Meet the new Wenger, same as the old Wenger: 1998

I was doing some research this morning and found this article by Martin Thorpe published in the Guardian on 27 November 1998:

Wenger had just won the double. Wenger would win two more League titles. What’s incredible, however, is that either Wenger hasn’t changed in 20 years or that the press hasn’t changed in 20 years. Or maybe it’s both?

I mean, do journalists just write these same articles over and over, changing the names, dates, and minor details? Because the main points are all the same: red cards, injuries, squad not big enough, Wenger won’t buy, Wenger can’t find the right players, the squad lacks a specific player, at least one major player looks at other teams and wishes Arsenal had their bench, Arsenal kicked out of Europe early, and the granddaddy of them all “well informed sources in Havana say that Castro is about to fall, his demise is imminent.”

What a strange club we are.



  1. I don’t think Wenger forgets this kind of history; the media (and fans)like to hyperventilate about everything, I’ve been through this and come out on top, of course I can do it again, why wouldn’t I?

    Watched the Dark Knight again the other day on Netflix. A line in that movie made me hit pause and think about Wenger.

    Harvey Dent: When their enemies were at the gates, the Romans would suspend democracy and appoint one man to protect the city. It wasn’t considered an honor; it was considered a public service.

    Rachel Dawes: Harvey, the last man who they appointed to protect the Republic was named Caesar, and he never gave up his power.

    Dent: Well, I guess you either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.

    And that’s where we’re at… Wenger has lived long enough (in the job) to see himself become the villain.

    1. I’m not sure what this all means.

      Hyperventilating? I don’t think it’s weird for fans to see him doing this same stuff over and over for 20 years, and especially to see it happen with worse results for 12 years and say that maybe Wenger simply can’t do it any more. See, Wenger has won it all before but under vastly different circumstances: the club, the league, the money, scouting, word football, nutrition, analytics, sports science, market analysis, on and on, has all caught up to Wenger and Wenger has lost his edge.

      So, I would hope that Wenger doesn’t think that this group of players in the league that we are playing in with the competition as tight as it is, is at all similar to 2000-2005 when he “went through all this” and “came out on top.” I hope that, but based on what I have seen from Wenger – with him saying the same things, with him repeatedly failing because the competition is greater and his players aren’t at the level of his previous group, and worst of all because he steadfastly refuses to buy (or can’t make through the academy) the quality in depth needed to bring Arsenal up to the level of the competition – I have to agree with you, he does think that we can just muddle through this and that we have a chance to win.

      The other bit about the Dark Knight. There is so much wrong with this version of Roman history that it’s hard for me to respond to this metaphor. Julius Caesar (who am assuming this is about, though they could mean any number of Caesars) was sort of appointed to defend Rome during a civil war. He did so, defeating Pompey, and was appointed dictator off and on several times after his initial rise to power. What made Julius the villain was that he celebrated the destruction of his fellow Romans, whom he had conquered in the civil war. His lavish Roman games (he celebrated himself, unlike Wenger) were offensive to some and his changes to the constitution were seen as a power grab. And actually he didn’t even live that long in power, just 5 years.

      And just to further muddy things, he was later deified and his name was taken as the title for the ruler without any (or little, or adopted) lineage. So, it’s not at all clear to me that Caesar was a villain, that he was some protector of democracy, or that he was in office too long. He did, however, turn Rome into an Empire, the Emperor into a dictator, and turned Rome into the greatest empire of all time. An empire so great that it spawned a million terrible metaphors.

      1. “…has all caught up to Wenger and Wenger has lost his edge.”

        Do you think he’s being exposed a bit in terms of tactical thinking? That he doesn’t have the ideas to compete at the top? It seems to me arsenal are exactly where they should be year on year in terms of resources, wage bill. But if we had a more tactically adept manager we’d maybe compete better in the cups, including champions league, having a decent run now and again. Wenger seems unable to get more out of us than the sum of our parts,and sometimes perhaps a little less.

      2. I was more focused on the final line about living long enough to see yourself become the villain.

        My personal opinion is that Wenger is not the teacher needed for the modern game; he’s a great identifier and nurturer of talent but I would argue that’s different than teaching. I read Pep Confidential same as you, and the passage where he’s actually teaching Javi Martinez the CB position because he sees potential to switch him to that position – that I think is what is missing from Wenger. Without that ability to teach the players, day to day, week to week you cannot entertain the idea of customizing tactics and roles game to game which is what the modern game has become – a weekly progression of one-off tactical battles.

