Maitland-Niles baptism of fire

Arsene Wenger, beset on all sides like an oyster at an otter convention, has raised his defenses – literally and figuratively. In the Caribou Cup first leg at Stamford Bridge Arsene told the fullbacks “play fullback tonight” and sure enough they did, venturing forward on only the rarest of occasions.

Bellerin was the more conservative of the two. He made just one cross on 11 passes in the Chelsea final third. Maitland-Niles on the other side was much more adventurous, two crosses, four dribbles, and 22 passes in the Chelsea final third.

Perhaps owing to the fact that he got forward or the fact that his forward was playing more center forward than left wing, Chelsea spent much of the night getting deep into Maitland-Niles’ side of the pitch. Of their 32 tackles, 17 of them were in the left back 1/3, and of their 28 crosses 18 were whipped in from that side.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles was hung out to dry on the left but it was a good thing that he did well enough to help keep the clean sheet. Playing with Welbeck supposedly in front of him but in reality carrying the entire left side of the pitch on his own, Maitland-Niles was Arsenal’s best player by miles. And I don’t care what Whoscored’s metric says.

After the match Wenger tipped the 20 year old to eventually play defensive midfielder for Arsenal. A role which is a crowded graveyard of derision at Arsenal. And we shouldn’t forget that this is a line Wenger often trots out about young players – before AMN, Chambers was going to be that guy.

Arsene Wenger’s track record developing defensive midfielders since about 2006 is highly suspect. Wenger has tried nearly every player imaginable in that role up to and including Eboue in a cameo that nearly destroyed his Arsenal career. His last full-time DM was Coquelin – another player he forced to play the fullback role on occasion. Coquelin is now the object of ridicule at Arsenal, a player who is somewhere between clown and footballer in the minds of many Arsenal supporters. A short trip through twatter reveals alternating videos of glowing praise and derision.

Guardiola described his time as a defensive midfielder and how it taught him to think about the game. DM isn’t just a destroyer, the best ones are master manipulators, pulling the opposition into blind alleys with a direct pass, receiving the return pass, and then moving the ball to the real target on the other side after the opponent’s team has lost its shape. Young players need to learn to pass and to read the opposition, they need to learn how to open up a team with a simple move, and yes, also how to tackle, how to control in tight spaces, and when to be smart in taking the yellow card for your team. Arteta could do it, Gilberto before him, but those two came ready made to Arsenal.

Watching Chelsea pour over Ainsley Maitland-Niles’ side of the pitch targeting him as the weak link, like every team is doing right now, makes me fear for his career. I’m happy that Arsenal kept a clean sheet last night and that there were no incidents on his side of the pitch – none of those brain-dead kickouts which result in a penalty.

But if Maitland-Niles is serious about playing defensive midfielder he may consider asking for a transfer (or just holding on for Wenger’s replacement this summer), playing left back in a broken system where teams like Chelsea target you for 90 minutes while the forwards in front of you run around like headless chickens isn’t good training. Good training is actually playing for a manager with a track record of developing defensive mids.

But Wenger made the right call on the night. Arsenal kept the clean sheet and Maitland-Niles had a great game. So, perhaps Arsene Nose.

In two week’s time Arsenal get to host Chelsea and perhaps win a date with Man City at Wembley for a League Cup showdown.

Qq

79 comments

  1. In Guardiola’s system AMN would be a de facto DM in attack, since he has the fullbacks pinch in when in possession rather than run down the flanks.

    I keep reading that Coquelin was “limited” and hence good riddance. What’s necessarily wrong with being “limited”? A team is a jig saw puzzle, when put together properly it can creates a wonderful picture. I always thought Coquelin was a very good piece who just lost his matching piece in Cazorla. I wish him good luck, he always did his best for us and I never got the sense he felt entitled to be on the team.

    1. Yes, the fullbacks have to tuck in. However, even Guardiola wouldn’t play Maitland-Niles in the left position of that system.

  2. AMN is the reason that Coquelin is being sold. He’s also the reason why the mini bout of hand-wringing over Coq’s departure is unwarranted. A lot of folks who never missed Coq when he wasn’t playing were suddenly sorry to see him go. Bizarre.

    I dont like AMN on the left, and as you pointed out, his right-footedness has cost us. But if this adds to his education, it’ll have been for a good reason.

    The kid can PLAY. He is a clean tackler, and he reads and intercepts well for someone of his experience level. He’s got technical ability and tricks, and will offer far more than Coq.

    Not denigrating Coq. He was a good stopper and tackler, but when he got to the nosebleed final third, his play was outright embarrassing.

