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Wenger v “M”. Tactical naivety, blaming the medics,

By Tony Attwood

Even if you don’t know the exact numbers, you’ll probably recall from endless articles plus radio and TV broadcasts, that over a five year period from 2009 to 2014, Arsenal did rather poorly against other teams that ended up in the top four.

Of course losing against a fellow-top-four team means zero points just as it does if the team loses against anyone else.  And in such debates the fact that Arsenal constantly got into the Champions League, and thus gained more cash with which to pay off the bank debt, was easily forgotten.   Winning seven matches in 30 games against top four rivals was the proof that Mr Wenger was “tactically naive”.

And yet it seems staying in the top four year on year, is a bit harder than it was assumed to be during those years – as Chelsea and Manchester United have found.  Of course it doesn’t matter to either of them, as they have far more money than Arsenal could dream of – one through the sponsorship of a multi-billionaire and one through having a club with the foresight to go into the business of world wide marketing at the end of the 1950s long before anyone else in England was thinking about it.

But there is something rather amiss with the tactical naivety explanation.   Why would a manager who had won two doubles and an unbeaten season, suddenly be tactically naive?   Were those trophies just luck?  Was it that Mr Wenger had just one tactical system which happened to work for a while, but then he had no other approaches?

Some people believe that, but for me it seems unlikely.  More reasonable is the explanation that is fairly widely accepted in some quarters – that you can only get away with the tactics that fit the players at your disposal.   At the start of his reign Mr Wenger had the players he wanted.  Prices had not yet escalated due to the entry of Chelsea into the marketplace, and so players of the highest order were found (Henry, Pires, Campbell etc etc) while others (Bergkamp, Parlour) who were there already found new leases of life.

Then the period of “tactical naivety” or “a massive decline in the sums of money available just as the price of players was escalting” and Arsenal struggled – but not so much that they dropped out of the Champions League.

And that takes us up to Arsenal’s 2-0 win away against Manchester City in January 2015 by which time we were starting to see a new Wenger team made up of youngsters he had trained from the earliest days (Francis Coquelin is the perfect example) and older players he could now afford to buy (Ozil, as the prime exemplar here).

The fact that it was more than tactical naivety that made it hard to beat the other clubs from the top four is to be found in the fact that both Chelsea and Manchester United are not playing in the Champions League this season.  Now suddenly it is Mourinho (“M”) who is tactically bereft of a suitable approach – according to the media.

But again the question must be why?

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After all neither Chelsea nor Manchester United have a shortage of money, nor a shortage of talented players, nor a shortage of youth team players coming through.  So what could “M’s” problem be?

For problem there seems to be as he has won only one of the last eight matches against the top clubs.

Certainly “M” has his own particular habits and shouting at medics seems to be one of them – there are descriptions of his outbursts in virtually every club he had been to – and it is being reported that he has demanded an “inquest” in the current injury problems and what are called “the practices of his medical team”.

But at the same time his tactics (for example against Manchester Airport and against both Liverpool! and Chelsea) clearly were not right.  But that only leads to more blame being cast upon the medical team, the players own inability to follow instructions, and the officials.  Or indeed the rival manager.


Although you might find it hard to believe (unless you are a great follower of actual results rather than make-believe headlines), Arsenal haven’t done too badly against Manchester U in recent games.  Here’s the last four…

09 Mar 2015 Manchester United v Arsenal W 1-2 FA Cup
17 May 2015 Manchester United v Arsenal D 1-1 Premier League
04 Oct 2015 Arsenal v Manchester United W 3-0 Premier League
28 Feb 2016 Manchester United v Arsenal L 3-2 Premier League

Of course this run doesn’t fit with the pre-ordained agenda of the media, so instead we get the list of Mourinho v Wenger games – particularly focusing on the period when Arsenal had less money to spend because of the stadium building programme.

As a tactical approach, blaming the medical team and the players doesn’t seem to have much going for it – but “M” can only use the tactics that his team can adapt to.

However we have now been getting tactical commentaries from the all-knowing media through much of this season:

13 August: (4-4-2)

Man United tactics: Mourinho must go for 4-3-3 – as Stats Zone proves …

24 August: (Football 365)

Manchester United: Mourinho’s tactical tweaks

17 September: (Daily Mirror)

Jose Mourinho must change Manchester United tactics

19 September: (The Sun)
Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho’s tactics just aren’t working …
21 September (The Telegraph)
Is it time for Jose Mourinho to try a new tactical system at Manchester …
So it looked like it would go on and on, but then “M” exploded and there was more fun to be had watching his antics rather than trying to work out just what he wanted his team to do.
Of course three draws and a defeat to Chelsea before the Swansea game might just be a blip.  We shall soon find out if “M” does indeed have some tactics (other than blaming the medics) up his sleeve.

22 comments to Wenger v “M”. Tactical naivety, blaming the medics,

  • Gord

    I don’t know that I agree with:

    … At the start of his reign Mr Wenger had the players he wanted. Prices had not yet escalated due to the entry of Chelsea into the marketplace, and so players of the highest order were found (Henry, Pires, Campbell etc etc) while others (Bergkamp, Parlour) who were there already found new leases of life.