  2. This is pretty incredible. Thanks for sharing Tim. The article could be re-published in 2017 and no one would be able to tell the difference. Though the one give away would be the phrase “board unease with bad results”. Such a thing doesn’t exist anymore at Arsenal.

  3. Revealing in that it’s been going on since the beginning but I am not surprised. What won us those titles was that once-in-a-lifetime remarkable collection of players combined with Wenger’s revolutionary approach.

    Those players are long gone and today Wenger is well…I’m all Wengered out so I won’t comment on him right now.

    We have been living through this same cycle pretty much every year since the title years.

  4. But he tried 3-4-3!It’s not always the same!!! One thing I’ve never understood is his trust in the players. Time and time again they have let him down. There’s a softness there, a weakness that has been allowed to cultivate for too long at this club. This mentality is one of the first things that has to change at this club but how do you change it?

    I thought winning the FA cup twice was going to be the catalyst of change but it’s arguably got worse since with better players.

    1. “! One thing I’ve never understood is his trust in the players. Time and time again they have let him down……”

      It’s called loyalty- Wenger’s greatest strength and his greatest weakness, if you were to believe Patrick Vieira.

      When was the last time Wenger got rid of an underperforming player?
      Szczesny comes to mind, but only after he lit one up in the showers after a stinker of a performance.

      Gary Payton has been the goalkeepers coach since 2003 and he’s not exactly being held in high regard by people other than Wenger.

      SAF went through 7 assistant managers in his 26 years at Man U, while Arsene is on his second no 2 in Steve Bould only because Pat Rice had chosen to step down due to health issues.

  5. Maybe a post for another day in but I’m thinking about Jack Wilshire today.

    I recently watched On The Waterfront with Son and Datiughter of

    When it came to Brando’s famous “soliloquy” to Big brother Lee J Cobb (“I could’ve been a contender..) I thought of Wilshire!
    Still powerful cinema, still holds up after more than 60 years.
    Brando got the glory but the rest of the cast? Karl Maiden, Rod Steiger, Lee J Cobb and the incandescent Eva Marie Saint? Film Noir at it’s finest.

  6. do people really change? unless they find jesus or some other extremely dramatic, life-altering event, i’d say the smart money is on no, they don’t change. referencing a quote you posted on a thread from a few weeks ago, “back in the days when i was a teenager”, i liked fast cars and girls with big boobs. a fast-forward of 30-odd years finds me driving a porsche and my wife rocks a healthy 36-dd. people might slightly refine but they don’t change, especially men.

    arsene wenger is nearly 70 years old, meaning he’s even less likely to change or “refine”. the parallels that exist between the approach from decades ago and the current approach is not surprising. it’s a shame, really. it’s not so much that wenger needs to change, but he needs to respect the fact that things around him will continually change. going back to the previous thread where someone mentioned an interview with squillaci and his struggles with wenger’s strategic approach, it’s like wenger didn’t respect the clear fact that squillaci could not do what kolo toure could do. i could be wrong but that’s what it seems like.

    i know wenger had tremendous admiration for the brazil teams of the 1970s whose approach was to not worry about the other teams but to focus on their game. the difference is that brazil team from that era was unbelievably talented; arguable the most gifted group of individuals ever assembled. the current arsenal team is not that talented but wenger doesn’t seem to respect that difference. he’s got to respect the fact that lead (pb) has too many protons to ever be gold (au).

  7. If only we’d listened to Martin Thorpe and gotten rid of Wenger back in November of 1998.

  8. When you read the old article and consider that Wenger went on to silence his critics and build a squad that would win the league in time and furthermore go on to become The Invicibles it loses most significant parallels to the current situation. These days most of the popular critical narrative attacking Wenger is built around the squad being deep and talented but lacking in coaching/tactics/strategy and being less than a sum of its parts. I personally don’t believe the parts are good enough even in our best 11 and that certainly wasn’t true back then when we had something very close to an amazing side. If we had the base of that side late last century we would be just around the corner from greatness again but I fear we are in an entirely different reality from which titles and legendary feats are a just a fantasy and the mere change in management would only be the start of a long road toward future success. Wenger has built this squad and its missing far more than a striker and some quality back up players. There is no doubt the press and pundits are lazy in their criticisms and it’s all cut and paste and repetition of the same old lines when in reality the struggles that have built over the past years and culminated in this years poor results are an entire new beast. This side has no substantive identity/style and Wenger has been changing players and strategies more than ever over the past year to desperately find one that works. Yet strangely mostly we read or hear that’s it’s Old rigid Wenger not trying anything new. He’s tried and failed with more new things this season than ever before yet only the bleeding obvious back 3 got any press because they are lazy and dumb down football to a bunch of meaningless cliches.

