Pre-Match Presser: The Tao of Wenger


Big match today, and before I get to the pre-match press conference I just want to say with 100% confidence that my American readers will be able to see the game live and possibly in high definition on your local Fox Sports Net (FSN) affiliate. Fox has pulled out all the stops and are wildly promoting their Champions League coverage with water bottles, mouse pads, USB drives, and tee shirts that look like they were drawn in my daughter’s art class. If that doesn’t work, I hear they’re going to follow up with a whist drive, a car boot sale, and a major, and I mean major… leaflet campaign.

Right, now that that’s sorted and you can even go to one location on Fox’s web site to find out who is carrying which game, it’s time to get on with the match preview.

It’s funny how we get different versions of Wenger depending on the mood of the team and the size of the challenge ahead. In yesterday’s press conference we had a clearly ebullient Arsene Wenger, flying high off his team’s 6-1 destruction of Champions League challengers Everton. This is the fun Wenger to cover, he’s philosophical, funny, and even lets his guard down a bit and we gain some insights into the man.

Now, I may be reading too much into this, but there was a point when he was asked about his system of bringing youth players along where he said a phrase that seemed almost well worn. As if he’d turned this phrase over in his hands many times in the past. He said that there are three things which guarantee success: Talent, Attitude, and Opportunity.

Maybe it’s just coincidence that those three words spell out “Tao” but it’s a bit of a strange coincidence if it is. After all, my own readers have pointed out that there’s some kind of connection between the way that Wenger coaches and the Zen Master Phil Jackson coached the Bulls and the Lakers. Yes, I am aware that Zen and Tao are not the same thing, but you get the point.

There’s still a lot of folks wondering about Wenger’s seemingly endless resolve to create this Arsenal team in his own image. Especially in the face of what has been pretty much ubiquitous criticism of that very system for the last 4 years. Rest assured, Wenger heard it, and promptly ignored it:

My belief (in the team) is full. If I had read, or listened too much to opinions I would not have done what I’ve done.

In so many ways this is possibly the truest measure of the man. I have often called him an iconoclast and occasionally even likened him to the founders of the Punk movement for his stalwart position on how football should be played and how a team should be built; football should be total, attacking, beautiful, even graceful movements. To accomplish this players should be technical, precise, quick, intelligent, confident with the ball, and strong and decisive in the challenge. And in Wenger’s world view, the best way to get players who can achieve that is to make them from scratch which will limit the potentially corrosive effect of negative attitude. Then, you throw them in and give them the chance to show what they are made of, whether that’s a 16 year old given a start in a League Cup match, or sticking to your guns for a whole season in order to grow Song and Denilson, he’s going to present players with chances to prove themselves.

Talent, Attitude, Opportunity.

You have to admit it looks suspiciously like the title of the book he’s going to write when he does retire from the Arsenal.

As for tomorrow’s match, he urged us to remember that though the result was great on Saturday, and though his belief in the team is great, it was but one game. He even claimed to see room for improvement both offensively and defensively. When pressed about Tony Mowbray’s supposed cunning plan and keen insight into Arsenal’s new-found pressing game, Wenger deflected from this single game and talked about the need for defense in general, saying

A team cannot concede 37 goals and win the Premiership, no matter how good they are going forward.

True in the Premier League and actually even more true in the Champions League where one goal in the wrong park can make the difference between moving on or going home.

Despite the talk about defense, I fully expect goals today, Celtic are an attacking team owing to the fact that Tony Mowbray is nearly as much of a footballing philosopher as Arsene Wenger and this should present us with some very real chances to score. Conversely, much has been made of the home field advantage and Arsenal have been susceptible to strong wing play which Celtic have in bounds. Look for the crowd to get to their feet every time a Celtic player bombs down the wings and puts in a nice cross.

Wenger feels, though, that it’s down to Arsenal to control the crowd, and to an extent that’s true.

The atmosphere will be very heated but at the end of the day it’s XI v. XI on the pitch and that’s what matters. We have been all over Europe at very heated places and we know by experience that what will matter is how well we play and so, if we play well we can keep the atmosphere low key. It’s only down to our performance.

As I’ve said before, Arsenal went to Fener and played our game and came away with a 5-2 win and polite applause from what is typically an insanely raucous crowd.  I’m not suggesting a similar score line, rather just that an Arsenal goal would go a long way to take some of the wind out of the Celtic crowd.

An average game will not be good enough against Celtic. It is a game we try to win, it’s as simple as that. Because it’s not a game where you can go into it and give 90% and then make up the difference at home.

I couldn’t agree more. It’s an exciting opportunity for Arsene’s current crop of talent and I’m guessing that Wenger has them pulsing with the right attitude.

Talent, Attitude, Opportunity, the Tao of Wenger will be tested today


  1. “Everton – only 1 match”
    Regardless of the starting XI – we should be looking to see if we can sustain the same positive play (attack & defend) against Celtics.

    Last season our “attacking consistency” was unpredictable.

