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Did Lord Wenger plan all this, or did it just happen??

So, was it all planned or did the Almighty Lord Wenger stumble onto this lot by mistake?

The argument has been put in this blog’s correspondence columns that I forget all that happened earlier in the season and anyway I wasn’t at the games – but I really don’t think that is right.  I’m sure I was there, and my bank balance confirms this.

I also think our manager knew what he was doing all the way through.

Here’s the argument

He wanted to build a third team, so broke up the Invincibles and started to rebuild.  There was a bit of an issue with Flamini and Hleb along the way, but as we have seen, the continuity of their development (after two moderate years before) was not assured, and Mr Wenger had already brought in cover.

But the younger players inevitably took time to develop.  And although injuries are inevitable, to get three of the midfield regulars out all at the same time was a disaster.

It was also clear early on that we had three problems:

a) the team as a whole was not ready for the free-flowing Arsenal of Henry/Pires/Ljunberg, and the defence was suffering if the forwards and midfielders did push up for this type of approach.

b) most of the EPL teams were more than willing to play “park the bus” and make no effort to win the game – they would play for the 0-0 draw.

c) crude tackling would go unpunished in the league, and the team would need to find a way around this.

That most of us could see all of this through the season is not a surprise – what was a surprise was just how far Denilson and Song had developed during Cesc’s time out, thus allowing him the free reign that had been removed in an effort to cope with the Manchester City defeat.

We could also see that the 0-0 draws that followed the Villa and Man C games was due to a restructure of the team, so that the defence got its belief back, and so that it was ready for the return of the midfield.

But still, the reinvigorated ability of Theo, and the fact of Cesc as an old-fashioned inside left (or right, whichever he wants) has changed everything.   Plus of course we got Arshavin.

The 0-0 draws could be beaten by a return to the very fast interplay that leaves the cloggers kicking the air – and that could happen once the solidity of the defence was established by pulling the full backs back.

Likewise the nasty fouls can be beaten by speed – you get caught much more if the game slows down.

So that is what has happened, and personally I Lord Wenger knew exactly what he was up to from the start.  I’d take the credit for saying I half got it, in the sense that I was talking about Denilson as a brilliant player while most were still calling him hopelessly lightweight, and I did nominate Song as one of my two players who would make a major impact this year.  And to guess that Arsenal could do well this year was not that much of a guess – we were not so far behind the champions last season.

But still, I didn’t see just how much more forward Cesc would get and what an extraordinary change it would make on the team as a whole, once he was brought into the team with Denilson.

I believe Denilson is worth a dozen Flamini’s and even if Flamini had retained much of his ability of last season, and continued to play with us, ultimately Denilson would have taken over in the middle.  And I’d certainly sooner have Arshavin or Nasri rather than Hleb.

Yes, it all looks planned to me, just as the invicibles were planned and put together step by step, bit by bit (although now all we remember is the final assembly of players.)

I can’t remember how many games it is unbeaten (assuming you treat Roma as a win) but I think it is 22 or something.  Which is by and large quite satisfactory.

More of the same please.

(c) A Smug Git. 2009….

16 comments to Did Lord Wenger plan all this, or did it just happen??

  • Ian Trevett

    As is often said, “Arsene Knows”

    Looking ahead we now have a new challenge to overcome – injuries to defenders. Up to now this season it has been almost exclusively creative and attacking players that we have lost. Now we have injuries to Almunia, Gallas and Clichy, just as the big games are upon us.
    Big shame about Gallas, who has been excellent for several months. Not too worried about Djourou coming in, who I thought was unlucky to lose his place anyway.
    With Clichy out who do we go for? Silvestre or Gibbs. Normally I’d say Gibbs, but I’d choose Silvestre for the following reasons:
    I’d see him as better defensively, while Gibbs is better attacking down the wing. However we have plenty of attacking options and I would prefer the experienced defender.
    Corners. We get so many corners and score so few. Silvestre is a danger from set pieces and could chip in with a goal or two.
    No more injuries please – it is getting beyond a joke now.

  • Nhan Le

    I wouldn’t get carried away that soon. This time last year we were in the same mood, too, only for all that disappointments. But really it’s all about disappointment, isn’t it, this being-a-fan thing?

    I’m sure Arsene knows what he’s doing. I also think we’ve got qualities to be right up there [here] with the big boys. That said, you can still end up with nothing by chance because this is football. Professional sports are harsh – your #1 priority is to win. You are judge on winning no matter what the circumstances or what your methods are.

    I’m all for the excitement when we’re playing well and winning. But it’s important to take stock when bad things may happen that they should not fundamentally change our view on the methods of our people. We are with them in good times. We’re with them in bad times.

  • Terence McGovern

    I agree completely. I just hope that Djourou and Fabianski were part of the same masterplan. If Tuesday’s game is anything to go by they most certainly were.

