A fellow contributor here, Mr. Dougie Cazorla, made a great piece on how Wenger does “do tactics”, but not well enough.
I agree with his analysis in very large part. However, I think it is a valid criticism, albeit stretched and distorted somewhat.
So, using my best colloquial/non-Standard English: is the notion that Wenger “don’t do tactics” accurate?
Yes, it is.
I see the Wenger era split in various phases.
The 1996 to 2006 phase – or The Winning Years – was not so much based on tactical variation. It was rooted in high technical quality, physical strength, strong mentality, and technical prowess. We had all in great measure, and were able to boss many teams.
The major failing was in Europe, and possibly this is where Wenger failed tactically.
When Wenger first assumed the manager role, he sustained Bruce Rioch’s three at the back for the remainder of the 96/97 season. This included a midfield of the Merse, Vieira, and Platt, with Dixon and Winterburn as wing-backs. Berkgamp would play just behind Wright, with Hartson occasionally filling in should Wrighty/Dennis be injured or suspended.
In 1997/98, a great year evidently, Wenger changed to a 442, or possibly a 4411 or even a 4231 (seem familiar?) With Overmars bought in that summer, and a strong and mobile midfield of Vieira/Petit, this not only provided great width and penetration, but also licence for the forward players to do their thing.
Wrighty broke the scoring record (which in turn Henry broke of course), Bergkamp won player of the year, Overmars won the league at Old Trafford (not literally, but in effect), and we beat the Toon to win a glorious double.
It was this formation, and our aforementioned strengths, which brought us great success.
If one examines the Invincibles, the general format had not changed since the 98 Double team, or 2002 team.
In 1998, we had:
Dixon, Adams, Bould, Winterburn
Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars
Dixon, Adams, Campbell, Cole
Ljungberg, Vieira, Parlour, Pires
Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole
Ljungberg, Vieira, Silva, Pires
The personnel had changed, but the format didn’t.
Bergkamp was never an out and out forward, and often dropped into deeper positions to create play.
Anelka, Henry, and Kanu played similar roles in these formations, as did the defence and midfield.
The full-backs got forward to provide additional width, and the wingers often acted as supplement strikers. Vieira often got forward too, while Petit, Silva, or Edu, sat back as he executed these runs.
This is rooted in a similar pseudo-442 or actual 4231.e
Let’s take the periods of 2006-2013:
Sagna Gallas Vermaelan Clichy
Walcott Cesc Rosicky
Bellerin Koscielny Mertersacker Monreal
Walcott Ozil Alexis
These are approximations, since there are numerous players who could fit in various positions. Monreal could be swapped for Gibbs, or Song for Flamini.
Nonetheless, it’s only since the end of 2016/17 season that Wenger has sought to regularly change formation.
Despite a lot of tactical similarity in the early years, and only recently adapting to opposition (or display a willingness to do so), the point that Wenger “don’t do tactics” [sic] is valid superficially.
Of course, if taken on a granular level, then he – like any other manager – must take his time to prepare. However, the evidence is apparent that tinkering and formulating plans to counter opposition is not prevalent.
It’s a fair and factual criticism, albeit wrongly expressed.
The point is that Wenger could get away with “not doing tactics” in the “winning years”. But now, it’s self-evident that he needs to adapt, and is only now just getting on this track.
If he can become fully adaptable, it would (at the very least) ease the minds of fans, if not necessarily turn many Wenger Outs back to Wenger Ins.