    He certainly had a start, but it is not appearing the results were quite there.

    Over his 20 year reign, Wenger has come pretty close to averaging 2 points per game, but in the first couple of years he is below that level by a little bit.

    I have a handful of errors in my data, but out of 700+ data points the following paragraph should be okay.

    A season is (now) 38 games. Looking at the running total of points over the last 38 games, starting with the end of that 1996/97 season, the median number of points Arsenal have had is 83 points. It is very likely that the lowest is 59, and the highest is 92.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    We shouldn’t bother ourselves on any negative outspoken or written words which the media and the football pundits are saying and have said or have written against Le Prof and Arsenal. Let them say. But Le Prof will continue unabated to do his best for Arsenal at all times in any game irrespective of wherever the game is to be played or is being played.

    What is important to us is Arsenal to win tomorrow’s PL game against Manchester United at their Old Trafford football field playing dungeon. And in this regard, I believe tomorrow’s Saturday lunch time kick-off game between Man U and Arsenal, Le Prof will show how prevailing his tactical nouns, his vast knowledge and his experience in the game can be telling as against whatever negative tactics Jose Mourinho has as an offer in the game.

    The Gunners will beat the Red Devils tomorrow at their Old trafford dungeon by putting their game into moderation to curtail their violent conducts and also put their extremism in the game into check. And will also hit them painfully with 3 undisputed goals without any reply by the Red Devils. And will come back to the Ems full of hands with of all the 3 points they’ve collected in the game as their battle spoils.

    Hail Le Prof! Hail the Gunners!

  • Andrew Crawshaw

    Off topic but a goal for Debuchy this afternoon in the U23 game against Spurs. Final score 2-0 to the young gunners. Let’s hope it’s a start to a winning weekend


  • Zuruvi

    Thanks Andrew for the update.

    And this obviously means that Debuchy won’t play tomorrow.

    I’m not confident that we have a good enough replacement for Hector Bellerine at Right-back.
    Let’s see what Wenger will do to sort this problem out.

  • Stevo

    It always gives me a little giggle when I read that Arsenal always come up a bit short when playing the top 4 teams, in the main, because we cannot play all top 4 teams as we are always one of them.
    Has anybody counted the points that have been won by Premier league clubs over the last 20 years, we must be somewhere near the top.

  • Gord

    Hmm, a handful of errors had more effect than expected, sorry. What the errors were, were not flagging some games (3? 4?) as UEFACL. Maybe one or two were FA or League Cup.

    Median is 75. Minimum is still 59, maximum is 93.

    Congratulations to the U23!

  • Andy Mack

    Zuruvi, Any one of Jenkinson, Gabriel, Coquelin, Holding and AM-N can cover RB if they’re on form.
    The amazing thing about Bellerin (No ‘e’ on the end) is his consistency, and over the next 4 weeks we may miss that…

  • Gord

    In the 20 years that Wenger has been at Arsenal, our lowest finish has been with 67 points and our highest has been with 90 points. The median has been 74, with a median absolute deviation of 4.

    Taking the 734 sets of 38 contiguous game data since the first season ended (1996/97), and sorting the point totals, we have something to compare to the above numbers. The median of those 734 points is 75, which is close to the median finish in league play.

    Out of 734 sets of 38 game point sums, 67 points starts at line 69 and ends at 93.

    90 points starts at line 695, and ends at line 714.

    A finish of 86 points starts at line 657 and a finish of 87 points starts at line 668. Which shows that the median finish of the top place team in the EPL falls at about the 90 percentile level of what Arsenal are capable of. For comparison, Arsenal’s 10 percentile finish is 67 points.

  • Manx Gooner


    Some stats that you missed out as it didn’t suit your own agenda:

    1. Arsenal haven’t won a league match at Old Trafford since September 2006.
    2. Arsenal have only won 3 league matches at Old Trafford since Wenger became manager: March 1998 (0-1), May 2002 (0-1) and September 2006 (0-1).
    3. Manchester United have beaten Arsenal 12 times at Old Trafford during Wengers’ reign, including winning 6-1 (February 2001) and 8-2 (August 2011).
    4. Arsenal haven’t beaten a team managed by Mourinho in League Cup, FA Cup, Champions League or Premier League. I’m not counting the Community Shield as it’s just a glorified friendly.

    I’m just as desperate to break our Old Trafford/ Mourinho “hoo-doo” as the next Arsenal fan. Also, I want us to humiliate them as they’ve done it to us twice in recent(ish) history.

  • lizzy

    Tony you make two points about other clubs in the premier league.They are-
    After all neither Chelsea nor Manchester United have a shortage of money and
    Of course it doesn’t matter to either of them, as they have far more money than Arsenal could dream of .
    These two points as you usually state are factually correct but what you fail to mention in your blog and what need bringing up are that
    Arsenal have no shortage of money with over 100 million in reserves and
    Arsenals 2 biggest shareholders and owners have more money than Man u and Chelsea could ever dream of.One doesn’t want to spend any money,in fact takes money out of our club and the other isnt allowed to.