  • Jonny Neale

    I’m with you Tony – it has been better in the long run that Flamini went – so much more experience has been afforded to Denilson and Song and so they are now that much further developed. Too many fans claim it only ‘potential’ – to which I just say ‘but my goodness, WHAT potential!’.

    Letting Flamini leave also sent a clear message to the youngsters that they CAN make the step up. AND, when they do, not to get too big for their boots.

    Having faced worse injuries and misfortune than the other top clubs (last season and this) Wenger has had some tough decisions to make. Signing Arshavin was perhaps an example of Wenger’s hand being forced, but that is irrelevant – Wenger has remained true to his vision and adapted accordingly when others have had their own ideas (Flamini, Hleb) or when the injury God’s have conspired so cruelly.

    No other team has the depth of squad we now possess (when all fit).

    And Gibbs has got to be first choice IMHO – Silvestre is experienced but has still been worse defensively than Gibbs – who has arguably looked better than Clichy at times this season.

  • harper

    “I believe Denilson is worth a dozen Flamini’s” — maybe someday, but certainly NOT in the first half of the season. You’re really claiming that Denilson was better than Flamini at that point? I love how fans like you now claim Flamini is a worthless, crap player when last season gooners everywhere were singing his praises as the league’s best DM. The fact is that had Flamini stayed with us, you’d be writing articles praising him to the skies just because he wore an Arsenal shirt. Now that he’s left us he’s suddenly transformed into crap.

    Flamini would not have given Geovanni all the time and space in the world to score a wonder goal on our home ground and destroy our home unbeaten record. Flamini would not have just watched while Senna had so much time and space to score a fantastic strike. This has been a persistent problem in our midfield throughout the season, only partially addressed: a failure to fight for the ball and close opponents down. The first half of the Villareal game we saw the same thing: when our opponents had the ball, most of our players failed to close them down. They just stood back and watched. Second half was a different story, we stepped up our game.

    We have seen players like Nasri greatly improve in this regard, his defensive abilities and his hunger for the ball has been markedly improved.

    Anyway, you’re saying that AW planned all along for a season in which our league challenge ended in November, in which we lost 5 games before December, in which we gave up strong leads against Spurs and Villa in comedic fashion, in which we lost against mediocrity like Stoke and Hull (on our home ground)? All this AW planned for?

    Didn’t look like that way to me, the way he reacted to those losses and draws. He looked shocked. And he clearly said time and time again at the end of last season that the most important thing for him was to keep the team together. He obviously rated Flamini’s importance to our team even if you didn’t. Cesc said repeatedly about flamini “we need him!”, he desperately wanted Flamini to stay. Both AW and Cesc and the other players rated Flamini highly and wanted him to stay. But you know better than they do?

    I’m not a Denilson basher, he’s developed into an excellent tidy player who doesn’t get enuf recognition. He doesn’t make splashy tackles like Flamini, so he gets less attention. I do think he has superior skills to Flamini, who is not a flair player.

    I want Denilson to stay and develop into the world class player I believe he can be. But you seem to believe he’s the finished article. You seem to believe that our midfield is superior to last season’s. Strange, I remember us leading the league for 7 months last season with Europe’s best midfield.

  • jbh

    With all this Flamini vs Denilson debate I did a comparison of their figures (Flamini last yr vs Denilson this year) – NB that Wenger put Denilson in for the last few League games last year when it was clear that Flamini was not going to take the good offer that Arsenal made to him. Yes, statistics don’t show everything but the figures in the Flamini vs Denilson debate are very convincing, overwhelming in fact. Also when you compare players for a full seasons worth of games the comparison cannot be ignored.
    The core requirement of their position on the pitch is to break up play (make tackles and interceptions) press opponents, be always available to take the ball, to keep it and pass accurately. Goals, assist attempts and assists are a bonus for this position (the more defensive midfielder).
    The only stat where Flamini is better (per game played over a full season) is tackling where he was about 5% more than Denilson. Passes and passing accuracy about the same. Interceptions Denilson dramatically better (in fact best in the League by a mile) – and about 25% better than Flamini. So on the core of regaining possession by tackling and interceptions Denilson is better. In terms of Champions League Denilson’s figures are even better (number 1 midfielder for passing and pass accuracy, number 2 for tackling, and best in tackling success rate) – this is versus all other midfielders. In the Premiership he is no. 6 in tackling (only behind players from low in the league who have much lower possession than Arsenal), no 1 in interceptions, no 1 in passing and pass accuracy, no 4 in fouls won (only 1 behind Ronaldo), no 3 in goal assists [all figures for all Midfielders]. Compared to Mascherano, Alonso, Mikel, Barry he has much better figures in these categories. So it is very unfair to say that he has “potential”. The fact is that he is an exceptional talent NOW, and as he has only just turned 21 and that this is his first full season in the team is quite remarkable.
    Yet many just say he is too lightweight – I think this is because when he is kicked or pushed – like most Sth American players he goes down, and more often than not wins a foul (see fouls won, above). The fact is that he has provided much needed solidity to the midfield this year, and should have a sterling future in front of him. Behind Cesc he is probably the strongest technically and very rarely loses the ball, despite crowded midfields.
    Despite all of this some just want to the criticise every error as if an Arsenal player must be error free (or that Flamini was!).