    1. best post on this thread. i, literally don’t feel comfortable trying to argue anything you’ve said.

  9. It’s not just the journalists’ narrative of latter day Arsene… it’s the fans’ narrative. This is what WE (an increasingly anti-Wenger bloc) have been saying for 7 years, let alone the journalists. It’s hard to quantify these things but if goooners could vote, I think from watching a massive tidal shift this past year alone that Wenger would be out the door. Jeez, the man is terrified of telling us that he’s decided to stay.

    I used to man the barricades for Arsene when he came under that type of criticism. I’ve cometo the same conclusions, independently of any scribe, going on 4 years now.

    When you blend the outstanding with ordinary, the outstanding gwt worn down and want to leave. For Overmars, see Van Persie, Fabregas, Nasri, and Sanchez. The article reminds us that even in his glory days, Wenger had issues with squad building and injuries (probably due to badly managed rotation).

    This is not to take away from his achievements. There were some things he couldnt control like the Abramovich effect, but clearly some of his issues predated that.

    Wenger hasn’t changed. Circumstances and the league in which he operates have.

  10. Apropos of nothing previously discussed here, I’ll just leave this here to piss off some of the regular commenters on this blog.

    Ramsey is the player about whom the most uninformed crap gets written (he’s sometimes poor, not as bad as often stated). A close second is the Santi canonisation (he’s generally excellent in deep midfield, but not at the outstandingly elevated level we keep hearing about in his absence).

    Here’s hoping that the Welshman and everyone else have a good cup semi-final tomorrow.

    1. you’re not pissing anyone off, claude. we all know you’ve got this troubling man-crush on aaron ramsey.

      the fact of the matter is, except for the replacing ozil bit, everything wenger’s said about ramsey is absolutely true. technically he has everything and no one has argued that point. we gripe about ramsey tactically, aka, his decision-making. it seems like this kid has a reverse tactical benjamin button-type thing going on. as he gets older, he seems to get dumber and dumber and i’m not talking about his mental faculties. if he could resume his tactical mind set from when he was 18, i believe he’d be a superb player. however, that’s not who he is. as he approaches his physical prime, it seems as if his tactical nous has abandoned him.

      what’s the way forward? i don’t know. a firm managerial boot in his ass might have set him straight but now he’s got these habits. you know what they say about old habits.

        1. Oh, and there’s this, my excessively long philosophical ramblings on Ramsey that I’ve cut and pasted from a comment I wrote a few months ago, which I bet almost no one read, but since it seems apropos of the current topic and I’m self-absorbed, I’ll repost now:

          “…Is Ramsey really a “technically excellent creative player”? I once saw him this way too, but increasingly I’m not so sure. The majority of the fan base now seems to agree that there’s something deeply wrong with Ramsey (at least in an Arsenal shirt), but is really divided as to what the problem is.

          One side seems to think his work with the ball (technical excellence, creativity, etc) is basically fine, and the biggest problem is “discipline without the ball,” i.e. tracking back, positional intelligence, etc. Since it’s obvious he’s not technically lacking in the defensive basics (we’ve all seen him put in great tackles), the problems here are more about attitude and mentality than about skills. The other side, like me, think that while he should definitely work harder/smarter without the ball, the bigger problems come when he has the ball: decision making, certainly, but also glaring and consistent sloppiness in receiving and passing it (of which the second goal against Watford is only the latest example). This group of fans can be divided further into those who just simplistically think Ramsey’s crap and always has been (one glorious half season was a fluke, basically), versus those who think he really DOES have all the technical ability to be a top class attacking or two-way midfielder, but just needs to properly apply himself, concentrate on the simple things, not put too much pressure on his shoulders, etc.

          Until recently I was definitely a member of this last group, but now I think my position is something more nuanced. At the risk of making this whole discussion way more theoretical than anyone else cares to make it, here goes…

          What goes into making a player technically excellent and skillful? We tend to distinguish between whether a player’s problems are “in the feet” (physiologically a lack of talent and/or developed skills) versus whether they’re “simply in the head” (bad attitude, mentality, lack of intelligence), but the truth in football is probably often somewhere in between, and Ramsey is a great example of this.

