Standing firm: Sydney FC coach Graham Arnold isn’t worried by criticism. Photo: Christopher PearceBoring, boring Arnie. The Sydney FC boss used to be the grumpiest man in the A-League – now he’s been labelled as a defensive grinch. Is it fair?
Kevin Muscat certainly thinks so. The Melbourne Victory boss left no doubt what he thought of Graham Arnold’s tactics in the 1-0 win for the reigning champions at Etihad Stadium on Australia Day.
“It wasn’t the prettiest game to watch, but we were trying our hardest to make the game entertaining,” Muscat said.
“I thought, with what we had to do, the three points should have been ours without doubt. Ultimately there was one team trying to win and one team trying not to lose.”
Not too many coaches have been brave enough to take on Arnold in the verbal jousting this season but Muscat believes his team didn’t just win, but gained a moral superiority.
When contacted by Fairfax Media on Wednesday, Arnold was reluctant to be drawn into a slanging match with Muscat but was moved to defend the way his team played.
“Last year, we conceded nine goals against Melbourne Victory – three times they scored three and one scoreless. This year, in our first game, we conceded four goals and lost 4-2,” he said.
“That’s 13 goals in four games, all from playing open and leaving their front four free. So why would I do it again? It would have been crazy. I’m not that stupid to think we didn’t need to stifle them.”
The criticism of Arnold has been pointed, not only because of Tuesday’s tactics but because of the way the team played in the Sydney derby.
On that occasion, the Sky Blues sat back, absorbed wave after wave of the Wanderers’ forward thrusts, scored a goal of their own and, despite the Wanderers’ equalising in the second half, managed to conjure up a late winner.
While criticism was levelled at Sydney for the way they played on that occasion, Arnold said the result proved his decision right.
When it came time to formulating plan to stop Victory, with an attack boasting the likes of Besart Berisha, Fahid Ben Khalfallah, Kosta Barbarouses, Gui Finkler and Archie Thompson, Arnold had no quandary in using the same system that blunted the Wanderers.
“If you look at nearly all the goals that we conceded against Melbourne over the past four matches, they were turnovers of possession in our half that resulted in goals,” he said.
“They were turnovers – errors, basically – not from build-up or possession or attacking plays. We prevented them from scoring, so it worked. They only goal they got was an own goal.”
Statistically, points can be made either way based on Tuesday night – and probably depend on one’s preferred shade of blue.
In Arnold’s defence, Sydney had 50 per cent of territory on the night, meaning they were hardly locked in their own half. They also had 46 per cent of possession, had only one less shot (nine against eight) than Victory and actually had one more shot on target (three against two).
On the contrary, Melbourne Victory had 11 corners to Sydney’s one, made 106 more passes (395 to 289) and had superior passing accuracy (86 per cent to 76 per cent). Sydney were forced to make almost twice as many tackles (21 to 11) as Melbourne.
Ultimately, the story of Sydney’s season can still be told in their for and against column – 21 goals scored in 16 games (the worst of any team in the top six) and 14 conceded (the league’s best).
As it happens, the Sky Blues face Brisbane Roar on Saturday night at home, a fixture that produced arguably the worst match of the season when the two teams met earlier in the year at the same venue – a dour 0-0 draw.
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