experiences less of a return on those characteristics, but may experience greater returns on other skills like technical ability, intelligence and decision-making related to maximizing the unit’s ability in possession, and familiarity which would reduce a side’s ability to profitably turn the squad over, which may lead to divestment from attributes an Atleti want to invest in, allowing resources to flow to more profitable skills. In this case, the reduced wear-and-tear does not show up in the injury table, but instead show up in the ability to more cheaply (cheap referring to the total cost, not just the money cost) purchase other attributes.

That is an indefensible tackle

Rogues Gallery: Eduardo

By Les Crang

I don’t blame English football for my injury, it could have happened not just in England but in any match anywhere. Football has become much more physically intense all over the world. Eduardo 17th October 2010, The Guardian

It was all too short really. All too short. The career of Eduardo da Silva at Arsenal was one of the saddest to me. A man who came with so much promise, replacing a legend but so cruelly struck down by a thuggish centre half in Arsenal’s march to the 2007-8 title (we lost it by a mere four points).

Eduardo Da Silva came to prominence at Arsenal when he scored the opening European goal for Partizan Belgrade against Arsenal in a ECL qualifier in August 2006 (goal scored 2 minutes 50 seconds in). Arsenal had a 3-0 lead from the first leg and would win 5-1 on aggregate.

At the time of 2006 Arsenal had an attack of Thierry Henry, Robin Van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor with Nicklas Bendtner coming through to. Not a bad attack to be honest. Unfortunately, Arsenal first season at The Emirates, would show us something  was not quite right with Thierry Henry. Lets be honest from 1999 until up to 2006 he was quite brilliant to be frank, but with Arsenal moving to the Emirates, the captaincy and age  started to catch up with Henry. In his final season Henry would play 27 games (three as sub) and score 12 goals. He was on the wain. He was also seeing another woman whilst married and having been part of a broken home was upset he would be doing the same to his own daughter. Philippe Auclair in his biography of Henry wrote:-

Thierry’s privacy was scrupulously respected, up to the very end of his stay in England. A number of rumours had circulated in the press room about the state of his marriage months before his entourage was shocked to learn that Claire Merry and he were to divorce.

Henry had been approached prior to the Champions League Cup final in 2006 to join Barcelona, which Henry declined at first. His last game for Arsenal would be against PSV at the Emirates where he pulled up short and was subbed and never played for us again that season. By late June 2007, Arsenal fans got the news that Henry had signed for a mere £16,000,000 pounds to Barcelona. I know I certainly felt that Arsenal could never replace a legend like Henry and certainly not get a very good replacement.

On the 2nd August 2007 Arsenal signed Eduardo Da Silva from Partizan Belgrade, a player who had scored 31 goals the previous season. He was around £7,500,000. Eduardo, had been playing in the Croatian league, even though he was born in Brazil, earning him the terrible nickname ‘the Crozilian’.

I was fortunate to see Eduardo score his first goal against Sparta Prague in a 3-0 victory in a Champion League Qualifier :-

A last minute goal, getting between the defender and goalkeeper. It seemed we had found our real fox in the box at last. Unfortunately, although Eduardo had scored, Thierry Henry’s immediate replacement seemed to be Robin Van Persie and Emmanuel Adebayor, with Eduardo playing in predominantly League Cup games or ECL games or as a substitute. Eduardo though would still give Wenger headaches on choice selection. With Emmanuel Adebayor having perhaps his best ever season, scoring an amazing 30 goals in the season (ok, 6 were against a very poor Derby County side).We also had Robin Van Persie, who played a few opening games, before later that season would surcome to injury. He would still score 7 goals in 15 league matches.

Eduardo though was still capable of scoring in his first season at the Emirates, as Arsenal, unfathomably seemed on fire, not losing our first game until a 2-1 defeat to Middlesbrough in December. The pick of Eduardo’s goals? I think it has to be the two against Blackburn in the League Cup match perhaps, with the winner especially memorable as he runs onto an Alex Song through ball:-

Blackburn – Arsenal 2-3 Eduardo by ILCAPO25

The BBC said of the goal:-

But just before the teams swapped ends, Arsenal centre back Song marched through the centre of the pitch to release Eduardo.

Holding off Ryan Nelsen’s challenge, his first touch was immaculate, allowing him to race into the box and calmly stroke the ball past Friedel’s outstretched palm to seal Arsenal’s progress.

Ironically, the BBC also said of the lead up to the game:-

Much was made before the match about whether Blackburn’s tough tackling could disrupt Arsenal’s potent passing rhythms.

How that would come back to haunt us.

Other goals that were memorable from Eduardo? I think my stand out memory where it felt he arrived was in the 4-1 against Everton at Goodison (his first league goals). The second goal especially was memorable:-

The BBC said of the goal :-

Jagielka was outsmarted by Eduardo as the Croatia international played the ball one side of him and collected it from the other, before calmly slipping the ball beyond Howard.

The win against Everton put us top of the league, above Manchester United.

Internationally also, Eduardo had shown what a world class player he was, scoring the opening goal for Croatia against England with a header in a 2-0 win:-

After the Everton game, the transfer window would open and Arsenal had the opportunity to replace an injured RVP. On being asked if Wenger would be signing Nicolas Anelka from Bolton for £15,000,0000 in January 2008, Wenger told the press:-

“In my opinion we have four top strikers at the club. I don’t need a fifth.” A journalist at a press conference posed the question : ‘You already have Van Persie out injured. What happens if Adebayor gets injured too?’ “In that case, Nicklas Bendtner will step in.” came the swift response.

