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June 2021

The problem with Wenger’s selection policy is that there are invisible forces at work

By Tony Attwood


So screamed one bloggetta headline, with the writer, in my humble opinion, utterly missing the whole point of what was going on.

Mind you, so did several people who complained that Jack Wilshere got tired and wasn’t up to much in the latter stages.

What we had in fact was the classic argument between those who believe that you can just look at the world and as a result understand everything that is happening, and those who think that there is often more that is hidden than there is that is revealed.

As you may have noticed over the years I am in the latter camp, and indeed you may have noted my occasional sarky comments to people who do believe that the evidence of one’s own eyes is enough to tell you what is going on.

My normal citations in such a moment generally relate to the sun going round the earth (which is what your eyes tell you), the earth being flat, and gravity not existing (can’t touch it, can’t see it, can’t smell it, can’t taste it).  As for high and low tide, well, actually I don’t quite know how they explain that at all.

And so I am also reminded of a couple of Americans who I met on the island of Guernsey one time, who I found looking with bemusement at one of the little west coast harbours wherein a lot of small boats were resting on the mud, the water currently being 50 yards in the distance.

“Built the harbour in the wrong place,” said the man.  “You Brits kill me.”

It turned out he was from the mid west, and had spent little if any time in and around ports, and he found my explanation that the tide would in due course come in, and the boats would be afloat, to be the story of a passing loonie.  Much as many bloggetta writers consider my scribblings in Untold.

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So what does this have to do with football?  Well, the fact that Jack Wilshere tired in the second half was part of his training.  You build up your strength by playing in real live matches.  And the fact that Maitland-Niles and Reiss Nelson were both played out of position was part of their training too.

It’s really quite simple: players learn a lot more about football by playing out of position, and doing it in real live matches than they do by always playing in their accustomed roles.  You can find this sort of thing in all walks of life: businesses that understand that the business has a force of its own, sometimes get people to change jobs for a day.  Not that many, true, because most are stuck in the notion that everything can be broken down into units, rather than seeing that the whole is more than the sum of the parts.  But some do it, and everyone learns a lot.

As a result of this playing out of position, more space was created between the defence and midfield, and Per Mert got practice in doing what he is going to do next season – help the academy.  He visibly did move the kiddies around and showed them where to go.  He learned, they learned.

“But,” scream those who know it all, “you should do all this in practice not in a game.”  However it never really works like that.

In my days as a musician, I was occasionally fortunate enough to play in bands where several of the musicians were multi-instrumentalists, although everyone had their own main instrument of course.  Occasionally times the leader would get one or two of us to change instruments.  Those nights (or Wednesday matinees) we didn’t give the best performance ever, but it was ok.  But we sure as hell learned a huge amount about the ensemble as an ensemble.  Such an approach, I must admit, is not that common, but I’ve experienced it both in rock bands and in theatre bands.  It can work.

It also made the game entertaining, although clearly not for those who wanted to see another 6-0 win.  But above all it brought our young players on in leaps and bounds.

Of course Reiss Nelson isn’t going to be a wing back; he plays attacking midfield normally and pops up scoring goals.  Six in five games I am told by those who get to the under 23 games.  He doesn’t defend naturally, but there are times in matches when everyone has to defend.  When you are seeing out a game, when you are down to ten men, when you are playing one of the PGMO special agents…

This is a young man who has so much natural talent it can make the average player sick with envy, but to be a total brilliant player, a man who will come to be part of the group that define football across a decade or more, he needs to understand exactly what is going on across the pitch.

If he turns into a man who complains about how a defender has passed the ball to him, he will be less of a player.  With games like this he learns that it is not as simple as it looks.

Of course he is not the first person to be given this wider experience, and one never knows, he might ultimately change position.  Bellerin remember started as an attacking winger, and has said it was Steve Bould who showed him that he could become an international full back.  Lauren was a midfielder.  Kolo Toure was a winger.

Ainsley Maitland Niles is in a similar sort of situation.  He sees himself as a central midfielder.  But then so does everyone (apart from those who see themselves as centre forwards or number 10s.  He too was learning his craft, and learning the fact that the only way he is going to get into a team as a central midfielder at the moment is by going and playing in the third division..

So quite simply, he needs to learn other positions, and needs to bring his enormous natural talent into those other positions.  Then he will evolve as a player and get more and more games.

Same again for Josh Dasilva, who was the youngster who needed Mertesacker to help him find his way.  But over time, he too found out how things work and he will have benefited from the experience.

I have no idea if the Americans who I met in Guernsey left the island secure in the knowledge that us Brits are total idiots who build harbours in the wrong place, or whether they learned that a) it is impolite to the point of abusiveness to call Guernsey folk “Brits” and b) the tide on the Atlantic coast does indeed come in and go out.

But I suspect these three youngsters learned a lot, even if the bloggetta writers remained secure in their world view that you can understand everything by just looking at it.

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10 comments to The problem with Wenger’s selection policy is that there are invisible forces at work

  • Chris

    Guess the blogettas do not understand the ‘chicken or the egg’ issue….

  • GoingGoingGooner

    Good article, Tony. I can see that it is type written therefore you wrote it on a typewriter.

