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October 2016
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How Arsene Wenger’s spending on players has given us a team to marvel over

By Tony Attwood

4-3-3 came later, and eventually morphed into 4-2-3-1 that we have had of late.

Now of course this article in the Telegraph isn’t a total eulogy of Arsene Wenger – the Telegraph doesn’t do that.  Or at least even when it tries it can’t resist the sarcasm.  So they speak now of Arsenal’s summer of 2016 as one in which the club was “Unable to secure that World Class Striker (c) the fans crave for under £8billion,” and it was this that took Mr Wenger back to 4-4-2.

They have picked up on the point however that everyone has been noticing, that Alexis has scored goals at the rate of Henry thus far and is a very good centre forward who sometimes plays on the wing… rather like Thierry Henry.

A man “suited to starting wide and cutting inside” in fact.  Just like… well you get the idea.

They even quote the statistic that we now all know by heart.  “Henry scored 48 goals in his first 100 games for Arsenal. Sanchez had 47.”

Ozil, again as we have seen, “is played as a second striker rather than a straight number 10, and is tasked with dropping deep, linking midfield and attack and facilitating those beautiful fast passing moves that Arsenal are capable of.”

(OK at this point I had to lie down for a bit – another reason for this article being late.  I mean this is the Telegraph we are reporting here for goodness sake).

Of course they do bring us down to earth sometimes, as part way through the article there is a timeless picture of Mr W pointing and underneath apropos nothing it says, “Arsenal struggled to create opportunities against Burnley but still left with all three points.”

Then we get… “Either side of him is Alex Iwobi, another player who can play in any position behind the striker, and Theo Walcott, who is a winger, a striker and an inside forward.

“And that is the beauty of Arsenal’s 4-4-2.. it isn’t really a 4-4-2.”

Thus they are into the fluidity of it all, of which some people have been speaking for a while. Ozil dropping deeper to find space between defenders playing a fixed approach, Alexis becoming a false nine. and Sanchez is a false nine.  They might have added Theo becoming centre forward, Bellerin on the wing, but probably missed that bit.

But the piece does note that we end up with situations in which “the defenders have no idea who to mark” and that is when it started to get fun.

So they conclude, “Although Arsenal’s team sheet is technically a 4-4-2, in this move they’re actually in a 3-3-1-3. This is only possible with players who are technically and tactically good enough to know how to play such a system – Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi are fantastic at it.”

Well yes, I think we got that.

But where this gets very interesting is in the comparison between the Invincibles and this team.  As the Telegraph says “Robert Pires starts where Alex Iwobi starts, Freddie Ljungberg is Theo Walcott.”   Ozil is Bergkamp.

Now add in the amazing passes of Xhaka and voooooom….

“A quick succession of passes finds Walcott in the wide right position, with Bellerin – who is effectively a winger and a defender in one for Arsenal – moving into the number 10 position. Sanchez, furthest over on the left, waits on the shoulder of the last man, giving himself a couple of yards of space from that defender.

“Walcott fires a pass along the ground hard enough that it can’t be intercepted, Cazorla – the deep-lying central midfielder – arrives from deep into the number 10 position which Ozil has left empty.   With one incredible touch, the Spaniard takes all the pace out of Walcott’s pass and sets up Sanchez for a one-on-one.”

Of course this being the Telegraph then they add, “He doesn’t score. Typical Arsenal.”  But its a bit like the sarcastic teacher you probably remember from school.  He might praise but can’t resist the cheap simplistic one-upmanship because, well, that’s what teachers do.  It’s what Telegraph writers do.

But it is a good exposition, and one I am glad to see, instead of the simplistic, “Arsenal will never win until they pay £50m for a centre forward” stuff that we have had for years.

“A benefit of having Sanchez, Ozil and Iwobi focus a lot of their play down the left, or at least in a similar area of the pitch, is that opposition defences get drawn in and leave space on the opposite side.  Theo Walcott’s recent resurgence has been a direct result of his taking up central striking positions, moving into space vacated by the designated striker dropping deeper.”

Yep – just what we were saying in recent games.  Of course they will be down on Theo now that he had an ordinary game for England, but that’s what the media does.

Using this system, the moment Arsenal don’t score we will of course have all the outbursts about how we will never win anything without a striker, but that is just the “last game is all that matters” bloggetta approach.

But as the writer concludes, “The Invincibles lined up as a 4-4-2 but never actually looked like that on the pitch. By swapping positions and covering for others making forward runs, at times they’d look like a 3-1-3-3, 4-2-4 or 2-2-2-4.”

The trick of course is to get results whatever system you play, whatever tactics the opposition throw at you, whoever is having a duff day.

For us, as readers, the trick is to avoid the nonsensical throw aways that the editorial worksheet tells the journalists to throw in suggesting that “Arsene Wenger, after years of tinkering and trying to get the best out of players like Nicklas Bendtner, has finally assembled a team talented enough to play in the system he first perfected nearly 20 years ago.”

No mate, Arsene Wenger, after years of restricted funding as he kept the team in the top four while allowing the club to clear the debt of the stadium, now has had some money.  And you know what.  He has spent wisely.