    If AMN keeps a good head and doesn’t lose his way to the celeb think like Iwobi is in danger of doing, he’ll be fine central midfielder for Arsenal.

    1. Playing Coquelin/Cazorla coincided with Arsenal’s best offensive and defensive output since 2007/08.

      That’s what happens when you build a team with complimentary parts.

      1. AMN clearly has the ability to be a much, much better all-around footballer than Coquelin, but I don’t think it’s obvious he yet has the tackling strength and aggression of Coquelin (go back and watch some Coq highlight reels to job your memory of what he brought), and none of our other midfielders do either. I’m all for giving AMN a shot in central midfield sooner rather than later, but I do think people are underestimating what a potentially-useful player an in-form Coquelin could’ve still been for us, and also overstating how much his usefulness depended on Cazorla. I think Coquelin looked good at times alongside Xhaka last season (it was a conservative midfield two, but in a 4-2-3-1 that’s not a bad thing), and he was never really tried alongside Jack, which could have been a really good combo.

        I’m not really upset about his leaving, just think I would’ve preferred to have someone else go out for that modest price, unless we’re going to immediately use that money to reinvest in greater quality.

  3. As Claudeivan says, AMN is why Coq is going. It’s smart and proactive business, and I for one applaud it too. I’d be happy to sell Elneny too, but only if we brought in an actual midfielder which we won’t. So he should stay.

    Question – we have a lot of youngsters who either break through or are bought and look bright initially, but stagnate. Bellerin, Iwobi, Ox, Holding, Chambers to some degree – and this is just the recent crop. Let’s not even talk about Wilshere, Ramsey and the like. We have others coming through too: AMN, Reiss Nelson, etc.

    For all of the above (save Ox), do you think their careers can be saved if Wenger were to leave at the end of his contract? Is it too late for Bellerin to turn it around, or Iwobi to start being good again? Should these kids look for transfers or wait it out?

    1. I think one of the biggest myths of Wenger’s career is that he’s a master educator. As soon as I say this people will say “but Alexis is great now” and “but Bellerin” to which you only need to reply; yes, look at Bellerin, he’s stalled, just like every other young player to come through at Arsenal under Wenger in the last 10 years.

      And

      What, exactly, did Alexis “develop”? He’s been given freedom and more of the ball. But his skills are exactly the same as what he had when he came here. He’s still entirely right footed and his chips and crosses are the same. Actually, I could point to his dispossession stats and poor passing stats to show that under Wenger’s careful tutelage he’s gotten worse at a number of things – a number of things – like his passing and movement – that Guardiola is going to have to UN-develop.

      Getting experience and getting more of the ball is not the same as developing, Arsenal’s players don’t learn tactics, they don’t get better at passing (yet another Wenger myth is that he’s a professor of passing – he teaches verticality and that’s nearly all), they don’t develop their dribbling, they rarely get better at defending and often get considerably worse, they don’t press, they don’t defend, they can’t break down stalwart defenses, they don’t learn how to defend set plays, even the keepers start going backwards after a year or so, they are often injured, and players are exposed in the Wenger system both in attack and defense.

      I think young players would be crazy to come work with Wenger and any young player currently on this team should get out while they still can. Wenger is more likely to ruin their career by playing them out of position in a big game than he is developing them slowly in the position that best fits their abilities.

      1. Agree completely. It’s a myth he develops young players. This is a place where young players are thrown to the wolves before they are ready, and without much in the way of guidance (just play! express yourself!), and it tends to ruin them. I always think of Denilson here.

        Fabregas is the rare exception of a player whose talent overrode the lack of guidance and weight of expectation. I guess Wilshere could be, but he’s never going to develop into the potential he has, primarily because he will always miss large portions of every season through injury.

        1. I think it’s wrong to assume all players who show early promise have ability to be great, or even good PL players. Some players plateau at an early age, for whatever reason and I think Denilson was one of these. He always stayed the footballer he was as a teen when Arsenal scouted him. There are countless such examples at all clubs.

          1. I disagree. I think Denilson had enormous potential, and instead had his confidence completely shattered by being forced, at a very young age, to play every game for Arsenal after they got rid of their older heads, Gilberto, Flamini, and the promising Diarra. The result? He was pilloried mercilessly by fans and press alike. He was 19/20 years old, and asked to fill Gilberto’s and Flamini’s shoes?

            It was a stupid decision, and I think it ruined his career.

            Also, I don’t assume all players who show promise have the ability to be great. But Wenger does. He sticks them in the first eleven when they have ‘promise’, gives them good contracts on the basis of ‘promise’, and somehow expects them to perform consistently at a PL level. I’d like you to say to Wenger what you just said to me!

