The Debate: Who Plays The Best Football In The Premiership?

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The Debate argues both sides of an issue in football as best we can, leaving the final decision up to you to add, slate or deliver judgment on. Personal bias is set aside in the name of a good debate.

This week, we’re trying to figure out who plays the Premiership’s “best” football. The criteria of “best” is obviously a debate in itself, and many clubs like Tottenham and West Ham will lay claim to some sort of tradition of good football regardless of what’s actually out there on the pitch. The modern sport also gives kudos to pragmatic sides like Bolton, whose tactics, organisation and sheer effectiveness must be appreciated by any student of the game.

But we’ve started with the two most popular choices, Arsenal and Manchester United, just to get things rolling. Feel free to make your case for a different club or simply add to the one for these two either by responding in the comments, or sending a piece to:


Arsenal play the more attractive football, there’s no question. Everyone knows their movement, technique and one touch passing is second to none and a joy to watch. A collective will to attack and teamwork that seems almost unreal in its completeness, and results in some mesmerising football.

We’ve all seen it happen dozens of time in every match, it’s only a question of whether the finish is there. Quick interchanges on the edge of the box until Fabregas pops a deft little ball through, or Henry gets on the end of a quick one-two to try and pass the ball into the far corner. Even the simplest finishes are beautiful to watch.

United are exciting to watch, but are reliant on their world class players like Scholes, Ronaldo and Rooney to get them through. They’re entertaining and effective because a handful of players simply overpower less talented teams. But there’s a reason their reserves struggled to beat Exeter, a reason they don’t do well in the Carling Cup. When the big names have got their feet up, so does the exciting football. Kieran Richardson isn’t Cristiano Ronaldo, John O’Shea isn’t Paul Scholes, and no one else is Wayne Rooney.

But with Arsenal, it’s different. It’s not even a style, it’s a philosophy and way of playing football that is greater than any single player. When Wenger plays the youngsters (and they are REALLY young) in the Carling Cup – even without Henry – yet the likes of Denilson, Armand Traore and others slot right in without missing a beat. Just ask Tottenham and Liverpool who were swept aside with embarassing.

Pass the ball, one touch, move. Never go direct. Yes it hurts them sometimes and the tendency to over-elaborate will always be there. It’s often argued that Arsenal are “trying to score the perfect goal” but that’s misleading. They’re not trying to flick the ball up for a bicycle instead of tapping it in, it’s just that in order to play the sort of football they do requires a mindset of passing first and reveling in unselfishness.

The “best football” is not the “most effective”, otherwise we’d be talking about United, Chelsea and even Bolton. The sport is about entertainment, otherwise it wouldn’t have drawn in people from around the world, and Arsenal have to be respected appropriately.

Manchester United play the better football, because their play embodies everything that we love about Premiership football. Gung ho, counter attack, and a everything done at full speed. And how can you judge the quality of football without looking at the results? United are 17 points, 15 goals, and +19 goal difference ahead of Arsenal. The majority of that difference comes from their performance in away matches, how can you side with the London club in this agument if they can only get the job done at home?

Yes Arsenal make pretty patterns and technically that’s very sound. But how many times have you seen them frustrated, playing passes on the edge of the opposition’s crowded box? They shouldn’t be taking credit just for not having a Plan B. There are alternatives to short passing that aren’t long balls to Kevin Davies. One of them is wing play. Have Arsenal even heard of the wings? It’s the areas of the pitch near where other teams take throw ins.

Premiership fans are obsessed with wingers and wingplay. It’s exciting to see the ball worked wide, a full back beaten and a cross floated over and that’s what Manchester United do and Arsenal don’t. And when you’ve got two plans of attack you open the opposition up a bit and make space for yourself to attack. That’s the point. Because teams know Arsenal will try and pass through the middle, they get compact and cram things up a bit. Common sense and tactics so simple even Keggy Keegan could do it (maybe). It’s why Bolton did so well against Wenger’s side, and why Arsenal are constantly moaning about clubs who do take the time to exploit the flaws in their system.

So while Arsenal might complain about the likes of Blackburn playing a certain way to combat how they play, it’s really their own fault. They’re predictable. Short passing is just as predictable as an old fashioned Wimbledon long ball if that’s all you do for 90 minutes. By not having a second approach you’re allowing teams to defend against it and actually contributing to their negative approach by being inflexible.

But United’s football gives them options. Pack the middle against United to stop Rooney and Scholes? Ronaldo will cut you apart. And vice versa. Close down a any short passing? Expect long balls to the channels for Rooney and Saha to run onto, or for Saha to flick on. Their football can beat you no matter how you try to stop them.

The evidence isn’t just in the league table, the goals for and against and the way even defensive minded teams have been unable to shut down United using exactly the same tactics that Wenger and the rest of the Arsenal squad are very publicly unable to cope with.

Nominate another club or let us know your thoughts on United vs Arsenal in the comments, or by writing to editor[at]caughtoffside[dot]com.