Top 10 Traits of an Arsenal/Barcelona Player

Top 10 Traits Of An Arsenal/Barcelona’ Player.

By Aaron Danks – Full time Academy Coach West Bromwich Albion F.C.
Have you ever noticed how Arsenal and Barcelona have so many technically gifted players? I’ve been part of many conversations in which a comment like “he’s an Arsenal type player” has been used.
This lead me to think what are the traits of these technical players and how can we produce this kind of player in our youth development schemes.

Arsenal`s Cesc Fabregas

Commentators often remark upon how Arsene Wenger produces/recruits ‘clone’ like players. These players make up the core of the clubs footballing philosophy or it’s DNA. Some of the players in question are Fabregas, Ramsey, Wilshire, Rosicky, Arshavin, Nasri, Van Persie. Even the likes of Vermarlen who plays as a centre back could be included in your thoughts, I’m sure he would be a composed ball playing central midfielder which is shown in how he carries the ball out from the defensive third and over loads the midfield and even the attack.
Many of the world’s best teams have been included in my thoughts on this matter with Spain definitely showing a DNA in their philosophy and type of player winning the European Championship in 2008.
Barcelona are the perfect example with players like Xavi, Iniesta, Messi, Pique, Pedro, Bojan, Busquets not only presenting the clubs DNA currently but also previously as graduates of the club’s Youth programme – it really is in their blood. 

 I have come up with TEN defined traits on these technically gifted players, which are as follows;
 1. Ability to play in the future, a vision to know what to perform before execution. Do players know how to look? What to look for? And they can make decisions upon next action depending on vision?
 2. Preparing self to receive ABC’s, A-Angle being available to receive, B-Body Shape never square but open to the pitch, C-Check looking over shoulder before receiving creating his vision.
 3. Mastery of passing details including the Height of the pass, the weight (speed) of the pass, the line (direction) of the pass and the spin of the pass.
 4. Has a whole range of Passes. Can make any pass, off either foot, off any surface, over any distance, at any time!!
 5. Plays with Disguise. Hides his intentions by; playing with little to no back lift, doesn’t give clues with his eyes or body shape, executes look away passes
 6. Has a forward thinking mentality. If playing backwards or square will predominantly do so on one or two touch. Player is always looking for best passing opportunity often through defenders.
 7. Masters communication in a chaotic environment. Use of hand signals to show preferred receiving positions and an indication of movement.
 8. Playing in tight areas, have the ability to ‘hide’ the ball from the opponents using their body to screen and protect the ball, waiting the correct moment to free the ball. Can play late and clever in the tight.
 9. Individualism, players with the ability to recognise the space to beat an opponent with a trick or feint and have the explosive pace to get away from them.
Also the ability to travel with the ball into and through space. Sometimes forwards to break defensive lines and create overloads or finishing opportunities, sometimes diagonally across space to move defenders and create new space to exploit and even sometimes backwards out of tight positions with the ball to keep possession or move defenders.

 10. First touch-MOVE, players with the ability to have a shifting or moving first touch. Often the first touch moves ball away from pressure and either breaks a defensive line or opens up a passing channel previously shut off. 1st touches with deceit, disguise and deception.
 Now we have these traits how can this impact upon how we coach our young players?
 How does it affect our elite player recruitment process?
 How many of these traits can be taught and how many are an innate gift?
 We all sat back and admired the Champions league quarter-final 2010 between Arsenal and Barcelona (which was billed as ART) in which Barcelona came out on top 6-3. Yet why do so many coaches fail to encourage their young players to play this way?
 Thanks for reading and I hope you found this thought-provoking.
 Please e-mail me your thoughts to

Aaron Danks

7 thoughts on “Top 10 Traits of an Arsenal/Barcelona Player

  1. great post Aaron

    I think there is a Barca/Arsenal fan club in this country among a small section of the coaching fraternity and we all essentially agree with your point. I work in school, district and adult football and everywhere I come across the same problems…I now find myself being able to predict the responses with monotonous regularity. “Yeah but they lost”;” They need to do some drills” “we need to work on their fitness”

    Every level of football in this country is result orientated. I would not take a managers job in English football because if I lost three games on the trot I’d be sacked; where do we get the time to start to develop the kind of player you are talking about? Even primary school teachers are guilty of the “stick it down the channels” school of thought.