          Put it this way: the reason I can’t run the 100m like Usain Bolt or do crazy flips like Simone Biles is almost entirely down to physiological limitations in my body, and of course there are also those limitations holding me back from being a professional footballer: I’m too slow, weak, etc (though in football more than other sports, some of those physical features are less essential, e.g. size and brute physical strength, as Santi Cazorla demonstrates). But given that I’m relatively athletic, in very good physical shape, in my thirties, and have honed my basic footballing skills since I was a child to get them to a decent level, my feet themselves are probably not what’s holding me back. Probably my biggest problem is one of coordination: I just can’t get my limbs to move in the right way, or to do so quickly enough, for me to pull off the skills that professionals can (I’m obviously simplifying here–if you think there’s way more holding me back from being a professional, then consider instead what’s holding back the average midfielder in the English Championship from being a Champions’ League calibre midfielder) . And coordination–performing a complex and difficult physical skill reliably and repeatedly to a very high degree of precision–is as much about our brains, and the connections between our brain and the rest of our bodies, as it is about those bodies. A helpful analogy is to playing the guitar or piano: of course the expert musician will need to have been born with long, flexible fingers, say, and years of practice will have made his hand muscles especially strong; but a lot of his ability will come from his brain being good at telling his fingers what to do (consciously or unconsciously) and this will be down to a combination of innate talent, lots of practice, and other psychological factors, e.g. professional seriousness, concentration, and calmness under pressure.

          Now back to Ramsey. I think his sloppiness in possession is a failure of technical skills. Does this mean he’s simply not talented enough? Or that, even if he is, a lack of practice means the skills just aren’t in him at all? If what I’ve just said is basically on the right track, then the truth is a bit more complicated than that. I think Ramsey has the talent and he developed that talent over many years starting as a kid to a point where he has the basic skills in his feet, and to some degree in his brain, to be a great player. But for at least several years now (maybe his entire professional career) his lack of focus on the basics has meant he’s developed bad technical habits which simply can’t be broken overnight. So, yes, the skills are “in there” somewhere. Yes, it’s “merely psychological”, in the end. But psychology is complex, and there’s a big gray area between a case where you just need to consciously decide to do something, on the one hand, and a case where your unconscious mental habits are so stuck in their ways that it’s literally impossible for you to alter them, on the other.
          Basically what I’m trying to say is that Ramsey is like a talented guitarist who for years has only focused on playing flashy, “difficult” guitar solos, to the point where if tasked to just play rhythm guitar in a band that demands a great deal of technical precision, he would be utterly incapable of doing so. Sure, the guitarist could probably retrain his bad habits if given enough time–probably years–to do so. But professional footballers don’t have that kind of time. Arguably a “rhythm guitarist” like Elneny, who may not be able to hit left-footed volleys into the top corner from 35 yards out like Rambo, is nevertheless more technically excellent at this point….”

          Now watch him go have a brilliant game tomorrow and make me look a fool 🙂

      1. Your man crush comment made me lol. Wrong. I like my blokes clean-shaven. 🙂

        Joking aside, given everything typed and said here about Ramsey (often irrespective of how he actually did in the game being commented on), it just tickles me that Wenger has all but said he’s an undroppable, and underscored his importance to the team in VERY clear terms. Listen folks, THE TEAM has sucked of late. The collective. Everyone. But hey, scapegoatism.

        PFo, I agree with some of that.

        I disliked Ramsey four, five years ago. He thought he was a continental No. 10, and was very prone to misplaced Hollywood balls, when the simple pass was the better option. He has simplified his game. Yes, he’s inconsistent, but he’s a better player than generally given credit for.

        He is probably the best pure athlete in the team (leg break and all), and has the ability to play international standard rugger. His problem is that he hasn’t made a position his own. When Cesc left, he tried to be Cesc. Hence the Hollywood balls that made the crowd get on his case. That’s not his game. He’s been played in back midfield, advanced midfield, right wing, left wing. Heck, he probably even places the cones in training, and toothbrushes the mud off the players’ cleats.

        I like Ramsey because (contrary to the prevailing narrative), he plays for the team. The layoff to Ozil last game (on Ozil’s wrong foot). 95% of players in that position would have hit it. The lack of complaint when played out of position. Wilshere had been out for an age, yet moaned when he was played on the wing. He attacks, because that’s the role his manager has asked him to play. He does his share of tracking back and defending. When he was Shawcrossed, he was actually competing aggressively for a loose ball.

        And speaking of being Shawcrossed, I love a guy who can bounce back from the trauma of that. Hope he’s up for cup. Looks to me like he’s going to start, reading into Arsene’s comments.

