Arsene Wenger’s tactics have let him down in crucial games
Again, I want to start this discussion by pointing out that I am a massive Arsene Wenger supporter. I think his approach to football and his eye for talent are unrivaled in the game today. He gets outstanding performances from players that seem incapable of reproducing similar form at other clubs. His stewardship of Arsenal Football Club has been brilliant and made the club a bigger presence around the world. But just because I have a man crush on Mr. Wenger, does not mean that he is beyond reproach. We have a right and responsibility to identify that failings of the manager just as we enjoy celebrating his genius.
Late this season, Arsene Wenger developed a formation with which he has become enamoured. As we all know by now, that formation is the 4-2-3-1. Arsene has employed this formation in a few big games when he believed it was necessary to provide extra cover for the defense. He used this formation in Rome, in Spain, against Chelsea in the FA Cup, at Anfield, and last night at Old Trafford. He also employed this formation in a few of our easier league games. In every big game where this formation has been used, Arsenal have looked toothless in attack. What’s worse, we have looked equally frail defensively.
I’m going to say something bombastic now. Arsene Wenger’s choice of this formation is pure stupidity. Not a miscalculation. Not overly conservative. Sheer stupidty. That’s the only way it can be described because the blatently obvious facts and evidence prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the 4-2-3-1 has been a miserable calamity. What else can you say. It doesn’t matter about the results of matches. Just open your eyes and watch the games. We were poor in the first half in Rome. We were extra poor in the first half in Spain. In both cases, Wenger changed tactics in the second half. We were terrible against Chelsea. And don’t tell me that we were leading, because we were being overrun in midfield and looked terribly shaky. At Anfield, we had about four chances to score and managed to convert all of them. But despite scoring four times, we were as firmly on the back foot as you can be for the first hour of that match. At that point, we reverted to a 4-4-2 and actually got a foothold in the match. And the craziest part of every one of those games is that the extra holding midfielders didn’t actually supply any apparent improvement defensively.
There’s another problem with the 4-2-3-1. It says to our players, “hey, I know you’re a supremely talented player, but I’d like you to play out of position for a massive game and look horribly out of place. How does that sound to you?” Think about it. Cesc looks lost supporting the striker. Our lone striker vanishes faster than David Blaine. Theo gets little or no supply. And then there’s the matter of the left wing.
Andrei Arshavin is a brilliant player and can play on the left. Some of his poorest contributions to Arsenal have come in the 4-2-3-1 formation. You might argue that he scored four goals at Andfield and we were playing the 4-2-3-1 that day. True. But he scored three of his goals afer we reverted to the 4-4-2 and he even pointed out that he wasn’t involved in the game as much as he would like. But if he looks lost in the 4-2-3-1 formation, what exactly is Abou Diaby going to contribute in that role? Forgetting his inherent laziness, he’s probably a central attacking midfielder. He MIGHT be a central holding midfielder. What’s clear is that he’s NOT a left winger. And here’s the hilarious part: Samir Nasri IS a left winger. In fact, he scored two goals against United in that very role! So it’s only natural that Nasri would play holding midfield and Diaby would play left wing in a 4-2-3-1 in our biggest match of the season when we needed to get a goal. Naturally. How can you argue with that logic…And here’s the insane part. What was the proving ground for playing Nasri as a holding midfielder? A meaningless match against Middlesbrough. A game played at home against a team destined for relegation. How is that even reasonable?
Let’s see, if you count Cesc, Nasri and Diaby, that’s three players playing out of position in a crucial game. I have no doubt in my mind that we can out-play Manchester United in midfield any day of the week. No doubt. Just think about it. Nasri, Song, Cesc, and Theo against Anderson, Carrick, Fletcher and Ronaldo. I think I like our chances. They’re good, but we’re good too. And if you can win the midfield battle, maybe you can win the match. But I can guarantee you this: we can’t win the midfield battle with Diaby on the left and Nasri holding. We are even less likely to win that battle when our best player on the pitch is pushed up behind the lone stiker in a role that he’s shown no affinity for at any point.
