Spineless Wenger is turning Arsenal into Tottenham

by Willie Gannon

Arsenal’s tilt at the title has ended yet again, although the Gunners did hang in for longer than most predicted. However, the same old questions now need to be answered, the most prominent being: why does Arsene Wenger not see what everyone else does?

As with any problem, there are a number of places to start—is it Arsene’s tactics, the players, the board, or the “lack” of money?

The easiest place to begin is the current squad.

Arsenal has not improved enough on last season. In 2009, they finished 4th on 72pts;  2010 saw them climb to 3rd with 75pts, and this season they have 64pts with four games yet to play, but are yet again out of the title race earlier than one would have hoped. However, the Gunners title challenge, this season and last, was predicated on Chelsea and Manchester United’s dropping of needless points, rather than their own radical improvement.

Only one player of substance joined the club in the last two seasons — Thomas Vermaelan for £10 million. Initially, the previously unknown Belgian international went on to have a fabulous debut season, but his arrival was only one baby step in the right direction -  and with his injury – this season’s title challenge was more or less over before it began because Arsene Wenger quite simply did not sign a replacement or partner of the same calibre.

That is because Wenger stuck with a few players who have always had questions surrounding them and then added to it.  Laurent Koscielny and Sebastian Squillachi coming in for £9.7 million and £0 respectively and the goalkeeping situation immediately springs to mind. Since David Seaman left Arsenal in 2003, they have not had a single top class ‘keeper. Jens Lehmann might have been the man in goal in 2004, but he did make his fair share of mistakes in that amazing season and as the years went by, those mishaps became more and more common.

His replacement, Manuel Almunia, was another step backwards. The Spanish ‘keeper simply is not good enough to win a league. He makes far too many mistakes, and it is amazing that his career at Arsenal has lasted for so long. His chief rival for the post, Lukasz Fabianski, or “Flappyanski” as Gunners fans are beginning to call him, has enjoyed a torrid time as the net-minder on the few occasions he has managed to take to the pitch. So much so that Wojceich Szczesny has been thrust into action far quicker than Arsene Wenger would have hoped. And in fairness to the young Pole, he has usually risen to the occasion – although the massive clanger that gifted the League Cup to Birmingham still sticks in the memory.

So if the goalkeeper problem is so obvious, then why hasn’t Wenger brought in someone good? It’s not like there are no other good ‘keepers out there.

Another problem is the centre of defence. Sure, Vermaelen has been good, and William Gallas had probably just enjoyed his best season in an Arsenal jersey, so not signing a player of real quality to replace the Tottenham bound Frenchman or the injured Vermaelan has really come back to haunt the club.

As a good manager, Le Prof should be guarding the club against problems such as this by bringing in players of stature. Sol Campbell, but for his few man-of-the-match performances last term, was not the answer, but he is probably still a better defender than either Koscielny or Squilachi. Last season, Richard Dunne was allowed to leave Manchester City for a measly £5 million, and he is exactly the kind of player the Gunners need. Someone who is decisive, a leader, and who can defend.

Then there’s central midfield. Many Arsenal fans feel there is nothing wrong with the current central midfield set-up. Alex Song is improving, Cesc Fabregas is brilliant, and whoever else slots in can play with the best of them.

Problem is, Song offers very little going forward, Fabregas offers very little going back, and the extra body offers very little when the chips are down. Before I go any further, Cesc Fabregas is a fantastic player, a joy to watch, and one of my favourite players. But, in building the current Arsenal team around him, Wenger has been forced to go with a five-man midfield.

Up until 2004, Le Prof usually played 4-4-2. The year after the Invincibles won the league, Cesc Fabregas became the main player in central midfield. Since then Arsenal have moved to 4-5-1 to cover his deficiencies. It is also worth pointing out that Arsenal have not won a trophy since Cesc became the lynch-pin of the team.

For the bigger teams, Arsenal have become easier to play against. They are often out-fought in the critical area of central midfield, and that is one of the vital reasons why Arsenal are not challenging for titles.

They need to bring in a central midfielder who can do everything. An old fashioned player who can tackle, pass, shoot, and head the ball.

Song and Fabregas share these roles between them, and their partner—be it Samir Nasri, Diaby, Denilson, or Rosicky—only provides support in one direction. It is such a critical area of the team, and Wenger has such an eye for great midfielders.

Vieira and Petit were one of the best partnerships of the modern era, so it again begs the question, why hasn’t Arsene tried to sign a similar player?

