Our third segment in the four part series on Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager in 2012-13 focuses on tactics. More recently pundits and fans alike have come to criticize the Arsenal manager for a lack of tactics.
A lot of the time Arsenal put out the same formation and the same starting XI; this is worrisome as some managers are going to put 10 or even 11 men behind the ball to defend for a point, and others will not.
Different opponents require different formations and different tactics. We will talk about one formation I want to see Arsenal employ this season.
Arsene Wenger, for all his achievements, has not appeared to be a tactical manager in my opinion. I have to add a caveat, while I’ve been a fan for 16 years (just after Wenger’s appointment), my technical assessment and critical analysis only relate to the last five to seven seasons. A very similar starting XI is used week in week out, regardless of the opponent or the tactics of the opponent. The predictability of the Arsenal lineup is at a point where a change is only made because of a small injury/niggle/knock or some fatigue. Every manager in the Premier League knows exactly what to look for. So much so that Arsenal’s home record is showing the scars.
Arsenal at home, have been sluggish this season when compared to the away form. The opponents Arsenal have hosted, save for Chelsea, should all have been easy victories; some clubs have come to the Emirates and taken a point and in a couple of cases they have taken all of them. Teams come to Arsenal in the habit of putting a defensive minded squad out there with a little pace or aerial proficiency with the hopes of getting a cheap one past the Gunners and holding on until the final whistle. As fans we have seen this for countless seasons, it seems that the man in charge has not.
It seems that the longer a match goes on with the same tactics the less likely we look to score. The confidence of the opposition grows, and with every passing second Arsenal fans are resigned to thoughts of two points dropped from the top. When the Gunners have given up points by drawing at home, the leaders of the league have taken all of their points. Without sound tactics it means that Arsenal have to score early at home to open up their opponents. Earlier in the season, Arsenal won every match in which they scored in the first 40 minutes. Score early and then you will score often; the opposition opens up like a fish being filleted with a fine blade. It almost seems that Arsenal have committed the sin of relying on an early goal to open an opponent and the style of play.
Tactically, Arsene needs to start putting out a 4-4-2, where the midfield can work the ball up the pitch and push through the opponent clogging the middle. Instead Arsenal move the ball wide to poorly supported wing players who cross into the box where the centre forward is marked… by three defenders. When a team like Sunderland visits the Emirates the best way to get at them is to go straight for them. Run the ball right down their throats, the likes of Craig Gardner and Lee Cattermole have received their share of discipline this season and in previous seasons. It is also a hell of a lot more advantageous to get a free kick centrally than it is on the wings. If we saw Jack charging up the middle of the park, the ball at his feet, flanked by Diaby (right now Rosicky) and Cazorla we would be thrilled and opponents would be mortified. Arsenal should force the opponent into mistakes rather than trying for the perfect cross. That’s how Arsenal are getting beaten, the opponents take a direct route; sometimes Arsenal need to do a better job of mimicking that tactic to catch the opponent flat footed.
Wenger’s success with substitutions in the past was largely due to the quality of talent he had at his disposal, rather than the manner in which those substitutions were deployed. You may not agree with me, looking back at matches four years ago, Arsenal’s late subs were quality strikers and midfielders who had been battling for a place in the squad. Now his tactical subs feature players we wish we could sell or have written off. I hear it in the pub and read it on twitter, “Oh for f*#$’s sake, why Ramsey,” says one fellow, slamming his beer. My phone buzzes with a twitter message, “typical after 80th minute substitution by Wenger, no time for them to do anything.” Even before we can criticize a substitution, we need to look at what got us there in the first place.
Tactics are critical to Arsenal, the free flowing football from two years ago is withering. The success of last season on the score sheet was largely down to one man doing spectacular things. The 4-3-3 opened the club up in a dangerous manner to counter attacks and teams playing 10 men behind the ball. The word is out there on how to defend against Arsenal, park the bus, score a cheapie and steal a point, maybe all three if you can keep Arsenal from breaching your lines. It’s time that Arsene beat them at their game or at least with a different form of his game. Arsenal cannot approach each match with the same formation and expect to take three points; it’s irrational in my opinion (sorry if I’ve offended you). Every match is different and requires careful preparation with the formation and the selection of the squad. Arsenal do not have a bona fide starting XI. Below is my opinion of which players form Arsenal’s starting XI.
Arsenal have a starting set up that would look like this.
Sagna (Jenks, both seem capable), Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs
Arteta (Coquelin, only as a sub)
Wilshere (Rosicky, only as a sub), Cazorla, Diaby (Oxlade-Chamberlain, could be interchangeable)
Two of Giroud/Podolski/Walcott
Several players have been left out because I feel that they have not been good enough all season, Ramsey, Koscielny, and Gervinho or because they have not had a suitable amount of time to prove that they belong in the lineup (Arshavin). The Arsenal midfield need to be interchangeable where there are always two midfielders with the capability and fitness to play the game box-to-box and without fear.
If Arsenal were to go to a 4-4-2 where the midfielders provided suitable defensive cover it would allow the strikers to play amongst themselves, cultivate a partnership and tear defenses apart up the middle of the park. The combinations that you can run with those three strikers are tantalizing. Put Giroud with Podolski, the Frenchman to win the aerial battles and the hard German to bash through defenders before ferociously unloading a bazooka blast. We could put Giroud with Walcott and combine the pace of attack with the skill of the aerial flick-on; we could also have Podolski and Walcott where the overlap between the two would put the centre defenders cross-eyed and falling over; they could mix in a little pace with quick passing.
I think what is grinding a lot of people’s gears is that we can see the tactical issues at Arsenal, but we feel that Arsene is not seeing it. It’s frustrating to see something from our angle, and not have our thoughts mirrored by the manager and coaches. It could be the one crucial disconnect between the fans and manager. Tactics seem to be a critical issue in the current Arsenal side. Stay tuned for the final installment of our series where we discuss the squad on size and ability.