        1. I agree the team as a collective has sucked (who could deny it?). I think he was better last game, and when he plays simple/smart/unselfish “rhythm guitar”, I find myself softening towards him again. The flashy stuff can come later, when confidence is in full flow. (Still wish he took fewer touches and played on the half turn, mind.)

  11. I think the new narrative should be about his failure to get this squad playing good football despite all the money spent and tinkering that has been done. I think even Wengers biggest critics can concede that he has the ability to at least coach teams that play football with a fluid attacking style. However this side struggles to even pass the football well. Without the ability to execute the attacking philosophy any balance is lost and the inherent defensive vulnerability becomes untenable.

  12. Agree about Ramsey Joshuad. With his ongoing unwillingness to work hard in defense and even hold shape let alone track runners and make tackles I guess the only way forward with Ramsey is indeed forward. He can’t be played deep or centrally in midfield so he need to be one of the three forwards or be on the bench.

    1. He had 11 interceptions last game, didn’t he? With something like a 91% pass completion rate and an assist to his name? Unwillingness to work hard is not really part of his problem. It’s interesting that Arsenal put out those Opta stats on him yet no one even bothered to mention that here or on other Arsenal platforms, but were quick rave on Ox’s (very good) performance completely bypassing Ramsey, who in my mind also had a good showing on the day.

      1. Not so much work hard in defense but to maintain awareness and defend well throughout. His ability to keep running is excellent. Frustration at positioning and tracking properly are the biggest issues with examples occurring against Middlesborough despite the excellent proactive stats. A run of games would do him good but he’s going to have to remain switched on defensively if deployed in midfield.

        1. Yes, although having three defenders + Xhaka beside him is a much better circumstance for him than in the where one of his lapses could have catastrophic results. But that’s the thing about the the way we play it; anyone’s lapse leads to catastrophic results! And we don’t even need a lapse, just a turnover with the fullbacks up high, which happens regularly. The point of that tangent is that the 4-2-3-1 demands perfection on the ball and consistently excellent positional play from the midfielders who play behind Ozil, or at least from one of them. That doesn’t play to Ramsey’s strengths, his otherworldly 2014 season aside, because he plays an adventurous game both on the ball and off it. The team needs that kind of player in midfield, but we no longer have Arteta or anyone like him to be the perfect complement for that adventure. Xhaka will get there but he cannot do it all yet. Meantime, the 3 CB system gives an extra layer of security and the whole team is benefiting, especially Ramsey. .

          1. Thanks Doc that is an excellent comment. When Ramsey lost the ball for the goal when he was attacking their 18 yard box and really the cover was there should have been enough but for errors from the the two players left at the back to cover Aguero. Everyone was forward and perhaps awareness could have seen Ramsey play a simple ball and move back into the space but I don’t blame a player in that position on the ball to try his best to make something happen. I thought Ramsey did well with overall with obvious instruction to help AOC on the right and overall we looked far better for the work on positioning done in training over only a couple of weeks.

    2. This is exactly my point, perfectly illustrated by these 2 comments. A narrative that has taken hold is hard to shake.

  13. So we’re going full West Brom for this game, huh? Defend deep, cough up possession, knock it long at every opportunity, look to score primarily from free kicks when we can load the box and “send it in the mixer”…

  14. claude, your boy, ramsey, just gave the ball away needlessly, which led to the city goal. that’s why we despise him so much; needless giveaway.

    1. New to football, then, Josh. Or is it Sawker? Sounds like it. Needlessly, you say. Which makes no sense. It’s one of thse cliches that had crept in the describe a passage to play, and it means absolutely nothing.

      In the last game we played, Boro, Sanchez gave away the ball that led to the goal. Just leaving that there.

      1. well, i’ll pick it up where you’ve left it. anyone can make a mistake in this game. however, when you do it all the time, it’s not a mistake anymore. it’s who you are. it’s bad soccer.

  15. Well done Arsenal. Looked pretty well organized today other than the goal. Ox put in a great shift.

    1. Ox was easily the man of the match for me.
      I never get involved in conversations what players are better than others but I could never understand how anyone who knows anything about football would want to get rid of Ox.

      His attributes by far outweigh his shortcomings and every quality he has is a God given talent very few possess , while every one of his weaknesses can be eradicated with proper coaching.
      At 23, I would make him a priority for a contract extension.

      1. Are you the same Tom who regularly talks such good sense on Untold, only to be relentlessly trolled by the negative pricks on there?