Up front, Arsenal only have one good striker. Robin van Persie is streets ahead of Niklas Bendtner, or Eduardo, or even the shrinking Marouane Chamakh for that matter. They need to bring in a new forward badly. They won’t win the league until they do.

One other problem that this current Arsenal team suffer from is that they are virgins.

They have never won anything, because they don’t know how to win anything. They lack the nous, experience, and mentality needed to get over the finishing line. One competition that now deserves to be really looked at and treated with respect is the League Cup.

Back in the ’70s Brian Clough took over a Nottingham Forest team that had never won a thing. During the time, there was a cup called the Anglo/Scottish Cup, the most disrespected trophy in football.

It was such an awful competition that nobody took it seriously, except Clough and Forest.

They went on to win it in 1977. That first win provided the foundation and desire to go on and win other trophies. Forest went on to win the League in 1978 and 1979, the League Cup in 78 and 79, the European Cup in 1979 and 1980, and the European Super Cup in 1979.

In short, a trophy that meant nothing provided the springboard for the most successful period in Nottingham Forest’s history. Arsene Wenger and Arsenal could learn a few lessons from this alone.

They did get to the League Cup final this year, but just as many of the team froze on the day, Arsene Wenger seemed to freeze too.

So perhaps the biggest problem between Arsenal and winning the league is Arsene Wenger himself.

The great man has a number of faults, not least his constant need to take the pressure off his fragile team. But as anyone who plays sport will tell you; Sport reveals character, it does not make it. Amongst the biggest problems this team have is their brittle mentality. That comes from the manager. This has to change but so does Arsenals’ tactical outlook on the game.

To win any league, the Champions must by flexible and pragmatic. Tactics must be changed on a whim to suit the occasion. In this aspect, Arsenal are unyielding.

In every season, there comes a time when the game plan has to be changed, and a new approach to the puzzle must be looked at. Arsenal do not change, no matter the opposition. Be they playing against Wigan or Stoke or Barcelona, the Gunners use the same game plan every time. In football, one size does not fit all.

Part of the reason for this is Arsene Wenger’s faith in Cesc Fabregas, the 4-5-1, and the style of play they use. He has a beautiful philosophy on the game, and will not change it for anyone. It means that Arsenal will play their flowing game that appeases so many, because they and he have a certain expectation to live up to. This philosophy and style of play has given Arsenal and Arsene Wenger something of a superiority complex and now he seems to have backed himself into a corner to such an extent that he can only see his own teachings and tactics.

Fabregas deserves to have the team built around him, but Wenger must find the right players.

In 1958 the great Bill Nicholson took over as manager of Tottenham Hotspur. It was an announcement that surprised football.

He was known as a deep thinker on the game and had his own football philosophy, but he was not what you call a household name as far as management was concerned. A very similar figure to Arsene Wenger when he joined the Gunners in 1996.

Nicholson had his own philosophies and beliefs and had great time for new scientific approaches to training and tactics. He revolutionised English football with this new approach he instilled in Tottenham.

Within a couple of years, Spurs went on to win the Double—the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup—and challenged for the league every season. They only finished outside the top four three times over the next decade.

Tottenham Hotspur and good football became synonymous with each other, just as Arsenal and good football have done so since Arsene Wenger took over.

The problem that Spurs have is that history has dictated that Spurs must play a certain way, which has resulted in them winning very little and not even challenging for years. Countless managers at Spurs have refused to become pragmatic.

While the same level of expectation is now bearing down on Wenger, and he won’t go against his new beliefs, they have not won anything for the last six years. Le Prof too now believes that the game must only be won a certain way.

In football, time moves quickly, far too quickly for some.

In 2004, not one person watching football would have said that the Gunners would win nothing for the rest of the decade. In 1990, nobody in their right minds would have said that it would be that last time that Liverpool would win the league.

Arsenal and Arsene Wenger are at a crossroads.

Le Prof has dithered with this experiment for far too long, and the club have accepted finishing in the top four as the height of their ambitions. Bringing money into the club through the Champions League has become the No. 1 goal for the every year, not winning trophies. This can be seen in recent statements by Stan Kroenke.

Wenger has to recognise that he has failed with this team, accept it, and move on to get their title challenge back on track. It only needs minor tweaking, and not a huge amount of spending.

Four players and Arsenal could win the league or the Champions League.

He needs to buy his team a strong spine; the one they currently have is too weak to win the title with.

A club with the modern history of Arsenal should not be waiting for their rivals to decline, they should be forcing them into decline, strangling the life out of them when the opportunity arises—just as Manchester United have done to Liverpool for the last 20 years.

Arsenal should be doing that to United and Chelsea—and winning the English Premier League on their own terms.