          2. I think the fact that his career never recovered after Arsenal tells the story. Players with real talent who are a poor “program fit” do find their feet eventually to recover some of the form that saw them rise to prominence in the first place. Denilson had to go back to his boyhood club in Brazil to play professionally and nobody in Europe has wanted him since. I don’t think you can chalk that up purely to psychological scarring. Denilson was given every opportunity to prove his quality next to some really top players and he flat out didn’t have it. I could name dozens of young players in similar situations who did succeed in just such a spot because they had the necessary quality and poise.

            The same thing happened to Anderson (remember him?) To name but one example or a similar situation at another club.

          3. having watched a lot of Denilson, and have to say I disagree. Unsuitable hire for the EPL, imo. It happens. Couldn’t tackle, lacked speed, lacked strength on the ball. Had some decent goalscoring ability from MF, but was good enough to play as either a DM or an ACM. I read a profile in the Arsenal monthly years ago, inn which he saw himself as a “water carrier” successor to Gilberto. But he was a quarter of the player Gilberto was. He should have gone to Spain, where players of his type are given more time on the ball.

          4. Sorry Claude, also disagree with you. Denilson’s first full season with the club was remarkable for what he did (you should check out his numbers). It was his second season when some of his inexperience caught up with him, but Wenger persisted, kept playing him, and then the boo’s and the shouting started, and didn’t stop.

            I blame Wenger for that one.

            In any case, I don’t need to win some debate about Denilson’s potential to also make the argument that Wenger uses young players irresponsibly.

      2. The suggestion that Alexis Sanchez–one of the most talented, and least coachable, players on the planet–has been significantly developed by Arsene Wenger is a bit silly.

        However, I think you’re being a bit harsh on Wenger not helping players develop their passing, movement, and dribbling. Yes, our passing has been shamefully poor a lot in the last few seasons, but I think that’s more about his failure to build balance/chemistry in his team, and to get players to play at their best on a more consistent basis, than that he can’t coaching passing. I’d argue we’re still one of the best passing teams in the league “on our day”. Evidence for this: recent league games against Man United and Chelsea, where our defense was embarrassing but our buildup play largely superb (pretty good against Spurs and (in spells!) Liverpool too). The problem is that “on our day” doesn’t happen nearly often enough, especially against weaker teams (and there are fundamental tactical obstacles that routinely defeat us, e.g., a high press).

        Otherwise, I completely agree with your general sentiments, Tim.

      3. Totally agree.

        Pretty much every myth about Arsene has been mercifully exposed over the last few years, and it’s painful to watch. Here are two more big ones:

        – Always knows exactly when to sell a player. There was a time when the line was ‘Wenger Knows’ – he would sell players at their peak or just past it, for peak prices. It happened with Vieira, Henry, etc. But I think Fabregas broke this. We sold him too early, and while he didn’t reach the same heights at Barca he certainly didn’t peak. Since then we’ve had Nasri go and do okay, RVP go and then peak, as well as multiple players we’ve held on to far too long (Theo), and others who will likely peak in the next 2-3 years (Ox).

        – Wenger knows how to buy attackers. The evidence for: Thierry Henry, RVP, a few others of that area. The evidence against: virtually everyone who has followed. Giroud is a solid B+ but has never been good enough for a team that wants to challenge. Adebayor had one phenomenal season but was batshit crazy. Eduardo was good but his injury has created this myth that he was somehow world class. Aliadiere, HA. Carlos Vela. Theo Walcott. Podolski. Welbeck. That Spanish bloke last year. Park! Wenger has really stunk the place out when it comes to attacking players. It may be that he buys good players that don’t fit into our system, but that’s not really a defense, is it? It’s just an indictment of a different kind.

        Every gamble Wenger has made as an ‘economist’ has backfired spectacularly. The stadium move hindered us at what in hindsight was a crucial time, which we’ve never recovered from. Project youth was a bust. Keeping money in the bank because the market was a bubble (it’s not) has hurt us. I feel bad for him, because it seems he’s a terrible gambler.

    2. I meant to bring this up a couple of posts ago where Tim wrote about Wenger being at fault for Arsenal being a broken club but I never got the time to comment. For years I had considered Wenger as a great developmental manager. It’s for this reason alone that I was okay with his obvious drawbacks. However with so many unfulfilled potentials I had to reconsider Wenger’s ability to develop players. Did Henry, Pires, Vieira etc. all develop most of their skills elsewhere? Did Cesc and RVP develop their skills by practicing with the Invincibles and because they themselves came from excellent football academies? How much input did Wenger have in developing their technical skills? Is our focus on technical skills during training up to scratch? I think these are all valid questions. If we look at how good we were at winning the 50/50 balls in midfield upto 2011/2012 vs. now, I see a stark difference. It’s not the only metric obviously, but one that really sticks out at me. I don’t want to write-off Wenger as a good developmental coach but I think we overestimated his ability to develop players.

