Returning now to Arsenal against Liverpool, and looking at the last ten games between the two we find just three wins for Arsenal, and no wins in the last five. Worse in the last four we have conceded 14 goals. Our last win was in April 2015.
|02 Nov 2013||Arsenal v Liverpool||W||2-0||Premier League|
|08 Feb 2014||Liverpool v Arsenal||L||5-1||Premier League|
|16 Feb 2014||Arsenal v Liverpool||W||2-1||FA Cup|
|21 Dec 2014||Liverpool v Arsenal||D||2-2||Premier League|
|04 Apr 2015||Arsenal v Liverpool||W||4-1||Premier League|
|24 Aug 2015||Arsenal v Liverpool||D||0-0||Premier League|
|13 Jan 2016||Liverpool v Arsenal||D||3-3||Premier League|
|14 Aug 2016||Arsenal v Liverpool||L||3-4||Premier League|
|04 Mar 2017||Liverpool v Arsenal||L||3-1||Premier League|
|27 Aug 2017||Liverpool v Arsenal||L||4-0||Premier League|
During this period Liverpool have won no trophies, Arsenal have won the FA Cup three times.
What is also interesting though is that in the four completed seasons from 2013/14 on, Liverpool have ended up 2nd, 6th, 8th and 4th, while we have finished 4th, 3rd, 2nd and 5th. Liverpool’s average position over the four years is fifth, Arsenal on average have finished 3.5th. It seems the results between the two clubs don’t have much to do with overall finish position.
But I suspect that these defeats to Liverpool are part of the reason why we are seeing so much experimentation with the defensive formations at the moment, with the club switching from a five man defence including two wing backs to a four man defence where the full backs stay back.
One commentator suggested that what Mr Wenger was up to was attempting to counter the counter attack, and that could certainly be the case. Arsenal have historically been at their most brilliant and entertaining with a counter attacking game.
But a counter attacking team has to have an immaculate defence and a methodology that can beat the opposition even when they have worked out what it is. Under Chapman the idea was to have a three man defence, who on getting the ball would move it quickly to a defensive midfielder, who had the ability to move the ball quickly and perfectly accurately forward to the attacking midfielder or winger. It was, in short, the speed and accuracy of what happened to the ball after breaking up an attack that was the key.
Chapman played the same system home and away, which is why in his triumphant seasons at Arsenal the team, unlike any others in the first division, had similar home and away records.
Sadly, most people who talk or write about Chapman today reduce these tactics to talk about WM, but the WM formation was just the basic grid; it was a case of playing the ball forward quickly and accurately that made things work out, along with a determination to play with the same formation both at home and away.
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I might be wrong, but I think Mr Wenger is also contemplating another tactical change, moving us towards a new approach which incorporates the ability to move between one formation and another depending on how the opposition is lining up (Chapman didn’t have to worry about that too much since virtually every team lined up in the same way for every game at home, and an alternative format for every game away, in his day).
Some writers feel however that this doesn’t work because the poor little players are not up to the intellectual effort of having to hold two systems in their heads, but I think that demeans the players. It is hard to change systems, especially to change systems during a game, but it is not impossible, and the ability to get it right really does confuse the opposition.
I think this approach to changing the formations, is enhanced by the ability to bring through young players from the academy. Jack Wilshere, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Alex Iwobi, Hector Bellerin, Joe Willock, Reiss Nelson… the great difference with these players is that if they don’t work out (as many young players don’t) there is far less disruption to the team than when a player is brought in for a huge sum, and there is almost an obligation to play him no matter what his form.
As Mr Wenger said, “You look at the other teams at the top and you tell me who has played with four players who have been educated in the academy. We do that every time we can. It remains the basis of our philosophy. I agree it hasn’t always come off as well as would have liked. But if you look at the last 20 years, we are still one of the teams that have put out more young homegrown players than anybody else.”