  • Flares

    Journalists don’t understand the concept of what you’re talking about. Their ignorance of it is absolutely breathtaking; to the rest us, it’s simply common sense. People placed out of their comfort zone learn more and in greater detail about the bigger picture of what they’re involved in. Wenger knows this. I know this. Journalists know very little about anything. Like restaurant critics. Is there a career more preposterous and utterly pointless than writing about your lunch for a newspaper? It’s the same with any subject matter, although I did enjoy reading Brian Sewell in his glorious, withering pomp. AA Gill was probably the only foodie writer worth his salt, so to speak: a lush and an occasional drug fiend who lived a life most of us could only dream of. Experience counts and the writing style has to be exemplary; fluid and with effortless flair and humour, otherwise it’s just another hack giving his paid opinion. And therein lies the problem: sports journalists are never out of their comfort zone. Most of them are so straight you could use them to cut cake. I think a lot of them are bored. They circulate and manoeuvre into position, slapping backs and kowtowing to the right people until they reach the golden goose, then discover it’s nothing more than a dead duck. Newsprint journalism is not art, it’s pseudo-intellectual bullying. Followers pretending that they’re leaders. And when they get too bored? We get stuff like this…

    The Daily Fail there, producing something so vacuous and devoid of merit it scarcely deserves our attention. Staggeringly, in order to denounce Arsenal’s most recent FA Cup victory they stated that “aside from the tricky semi-final in last year’s semi-final against Manchester City, the run to the final was relatively plain sailing.” Was there a semi within a semi? Did I miss something? Grammatical errors aside, the piece suggests that beating arguably the two best sides in the country to win the trophy is a mere trifle when considering how easy it was to get there in the first place. Of course. How foolish of us. Arsenal must draw top six opposition in every round of the Cup this season before going on to win it. Only then can it be deemed a worthy victory.

  • SamuelAkinsolaAdebosin

    I think Le Prof’s trademark as a top coach is his instinctive awareness of seeing a player of his playing better in a different position if he moves him there other than the player’s accustomed or choice playing position.

    But more often, the player who is being moved makes complain of not used to the new position he’s moved to play from. And in some instances become heady instead of learning the new trade to excel at the position he is been moved to play.

    I this light, I believe both Reiss Nelson, Ains Maitland-Niles and Josh Dasilva who are still young and wet fresh like a live fish and can still be bent unlike when the stiff like a dry fish that can’t be bent anymore should embrace any opportunity given to them to appear in Arsenal shirt on the field of play to play for Arsenal. Rather to start making complains, the duo should seize every chance accorded them by Le Prof to play for Arsenal and learn their trade optimally at their unpreferred positions to play when they are stationed there to play for Arsenal.

    While it looked like Le Prof has allowed Jack Wilshere to continue playing despite his apparent showing of tiredness in the 2nd half of our Doncaster CC match at the Ems yesterday night, so as to make him become used to playing for 90 minutes again without getting tired, Le Prof might just be saying to Wilshere that, okay, you have been accusing me of not giving you game to play since you’ve come back from injury, here is one Cup game against the League 1 opposition team, show us what you can do in this match Jack.

  • Goonereris

    A well written piece, Tony. Before coming here, I did see the article in the blog in question and quite unlike my usual disposition, was “enraged” enough to leave comments in the section provided. Not in as many words as yours, but pretty much, saying similar things.

    I don’t think either of Maitland-Niles or Nelson cared much about what position they were to play from, as about the fact they could even start in such a game with the first team. The experience they would have gained from their errors (yes, it may have put the team at some risks of conceding) last night would be invaluable as they grow to become stars of tomorrow. The senior players around them will also benefit from playing the roles of guidance counsellors and will know they have to show good examples on the pitch.

    All round, it was win-win for everyone involved: Wenger, the players, management, fans and the media. Before the game, we did hear most fans wished to see the young lads. It was important for the boys to stay grounded and if the fact they were not flying that game, (with the rave reviews they would have been getting this morning) doesn’t keep them so grounded, nothing will.

  • Goonereris

    There’s another nothing story in the Metro about “bad blood” between Giroud and Alexis as evidenced from a couple of moments of frustration shown by both players, when flicks failed to connect. Absurd journalism, in my opinion.

  • Nitram

    So Arsenal win and the media and Bloggettas are still moaning. Well I never.

    About the crowd size.

    About the formation.

    If we’d won 10 nil it would of been flat track bullies. And on and on it goes.

    Anyway, more importantly:

    “In my days as a musician, I was occasionally fortunate enough to play in bands where several of the musicians were multi-instrumentalists, although everyone had their own main instrument of course. Occasionally times the leader would get one or two of us to change instruments. Those nights (or Wednesday matinees) we didn’t give the best performance ever, but it was ok. But we sure as hell learned a huge amount about the ensemble as an ensemble. Such an approach, I must admit, is not that common, but I’ve experienced it both in rock bands and in theatre bands. It can work.”


    I’ve been a Bowie fan all my life and can tell you he did exactly what you are talking about on one of his Albums back in the 70’s. It was ‘Lodger’, the last of what was rather misleadingly known as the ‘Berlin’ trilogy.

    And as you intimate the results were very interesting, but mixed it seems. It certainly created some unique sounds, but not all were good enough to keep apparently.

    But the point is, it had the ‘players’ playing out of there comfort zone, learning and creating things they would never normally have learnt or created. The results are, in my opinion, amazing.

    In my own working career I have found that I have always learnt the most when under duress. When things go wrong. When I’m out of my comfort zone. I thought it was how everyone learned the most.

    Seems that’s another thing I’ve got wrong. Oh well.

  • Pat

    Great story about the harbour in Guernsey, Tony!

  • Pat

    This was a great opportunity for Jack Wilshere to get a full 90 minutes, and for several very talented youngsters to get first team playing experience. Reiss Nelson and Ainsley Maitland-Niles are almost part of the furniture, but Josh Dasilva, who played the whole of the second half, is a completely new name to me. The new generation of the ‘British core’.

    Per was a tower of strength. It is great to see him again in such good form. Arsene Wenger pointed out that Alexis Sanchez too needed more game time to get him back to top form. Good thing we won though!