      As far as all our youngsters leaving to develop somewhere else, that’s a hell no for me. The manager is leaving in a year or two. There will be lots of changes in personnel. We need to hold on to as many of the promising young players as we can. They are going to play a crucial role in transitioning the club out of Wenger ball.

      1. As a long time youth coach I will say this with the conviction of experience – a player has 95% of the technical skills he’s ever going to have by around age 14. That’s not to say there isn’t huge room to improve after 14, but if you are working on technical skills after age 14 that is time and energy being taken away from developing a player’s fitness, tactical awareness and psychological profile i.e. his ability to perform under pressure, decision making skills, achieving flow states during games etc.

        Now, as I suggested yesterday, Bergkamp was renown for doing extra work before and after practice and insisting that things were done technically perfect in practice – was he improving his skills at that late stage in life? Maybe marginally and there is something to be said for being just 1 or 2% better than the competition .

        Regardless, the point I am trying to make is that these players come to Arsenal at 16 or 17 as pretty much finished products in terms of actual skill. And definitely the Pires, Vieiras, Henrys, Bergkamps et al came not only as finished products technically, but nearly finished products in terms of tactical and psychological abilities.

        Wenger is actually, in my opinion, quite harsh with talent. It’s almost a Darwinian attitude; he lets players dip their toes in the pool a bit at a time and then he shoves them in to the water at some point to see if they can swim. Some do (Fabregas, Szceszny), some tread water (Wilshere, Bellerin, Gibbs, Fabianski) and some drown (Senderos, Djourou, Denilson).

    3. Youngsters don’t stagnate because their manager is Arsene Wenger. Youngsters stagnate (after initially looking bright) because opponents figure them out. Youngsters also stagnate because they lose that early burst of confidence and air of invincibility they inevitably get for the first time on the big stage. In other words, when the fairy tale ends, reality comes calling. Opponents figured out Walcott could not pass or shoot on his left and that he had poor close control when pressured. They figured out Wilshere can be wound up into mistakes and is prone to over-elaboration. They figured out Ramsey will abandon his midfield partner to forage ahead of him more than he ought and will shoot wildly when given a little space in front of the D. Either the players figure out that they’ve been figured out and make the adjustments, or they will stay a limited player. That’s up to the coach in part, but if the player never makes the proper adjustment because of a sheer lack of ability or willfulness, whose fault is that? Wenger couldn’t make Coquelin see passes ahead of him any more than he could make Walcott a two footed forward, or Denilson the ability to dribble the ball.

      You can make a pretty good case that Wenger doesn’t give his players ENOUGH instruction and that that leads to a lack of discipline and stagnation, particularly in the type of player that needs more discipline (i.e. Szczesny). He is not a disciplinarian. The type of player that thrives under Wenger is a self-starter. I think Wenger expects more of his players to be self-starters than the number that actually are. He is probably too slow to recognize and remediate the ones that are not. I think this is because the generational gap between him and his youngsters is too big; he expects others to approach football as he does, with a professionally restrained but burning passion for winning and self-improvement. Few players are this way anymore (at least when nobody’s watching them), which is part of what has made Wenger’s management style increasingly obsolete. However, I think it’s wrong to give the players that have stagnated a free pass because of Wenger.

  4. Tim, was the attempted tackle with contact on Maitland-Niles a penalty or not? And if it was, how come referees with the benefit of VAR didn’t award it? If it wasn’t, how is it different than the Hazard incident which you said was a penalty? I need answers.

      1. I thought the ref did use VAR for the tackle on AMN? Might be mistaken here. This is the incident where he didn’t go down right away, so it looked as if he lost his footing (except the problem, of course, is that he lost his footing because of the foul).

        1. ESPN here says that the ref didn’t use VAR.

          Irregardless. The vast majority of people are saying it was a foul and should have been a penalty. Only the “no blood, no foul” people are saying it wasn’t. Notably the Daily Male has got it completely wrong saying “But Atkinson and VAR concluded that there was no contact from Moses and Maitland-Niles was simply taking safety measures – rather than trying to deceive the official – when he went down.”

          There was absolute contact and from what I’ve read they didn’t review the play on VAR. But if they did, then they got it wrong because it’s a foul.