    Can we diffuse the Celtic pressure and keep them on their heels?

    Go Gunners: 3 points & no injuries!

  2. A great post once again Tim. too bad The Celtic VS Arsenal game won’t be covered by ESPN in this part of the world. I will follow it through the web though. Exciting fixture indeed.

    I am predicting a 2-1 scoreline in favor of Arsenal.

  3. Tim, I can’t seem to find the portsmouth game on any tv listing in US (I am in St Louis, recently moved here from India). I had earlier seen it on the FSC listing but now all they are showing are some silly Italian games that dont even involve the big teams. Do you have any insight on this?

      1. @Kevin, 🙁 I dont get setanta on Charter and the apartment does not allow anything other than charter. messed up alright!

        BTW will ATVO be showing 90 mins version of all games? I didnt catch any announcement to that effect. It would be fantastic if they do

          1. @Tim, Thanks Tim, found a pub quite close to my place.

            I have another question, it may sound a bit strange but its a cultural thing. I am a teetotaler, have grown up that way, so will the pubs accept people who just come to watch the game? or does that depend on each pub’s policy?

          2. @desigunner, I often don’t drink at pubs that show matches, instead I’ll order coffee and food.

            It’s good manners to buy something, but if you’re broke then a soda and a $5 tip will usually suffice.

          3. @Tim, oops, looks like I replied to myself. Have a very positive feeling for today. Celtic were earlier a defensive team when they were able to take on Manure but hopefully Mowbray will make them attack and we will take them apart.

  4. Good blog, and good to see our cousins across the ponds keeping it Goonerish and intelligently done.

    I agree about the titale of Arsenes book when he leaves us. Or it could possibly be … The Youth Experiment …

    I’m guessing 2-0 to the Arsenal. But would be happy with a scoreless draw.

    1. FSN, Fox Sports Net, which are regional affiliates of the Fox Sports Franchise. Basically, every region has one and you likely think of it as your local baseball team’s channel.

      go here

      and buried down on the left hand side is the TV listings for your area.

      1. @Tim,
        Thanks!!! I found it…it is on like 10 channels in my area…shouldn’t be a problem finding it.

        If any Rochester, NY Gooners want to watch the game, come on down to The Magpie on Park Ave!

  5. So if the trio of injuries are legit, i see the lineup shaping up like:

    Eboue TV5 Gallas Clichy
    Ramsey Song Diaby
    56 RVP Arshavin


  6. I do love your blog, nicely written intelligent stuff –

    blows away the stereotype that North Americans know nothing of football.

    Keep up the good work 🙂

  7. Heh Tim,

    What an excellent blog!

    May I suggest you add Goonerholic to your list of “Fellow Arsenal bloggers” as I think you and he have a similar outlook on Arsenal and life in general?

  8. TAO: Gives a whole new meaning to my custom made electric guitar(Taormina, tao):-). Why nobody seems to remember the penalty shooting vs Roma? That was a great pressure enviroment that we walked out of with a big smile! UP THE ARSE!

  9. Tim, I love it….just like Tao of Pooh, perhaps there is a Tao of Wenger waiting to be written??
    The waiting patiently for the right transfer, the non-seeing of fouls, the poverty-while-rich —
    all very Taoist…

    Tao te Ching, Chapter 3
    rewritten for Wenger:

    If you overesteem TH14,
    your squad becomes powerless.
    If you overvalue Cesc,
    Spanish teams begin to steal.

    The Wenger leads
    by emptying players’ minds
    and filling their cores,
    by bringing them on in the 70th minute
    and then playing them out of position.
    He helps players lose everything
    they know, except their
    “cohesion, attitude, team spirit and desire”
    and creates confusion
    in those who think that they know
    (as well as Gallas).

    Practice not-doing, (no, not like Ade),
    and everything will fall into place.

  10. Perhaps Le Boss should start with a small book of quotations, to be carried, (and quoted) by all gooners, like Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book but more profound, more Confucian.
    (I don’t mean, ‘Woman who fly upside down, must have crack up’ either!)

    As for Celtic, as good as Everton on a good day? Not much better!

    The crowwd maybe true Scots, but the team isn’t. Not quite the Bravehearts of old, when sheer passion made up for deficiencies in talent and technique. A passion that these days can easily end in a red card.

    Talking of ‘the Hoops’ has anyone heard anything about John Hartson?


  11. Herbert Chapman, the first great Arsenal manager came into the side in 1925. He had a 5yr plan to restructure and revitalize Arsenal. In 5 years Arsenal won the FA cup which propel to be a dominant team in the 30’s. Time is now for Arsenal history to repeat itself.

      1., mark down the same for Arshavin, Van Persie, Eboue and all the other ridiculous rumors that will appear over the next two weeks. On a side note, interesting to see Vela off the roster again.

  12. Celtic are giving a good account of themselves. This certainly a better side than Mowbray’s WBA.

    I think Arsenal still need another gear to see Celtic off.
    We haven’t created enough chances IMO and that is a little worrisome.

Related articles