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April 2021

How Arsenal and Man U will both try and do the impossible

By Tony Attwood

Naturally the press have had occasional looks at Louis van Gaal working with the Netherlands and then suggested that he will transform Man U fr not-even-also-rans into league winners.   As fast as they went down, they will come back up, overtaking all the rest, storming the league.

Etc etc.

I say “naturally” because that story has everything in it that the media love.  It is pro-Man U, and it is simplistic.  He did it there, so he will do it here.  Of course he will.   End of story.

What is ignored is the lack of experience that VG has in the Premier League, and indeed that he has been given total control (can you imagine the Giggs character facing him down when they disagree?) and the fact that although Man U can spend a lot of dosh, VG is going to have to rely on others (also new to the Premier League) to tell him who is on form and can fit into a new format, and who can’t.

He also has the van Persie fitness issue.  Man U won the league with a fit VP.  They stumbled when he missed part of the season.  He’s got through the world cup ok, but the Premier League is different, and he’s that bit older.

But there is something else.   What VG does is tactical.  That is his strong suit – he can see tactical options that others can’t.  And that is Arsene Wenger’s strength too.  Mr Wenger plays Ramsey out wide to enhance his knowledge of the game, and then turns him into the most staggering box to box midfield goalscorer.  It is what he does.

At the same time we started to see, when injuries permitted, the range of options that a rotating midfield gave us.  Indeed it could be argued that there are going to be two tactically versatile teams experimenting with new approaches this coming season: Arsenal and Man U.

This will, I think, be in marked contrast to Chelsea, who will have new players but will continue to play in that defensive Mourinho manner.  Likewise I am not sure that Man C, who have so far bought a goalkeeper for £6m and Fernando for £12m – (neither of which are in the league of their previous dealings) and who still have Yaya problems, are really spending as freely as before.

Clearly they are thinking about FFP and that means more of the same in terms of formation – unless they have a couple of utter genius youngsters slipping through.

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As for Liverpool, they were Suarez and Suarez was them.  Goodness knows how they are going to replace him.

Can cost £8m, Lambert £4m and Lallana cost £25m.  They will presumably spend the money they get for Barce – but they can’t go further because they are already on the edge of FFP acceptability (remembering they didn’t have to qualify for FFP this coming season, but their accounts of the last two seasons will count next season, if they qualify again).

So Liverpool have the chance to change their style – but my guess is they won’t   The Suarez approach was so successful last season they might well just think of doing it all again with someone else – if they can find someone else.

Van Gaal and Arsene Wenger are however the two managers that love to change styles and experiment by changing styles and changing player positions – and that might just be the theme of this coming season.

But what will Mr Wenger do?

We spent a lot of last season at the top of league, brought low in the end by injuries and injuries and then more injuries.  Theo, Ramsey and Ozil were the key ones, but there were plenty of others along the way.

With most of the squad fit – that is to say with Arsenal facing the same level of injuries that other clubs get – we have very strong team – certainly strong enough to go back to the top as we did last season, but then to stay there.

Which raises the question, if we buy the players we are supposed to be buying, where are the newcomers going to fit in?  What do we do with Gnabry who clearly has a superb talent and needs to be nurtured further.  Where do we put Sanchez if he does indeed arrive.  And all the rest…

If we don’t sell off players we will have, when all are fit, a way of changing the game around with different combinations of players for different matches.  When the injuries come we can’t change around so much as we can when all are fit – but we are not struggling to put the right formation out.

Because of the potential of another foul-induced injury crisis, I’d like Podolski, Flamini, Arteta and Vermaelen to stay.  I’d like Joel Campbell to be part of the squad and to get some games.  Hell I even wanted Vela back.

And for the same reason throughout.  That flexibility that we saw glimpses of last season with the launch of the rotating midfield.   If Wilshere and the Ox can stay fit we’ve already got more of a midfield than before, and the chance of moving everyone around.  With Theo and Sanchez on the wings, changing sides from time to time, and both with the ability to move into the middle, we’ve got even more power – and if we still have Podolski, that could really make the side work.

It is, I believe, the sort of flexible thinking that VG will take to Man U, and like Arsenal, Man U have no financial problems vis a vis FFP.  Man U have problems vis a vis the Glazers, but even the Glazers realise that if their cash cow doesn’t get back into the Champs League pretty damn quick, their use of Man U to pay the debts elsewhere will diminish.

In fact what we’ve got is five teams who all expect to be in the top four: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man C, Man U, with one of them having to drop out and expecting to knock Everton and Tottenham out of their habitual Europa spots.

Flexibility is going to be the name of the game, I suspect.