          1. A word, but the prefix is redundant/needless since ‘irregardless’ means the same thing as ‘regardless’.

      2. They did use VAR. I just saw it on the highlight. Obviously I think you’re wrong about the Hazard thing. He should get a retrospective ban for diving and Arsenal should get 2 more points 🙂

  5. Easy peasy yes. Wenger gone and modern proper coaching with one coach for defense, one for midfield and one for offense with drilling and a head coach I’d think we’d improve quite fast.

    I’m aware that this may sound simplistic but I’m firmly in the camp that our drills and training is so outdated and old school we’re in homeostasis.

    1. I watch Arsenal play and constantly ask “what are we practicing?”

      Arsenal don’t press.
      Arsenal can’t handle pressure.
      Arsenal are the worst at taking and defending corners.
      Arsenal’s finishing is average.
      Arsenal’s keepers can’t save penalties.
      Arsenal play high line football but consistently fail to make adjustments that would make them secure.
      Arsenal often face opponents who pack their defensive lines and yet our attack rarely varies from the same two or three entry passes and we struggle to break them down.
      Arsenal players can’t tackle and are systematically taught to stop tackling rather than proper tackling.
      Arsenal players are often in a panic in defense and make obvious physical and mental errors.
      Arsenal as a team turn up to matches unprepared for their opponent’s strengths and weaknesses and look like they are taken by surprise by things that novices like me notice through basic statistical research.
      Arsenal’s defenders aren’t good at aerial duels.
      But Arsenal are good at through balls and the defenders are great at interceptions.

      So, what is it that Arsenal practice?

      1. I think the answer to all these (rather uncharitable but having a kernel of truth) points is simple: easier said than done.

      2. Why can I never find an Arsenal training session on YouTube? I can find Guardiola sessions at Bayern and City, Mourinho at Chelsea, even Sir Alex at United. I’m curious too what gets coached.

      3. OK, I honestly don’t want to be confrontational, but for starters:

        “Arsenal’s defenders aren’t good at aerial duels” – Arsenal are only 13th in the league in aerials won, but they are ahead of City, Utd, Spurs, Chelsea and Liverpool.

        “Arsenal players can’t tackle and are systematically taught not to tackle” – Arsenal are 9th in the league in tackles per game, ahead of e.g. Chelsea and Liverpool.

        “Arsenal are the worst at taking and defending corners” – Arsenal have shipped only 3 goals from set pieces this season, joint 2nd best behind City. Arsenal have scored 9 goals from set pieces this season, joint 3rd best behind City and Utd. Arsenal are however joint second worst for conceding 3 counterattacking goals, but I don’t know if these were from corners.

        Exaggeration is one thing but I’m concerned if we are in the headspace where we are prepared to believe that the team is broken (both here and on arseblog), or that nobody playing for Arsenal knows how to tackle, or that the team is not coached, or that players are stagnating / going backwards and young players’ careers are being thrown on the bonfire.

        If I believed all that, I would basically have to believe that the club and the manager are capable of levels of incompetence and negligence that border on sabotage, and I would have quit a long time ago.

        1. Tim is just sad that US elected Trump.

          His country and Wenger failed him at the same time so he is in a funk.

          I guess we will need Oprah to bring the happy sunshine Tim back.

  6. Wenger destroys young players. He will do with AMN what he has done with so many before: play them constantly for ages before they are ready, maybe out of position (as here, see also chambers full back, etc), then after 1 bad performance he will banish them forever and probably end their career at the top level. It’s the opposite of how to gradually bring a player through and manage a squad. Maybe it works 1 in 10 times.

    1. Agree with the sentiment but not the hyperbolic way in which it’s stated.

      Plenty of players have been allowed more than one mistake by AW without being banished, and plenty have been taken out for a while before introduced again (e.g. Iwobi). He does have a tendency to do what you’ve described more than I’d like him to. But bringing along youngsters is really tricky–few elite managers have a great track record in it–and I still think AW does it much better than most.

      Plenty youngsters at Arsenal come through the initial introduction stage looking decently well established/integrated into the squad and with a promising career ahead of them (if they don’t make it with us, they’ll get traded to another PL or championship team and have a good career). The problem is that second phase (roughly age 21-25) where promising players who have already established themselves as professionals plateau under AW, and that’s more down to him being unable or unwilling to give them more specific technical and (mostly) tactical coaching to improve their games.

      1. I disagree. The second phase is vastly more difficult. That’s where youngsters have to separate themselves not just from their peers but to find their place among seasone pros. The first phase you describe is like making it in football’s NCAA. The second phase you describe is like making it in the NFL.