    I have had charge of an adult side this year that have won admirers everywhere they have played because we model ourselves on Barca/Arsenal ; we have centre backs who want the ball and are brave enough to carry it and play nearly as wide as Barca do; our midfield 3 always come looking for the ball on the floor off the back players; our full backs behave like wingers and see themselves as attacking players and our 2 wingers play on their weak sides and love to cut in. On SAt we scored an 18 pass goal which included a superb diagonal switch. The opposition manager accused us of borrowing semi pro’s for the game ( they wouldn’t have been able to do what our boys did) because he couldn’t work out why his team couldn’t get a touch of the ball. I say all this to make the point that English players could and can play like BArca if we give them the time to develop. Right now Arsene Wenger is the only manager who doesn’t respect the average English fans “get it up there” impatience. Wenger is an absolute hero ….he has done more for the English game than anyone in my memory yet even some Arsenal fans want to replace him! I really believe Wenger could have made Joe Cole into an English Messi yet in this country we are still hyping David Beckham!!!!

    At every level of English football there is impatience so when a player tries to look up and acess the situation he faces a barage of noise from players and fans. This is the same mentality that cost King Harold the Battle of Hastings. IN other words …CHARGE……Players are not allowed head space to work out the problems. Everything is done in a rush. We them laud the player who would “chase the lost cause”. What sort of idiot chases a cause if it’s lost? or the player who would charge through a wall for the team. this is the mentality that got Gazza booked in that famous world cup semi.

    When I get my district U11’s at the beginning of the season the first thing I say is that you are not allowed to call a team mate for the ball….you are allowed to give info eg time,turn, hold; but you are not allowed to call his name; ONLY the man with the ball can call a name because the man with the ball is in charge.

    The most familiar sound on the english football pitch is “get rid of it”. We need to change that to “relax….keep the ball”…then we will see English players like Iniesta and Xavi emerging.

  2. Very interesting article and I really like the ABC mantra.

    Agree that at every level,including kids,is result driven in the UK and this hinders their development enormously,yet it is only just starting to get through to the powers that be with no results or competitive leagues before Under 10s.

    I think it’s mainly ignorance on the part of the ‘coaches’. I use the term coaches loosely as there are far less licensed coaches in the UK than in countries like Finland or Sweden or Denmark for example and in the UK there are no real development paths for non ex professional players so they just end up coaching Rag Arse Rovers and the cycle of ‘dont mess with the ball get it forward quickly’ continues.

  3. Teaching the players in this manner is not easy and requires a great deal of trust from the coach. The coach must teach the players the skills and then put those players in situations where they can figure out the tactics for themselves with certain direction/encouragement.
    The most difficult part is trusting players to learn, giving them the freedom to make mistakes. This takes more time, patience and practice than the simple approach typically followed. Results don’t come as quickly, but the players and team have a much higher ceiling for success.
    I think most coaches have a problem with the approach because:
    1) they don’t know how to do it themselves
    2) don’t know how to teach it
    3) don’t trust their players
    4) are expected to produce results and therefore unwilling to allow the time for it to develop
    5) don’t even have a desire to play this way

  4. What fletch is describing is exactly the same for our new Coach. In 6 weeks he has changed our mentality to ‘keep ball’ rather than ‘hoof ball’. We actually get hammered for trying to play through balls because essentially only 1 in 5 will be successful, so you need to wait, be patient and an easy opening will come. It is still pre-season but at times games are actually easy because we aren’t trying to score or move forward with every pass. I think that people act like the solution to the problem is harder or more complicated than it is. If our Coach (and by the sounds of things fletch) can change a group of 25-35 year olds mentality in 6 weeks then imagine how easy it would be with younger kids who haven’t picked up bad habits. The ability on the ball comes from the mentality but in my opinion changing the mentality is the number one thing and is easier than most people think.

    • It is good to know that mentality can be changed with older players and is easier than people think. I’m going to share this with my coaches and team as this ‘keep ball’ mentality’ you speak about is something that our teams needs to adopt. thanks 🙂

  5. A good article with good research and observation behind it.

    The game might have become technical, as most aspects here allude, but in truth the traits listed are soccer’s basics. What is football from the player’s point of view? Control, balance, mentality, fitness (and related qualities like industry), in addition to such X factors as disguise and visualization.

    While it’s easy to recall Barcelona and Arsenal today, it’s also good to remember that the 1970s and 80s saw Liverpool’s “Pass and Move” philosophy used as the benchmark for footballing play. It’s good to delve into history and see that such qualities are not unique to those two fantastic footballing institutions.

    I cannot fault the article as it is well written. I enjoyed reading.

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