I love Arsene Wenger. He’s done so much for Arsenal Football Club. He’s given Gunners supporters the world over so much pleasure and he’s an eloquent, charming man to boot. But why must his stubbornness threaten to un-do everything he’s done for the red half of North London?
Wenger has transformed the way Arsenal play the game. After years of George Graham football he introduced a slick, silky passing game, a perfect combination of pace, power and precision. He bought some of Europe’s finest footballers – Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Pires – and he blended their skills beautifully with traditional British grit and desire. He seemed to pluck unheard of South Americans from obscurity, Sylvinho and Edu both doing their bit to win silverware for the club.
He changed the diets of Arsenal’s long-serving back four and extended their careers beyond belief. His approach to food and drink was something which others coaches copied, and his influence on the English game cannot be underestimated – without him, The Premier League would not be what it is today.
But what I cannot understand is why he does nothing about the flaws which any two-bit fan can see, and has been able to see for years and years. For all Wenger’s capabilities, his attention to Arsenal’s backline is clearly not up to scratch. This doesn’t make him a bad manager and he should not get so irate when his sides solidity at the back is called into question – there are solutionsout there that can be instigated. His problem however, is that he refuses to even entertain these solutions; refuses to accept such criticism despite all evidence to the contrary.
Prior to Sundays defeat to Spurs, 52% of the last 100 goals Arsenal have conceded have been from set pieces. Can you imagine Fergie standing still if his side had this sort of an issue in their defence? Would he ever have let it get to this stage? Of course not. Having such an unenviable record when it comes to defending corners and free kicks is simply unforgivable – it just shouldn’t happen. You can’t legislate for certain circumstances during the course of a 90 minute football match but being unable to keep things tight at the back, being unable to organise a defensive line and refusing help in this area when you clearly need it is beyond the pale.
Football progresses year on year. A tactic, formation or approach that worked last year might not work twelve months later. Arsene Wenger insists on playing a high line defensively. He insists on pushing the defence up so that his side can press the opposition, push them back and attack from within the oppositions last third. But few top flight Premier League teams now use this approach. And if you do insist on such a tactic, organising a back four so that they are well drilled at playing offside is crucial. AW does not have a defence that even seem to understand the concept of offside. Buying experienced, talented centre halves with no pace is also an odd decision unless you change such a defensive approach.
Arsene Wenger is a genius. He has changed Arsenal for the better, changed English football for the better and provided Arsenal fans with the sort of achievements we thought might never see at our club. It’s just such a terrible, terrible shame that he refuses to change his principles even slightly, refusing to get help when it is desperately needed. And I fear that by sticking to these principles so tightly, it could well be the ultimate undoing of him.