By Rugba Johnson Barovbe
At first glance, it might sound ridiculous to link Premiership football to a television series about medieval kings and wars but on deeper reflection, there are some similarities between the two. Football is a game of strategy just like war and running a kingdom.
In both war and football, you have formations, offensive strategies and defensive strategies. The Lannisters in the Game of thrones are the wealthiest and most influential family in the Seven Kingdoms. Things could be learnt from some members of the Lannister family, especially from Tywin and Tyrion Lannister.
Seeing that the Gunners have lost so many battles (matches/trophies) this season under their general (coach/manager), Arsene Wenger, there could be some valuable lessons to learn from a veteran war general like Tywin Lannister. Tywin Lannister has proven himself to be quite a master strategist in the Game of Thrones series as he won two different wars (i.e. defeating Robb Stark and Stannis Baratheon) on home and away grounds.
1) A strong fortress (defence) is key to winning
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One of Arsenal’s problems this season has been their defence. They have the lowest goal difference of the top four teams. While being an attack-minded team with 62 goals this season, they have let in 41 goals. The difference is clear when compared to Chelsea’s 67 goals for to 26 against.
Tywin Lannister understands the importance of defence. In fact, his victory at the battle of the Blackwater was all about defence. First, his opposition, Stannis Baratheon, found it difficult to storm King’s Landing which was built like a fortress despite having superior numbers in soldiers.
Secondly, while Stannis Baratheon and his men were trying to lay siege to King’s Landing (which was being defended by Tyrion Lannister), they were massacred from behind by Tywin and his men. Stannis’s men could not defend against two different armies- one in the front at King’s Landing and one at the back.
The lesson to be learnt from the battle of the Blackwater is that a strong defence gives a team the chance of a counter attack against its opposition. Arsenal’s defence definitely needs improving even though their offensive play is actually one of the best in the English game. After a series of high-scoring losses this season (3-0 to Everton, 6-0 to Chelsea, 5-1 to Liverpool), Arsenal needs to make a series of defensive replacements and also adding defensive strategies like those of Jose Mourinho that made Stamford Bridge to be a fortress.
2) Money buys quality, power and trophies
Tywin Lannister’s wealth has bought many allies and men for the Lannister family. Tyrion Lannister has one of the best swordsmen/guards in the region in the person of Bronn, whom he (Tyrion) pays very well. Tywin also used his wealth to win the war against Robb Stark by paying Lord Walder Frey (with titles and protection) to betray and kill the Starks and their men at the Red Wedding. The Lannisters have used their wealth and intelligence to win the politics of war and kingship.
One of the major criticisms about Wenger stems from his frugal nature when it comes to buying players in the transfer market. Wenger has had a record of buying second rate players after the era of Theirry Henry and the invincibles. Only world class players can win major trophies and Wenger needs to learn that. Giroud can’t be compared to a £40 million Suarez. All the other teams among the top four in the premier league have better strikers than Arsenal. No team with a severely limited budget has ever won the Champions League.
3) Thinking outside the box works as a strategy
According to Tywin Lannister, “explain to me why it is more noble to kill ten thousand men in battle than a dozen in battle”. Tywin ended the war with the Starks by thinking outside the box- killing the Starks and most of their men at a wedding, where their guard was down. This actually is a stroke of unorthodox genius as most people would rather take the riskier but nobler approach of fighting their enemies on a battle ground than murdering them at a wedding.
Furthermore, the battle of the Blackwater was won by unorthodox thinking- Tyrion Lannister dealt a huge blow to Stannis Baratheon’s army by oiling the river with a flammable substance and then, setting it on fire in order to burn Stannis’s ships. The burning of ships was then followed up by a surprise attack from behind with Tywin and his men, which ended the battle in favour of the Lannisters.
The lesson here is that unorthodox strategies give an element of surprise and can win games. Wenger is sometimes too rigid and predictable in his tactics which can be effective sometimes but wouldn’t pull you out of difficult situations. Arsenal’s gameplay/strategy can be summarized thus;
• 4-5-1 formation with a big target man, three attacking midfielders and two central midfielders
• Only subs from 65th minute upwards (exceptions include injuries and red cards)
• Will only play 2 strikers (Giroud + Bendtner/Sanogo) when in desperate need of a goal in second half
• Tiki-taka passing with wing-play and incisive runs
Jose Mourinho is a coach that has unconventional strategies. He can choose to even bench his starting striker just to gain an edge in another aspect of a match. Torres and Eto’o are very interchangeable for him.
Mourinho can “park the bus” for a whole match or go on a fully offensive gameplay depending on his analysis of a match. Brendan Rogers, on the other hand, has Liverpool playing a very predictive game. However, the trio of Suarez, Sturridge and Sterling are so very tricky and unpredictable in attack that it is very difficult for any team not to concede against them. These three offensive players give Liverpool that edge of unpredictability.
Wenger is by no means a bad coach as he has proven in the (distant) past that he can win titles and beat the best. However, there is need for improvement at the Emirates.