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17 comments to How Arsenal and Man U will both try and do the impossible

  • blacksheep63

    I think last night’s game had some important pointers for Arsenal. Brazil are a poor side held together by Silva and set alight by Neymar, without them they were destroyed. But I sew Arsenal get destroyed three times last season. Ok once may have been a bit unlucky (Citeh away) but Chelsea and Liverpool took us apart in a very similar way to Germany last night. Pressing high, drawing Brazil’s defenders out of position, causing them to lose discipline and space, and then Brazil tried to rectify by charging forward. From 2-0 down and a manageable situation Scolari’s team capitulated to 5-0 in 30 minutes. If we had been more circumspect in the first 15 minutes at Anfield and Stamford Bridge we might have got something out of those games, points that might have made a difference in the league.

    So while I accept we were very unfortunate with injuries and that there is possibly a refereeing agenda out there, we do have to adapt our game. Germany were ruthless last night and I want to see us be like that – how often have we taken teams apart in recent years? But earlier in the tournament Germany were patient and measured; taking their chances when they came but making sure they did not concede. I hope we can channel some of that defensive mentality in this new season, if we do I think the future looks very bright.

  • colario

    I would not be surprised if the only players coming to the club in this window are goal keepers as back up for Wojciech.

    I am sure I am not the only one not to have wanted Fabinski and Sagna to leave. They served the club with distinction and go with every good wish for the future.

    The point I want to make is this. There are players who could break their contracts and go for more money elsewhere. They haven’t they are showing their loyalty to the club. Arsene shows his loyalty to them and doesn’t bring in players who might replace them.

    Result a happy and confident squad of players for the coming season. Bring it on.

  • Robl

    @ blacksheep, well said.

  • Mandy Dodd

    Robl and Blacksheep both well said. We can be very strong next season, new players, further developed players, a new fitness coach, a positive vibe about the club, a shiny thing in the cabinet, but please, no more tactical suicide against these top teams away in early kickoffs, it does no good and there is no reason whatsoever for it. Just park the bus for a while in these games! Is the odd draw always the worst result if we take care of the lesser teams!

  • Greg

    I actually don’t think I agree with the premise of the article: LVG is known for being a tactician, Wenger on the contrary is known for playing his preferred formation no matter what the circumstances, refusing to limit his players’ freedom and trusting them to find their own solutions on the pitch.

    Certainly the example given here – Wenger playing Ramsey wide to develop him – is NOT a tactical move to beat the other team, it’s a decision for the long-term benefit of the player. If anything it’s the opposite of a tactical move, it’s an attempt to play Ramsey wherever he can fit him in.

    That said, it is certainly true that if everybody is fit we have strength in depth now that we didn’t have in the past, which means that we have options, and can tweak things if they are not working. We have options up front, and in midfield. Defence is looking a bit more limited.

    blacksheep raises an interesting point – I feel pretty confident that Arsenal can continue their form against lower clubs, but the key for me is how we play against our rivals, especially how defensively resilient we can be. This is where I worry a little about Debuchy, having been fairly unimpressed with him in the league last season, but I will be happy to be proved wrong.

  • para

    I think the media and cohorts will be back on Arsenal even stronger because of the “fairy tale” reappearance of ManU, which will probably be scripted to the last day of the season.

    It will be all in vain.
    Arsenal are going to be so good, that for them to try to stop Arsenal, will be TOO obvious for ALL to see.

    I am looking forward to the first game.

  • nicky

    @Blacksheep 63 et al,
    Yes, you and others will have seen Arsenal suffer the most appalling defeats in the midst of a good season.
    As one who has enjoyed supporting the glory years of the late 1930’s as well as some very dodgy results since then, I cannot avoid reminding folk that historically, this has always been the Arsenal way. Victory clutched from certain defeat and vice versa.
    Most doctors will always advise patients with weak hearts NOT to support Arsenal too seriously.
    A bit like golf, football can be a very humiliating game, which is probably the reason why our great Club will always be in the news… just do not know what to expect next. 😉

  • jerry

    @Tony, excellent article in regards tactics by Wenger and VG. It will be interesting if Arsenal gets Sanchez, which could cause a rotating strikers/wingers with the already rotating midfield. If everyone stays healthy (knock on wood), I don’t know how teams will be able to stop Arsenal from winning next year!

    @Blacksheep, I agree with most of your comments, especially about wanting Arsenal to become more ruthless like Germany was last night. I do have a different opinion about the Liverpool and Chelsea games though and view them as just off days. Only because the Liverpool game, we played without Ramsey and Walcott, and beat Liverpool in 2/3 games we played them. Walcott has the ruthlessness Arsenal missed last year (I know surprising considering everything that was said about him a few years ago). The Chelsea game, we played 12-10 with Gibbs wrongly being sent off. After the sending off, there was no way back. If we can avoid long term injuries to our key players, I think we’ll be champions next year.

