News Live Scores
Australia

Unpopular opinion: Graham Arnold hate taking away from Socceroos Asian Cup positives

04:10 GMT+3 28/01/2019
Graham Arnold Socceroos
The general viewpoint on the green and gold coach is unfair with several bright signs coming out of the tournament

There has been an overwhelming opinion on social media slamming Socceroos coach Graham Arnold for failing at the Asian Cup - with some armchair critics calling for his removal as boss.

However these thoughts are not taking into consideration several blindingly obvious factors about the green and gold's quest to go back-to-back.

If you asked most people a month before the tournament, the Socceroos making the Asian Cup semi-final would be considered a reasonable achievement.

Why shouldn't we be winning every Asian Cup and smashing all those minnow nations, you ask?

Well first of all, Asian football is improving at a rapid rate, particularly at the middle-tier level - great examples are the surprise performances of Qatar and Vietnam, while even Kyrgyzstan were unlucky not to beat UAE in the round of 16.

It seems development at grass roots level is progressing far quicker in other Asian nations than Australia - which is certainly an issue Arnold hasn't had control over but he acknowledged after the defeat to UAE.

"There are issues that need to be sorted out back at home and I’ll go home and try to do that," Arnold said.

"I care for the sport, I love football, I love Australia and I want to help."

Arnold will also be looking at Australia's record of poor performances in the Middle East - an issue that has stretched from long before he was appointed.

Before the Asian Cup, the Socceroos last competitive win in the Middle East was a 1-0 win against the UAE in September 2016 and prior to that it was a 3-0 victory versus Tajikistan a year earlier.

So taking into consideration the improvement in Asian football and the green and gold's problematic form in the Middle East region, how did the Socceroos squad itself shape up to defend their Asian Cup title?

The harsh reality is that 23-man list of Socceroos players picked before the tournament looked extremely average - mainly because of a lack of depth, retirements and injury.

It's pretty clear there is a lack of goalscorers available for the national team currently - players such as UAE striker Ali Mabkhout and Syria centre forward Omar Al Somah would walk into the Australian team at the moment.

Losing the leadership and talismanic abilties of both Tim Cahill and Mile Jedinak should not be underestimated, while the absence of Aaron Mooy and Daniel Arzani hurt as they were both likely to be starters.

Even though he was only new to the setup, it was fairly clear experienced Scottish-born winger Martin Boyle had an important role to play in the squad - but was another struck down the injury curse.

Then there were the fitness issues of the team's best attacker Mathew Leckie, who was unable to start a game for the entire tournament, while Tom Rogic was hampered by a knee complaint and a broken hand - plus his stiff suspension for the quarter-final.

The six aforementioned players were all incredibly important to the Australian setup both on and off the field - of other players in the Asian Cup squad only Mat Ryan and Trent Sainsbury could be considered as paramount.

All of these factors and set backs made for a huge challenge in Arnold's return to the national team setup and while he didn't surpass expectations, there was certainly plenty of positives out of the tournament also.

Two players established themselves as important team players for the next World Cup campaign - Chris Ikonomidis and Awer Mabil

Ikonomidis, who was the only player of the duo capped before Arnold arrived, was involved in five of Australia's six goals - scoring one and setting up four - and emerged as potent force in the team's attack.

The excitement and unpredictability of Mabil added a new dimension to the Socceroos attack - and his two goals were taken absolutely superbly.

Both of these attacking stars are only 23-years-old and will likely be around for the next two World Cups - an exciting prospect for Australian fans.

Taking into account we are still looking for a first choice centre forward, Arnold will have a multitude of options to pick in the playmaker slot and two wing positions - including Leckie, Rogic,  Ikonomidis, Mabil, Boyle, Arzani and Robbie Kruse.

Maybe one of those players, possibly Leckie or Boyle, could be the temporary answer to play in the centre forward position until a traditional striker emerges.

Switching the focus to Arnold himself, his tactics of getting numbers forward and overloading the wide areas to get delivery into the area did not work against the five-to-six man Asian defences that were constantly parked in the penalty box.

Many slammed the use of this tactic but what else could have been done against teams sitting so deep? Especially when it's clear our players aren't technically good enough to pass their way through the middle of the opposition defence.

It must be said that this piece is by no means saying Arnold had a successful tournament - and should be lauded for his performance - but nor should there be any consideration to sack him.

It's trying to convey that many people are harshly judging his efforts based on his previous national team performance and their general dislike for him, not on the circumstances presented during the Asian Cup.

If you ask me, much of this stigma and angst is driven by anti-Sydney FC feelings after Arnold coached the team to four trophies in two seasons, muttering 'expect to win' in every press conference he attended.

And for the record, I'm certainly not a Sky Blue supporter - I've spent many 90 minute periods in the terrace hurling abuse at Arnold coached teams.

The judgement of Arnold's second national team stint will come during the upcoming World Cup qualifiers and hopefully after the Qatar 2022 tournament.

Until then we should get behind the national team, continue to champion the development of our young talent and hope for a better run of injuries.

While it's obviously not certain that Arnold will succeed, at least there is some positives since our win-less World Cup in Russia.