From where I sit, which is, admittedly, a million miles away from where Wenger sits, he got it wrong. Not a little wrong. Not a subtly wrong. He got it pathetically, stupidly wrong. And I love the man. Love his style. Love his instincts. Love his adorable accent. But he should have let his best players lineup in the best roles on Wednesday and said the Ferguson, “here is my best team playing the way they know how. See if you can beat them.” Why not Ade, Nik, Nasri, Song, Cesc, Theo in front of the defense? Why not? Wouldn’t we have had more possession? Wouldn’t we have threatened more? There’s no question. The obvious answer is yes. Maybe the first half wouldn’t have been like watching a red tidle wave wash over our club. But wouldn’t we be more vulnerable defensively? Hell no. Because it’s impossible to be more vulnerable then we looked last night.
People should not mistake the result for the performance. 1-0 at Old Trafford is not a bad result. If we had 50% of the match and created chances and found ourselves trailing by a slim margin, then it’s not a bad result. But when you are overpowered, beaten in to submission, besieged for nearly 90 minutes and lucky not to be trailing 4-0, then it’s worth acknowledging that the performance was miserable. True, the result is all that matters. But the result is not indicative of the performance and another performance like that one will see us humiliated on our home ground.
We might not progress to the final. Hell, we probably won’t progress to the final. But here’s what Arsenal’s supporters deserve: we deserve 90 minutes of our best available players, lined up in their best positions, playing Arsenal football the way they’ve been trained to do. Isn’t that what Arsene Wenger should want? After all, he created the style that has become synonymous with our club.
Eduardo won’t be available for Tuesday. Neither will Clichy or Silvestre. Arsenal have been striken by the Groin Flu. But Robin Van Persie might be ready. Cesc, Nasri, Song and Theo should be ready. Can’t we just line up in a 4-4-2 with Ade, RVP, Nasri, Song, Cesc, Theo, Gibbs, Toure, Djourou, Sagna and Almunia? If we do that, and play OUR game, then we have a chance to beat Manchester United. We might need to beat them 7-5 or 8-4 or, more likely 4-2, but that lineup gives us a chance.
In the second leg against Villareal, Arsene Wenger played a strong 4-4-2 and let Arsenal play the way they know how. We dominated the game from start to finish. We were expecting a tense night but it never got to that point. We kept the ball well, created chances, and scored the goals. That’s what we’ll need to do against United. Wenger must accept that this team is not the kind that grinds out 0-0 results or cagey 1-0 victories. It’s not in our nature. So we should play to score goals on Tuesday and let the back four do their best to keep a few out of our own net. After all, it’s a sad statement about or defensive frailty that the entire team must be twisted and contorted into an unrecognizable form just to help the defense do the job they’re paid to do.
Arsene Wenger has promised us a different Arsenal on Tuesday. I think what we got WAS a different Arsenal on Wednesday. We got an unrecognizable Arsenal that doesn’t play with joy or cohesion. What I want on Tuesday is THE Arsenal. The Arsenal we’ve come to expect. We might be going out of the Champions League, but if that’s our fate, then let’s go out with the roar of a proud club, not the whimper of a frightened weakling.
This weekend I am told that we play Portsmouth. Who cares. Wenger can feed us as many lines as he wants but that game is completely meaningless. If we lose 7-0 it doesn’t matter. We’re finishing fourth in the league this season and that’s that. My worst nightmare is that Wenger tries some new experiment this weekend and becomes so impressed by how well it works against Portsmouth that he decides to use it on Tuesday. Hopefully, that’s a nightmare that exists only in my twisted subconscious. The Portsmouth game is merely a chance for more Arsenal players to do terrible things to their groins.
It’s all about Tuesday now. That’s our season. We’re not keeping a clean sheet so it’s really a matter of beating United by two clear goals. Interestingly, twenty years ago, another Arsenal team needed a win against a rival by two clear goals. They needed to do it on the road. They needed to do it to win a title. And that season, Arsenal did win at Anfield by two clear goals. They did win the title. And they took their place in history. Hopefully, we can celebrate that 20-year anniversary with a similar feat against United.
One final note. Head over to www.arseblog.com. His blog is always excellent, but he has an exclusive interview with Theo that’s worth a viewing. Enjoy it.