  • Hisham Hashim

    Good article Tony.
    For once (assuming rumoured arrivals are in the squad) the Arsenal will now not only have strength in depth but also varieties in play formation. This will keep most players happy with adequate playing times as Wenger rotates the squad, not only to keep players as fresh as possible but as well to adjust to playing requirements in the different tournaments.
    The League Cup will require different players from those that will play in the Champions League. It may be that in the past Wenger did not have the luxury of gifted players to play different formation for different games, but this new season will afford him all these possibilities. Hopefully the new fitness coach can address and overcome the deplorable injury situation we always faced in the past.

  • Nelson Wong

    Wenger does not do tactical to the extend of VG.

    He generally prefer to to have a the same system for a while, he adjust seeing who is avaiable.

    His tactical comes mainly from subs. Some say his subs are rigid… Wrong. The timing might be a bit predictable but his changes are effective and he change the shape/tactic on the pitch. (eg. FA cup Sanago… )

    I really think Podolski might leave. He plays well only on left front and Cazorla covers that frequently especially when Monreal is around. Cazorla will cover left front and the middle attack which means Podolski who only do well at left front and sometimes do middle striker (plenty those if Walcott, Campbell and Sanchez are all around) will be the least flexible player.

    VG has a real problem. He is occupied with World Cup. Some say Wenger is slacking off by going to Brazil but his only job there was to go on TV for matches. He has plenty of time working on players and deals.

    VG is completely occupied by the Ductch team. They are not playing well anyway. By the time he settles in Man U, he is more than a month behind.

    We don’t know what they are smoking at Liverpool and Man City. Tottenham is also quiet. Only Chelsea seem to have some activity.

    It seems Arsenal is getting way ahead in the preparation.

  • Micheal Ram

    Every season, managers learn their lessons from previous seasons. Arsene kept improving in despite of funds limitation, transfer hijacks and bias referees. Can’t wait for next season to begin

  • Black Hei

    Hmm, I think Wenger and LVG are opposites. If there is a manager that is similar to Wenger in approach, it will be guys like Brendan Rodgers and Pellegrini. LVG is similar to JM, IMO.

  • Damilare

    LVG tactical genius my foot. He was celebrated by the media for bringing in Krul against Costa Rica for the PK. Where was his tactical cap last night against Argentina? He felt his ‘Hunter’ will shoot the bull dead before 120 mins up. He was wrong. So maybe Krul against CRC was not the tactical nous ‘everybody’ thought it was. It was more like a gamble paid off imho.

    My point is don’t praise or condemn a coach over 1 match. I will say AW is good at what he does and so is LvG. New season is here and we need not get ahead of ourselves. These two (AW vs LvG)would lock horns at least twice this season. Bring it on.


  • nicky

    With the near certainty signing of Messrs Sanchez and Debuchy, the opening of Arsene’s war chest has begun.
    The prudence of a near decade is coming to an end and much of the restriction (criticised by all and sundry) has been justified.
    The coming season will also see the return of Walcott and Diaby, as well as 100% fit Wilshere and Chamberlain.
    While there may be no further signings during the present Window, it is comforting to note that funds are there if required…..a situation very different, not so long ago.
    Somehow, I feel that the success of last season, despite the most cruel sequence of injuries, has convinced Board, coaches and players that an Arsenal squad, strengthened by some fresh blood, is not far from greatness.
    The advent of the new season is therefore welcomed, quite rightly, with great anticipation.

  • Quincy

    Nicky, people need to realise that even with all our injuries, and those shock losses, everyone smashing the panic button, we were only 7 points off the league winners. 7 points over 38 games. And we won the FA Cup. If we had merely an average number of injuries last season I’m sure we would have won the League and the double. All we need are a few players to replace those that will leave (like Fabianski), and those that are ageing (e.g. Arteta). Some of those players will be brought through the ranks, rather than bought, e.g. Gnabry. So, yes, even last season we were very close to having a great team.

  • para

    Last season we had a GREAT team, and we still do. Additions and players returning from injury will only make Arsenal stronger for the coming season. I think we are going to have a proper SQUAD next season, with the ability to change players, change formations, change strategies depending on what is required, and especially when injuries occur.

    I think we are now about ready for our all out assault on football.
    Let’s hope the players all avoid serious injuries, and everyone is concentrated.

    Come on Arsenal.

  • jayramfootball

    Van Gaal became a demi god with mythical powers and understanding of the game at a level no other living person can even imagine. This all happened the day he signed for Manchester Utd. It must be true because the media says so.