  • jbh

    PS the biggest reason for Arsenal being in 4th rather than 1st or 2nd this season (compared to last year) is the number of attempts on goal not finding the net. RvP, Adebayor and Bendtner have had very poor conversion rates. ie they are getting the same number of chances but are not putting them away compared to last year and our main competitors. It is wrong to blame the midfield and def midfielders for this. RvP has hit the woodwork 16 times as well which doesn’t help, but shows the fine line between success and failure, especially when you have a few nil, nil results.

  • Ateeb

    Great post JBH!!
    You are a star!!

  • random person

    You mentioned in many of your earlier posts about the excess midfielders we seem have.I was wondering if the excess midfielders were part of the plan to accommodate for injuries?

  • ggs

    harper = NYmarcus, right?

  • jbh

    Correction. Team hit woodwork not just RvP

  • Jonny Neale

    Fascinating post on Denilson JBH. Where do you get your stats?

    A technical point – I think Arsenal have hit the post 16 times this season not RVP by himself (that would be a miraculous achievement!).

    I’d also say the reason we are 4th this season is more complicated than the woodwork’s intervention or indeed the profligacy of our strikers. This has been an Arsenal trait for the entirety of Wenger’s reign – under him we have consistently created more chances, had more shots, on and off target, than any other team but we have never had a great conversion ratio under Wenger. Even Henry was far from clinical when compared to someone like Ian Wright. I remember looking at Vela’s stats in Spain (when he came back to the UK) and noting that his shot’s on target % was much higher than any of the Arsenal strikers .

    This is something to work on (along with corners!) but with goals coming from Arshavin, Bendtner’s steady improvement, not to mention Eduardo when fit again – there are so many signs for optimism.

    Harper – This season hasn’t gone as Wenger planned it exactly but how could it? This is football not maths – you work to a plan and adapt to the challenges that get thrown you. I’m bored of saying it but injuries played the biggest part in derailing this season’s premiership challenge – no other team has had so many first team players out.

    Put it another way Man Utd look close to meltdown right now and *could* conceivably lose the Prem crown and be out of the CL before they know what’s happened. I’d never put money on that but it is possibility. That’s down to crucial injuries (and suspensions) at a bad time and the resulting loss of confidence – not that long ago everyone was eyeing the ominous 5 trophies and calling them ‘The Untouchables’ now some Man U fans are suggesting forgoing the CL to focus on the Premiership!

    Meanwhile self-styled champs of Europe and darlings of the media, Liverpool, are going to go out having been thumped by Chelsea. Could Chelsea rise up and even pull off an unlikely double??

    Unpredictable thing football – thank God we are in Wenger’s safe hands.

    J

  • admin

    On the point by Random Person (great name!) on whether buying lots of midfielders was an issue related to injury, I think that is a really important balancing act.

    You can’t bring in brilliant players and then not play them, otherwise they do a Diarra. So what Wenger seems to do is bring through as many younger players as possible and try and have

    a) the first team
    b) the squad players
    c) players who can play in two positions (Silvestre and Gallas can both play left back)
    d) youngsters who need the occasional game to get the feel of it.

    At least that is how it seems – and that is why we have got both in the front two positions, and the midfield. In defence I’d say we are one short, and Wenger said as much – but then I don’t fully appreciate who is coming up from the reserves at the moment.

    Tony

  • consolsbob

    jbh, thanks for the stats on Denilson/Flamini. In the absence of our statto over on ACLF, I copied your post across. Hope you don’t mind.

    Excellent job.

  • shotta-gunna

    Nice job ggs – smoking out NYMarcus. Jeez the lengths we can go to defend the indefensible. I wouldn’t quite go as far as “lord” Wenger but Arsene has been proven right again; Flamini was not indispensable and yes Denilson and Song are more than able replacements.

  • jbh

    Main reference is the Telegraph co uk (then football, then Statistics, then Players, select Prem League or Champions League, then select Midfielder or Forward, etc.

    Also
    uk.premiership.fantasysports.yahoo.com
    (Some good stats including interceptions)

    Re the point I made about shooting.
    Shots Goals %
    75 9 12
    55 10 18
    43 6 14

    Rvp, Ade and Bentdner
    Top strikers Ronaldo, Torres and Ade were between 23 and 25% over all of last season. So the above figures for this year are POOR. These figures will jump around a lot over the season but if you look at 20 to 30 games it is a fair comparison. Shots on target vs Shots is not so relevant, look at goals vs shots. The other key figure I look at is “Chances created” and as expected Cesc is key here. When he was injured we suffered, but overall the midfield has been performing quite well.

    I agree that work is needed in the area of shot conversion and I’m sure Arshavin, Eduardo will help, along with improving crossing and corners.