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Opinion

Will the Socceroos ever be successful under Graham Arnold?

Graham Arnold (Francois Nel/Getty Images)
Roar Guru
14th November, 2021
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Back when the AFC qualifying draw was made, I felt that top two was a strong possibility.

However, at the halfway point of qualifying, it is evident that by dropping five points over the last two games, the Socceroos are in a dogfight for the automatic places to next year’s World Cup.

These games have also shown that on current form, Australia are the third best team in the group and in the top six in Asia.

Even without Qatar, I doubt our prospects would be faring any better in Group B. At least we don’t have to try and win in Tehran in our final game.

The equation is relatively clear for Australia. We need to get to at least 21 points, meaning four wins out of five, or three wins and two draws.

The lack of draws thus far compared to the last cycle where we were edged out of the automatic places with 19 points means the points haul needed will likely be in the low twenties.

So can we get there? Not likely based on two reasons – the opposition and Arnie.

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The opposition are better
Watching the Saudis from behind the posts in the first half, I observed a well drilled team that was fast, tactically adept with a strong spine that largely nullified our midfield. (n.b Commbank Stadium – why no replays?)

Thankfully their crossing and shooting was on par with us. I get the feeling the Saudis have developed a mental fortitude that stops them from going to water at the end of games like in years past.

In Hervé Renard, they have an experienced and astute tactician that is getting the best out of the players. Unlikely Vietnam can spring an upset on Tuesday, but here’s hoping.

In Japan, what more needs to be said? A fantastic history between our sides. An honourable team, wonderful players, technically and tactically superior to the Socceroos almost to a man. Sucker punched twice in the first five games, they navigated the tricky away tie to Vietnam.

The February 1st home game to the Saudis is the crunch tie for them. If the Socceroos manage to stay equal or just in front of Japan ’til the end, we will likely have to win our last game in Riyadh because Japan’s last game home to Vietnam is a gimme.

So Saudis can win three out of five; Japan can win four out of five. Can we?

Arnie
As for Arnie, man I just don’t know. This is his shot at getting to the big dance and i think after Thursday its 50-50 at best. You just gotta win at home.

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Arnie’s commitment to Australian football over the decades is second to none and I deeply admire him for that. And to come back to the role after the turgid period post 2006 showed a lot of character.

Free from the ideological rigidity of Ange’s style of play, the Arnie style is undoubtedly more tactically flexible. But is he like Ange failing to get the best out of the players at his disposal by shoehorning them into ineffectual systems?

We all know that Hiddink in a short period crafted a team that was more than the sum of its parts and took enormous risks that paid off. I was hoping Arnie would draw on that experience and emulate his mentor in some respects such as player selection and attacking philosophy. But he’s proven to be rather risk averse and I think thats to Australia’s detriment.

Graham Arnold.

Will Australian fans ever warm to Graham Arnold? (Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images)

I think that Arnie can be compared with Tony Gustavsson who inherited a team that frankly had gone stale and despite a rocky start has improved them tactically. With new blood is not far from turning the Matildas into Top four contenders within the next 15 months. I still see Arnie throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks.

But my respect for Arnie are tempered by the things that do my head in: the needless ‘head psyching’ he engages in, his substitutions, and his tendency to panic in the last ten minutes.

Firstly, man, just stop the chatter. It is ammunition for the opposition, but he just never learns.

Secondly, we need better use of substitutions. Arnie’s way too passive, come on man you have five subs.

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Have more faith in your squad. Give them some decent minutes.

Thirdly, I hope Jay Rich-Baghuelou’s football career is noted for more than a five-minute cameo as centre forward against Egypt at the Olympics. It is however emblematic of the kitchen sink approach Arnie employs when he’s outcoached and tactically bereft.

So getting tipped out for the top two shouldn’t come as a shock to folks. But then what?

Australia is tossed into a continental playoff match, followed possibly by an inter-continental tie to qualify. Four Middle East teams in Group A are in the mix; three of which are arguably the most fractious and volatile states in the world which unsurprisingly produce resilient and hard-to-beat teams.

And on navigating that banana skin we would face an inter-continental opponent. And here the prospects are enticing. Could it be a South American powerhouses such as Colombia, Chile or old nemesis Uruguay; a rival from CONCACAF such as Costa Rica, Panama or old mates Canada; or could the stars align and we face our cousins New Zealand forty years after they beat us for the 1982 World Cup?

Some potentially mouth-watering ties if we are forced to go this route. And the most likely.

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