10 comments to How Arsene Wenger’s spending on players has given us a team to marvel over

  • Usama Zaka

    I knew the mention of Bob Dylan’s Nobel award was coming 🙂 I may have or may not heard any of his songs (or probably don’t know the songs’ names), but I have seen great respect from various parts of music and arts people for him.

    About 3-4 years ago I heard Joan Baez’s song “Heres to You Nicola and Bart” which was used in the Psuedo-Historic cold war action adventure game “Metal Gear Solid Ground Zeroes” While tracing the details of that song I came to know her affiliation with Bob Dylan, then I started my mini go through of Bob Dylan’s life by coincidentally using “Untold-Dylan” to know that Bob Dylan is not his real name, haha what a surprise. Nevertheless what an achievement.

    P.S Just curious Tony, how many hits/view did Untold Dylan get in the last 2-3 days, since the award?

  • Zuruvi

    We do have a very good squad. Thanks to Arsene Wenger.

    I still need to be convinced that Sanchez is the best possible solution to our central striker problem.
    I hope this Wenger experiment will once again prove that he is the genius in football management that I know he is.

    Henry scored 48 goals in his first 100 games at Arsenal whilst he was only about 22 or 23 years old. The boy was still developing as a player (let alone a striker).
    Sanchez has scored 47 goals in his first 100 games. Sanchez arrived at Arsenal as a fully developed player of international repute. Sanchez is 26 or 27 years old which is the prime age for footballers.
    This comparison is therefore rather superficial and probably falls into the group of stats that people often refer to as “Lies, damn lies and Statistics”.

    I think Sanchez will score many vital goals for us. We will celebrate. And every goal that Sanchez scores will make some of my friends say “Zuruvi, see? Sanchez is a brilliant central striker.”
    I however remember seeing Nicholas Bendtner scoring some beautiful and some important goals too. That never ever convinced me that we had a brilliant striker in Lord Bendtner.

    So what do I call a brilliant central striker?
    I judge a central striker by how many goals they score. I also look at how many brilliant chances they miss. I look at how many half-chances they “surprisingly” score.
    Good strikers nearly always score the easy chances. They achieve a high goal tally at the end of the season.
    Average strikers miss many good chances to score but they still score some important goals.
    Top, top strikers seem to convert many half-chances and seem to nearly always score the good chances.
    Thierry Henry was a top, top striker. And so was Anelka.
    Bendtner was never a good striker. Nor was Chamakh.

    Where does Sanchez fit in this scale? I think it is too early to say. His performance as a striker is to be judged at a later date.
    Sanchez is a brilliant footballer, but is he a brilliant central striker?
    Is Sanchez the best central striker that Arsenal (a top 5 or top 8 or even Top 10) club in world football should have?

    Wenger is right most of the time. I hope he is right in respect of Sanchez. I have my doubts.

  • insideright

    Wenger inherited a 3-5-2 formation left behind by Bruce Rioch and kept it until the end of his first season having announced at the start that he would switch to a 4-4-2.
    In fact that was a ruse and he went to 4-2-3-1 and has stayed with it pretty much ever since, changing the style of player in the position rather than the position itself.
    There’s no doubt that Ozil is playing further forward this season – and he may do that even with Giroud upfront.
    It’s also worth noting from Jonathan Wilson’s excellent book Inverting the Pyramid that 4-6-0 could well become the norm in the not too distant future, Maybe Wenger (who Wilson greatly admires) has already got there.

  • Gord

    I think at times, that there will be nothing wrong with playing a 1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1-1. As long as each ‘1’ knows his responsibilities and duties.

    I don’t know how the heck Tony jives to Dylan.

  • Gord there are about four Dylan songs one can jive to, and a large number one can dance the blues to. I don’t specialise in the blues, but I can get by if a blues song comes on, on a jive night

    Usama – I’ll give it a couple of days and look it up.

  • Untold Dylan was running at around 3,000 page views a day prior to the announcement at noon yesterday. Got around 10,000 yesterday.

  • Leon

    Dylan himself seems completely underwhelmed by it.
    After all what would he do with another (near) $100 million?

  • Leon

    That should have been 1 million dollars. Even “his bobness” wouldn’t ignore 100 million.
    But it’s interesting that he didn’t acknowledge it at his Las Vegas appearance yesterday

  • Menace

    Gord there are several melodies that one can jive to. The jive does not need to be fast – there is a slow jive.

    The slow jive is often used to dance to reggae music. Where as the Carrib dancer will wind & grind, there are those rock & rollers that will jive. It’s the tradition of Rockers to jive. Dylan was at his peak in the 60s when there was so much beautiful music around. The pirate radio stations based on boats moored outside UK waters were key to playing some of the best variety of melodic music in the history of sound. Like in football when beauty is paramount someone will destroy it with a crude tackle. The pirate radio was destroyed by changes in the law.

    I just wish that someone will change the FA & PGMO with changes in law.

  • Gord

    I used to be good at some dances (waltz, polka, …). That was a long time ago. I don’t think jive or blues were ever on my list of known styles.

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