        1. That’s me.
          Funny you should mention Untold. I haven’t exactly been banned by them but I’ve posted e few thoughts on there recently and they never appeared so I guess they’ve had enough of my nonsense 🙂

      2. I double PFo in agreement. alex always plays well but injuries often curtail his season around march or april. as a result, you have folks who ask what have you done for me lately, people with poor memories. wenger took the kid gloves off this guy last season and he’s really had to step up. you have to be careful with young players and wenger has managed alex fairly well. most of the arsenal world would concur with your assessment. only a fool would consider selling alex.

  16. can someone explain the logic of guardiola’s decision to take off aguero? i don’t get it. if i were him, i’d have my agent of the phone trying to find me a new gig. city completely relinquished the initiative with that move. they game up all momentum. while debrunye’s a fine player, he’s no center forward. nuts!

    glad to see the boys pull out the win. the substitutions were a few minutes late for me but still spot-on. i might have brought on iwobi in the latter stages for ozil, instead of coquelin, just to give him some minutes but meh. wenger will have to manage the situation with iwobi carefully.

    not sure i like xhaka playing so high now. perhaps the back three grants him that freedom but he seems more of a holding player. he’s not the quickest or the fastest but he’s always up for the fight and doesn’t hide. we’ll see how it goes.

      1. right-on. thanks for making that call make sense. still, it makes better sense to bring on a forward, especially when you have one on the bench; a poor substitution.

      2. Aguero was kneed in the back by Koscielny and struggled for fitness during the rest of the game and Silve was kicked out of the game by Gabriel’s little knee on thigh action

        Normally I would feel terrible about this sort of treatment being dished out to a skillful player but City’s Kompany and Otamendi do exactly the same thing to opposition so there.
        Still, felt kinda bad for Silva who pulls the strings for City.
        Sterling is nowhere near the like for like replacement.

        1. What I found pleasing is that the ref didn’t stop us from being physical while allowing the opposition that leeway, when that is how it usually goes. A pretty evenly reffed game, which, along with the ball maybe staying in play by 2 cms, means that the commentators and pundits were way too eager to make it about the referee. Which they almost never are despite way worse and one sided performances.

          City players were also keen to dive and feign (or exaggerate) injury. They even used one such instance basically as a timeout, and were taking their time before every restart. Actually, they looked more tired as a team than we did. Some credit to the Arsenal physio staff? Their big challenge will be how we recover for Wednesday.

          1. I agree with you about City looking tired but faking injuries ?
            I think it’s dangerous to assume a player is faking injury without knowing exactly the extent of the demage a knee to a muscle ( for example ) might’ve done.
            This is the type of talk that used to rile me up on Untold, when even today some of them called Silva a chicken and faker for going down under Gabriel’s challenge, even though he had to be replaced minutes later.

            I thought it was an evenly called game with a couple missed fouls on each end and the only big mistake was the City disallowed goal.
            Whether too much was made of it or not in the media I wouldn’t know since I don’t follow any of them, but to deny it was a big wrong call is denying the obvious.

          2. The usual Untold masochists are being typically negative about this result, despite the ‘hated’ media talking our performance up.

          3. I’m not calling Silva a chicken. In fact when I first saw the replay I thought that could be an injury even before any signs. Not that it was a really bad tackle. But City had a pattern of falling over and clutching their feet or face at minimal, often legal, contact. I think it was Fernandinho(?) who went off with injury/cramp but just sat there till Delph got ready and Pep passed on some instructions (timeout called by City) It was a passing statement really. Not anything ‘dangerous’.

            It was a big call, but also a very marginal one. I don’t recall the commentators saying so many times that the referee is under pressure during a game which despite a few incidents was hardly too controversial, grossly biased or even all blood and thunder. The studio pundits also talked about the ref more than usual. They even tried to suggest Arsenal are a dirty team (though not in so many words)

            Take for example our game vs City in the league in which we lost 2-1 to 2 offside goals. Nothing was made of it in the media except saying the better team still won so meh, and that’s no excuse for Arsenal. Hell even I said something similar, but big decisions they were, and less tight than whether 2cms of the ball was still on the line.

          4. First of, I agree that Arsenal don’t get the even shake in the media but I disagree that a missed offside call by a few centimeters ( Sane’s first goal for City at Etihad) is the same as calling a ball out when it’s in.

            For one, every FA instruction I’m familiar with encourages linesman to give advantage to attackers when in doubt, while there are no such guidelines re balls in the line. If it’s in then it should be in, simple.

            So if Sane was technically offside by the letter of the law, he probably was onside according to FA guidelines.

            Silva was in the offside position but not interfering with the play and not directly in Cech’s line of view.
            Former PL referees like Keith Hackett and others as well agreed both calls were correct.