Football is a simple game.

Le Prof is a genius of a manager. Surely he can figure this out?

24 Responses

  1. Essexian76 says:

    Funny, its taken Arsenal 100 years to appreciate that football is an art and not a game of winning at all costs, boring the opposition into bouts of apathy and nicking the odd goal. It took Arsenal to cross the Thames to get out of a financial mess in order to remain a football club, and you bemoan them trying to emulate us?, hilarious, but you cannot compare us to the Goons. We do things the right way, not anyway, which is why our crowds haven’t dipped despite years of mediocrity as yours certainly will!. Arsenal are again in a financial mess, and Wenger is just fending off this reality by hoodwinking Goons into blaming him and not looking closer at the books!

    1. Lillywhite London says:

      Well said ESSEXIAN76. Even if we don’t get top 4 which looks to be the case, Spurs have made up some real ground on the Goons, Chelski and Liverpool over the last two seasons. Trying to fob Spurs off as the mid-table bods they were for far too long is just looking of a tired cliche now… The Goons can’t beat us (even with a two goal lead, home or away), Chelski need imaginary goals to beat us and we are likely to be even stronger next year by getting rid of the dead wood and using some of the C.L money. We are now at Liverpools’ level, possibly above which shows how far we’ve come. If it weren’t for the Manc Chavs and their tatty Middle Eastern cash spewing project, Spurs would be pretty much nailed on for top 4 every season, provided we kept our noses ahead of Liverpool. That is why Arsenal are going to start finding their sole ambition of being in the C.L even harder to achieve and we will also need to look to get above them and i believe we are headed that way. Had our strikers not let us down this year so badly, we could have topped them and pushed for the title. Then they’ll want to emulate us properly… lol

      1. Spurs have made huge ground in the last two seasons, but they really need to keep it up now.

        The problem next season, for Spurs, is what are the stadium plans? Everything seems to have stopped on the White Hart Lane development plans after the listed buildings around the ground almost trebled in value.

        They should hold onto their top players this year, but if they fail to make the top four next year, will they stay?

        Can Spurs get rid of the dead wood at the club?

        Will Harry Redknapp stay? And if so, who will replace him?

        If they don’t fix those issues then getting above Arsenal will be harder than ever.

    2. Sorry ESSEXIAN76, but you’ve misunderstood.

      I didn’t bemoan Arsenal for trying to emulate Spurs in any way.

      I compared Wenger to Bill Nicholson and said that his current team were playing under the same pressure as Spurs teams after Bill Nic moved on.

      In other words, a certain style was demanded over substance.

      As far as Arsenal being in a financial mess? I really don’t think they are. They have successfully built a stadium and reduced their debt from £450m to around £140m in around five years.

      Your last point certainly has a ring of truth to it. Wenger is taking the blame for the club not having the financial muscle to go out and buy big players, but you have to remember that the Gunners wage bill is the fourth highest in the league behind Chelsea £150m, City £140m, United £130m, then Arsenal £110m.

      In other words, they don’t spend big, but they pay big.

      1. essexian76 says:

        Will, until Arsenal begin producing actual accounts of both their debts and current incomings against that debt, then it’s always going to be subject to conjecture. Many of the Highbury flats stil remain unsld and those that were, were sold far cheaper than originally quoted. Secondly the interest on the debts surely eats into any profits? I honestly bare Arsenal no ill will other than their entire history is tinged with dishonesty and many if not all of their wrong doings have remained unpunished. I do however get a little perturbed when comparisons to my club are used to elaborate and advertise your blog on a Spurs newscast!

        1. I don’t really know too much about Arsenal’s finances other than to say that they are reducing their debt every year by significant amounts. If Spurs could build a stadium and stay competitive in a similar manner I’d be only too happy.

          I am all too aware about Arsenal’s history and have written about it in the past. Check it out, you might be interested http://bit.ly/lcRSfv

          On the article, I think you’ve misunderstood it.

          As someone who has followed Spurs for a long long time I can say, with hand on my heart, that each and every manager since Bill Nicholson has come under pressure to play a certain way but has never found a way to mix style and substance, just like this current Wenger team when compared with his first teams.