        1. Hey Doc,
          I’m a bit confused about what you disagree with. For what it’s worth, while I don’t think the NCAA vs NFL comparison quite works (though that’s largely beside the point), I agree with what you’re saying. I think the second phase is very difficult. I just think Wenger could be giving these players (Bellerin and Iwobi spring to mind) more tools to succeed at that next step. But mostly I want to defend Wenger for giving these players chances in the first place that many, many of his peers would not have given.

    2. I hope that you see the irony inherent in citing as a young player Wenger will destroy, Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

      A player who (I’ll bet the farm) you DID NOT tip for a breakthrough a year ago. A player who has come on leaps and bounds in the half-season, to the point where he has displaced Coquelin, and is consistently in the starting XI.

      Who developed him to this point? Mourinho? I stopped being a fan of Arsene 4 years ago, but the comment is too general and patently untrue.

      Wenger’s record of late hasn’t been great, and he clearly is a shadow of the manager he once was. But Adebayor? Van persie? Fabregas? Flamini? Did you watch Kolo Toure’s early games? Track Alex Song’s last year to the point that Barca bought him? I don’t even need to cite Henry and Vieira, who improved massively under this manager. Yes, the examples aren’t recent, but the comment is still wildly overblown.

      Arsene’s poor recent stewardship of the club speaks for itself, but there’s no need to throw the kitchen sink at him

      1. In reality only time will tell. AMN is in his “rookie” season essentially. He may go the route of Iwobi, he may go the route of Fabregas (although I doubt it… 20 is already a bit old to become a superstar).

        By the way, Adebayor, Toure, Flamini, Song… what did they accomplish away from Arsenal? One could argue that their incomplete education was exposed at other clubs.

        1. OK this is kind of a good point. There’s no question that Arsene coaches in a specific way and so I guess you end up with players with specific strengths and ways of playing, of approaching the game. He breeds them a certain way.

          You could argue that he has a responsibility to the players to give them a more rounded understanding so that they will continue to be successful when they move on to other clubs. But they should have got that a;ready at youth and reserve level. At first team level his job is to coach Arsenal players to play for Arsenal, and he certainly doesn’t have a responsibility to other clubs or football in general to churn out dull but employable graduates like some vocational college.

          And anyway this is not the claim being made – the claim is that he can’t and doesn’t develop youth full stop.

          1. You have but to listen to the players who played for him, and for a second, about something other than how he doesn’t coach defense: they almost unanimously loved playing for him and the recurring theme was how they compared him to a father figure. There can be no doubt he has a deep and enduring love for what he does and that must radiate to everyone he works with. Plenty has been said about his faults and mistakes, so I don’t feel bad talking him up a little bit. I feel like I need a flashing disclaimer at this point that I’m not some sort of Wenger fan club leader, but I do feel the need to balance the discussion here which has, in my view, leaned too far to the negative side.

            I don’t think he has any responsibility to make Arsenal’s players valuable to other clubs, but there have been plenty of examples of him doing something that benefitted one of his long serving players, like loan moves for the likes of Djourou who was looking to be put in the shop window as his contract (which wasn’t going to be renewed) was winding down. He looks after his own in a way most managers don’t. This cuts both ways, of course.

      2. I very much doubt Wenger had much of a role in ‘developing’ AMN to the point where he was ready for the first team squad. That would have been done by others. What is on Wenger is how the players develop (or stop developing) once they reach his squad. And normally they only ‘get a chance’ (out of position) in the first place because of lack of adequate depth and weakness in key areas.

        Moreover, the players you list – that’s all from 10+ years ago. Recently all we have had is Bellerin., and that’s a qualified success as far as AW is concerned.

  7. I could see a scenario where we have to revert four in the back if Alexis is sold.
    Nacho could go to LB and AMN to midfield (surely its apparent by now that Wilshere and Ramsey can’t play together). Maybe:

    Hector-Mustafi-Kos-Nacho
    Xhaka-AMN
    Ramsey/Wilshere
    Ozil-Laca-Welbeck

    Goals will be difficult to come by without Alexis so a more dynamic lineup is sensible and a better option than bombing fullbacks forward who are marginal attacking players…

  8. Stil laughing at the Wenger failed to develop Denilson quote, Denilson only looked like a football player when Wenger managed himm a very strong argument could be made, that in fact Wenger made him play a lot better than he was capable of long term,Denilsons career has collapsed since leaving Arsenal, going some way to proving my point, only those with an anti Wenger agenda could claim Wenger failed Denilson. I would suggest the “naer do wells” who frequent these boards will very quickly have all the answers for Wengers replacement when the time comes. Bet whoever it is cant wait!!