  • Zuruvi

    Thanks Andy.

    I’m still not confident that any of those players mentioned are an “adequate” replacement at right back.

    The Coq has no speed.
    Holding is an unknown quantity at right back (as is AM-N).
    Jenkinson was very suspect in his last outing. He’s probably still playing at West-Ham-level.
    Gabriel hasn’t quite proven himself to be a good defender … Not yet.

    Bellerin is a big loss.

  • MickHazel

    And your point is?

  • Gord

    Just looking at EPL games, the number of days from one game to the next within a season is usually 7 days. With just for Arsenal in the Wenger era, we have:

    2 22
    3 93
    4 48
    5 33
    6 69
    7 192
    8 113
    9 27
    10 18
    11 23
    12 14
    13 41
    14 46
    15 8
    16 1
    18 1
    20 1

    There are various “breaks” in the schedule, which is most of the remaining numbers come from.

    But, all teams in the EPL can expect some FA Cup and League Cup games. Adding them in, we get:

    1 1
    2 37
    3 196
    4 117
    5 56
    6 78
    7 203
    8 128
    9 21
    10 4
    11 10
    12 6
    13 26
    14 32
    15 2
    18 1

    And, finally every team is looking for Champion’s League. Adding that in we get:

    1 1
    2 37
    3 349
    4 301
    5 97
    6 74
    7 110
    8 54
    9 13
    10 7
    11 8
    12 6
    13 25
    14 31
    15 1
    18 1

    There isn’t a lot of rest in that schedule.

  • omgarsenal

    Lizzy………..¨Arsenal have no shortage of money with over 100 million in reserves¨- But that money is reserved for debt repayment and operational costs NOt player purchases, like every well-run club. You didn’t do your homework but let the media do it for you…a big mistake!

    Kroenke takes an annual payment which is so small that it is insignificant. Other than that he never profits from hus investment other than an eventual sale of his shares, which he steadfastly refuses to do. He allows Wenger to purchase top class talent (Ozil,Sanchez, Mustafi, Xhaka, etc.) and keeps his hands off the management of the club… again you are wrong.

    Usmanov simply wants to buy enough shares to get a seat on the Board but he has repeatedly claimed that he will not interfere in the running of the club nor its financial operations….so again you are wrong!

  • Gord

    People have talked about foreign investors. American is one group, Russian another, Gulf oil states a third.

    Canadian anyone? Do you know basketball? How about a Canadian named Steve Nash? Well, he now has a part to play in Real Mallorca.

  • Gord

    Julio Pleguezuelo is on loan at Real Mallorca. Steve Nash is listed as being on the board of governors. Steve is a real good athlete, did play basketball, could have played football (soccer). His brother did play football (soccer). I think Julio might learn something useful/nice, if Steve has any kind of hands on with the team.

  • para

    People, we can twist it how ever we like, but we all want to be beating Manu, Chel$, ManC and now Pool and that other team in London that is starting to get uppity everytime.

    I realised that it is not because AW does not do tactics, he likes instead to rely on his players to make decisions on field, after all they are playing, but the team has not been that good over the years, good, but still requiring help from the boss.

    Personally i do think that AW now has a team that can direct itself on field, and re-adjust to curtail the opposition.

    Still, today may well be some sort of surprise game, bearing in mind that the PL is “manipulated” for maximum effect!!!

  • Yommex

    Amazing how the mantra of no result against Mourinho in 13 previous encounters sell among the half-witted journos. They counted the 1-2 loss to Chelsea in the 2005 Community Shield but chose to ignore the 1-0 win Wenger recorded against the same side in the Community Shield in 2016.

    The explanation is simple, use different parameters to judge the managers and clubs. When others win a trophy, it iis important but when Wenger/Arsenal win same, it really does not count.

  • Yommex

    PS: 2015 Community Shield

  • Ando

    Gord – I’m really thick.
    Can you explain what on earth your figures mean?
    E.g. 2 22
    3 37

    What does each column mean?

  • Gord

    The first column, is the number of days from game to game. If a team had a game on a Saturday (pretend it is the 7th), and then their next game was on the next Saturday (pretend it is the 14th), the difference in days between them is 7 (14-7). The second column, is how many times I observed that particular day difference in the Arsenal data.

    So, 2 22 would mean that I observed a difference of 2 days between one game and the next 22 times.

    If all you look at is the EPL games (which has most games on Saturday, some on Sunday, and fewer on Monday), we expect the most common inter-game gap to be 7 days (Saturday to Saturday), with 5, 6, 8 and 9 all getting some occurences as well.

    The League Cup and FA Cup games, try to fit into breaks in the schedule (which leads to EPL gaps of 14 or so), but there are times where those games end up at midweek.

    UEFA games always end up being midweek, which really start to push up the numbers for 3 and 4 day gaps between games.

    Does that help?

    If you have a spreadsheet program, you could put the data in there, and plot a histogram if that works better for you.

    I’m still trying to get a handle on this “November” effect.

  • Ando

    Thanks Gord,
    That makes sense. I don’t have the technology to put your data in a spreadsheet but I now get your drift.
    That’s a lot of work you’ve done thee.