  2. londoner says:

    if he is turning team into tottenham then then they might start fecking singing ,supporting there team
    (the library never got its name for nothing), then he might just acknowledge other teams, say so when his team play shit, stop thinking he is some moral crusader football wise yet sends players out to dive (defending eduardo made him look a yorkshire hunt)
    he might stop poaching players off teams who can not sign pro contracts till they are 17 but in england they can at 16 then takes the credit (faregas came from upper street im sure)
    then he also just might stop saying” i did not see it”
    and also start helping the country whats made him
    and start bringing a few british and irish players through, he might stop trying copying barca and get his own tactics, and then in the very end just might admit to the gooner fans that they were right when saying they needed i new goalie, centre back ,propper captain and striker, then he really might turn them into tottenham

  3. Stoney says:

    Ganton you mug. Spurs aren’t a side of cheating diving girls. Wenger has crafted a bunch of conniving little shites devoid of any moral code. Spurs are a club of integrity and honesty. Don’t you dare compare those weasels to spurs. I suggest you stick to writing about hurling and potatoes.

    1. Your wound me Stoney.

      Hurling and potatoes! Brilliant.

    2. Your words wound me Stoney.

      Hurling and potatoes! Brilliant…

  4. Stevens says:

    The angry bitter comments from spurs fans are laughable and are a sign of jealously as well as insecurity as a club. They have done well over the last two years but have been found out at the top level (inter and ac are very poor teams this year). And to say they would get champs league without city being there is the same as arsenal saying they would have won the league a few more times and the champs league if Chelsea hadn’t come into the money. It happens, I don’t like it, but you have to try to compete. Also arsenal are well known to do things the ‘right’ way so criticisms in the vein are just incorrect.

    With regard to the article, over probably a fair and accurate assessment, but whilshere must be mentioned re midfield and Ramsey after today’s performance. Additionally I’m not sure why Eduardo is mentioned but this is just factual nit picking.

    Re the comments as a whole; calm down, grow up and try to articulate your thoughts into something that doesn’t resemble a crazed drunken rant so to actually add something to the website/debate.

    1. Stoney says:

      Articulate this you goonie. Arsenal are a bunch of cheating scum and if anyone is insecure it’s you lot. The easiest person to deceive is yourself. Your fans don’t sing and your players dive and cheat. That’s a fact. Now pipe down you foolish goonie.

    2. Essexian76 says:

      Mate we’ve always got a choice to follow whoever, I chose Tottenham because I wanted to watch football, my brothers a Goon because we wanted to be associated with a winning team. Jealousy has nothing to do with, try getting your parents permission before entering an adult conversation!

    3. Have to be honest with some of the Spurs comments, I think they’re wide of the mark and certainly not consistent with the article.

      I definitely agree with you comparing City and Chelsea for Spurs and Arsenal.

      I think the old truism of “if my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle is apt.”

      The team who wins deserves to win, excuses count for nothing.

      On Wilshire, this is actually the second draft of the article, and he’s mentioned in the final draft, and Eduardo is removed…

      You can find it here… http://bit.ly/fGbqba

      On the article, glad you liked some of the points.

  5. Bring Back The Good Old Days!! says:

    Were any of you spurs muppets even alive last time your lot won the league? Come to that, were any of you even out of short trousers last time Spurs finished above Arsenal? And you keep on screaming that your supposedly a big club. lol

    1. Essexian76 says:

      Another fool avoiding the issue, I hope the sand tastes full of grit while your heads down there, ya mug

    2. Well to be honest, Spurs are huge club with massive potential and actually make more money than Arsenal through commercial retail as they sell to a wider fan base.

      Arsenal’s big advantage is a bigger stadium, and as far as I know – that comes with the most expensive seats in the country.

  6. suedonym says:

    Utter, utter, tripe. Regurgitation of old, tired, increasingly invalid cliches with nothing useful, insightful or novel to offer.

    It’s tough to know where to start in taking this apart. Alex Song doesn’t offer anything going forward? Even if you accept this (and it’s highly debatable), so what? What did Claude Makelele offer going forward? How did Chelsea do with him in the team?

    You talk about how Arsenal need to be more tactically flexible, and go on to make no suggestions whatsoever as to how they could adapt their style of play. You repeat thes boring staid old arguments about needing a ‘spine’ whilst ignoring the development of many players in these positions – do you get all of your opinions from the Daily Mail?

    The level of insight offered can be summed by this sentence:

    “For the bigger teams, Arsenal have become easier to play against. They are often out-fought in the critical area of central midfield, and that is one of the vital reasons why Arsenal are not challenging for titles.”

    Written on the day Arsenal beat the champions-elect, thanks to a goal from a central midfielder, and largely due by completely dominant midfield.

    This team is visibly growing in stature year on year. This season will be regarded as a failure, and yet many teams who have spent many times more than Arsenal would regard this as an incredible success, amongst them Tottenham. Arsenal fans who call for Wenger’s head are know-nowt cretins. Full stop.

