Happy New Year to all but not a happy end to 2017 for Wenger and our team.
Last night’s performance was not just poor and lacking in intensity with Ozil’s spark, it was also, in my view at least tactically inept. For some Wenger can still do no wrong and they will say how can I comment on football tactics or critique those of ‘Le Professeur’. I accept that but in my defence I would say that I have coached, I have spent time observing at three separate academies, 2 at Premier League clubs but the truth is that, in essence football is not a complicated game. As Brian Clough used to say when asked about his incredible coaching success, he would simply say that he told his players to pass the ball to another player with the same colour shirt on and then move into a space where they could potentially receive it back.
Football at the core is truly as simple as Clough maintained but the key of course is the space. When a team is well organised defensively, as the Baggies were yesterday, finding or creating the space is critical. And whilst I think of it, I saw many excusing Arsenal’s display by concluding that Pardew ‘parked the bus’, well he did not. West Brom played with two strikers and had Rodriguez’s composure matched his runs and spacial awareness Arsenal could have been behind in the first half. We should not confuse well-disciplined shape and defensive organisation, when without the ball with parking the bus and perhaps look to ourselves.
When up against such resoluteness and compactness Arsenal and Wenger’s way in the past and even now has been to attempt to intricately pass through the packed ranks of defenders. This is brilliant when it comes off and a beauty to behold but it should not be plan A or indeed the only plan. Certainly the chance of success of the plan is low at best with the current squad and lower still without Mesut.
So I come back to the use of and creation of space. When team’s go toe to toe with Arsenal space is often readily available to when the opposition defend in an orderly compact fashion you need to create your own space and stretch teams. Space can be created by neat passing as observed and if that fails space can be created by breaking the lines by beating a man. Yesterday the only player who looked likely to beat a man and create space for Arsenal was Wilshere but even when he did so he found his space restricted more often than not by his own team mates.
Iwobi and Alexis rather than being disciplined and retaining the width to help create the space and potentially allow themselves to beat a man on the outside were continuously coming infield depriving their own midfield of space to play in and indeed options for meaningful passes. Another way to create space and a particularly effective way is to retain width and then when time is right to time your runs in behind. Without Ramsey to time his runs from deep the runs behind from wide areas were crucial and Iwobi and Alexis offered NONE. I simply do not understand why Wenger cannot relay such obvious instructions from his dug out. Any fan with a degree of tactically understanding could see the issue and Gary Neville was continually observing the problem as co-commentator.
It would appear that Alexis is given licence to roam, which on occasions and when the opposition are not so compact, is fine but yesterday was not one of those days. This was exacerbated by Iwobi, a player of less ability and far intelligence doing the same. Ironically the last time it did work, having these two ball followers in tandem was the end to 2015/16 when Iwobi was on the left and staying there and Alexis was on the right, in our old 4231.
On that subject, yesterday was screaming at Wenger, switch to 4231 and get some width against this compact West Brom defence. On the bench he had two players who in the own way would have created space for his team. Welbeck for all his failing will retain width, work tirelessly and try and beat a man to create space and Walcott who will also retain the width and make the timed runs into the space behind and stretch the opposition defence. Even when given the perfect opening of Koscielny’s injury, Wenger still, when starring the obvious in the face elected to change like for like and not switch to a four and thrown on one of the above to change his team’s fortunes.
Yes we got lucky with a deflected free-kick and then unlucky with a penalty decision that went against us but without Ozil, yesterday needed common sense tactics to replace Mesut magic. Instead Wenger allowed Iwobi and Alexis to restrict our space and options for 70 minutes plus when he has the perfect and obvious options available to him to change the dynamic of the match. However good Alexis is he has to be coached when to exercise his free role. He used to take players on and retain width in the 4231 and he has to be told when that is required in a 3421 as well. Iwobi simply plays like a talented school boy in the primary school playground who follows the ball and stands two yards from his friend expecting to be passed to. With the former it probably is too late to matter but with Iwobi, he needs to be coached in match intelligence and special awareness before it is too late and a promising career is frittered away.
Anyway I will leave you with another ‘Happy New Year’ and a quote that Clough never used –
“Pass the ball to another player in the same colour shirt as you, then run towards him.”