By Tony Attwood
The differences between Mr Wenger and Mr Arteta seem so obvious: Mr Wenger was a player of modest proportions who had had significant experience and success as a manager before coming to Arsenal.
For Mr Arteta there was success as a player in Scotland and England. But people forget, Arsene Wenger knew of Arteta’s potential as a manager, offering him the chance to run the Arsenal Academy on his retirement but instead he opted to be assistant coach at Manchester City.
So these are men with different experiences as players, and as managers. And yet one thing links them: they are both utterly revolutionary in their approach. Mr Wenger saw that what was missing at Arsenal was the link between the ageing but still exceptionally good defence and enormous potential in attack with Dennis Bergkamp. So he brought in Vieira for £3.5m to nick the ball and get it forward quickly.
In the four seasons before he arrived Arsenal had averaged 48.5 goals a season. In the first four seasons Mr Wenger was at Arsenal that shot up to 65.5 per season – an utterly amazing turnaround. Amazing that it was effected in the very first season he was at the club, and effective in that he maintained it.
As a result in the first four Wenger seasons Arsenal knocked in 68 more goals than they had in the previous four under Graham and Rioch. And all by getting the ball forward from the ever solid back four to the attack (which had a different top scorer for each of those seasons: Wright, Bergkamp, Anelka, Henry).
Of course Mr Wenger had problems: there was significant xenophobia in English football when he arrived and he had the most appalling problems with PGMO which reached a summit on 10 October 2000 when it was alleged that he had indulged in violent or threatening behaviour against the fourth official. Mr Wenger was banned for 12 matches.for “improper conduct”.
It was of course all rubbish, and on appeal was resolved, although by then the journalists had got their teeth into Mr Wenger and were running the most appalling and scurrilous campaign ever seen against a football manager. He sailed through it, famously taunting them on the steps of Highbury, and the Wengerian revolution ran on.
Mr Arteta’s is a little different, But two things link the two men. Like Mr Wenger, Arteta has radically changed the way the team plays, in this case recognising the impact of referees on Arsenal’s performance, and thus dramatically cutting down on tackles and in that way cutting our massive yellow card haul in half.
But what links the two men most of all, is the combination of outrageous and sustained attacks on each manager by the press, TV and bloggers.
It is hard to remember now, but Mr Wenger was constantly attacked for bringing in “all these foreigners”, as well as “not understanding the English game”. Mr Arteta’s incredible turn around of the Arsenal side both by cutting away with PGMO’s prime weapon against Arsenal (giving a foul for almost every tackle, and then a yellow after every couple of tackles) and by devising a style of play that totally flummoxed most opposition – and the referees.
In short Arteta has played the referees game by cutting out the tackles. Thus Arsenal are transformed into the club that committed fewer fouls than any other club in the league. With this and other tactical changes Arsenal put in a performance for the last two thirds of the season which if it can be maintained all the way through the next season, will easily take us into the top four.
Thus just as the media endless attacked Mr Wenger from the start to the last, barely pausing even during the unbeaten season save supposedly to quote fans as saying that was the worst Arsenal team they’d ever seen (The Times), so they are now onto Mr Arteta, ignoring the tactical transformation and demanding the whole team that did so well in the last two thirds of the season, be replaced. Even if it means buying a goalkeeper who is currently suspended for a year because of drugs offences.
But there is still a danger of course, in that if we don’t support the club, and if we allow the media to get away with this gibberish, Mr Arteta could just say he wants a more peaceful life. But let’s hope not.
I will fully admit, I didn’t grasp what Arteta was doing at first, but then, nor did anyone else. Certainly OI didn’t see anyone analyse those amazing tackle and yellow card figures. But now it is there for all to see, there is no excuse for the ceaseless demands for him to turn away from all the brilliant work he’s been doing.
But the attacks on Mr Arteta continue day by day by day, just as they did with Mr Wenger. With Wenger it was utterly untrue attacks on his private life. With Arteta it is the refusal to consider the tactical brilliance of his changes, and the stunning improvement in the last two thirds of the season.
It is, I fear, something that will always be there.
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