            Now you will surely find many Arsenal players disagreeing with their views and that’s understandable but you won’t find anyone disagreeing that the linesman made a bad call for the City goal yesterday and that’s where the difference between the two games lies.

          5. Unless of course you go on Untold where I’m sure you’ll find someone agreeing with the linesman call 🙂

          6. My point in that regard was only on the media. Glad you agree.

            By the way, talking about ex refs, apparently Howard Webb thought that Alexis should have had a penalty and Aguero not.

            On another note. You can’t be ‘technically’ offside and be taken as onside due to guidelines. But then this is the PGMO we’re talking about, where they can play fast and loose with the rules and change it up on the fly as and when they please.

          7. Tom, the guildelines for offside is that any doubt must be given in favour of the striker. That’s fair enough and it accepts the notion that officials aren’t perfect. But offside is offside. It’s a pretty clear line (there are still minutiae that can lead to a doubt) as to whether someone is offside or not.

            The guidelines for giving the striker the benefit of the doubt don’t make a wrong decision right. They simply make it fall in the range of a reasonable and acceptable error. And for me, so does the decision about the ball going out yesterday.

  17. Tim, would be great to have an analytical piece on 3-5-2 winners and losers. Seems to me that 3-5-2 can liberate an intelligent fringe player (Oxlade Chamberlain, Monreal, Moses, Holding, arguably Gabriel), and sideline others (Bellerin, Walcott).

    That said, I dont think we have the personnel yet. Azpilicueta and Marcos Alonso are perfect for the system, and a cut above their Arsenal opposite numbers.

    Interesting times tactically. Would love to hear your thoughts.

    1. I hate the whole winners/losers thing… it just reminds me of ESPN trying to milk every development into a story for online consumption.

      I put that win down to improved team effort first, an old bit of the rub of the green second, and the new system third, though I do think it’s an improvement on the 4-2-3-1 in every department of the team.

      Starting from the back, both Gabriel and to a lesser extent Holding would feel nervous having to defend City’s forwards as partner to the superb Koscielny. I don’t think either is fully up to it to be honest in an Arsenal system that leaves them exposed time after time. But today they found safety in numbers which allowed them both to play with confidence. Gabriel’s limitations in possession aren’t so pronounced with the cultured Holding next to him. It’s no wonder he played his best game of the season today.

      At fullback, Monreal too benefits from an extra pair of legs behind him, especially when he is matched up against speed merchants like Sterling, Sane and Navas. Bellerin has been in poor form lately there was no convincing candidate to replace him at right back in the 4-2-3-1. The shift to wingbacks opened the door for Ox to stake his claim in the team and with spectacular results. Bellerin, meanwhile, can be taken out of the firing line for a while and when he comes back in, RWB is a position that suits him well.

      In midfield, I wrote above about how Ramsey is too adventurous to be part of the midfield base in a 4-2-3-1 unless complemented by a superlative defensive midfielder, which the club doesn’t have at present. In fact I’ve been on record saying he should be an inside forward instead in that system. With extra help at the back, his adventurousness becomes more of an asset and less of a liability. Xhaka too can squeeze up on the opposition with more confidence given the extra layer of security behind him.

      Finally and crucially, Ozil and Sanchez form an obvious duo of our two best players as the heartbeat of the attack. It frees them both from immediate defensive responsibility and puts them in the best position to combine with each other and with the striker without forcing either into playing with his back to goal.

      So the buzzword is security: everyone feels more comfortable in this system and that allows them to play with more freedom and urgency. It’s not perfect but it feels like we could go on a run now and finish the season on a high note.

      Wenger himself says it well here: “I think what I did is just to give a bit more security to a team who conceded three goals in the last three away games, at West Brom, at Liverpool, at Crystal Palace and at some stage even to focus on something different for the players recreates some confidence.”

      1. 1. Do you mean you think Ramsey should play “inside forward” in the 4-2-3-1 (I assume that means one of the wide ‘3’) or in the 3-4-3 (we had this argument about his suitability there a while back, but I can’t remember what formation you were discussing). I have to say I don’t think he can play his best wide in the 4-2-3-1, where you’ve actually got to be more of a winger, or at least have decent dribbling skill+acceleration. But in the current system I’m more inclined to think he can play as one of the inside forwards supporting the striker, since with the wingbacks pushing forwards constantly, the wide attackers really aren’t meant to stay wide but to occupy the channel between centre back and outside back (and the old-fashioned “inside forward” tag is more appropriate, since, when the wingbacks push up, you get a front 5 very much like that of the classic W-M from 60+ years ago). Anyway, I agree that with the extra defender for cover, his ill discipline from central midfield is not nearly as costly, so he’s fine there for now.