    1. It is Ancelotti, if the breaking news is to be believed.

      But you’re right. If you’re going to argue that Wenger fails to develop young players, Denilson’s is hardly a credible case to cite. Some of the criticism of Wenger is just OTT.

      1. Wenger apparently destroyed Denilson by believing in him and giving him every opportunity to succeed. Meanwhile Arsenal fans did all they could to help develop the player by scapegoating him, insulting him and destroying his confidence.

      2. Maitland Niles is currently having his career destroyed by being the best Arsenal player on the pitch against Chelsea

      3. Can we examine why so many players fail once they leave the nest? One argument is that yes, Wenger is able to coax the extraordinary from ordinary players. The other argument is that Wenger creates these orchids that can only survive in the Arsenal hot house at a specific temperature and humidity and that once the door is opened and a gust of cold air rushes in the flowers fold up. Like they seem to do every year.

    2. He only ‘looked like a footballer when Wenger managed him’. My turn to laugh. Did you watch Denilson’s second season? Wenger mismanaged him. Badly. The way you bring through youngsters is gradually and in an already stable structure with older heads around you. What you saw with Denilson is what you’re seeing with Iwobi right now. A nice breakthrough season has the luck of youth, but then…nothing. I think Iwobi is being mismanaged, and I think you’ll see the same thing with AMN a year or two from now.

        1. He’s being played out of form, and has been for a while. Young players should be protected when they are learning the game.

          1. I’m puzzled. One, he’s not being played with any regularity. Two, he’s playing B games — if you don’t play him in those, when can you? Three, his being out of form is precisely the reason for one and two. I know you’re not saying that eh shouldn’t play at all.

          2. *protected when they are playing for a club with the kinds of expectations Arsenal have. It would be a different story if Forest, for example, was playing Iwobi week in and week out.

          3. I don’t know that I’d consider Europa League or the FA Cup third round game a B competition for a team like Arsenal these days. League Cup? Sure. Also, I think he should have been eased into the team last year. Only my opinion. I was actually surprised to see him start after the partying fiasco. What kind of message does that send?

          4. You’re a smart and thoughtful commenter, but I think you’re reaching here. And flailing a bit, with respect.

            And you don’t need to. The case against Arsene is already strong.

      1. I think this is ancient history but did you see Lilian Thuram?

        Lets not pretend that Wenger was never any good.

        He is washed up nowadays but it is not as if he is utter rubbish.

  9. Off topic: Ornstein says we’re selling Alexis for the right price and trying to bring in Malcom. Thoughts? Does anyone actually know anything about this Malcom?

    1. 79 rating on FIFA 18. 83 pace. Scores an 82 rating for “beast” on FUThead.com. Sounds good to me. I’m sure that’s how Mislinstat is doing his scouting.

      1. If you’re going to use a video game to scout, use the one actual clubs use, Football Manager. Malcom has low-end world class potential in that game, though he’s at borderline international level now. He’s two-footed but favors his left and can play all of the forward positions. He plays best as an inside forward on the right cutting in on the favored left foot but is capable as Winger on either side and can fake a false nine or trequartista role in the center. He’s fast and extremely agile, a good dribbler with good technique and first touch and likes a free kick. He’s useless in the air, as you’d expect at 5’7″, completely disinterested in defending and only a solid passer.

        If you were going to buy a homeless man’s Alexis, he’s a decent approximation. Other candidates (via FM) might be Hirving Lozano at PSV or Julian Brandt at Leverkusen.

        Looking at real life data, Malcom does look like a fairly decent replacement for Alexis, other than that he does his damage on the other wing primarily. Certainly moreso than Lemar. According to a quick glance at stats on line, Malcom is even more dribbly than Alexis, completing roughly 3 of 4 take-ons per game. He also averages 2 key passes to Alexis’ 2.5. Alexis does take almost a shot and a half per game more than him, though, which is a considerable portion of his usefulness. Lozano is equally shooty and has been more efficient in front of goal this year but much less dribbly and passy. Brandt isn’t anywhere near the class of the other three based on performances over the last two seasons so I’m guessing either the Bundesliga researchers are a bit crap or Bundesliga stats get recorded inconsistently. Lemar, even in his excellent season last year is nowhere near the other three.

        I guess, based on my highly unscientific research here, if we can get 25MM for six months of Sanchez and turn around and buy Malcom for 30MM and get him on a long-term deal, that is a pretty good piece of business. Man Utd were rumored in for him previously, so we’d be doing world football a favor by not letting an attacker get ruined by Mourinho.

        1. A “homeless man’s Alexis”… awesome.

          Is there any chance – any chance at all – that we could get Draxler? Not even this January, if we waited until the summer? For me there’s a guy sitting the bench on a big team who could be our star.