    1. There’s no real point in beginning a debate with your good self, but i would like to point out two things.

      1) Arsenal beating United doesn’t really prove anything other than that the current Gunners team can play when the pressure is off.

      2) The article was written well before the game, and was published on this site on gameday. http://bit.ly/fGbqba

      3) The team is visibly growing in stature? No it’s not. The league positions answer that question.

  7. Your words wound me Stoney.

    Hurling and potatoes! Brilliant.

  8. Sam Drew says:

    What you said about Fabianski couldn’t be more wrong. He got in the team after Almunia’s injury, and after a shaky start suddenly started playing out of his skin – performances against Wolves, Everton and Man City (all away) spring to mind. I suggest you watch them on YouTube, as you obviously haven’t. Then, the reason for Szczesny coming in, wasn’t Fabianski’s shortcomings (despite him not making any errors other than one vs Newcastle) was an injury. Get your facts right.

    Secondly, Alex Song does offer something going forward. Goals versus Chelsea and West Ham spring to mind, the latter being a last minute winner. He also scored an important goal against Man City, and goals against Shakhtar Donetsk and Bolton.

    Thirdly, I’m quite sure we only changed formation at the beginning of last season. Before then, we still played 4-4-2. Then, we changed, and received numerous plaudits, after a brilliant start to the season, including a 6-1 thrashing of Everton.

    And finally, your mention of Eduardo. I may have misinterpreted your intentions, but it seemed like you were listing our striking options when you mentioned Eduardo. Well actually, he left last season. Get your facts right before you write.

    1. Fabianski did get in the team after Almunia made yet another mess of things, but I think you’re looking at him through rose tinted glasses to be honest, he played well in a couple of games, doesn’t make him a viable option though. Almunia was probably the clubs best player in 2008 and he isn’t what you’d call great either.

      Szcsesny, came into the side because injury forced Wenger’s hand. But if Fabianski was a better option then he would have been straight back in after he came back. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree there.

      On Song, I want him to offer more. Scoring a few goals doesn’t constitute him being an attacking force.

      I want him to initiate attacks and then support them, not just pick the ball up in the middle of the park and take the simple ball out to a full back. I think he has the potential to be a better player than that and he should demand the ball more and dictate the game more.

      I think we’ll agree to disagree there too, for me Arsenal have pretty much been playing a three man central midfield for the last four or five years.

      On Eduardo, you’re quite right – I was listing the striking options.

      However, in my defence, this article is the 2nd draft and I forgot to change it to the final draft which you can find here.

      http://bit.ly/fGbqba

  9. Roberticus says:

    Willie,

    Two issues I’d like to raise; the first is the pining after the pre-2005 Arsenal style and the second, misgivings about the three-man midfield.

    I think we’re in danger of conflating the two.

    Wenger first introduced a 4-2-3-1in a major game back during the 2005 Cup Final and the following season he used it in the Champions League (Ljunberg playing between Pires and Reyes). But Arsenal would continue to play 4-4-2 throughout league campaigns right up until 2009 when, as Sam Drew has stated above, Wenger introduced a Barcelona-style 4-3-3.

    Crucially, during the intervening period (2005-09) what changed was not Arsenal’s formation; merely that Cesc now began to partner Gilberto in central midfield. Losing a dynamo in Vieira, but gaining a playmaker in Fabregas, the Gunners became more deliberative.

    You could go back to 4-4-2 but even then where do you play Cesc? He himself has suggested that he prefers starting deeper in his old role. Pair him with Song or any physically imposing midifelder, fine and well. But you’d still be left with the kind of set-up that so many Arsenal fans bemoaned as “transition years”.

    Rather than formation, I think the factor that most inhibits the Gunners from recreating the Invincibles formula is strategic: Arsenal used to forego pressing opponents and instead dropped off into their own half where they could absorb pressure before murdering teams on the counter.

    Since 2009, the 4-3-3 (and sometimes 4-2-3-1) has come along with an attendant high-line and approach of let’s set up shop inside opponents half. As a result Arsenal’s play can be dizzying for opponents though sometimes prone to becoming rather static. And, critically, they lack the intensity of Barcelona in recovering the ball.
    I can’t believe this hasn’t been flagged as the main flaw in Wenger’s post-2009 project; that a team can only get away with Barcelona’s high-line approach if they have been rehearsing it day-in day-out over the course of years.
    It is extremely difficult to co-ordinate the pressing game in such a scenario and just one imprecision can lead to the team looking like mugs.

    Sound familiar Messers Koscielny and Squillaci?

Leave a Reply

Leave a Reply