        2. I don’t mean to pick on Giroud after such a great team performance, as he obviously has his role and he works hard even when he has little influence in the game. But the one area of the team you didn’t mention, which needs improvement and which could take our play in this new formation to the next level would be to have a mobile, skillful, goal-scoring centre forward to complement Ozil and Alexis properly (he wouldn’t even have to be a CF necessarily, if Alexis is moved centrally again). Giroud is just too static and slow. So, yeah, I guess we’re back to hoping we sign the proverbial “WC striker” in the summer…

        1. Don’t disagree with needing a better striker, but I remember thinking during the game how well Giroud links up with the players around him to keep our attacks going. He’s limited in what he can do, but he’s usually excellent at what he does and I would like to keep him as a squad player.

          I actually really like Welbeck too, and Perez, who has been unlucky with the timing of his injuries this season, has looked good too. Then there’s Theo, who looks really bad, but scores the most goals of them. Who to get rid of for this new striker? It’s tough to make that call for me.

      2. For me, almost as important as moving to 3/5 at the back is moving Özil from a central midfield creator playing behind three forwards to an inside forward playing in the half space. We’ve basically replaced a wide forward like Walcott with a defender and shifted Özil to the wing in a front three with wingbacks providing the true width. It’s very similar to Conte’s 3-4-3 with Mesut and Sanchez playing similar roles to Hazard and Pedro playing between the lines and tucking in, a midfield duo replicating Kante and Matic, and wingbacks pushed very high and wide.

        I wonder if the move to a back three isn’t one response to the intense focus on counterattacking which is a hallmark of recent tactical trends. Most possession based wants want to push both fullbacks into the attacking third to stretch deep lying defensive teams. Even if two midfielders hold their positions in front of the center backs, there is a lot of space for a speedy forward to exploit either side of the central defenders and midfielders. by having three defenders in a line rather than two, it allows them to cover those wide areas just a little better.

        1. Lovely comments, lads.

          PFO, Ramsey’s got an underappreciated eye for space. We’re so focused (rightly) on the space he concedes behind him that we don’t appreciate enough how well he finds it in attacking areas. His luck/touch in front of goal has deserted him but that will come if he is played in a consistent position where he is allowed to bomb forward and link up with the strikers. This new setup allows him that freedom. Loosely, I consider inside forward as the same role Theo Walcott has played in the 4-2-3-1. In possession, look to make runs between the CB and FB and combine with the strikers.

          The “world class striker” has been a thing since Thierry left for Barcelona. You can win titles without a superlative striker, but it’s very hard; those types of elite players will elevate a team to a higher level than they deserve, i.e. RVP in 12-13. Finding one is easier said than done though, obviously. I do think Arsenal need more goals to come from somewhere and it’s ok if they do it by committee. The biggest thing for me is we need to figure out which horse we’re going to ride and then stick with him. Part of the problem is the horses we have are stylistically very different from one another and transitioning between them requires huge mentality shifts.

          Tee, very well said. Excellent comment.

  18. All this talk of Ox and Ramsey but I think we should mention that Gabriel had a fantastic game, as did young Rob Holding who continues to impress me each time I see him. Ozil also worked his butt off in this game.

  19. It was a good all-round team performance yesterday, and I agree with Amy Lawrence that at some point in the second half confidence seemed to return to everyone’s body language. It was mysterious and great to see. Special shout out for Gabriel, for the first time he looked like he was in control and inspiring his team-mates rather than just braving it out.

    I was watching the kids yesterday with their instant reactions and zero emotional control. I wonder if being an adult is anything more than a dissociative condition. We view everything from inside the bell jar, or else step outside ourselves, just for a moment, just to identify and get some control on our feelings before we feel them. if so, it doesn’t sound very healthy.

    If adulting is rigid self-control mixed with guilt derived from protestant work-ethic then I figure it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

  20. By the way all you folks in the USA complaining about having to listen to Michael Owen. You were lucky! In the UK & on BT Sport we had to endure the girly tones of Steve McManamamanam.

  21. Changed tactics aside, this win was as much about fight and doggedness as composure and skill. Truth be told, it took a little luck with City missing presentable chances, a call going our way, and an absolutely stunning save by Cech. We were outshot and out passed two to one so it’s difficult to say this was a tactical triumph but we fought, hung in there, and took the chances when we had to. It’s the kind of scrappy win against a good side which we haven’t had in far too long.

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