By mid February 2008 were top of the league and in the away game to Manchester City in a 3-1 win Arsene described the Adebayor and Eduardo partnership as ‘dovetailing to absolute perfection’. I’d forgotten the goal, but just watch the skill and strength of Eduardo to control the ball below:-

Arsenal would play Blackburn, winning 2-0 to go five points clear. Then came Birmingham away.


A game in which Arsenal lead 2-1 until caught out by a last minute penalty was marred by Martin Taylor’s lunge at Eduardo leg. The Guardian wrote of the incident:-


Amongst this extraordinary drama, the game will be remembered for Martin Taylor’s over-the-top-of-the-ball lunge on Eduardo which stopped the match for more than eight minutes. The Croatian forward’s left shin appeared to be snapped by the Birmingham City defender’s appalling challenge and he left the field on a stretcher. The initial diagnosis from the club was that Eduardo had broken his shin and his fibula.


Arsene Wenger was furious, with the ‘British press’ feeling he went over the top on a ‘honest professional’ like when he said after the match:-

The tackle was horrendous and this guy should never play football again,

It goes with the idea that to stop Arsenal you have to kick Arsenal and that kind of thing was waiting to happen,

Many people have got away with too many bad tackles. We’ve escaped a few times but it’s just not acceptable. If that is football it’s better to stop it.

The worst thing you hear after is that ‘he’s not the kind of guy who usually does that’, but you need to only kill one person one time – it’s enough.

Taylor was given a three match ban and Eduardo was out for a year. That seems fair enough.

Gilberto Silva said of the incident:-

It derailed the whole team, you didn’t have to see the actual injury to be affected by what happened to him.

Maybe so, but Arsenal lost the title by 4 points to United, suffering a mere 3 defeats. Ironically, two of them were when we were 1-0 up in the second half (sound familiar?) These were away to Chelsea and Manchester United (the two teams that finished above us). If we had retained the lead and won? We would have been champions. Also, the loss of Lassana Diarra to Portsmouth in January, meant we ran Mathieu Flamini into the ground, who ended up injured, making his last appearance against Liverpool in the European Champions League Quarter-Final.

Disunity also seemed to happen with even the strikers of Emmanuel Adebayor and Nicklas Bendtner were involved in an ugly spat at White Hart Lane in a 5-1 defeat. Let us not also forget that after the Birmingham game Arsenal would draw a further 3 games to Aston Villa, Wigan And Middlesborough. Below are the two games that I feel cost us though.

Losing Away to Chelsea:-

Losing to Manchester United:-

As Emile Donovan wrote in his recent article on 7am of the 2007-8 :-

Remember the 2007-08 Arsenal team? The one with Fabregas and Hleb and Kolo Toure and Gallas and van Persie and Flamini and Rosicky and Sagna and Clichy and Theo and Eduardo when he wasn’t crocked and Adebayor when he was actually good? That team had potential. That team could’ve made Arsene Wenger one of the great managers of modern times. In a parallel universe, maybe Eduardo doesn’t break his leg and van Persie plays the full season. Maybe Arsenal go on to win the league with a team assembled for about 60m and the media finally takes a rose-tinted look at the remarkably ambitious plan Arsenal has executed and rightfully showers their achievement with praise, calling it one of the great managerial performances.

The other sad thing about Eduardo being injured was he also missed out on going to the European Championship in 2008. Croatia were dark horses to win it, but with him in the team and think they would have run Spain close for the title, as even without Eduardo, they were still capable of beating the other finalist Germany.

Eduardo would not return until nearly a year after what the press termed as an ‘injury’. In his return match against Cardiff in the FA Cup. Eduardo scored twice. But just listen to the crowd after he gets his first goal in the video?

Kind of underlines how much the fans appreciated him.

He got a few more goals that season, but he was never what he had been the previous season. He was just lacking. Something.

Eduardo’s last goal would be against West Ham United in the FA Cup in 2010:-

Prior to this Eduardo had also been asked to be banned by Celtic for diving in ECL qualifier, earning a two match ban (one less than Taylor for breaking a leg). Eduardo also had to suffer seeing Aaron Ramsey getting a broken leg at Stoke:-

Then, in the summer of 2010 he departed to Shakhtar Donetsk. I think a lot of fans felt for him but were pleased when he came back and we were 5-0 up and he scored and never celebrated when he got the consolation goal (again, note the fans sing his name):-

He also did the same when he scored the winner in the Ukraine:-

FC Shakhtar Donetsk v Arsenal by gravatard12

Eduardo has always spoken highly of Arsenal and that one of the reason we liked Eduardo, especially when he said such things like:-

They have great support, fantastic players and always aim for top honours. I wish to express my deepest gratitude to Arsène Wenger, with whom I got on extremely well. He was good to me right to the end of my days at the club. I’ll always have good memories of Arsenal.

Since leaving Shakhtar Donetsk, Eduardo has returned to Brazil and playing for Flamenco. But on doing this article, I watched the games and goals and felt saddened. He could have been brilliant until that guy from Birmingham ruined his leg. There beating us in the 2011 final made it worst as they sang a song about Eduardo’s demise. Hardly the nicest thing to do

I was thinking if i’d ever felt so gutted before for a player that had it all but left Arsenal too early? To my (aging) mind, only two players came to mind. Vladimir Petrovic and Anders Limpar. Players that could and should have done so much more.