  10. Let me end the Denilson debate, if I may, because I think it’s maybe distracting. If you didn’t like him, fine, and if you think it was him and not Wenger, also fine.

    My main beef here is that Wenger, unlike other top managers, uses the PL as a training ground for youngsters. Some may praise his bravery, but, even by his own admission, it costs you points. The teams that play youngsters on a regular basis are teams whose expectations lie no higher than avoiding relegation or the middle of the table. It’s from those teams that these youngsters, if they prove themselves, get picked up by teams at the top of the table.

    In this way, Wenger sometimes behaves as if we are a middling team. Young players learning the game and their position should not be given free reign over 20/30 games a season in a team that has ambitions to make the top four or challenge for the title. UNLESS, perhaps, this team is managed by someone who emphasizes structure over freedom, and Wenger isn’t that.

    I’m not saying his faith in youngsters is the only reason we haven’t been challenging for the title in over a decade, but I’m suggesting that it might be one factor of many. Does it work sometimes? Sure, but players like Fabregas are the exception, not the rule.

    1. The most egregious recent example of a player that Arsene has mismanaged is Jack Wilshere. I say this to show pushing back on the Denilson example isnt the same as saying that Wenger HASN’T mismanaged young players. He has. He has also proven too-loyal to others who couldn’t quite cut the mustard. And in that category, I’d put Denilson, who (we’re never going to agree on this) was too lightweight and soft for the premiership. That game against United in which a streaking Cristiano Ronaldo bolted past a casually trotting Denilson to score, sank him for good. It wasn’t his skill level that was lacking — it was the fact that the intensity of the EPL was clearly beyond his coping skills.

      There are some players who looked incredibly raw, that Wenger turned into very effective performers, and I’ve named a few upthread.

    2. Bunburyist, that’s where finances come in. He made his fair share of mistakes but I also don’t think he would’ve chosen to operate with a net 0 budget for a decade given his druthers. My long view is that he made more of those teams than most managers would’ve given the talent and experience in the squad and the competition he was up against. I won’t ask you or anyone else to agree with this view, but the reason I cite it is because it speaks to your correct observations directly.

      1. And I will leave the disclaimer that the failures of the current squad are not tied to finances, not nearly to the same extent, though we are still playing financial catch up.

  11. Ok, I’ve looked at some youtube clips of Malcom and first impressions aren’t good: if the purpose of football was to start on the wing and constantly cut inside and move laterally across the pitch without getting any closer to the goal, this guy would be world class. Since it’s not, I really fear for us if we replace Alexis with him. Obviously youtube clips can be misleading, and maybe they do him a disservice here. Let’s just say he makes Arjen Robben look unpredictable.

    1. Yeah, I saw those clips. I don’t know. But the thing is, he’s 20 years old, and here we are having a conversation in this thread about the anxiety some of us have over how Wenger uses inexperienced young players. Is he being bought to slot into the first team? If not, then this isn’t really an immediate replacement for Alexis…and then my next big fear is that Wenger thinks Welbeck can serve a purpose on the left side of the attack.

      Welbeck can’t serve a purpose anywhere in attack. Sorry. I don’t know why he was bought.

    2. See statistical view above.

      And for what its worth, being as predictable as Robben has netted Salah a truckload of goals this year. And Robben in his career, for that matter.

  12. Wenger’s reputation as a developer of talent mostly stems from the fact that he does bring players through to the first team more frequently than almost any other top-level manager. Obviously some of this record comes from the early Emirates period when he actually had no money (as opposed to of late, where we have money but behave like we don’t), but it is still true of earlier and later era teams.

    That’s great when you have world class talents like Fabregas brought up in the greatest academy in the world or when you have world class talents like Cole brought through next fantastic leaders like Adams and Keown. (Those are really the only two unmitigated success stories of youth at Arsenal under Wenger.) The rest of the players need coaching. I only blame Wenger so much – this is an incredibly hard area to get right. Only really Barcelona and Ajax have records of consistent excellence in bringing through youths WHILE competing at the top level. Even Ajax gets an asterisk because winning the Eredevisie is so easy Steve McClaren did it and they spent most of the last two decades being an afterthought in Europe.

    The larger point Tim makes is the bigger stick to beat Wenger with – why don’t our players seem like they’re getting better at anything other than throughballs and interceptions. Is training just one long passing session? And for that matter, if that is what the practice sessions are, why do 4 out of every 5 runs Lacazette makes go unnoticed?

    The team is a mess.

  13. I think the team gets roughly 90% of what it has to do right, in other words to the standard of a premier league challenger. That last 10% is what’s kicking our asses.

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