Dear Arsene Wenger, your tactics and choices are weird. Love, everyone.
Wenger has been in the top tier of football for 15+ years. Compared to us supporters and hobbyists, his experience and wisdom on the topic is impossible to measure. He is smarter than we are. He has infinitely more experience than we do. But as Louis CK says: it doesn’t mean he’s right, it just means that even if he’s wrong, his wrongness is rooted in more information than we have.
Lately he has been making very odd decisions that can only be explained as being based on information he doesn’t want to (or maybe can’t) share with the public. We don’t know anything about player fatigue or what goes on in training, but that is true of all teams, and very few make as weird choices as we do. Mourinho isn’t playing Hazard at right-back, Rodgers isn’t playing Gerrard at left wing.
The AM dilemma
We have quite the luxury problem at Arsenal. When Chelsea legend Cesc Fabregas got sand in his quisling vagina and went on a short-lived dream journey to Barcelona, Wenger was manning the panic stations. He admitted to building his whole system around Fabregas as a #10, so now what?
The answer, in retrospect, seems to have been: BUY ALL THE #10s. We now have Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – all able (and most of them willing) to play in that position. These are not only our most expensive players, but arguably also the best players at Arsenal at this moment in time.
Obviously, this creates a dilemma, resulting in…
Özil on the flanks
Let’s talk about the German elephant in the room. Mesut Özil is a fantastic player. He’s calm and collected, weighs up his options, makes the right decisions, wins free kicks, makes himself available, thinks ahead ten steps beyond everyone else, and has a masterful touch of the ball.
That is, when played as a #10.
When played on the flanks he is rushed into decisions, has fewer passing options, and he is forced into a defensive role that simply doesn’t suit him. And yes, he played on the flanks for Germany, too. But he was heavily criticised during the World Cup, for exactly the same reasons he is criticised now.
Some pundits and expert argue that all players should help out in both defensive and attacking play, and they are 100% correct. They should. That is how the most successful teams on the planet have operated. However…some players aren’t good at defensive play, and can end up making things worse if attempting to defend inside the unit.
Özil is one of those players. In order to accommodate him at Arsenal, we need to give up dreaming about him transforming into Fabregas. It won’t happen. Özil needs a fully free role as a classic #10, otherwise we are wasting both his and our time. It can’t possibly be reasonable to believe that on this topic, every single person on the planet is wrong, and Wenger is right.
Supporters have been praying for a ‘Plan B’ for years. Wenger has none. To be fair, it has worked fairly well for him not having one. Constant Champions League participation and now an FA Cup. Who needs a plan B, right? Well, here is a fact for you:
Arsenal have good enough players to win anything. Yes, anything.
There are only two possible reasons as to why we aren’t:
Our manager isn’t properly utilising the personnel at his disposal
Misfortune is hindering our success (injuries, narrow losses, dodgy refs, etc)
There is no doubt we’re dealing with both – anyone can see that Wenger isn’t deploying players in their “right” (preferred) positions, and it’s clear that injuries and narrow losses have been a big part of our last ten years. The only question is what ratio it is.
The problem for me is that Wenger never adapts to opposition, and never alters his overall tactics. This is regardless of opposition, mind you. We’re playing Stoke? Probing sideways passing into the net (if lucky). We’re playing Barcelona? Probing sideways passing into the net (if lucky).
It’s just not a sustainable approach in modern football. Opposition teams have long since figured out how to play against us, but we’re still playing the same way. We should be flexible, adapt our tactics on the fly, able to switch mentality halfway through a game. Other team wants to sit back and counter? Fine, give them the ball. Let’s switch it up. Now we counter instead. And so on.
It’s amazing to me that we aren’t assembling a tactic that fits our current roster. Our strength lies in central midfield, so why are we deploying a tactic heavily emphasised on wing play? Something like a 4-3-1-2 would fit our players much better. It would allow Özil, Ramsey and Wilshere to play in their favoured positions, and it would result in us being able to start Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez up front.
Could 4-3-1-2 be a viable plan B?
Look at our “wingers”: Theo Walcott is played there because he won’t perform as well as a lone striker. 4-3-1-2 means he can now play as a striker in partnership with either Welbeck, Giroud or Sanchez. Same goes for Podolski. In fact, the only actual winger we have is Serge Gnabry. All other midfielders or forwards at Arsenal today prefers to play centrally.
Or maybe Wenger actually does know best and we’ll win the Premier League and Champions League in May using the same tactical approach we’ve had since 2008.