Sunday, 8 September 2013

Finally, Wenger's Roses Sprout Thorns

After an epic roller-coaster ride in the close season transfer window for Arsenal and it's fans, I believe the Club may have landed on it's feet finally.

Manager Arsene Wenger and the board had been viciously criticised all summer for failing to bring the marque signing(s) everyone believed the team needed to propel a challenge for titles; and the fans' feelings had begun to morph into anger and resentment at the Club's top brass after the defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day of the season.

Three straight wins against Fenerbache (twice in the champions league qualifier) and Fulham in the premier league, gave Wenger and the board some breathing space. Even though the likes of Harry Rednapp scoffed at those wins, saying they were easy teams for Arsenal to beat, perhaps diluting the significance of winning those games.


The Real catalyst to Arsenal's season occurred in the North London derby against Spurs, September 1st.  Manager Arsene Wenger has always worn his heart on his sleeve tactically, for the last eight years. There has barely been variation in his approach to games at the Emirates. It's been all or nothing with the 4-3-3 set-up. Keep the ball, lay into the opponent at pace ( big or small ) leave spaces behind.

Against Spurs, he deviated from that script. Arsenal were circumspect, pre-meditated, and calculating. The  idea was to curb their wild attacking instincts, and instead bid their time, waiting for Spurs to over commit, before un-picking them. That was not only evident with the way their only goal ( and match winner came about ) it was in the character of the team's tactical performance.

It's my thought that Flamini would be a very significant addition to the gunners' squad. He is a ferocious tackler, a tenacious midfielder, quick at reading and intercepting danger, and he breaths fire.  His presence would be infectious, not only to his co-midfielders, but so too the defenders. After leaving the club for AC Milan five years ago, you are talking about a player who thoroughly understands the flaws around Wenger's romantic and aesthetic ideology.  Arsenal have lacked steel and character in midfield for so long. I am not bluffing, Flamini's presence will change all of that.

Then the marquee signing arrived in Mezut Ozil. The Real Madrid outcast had Arsenal breaking the bank in a record £42 million deal to bring him to the Emirates. What does he bring ? is he worth it ? he brings business-end-creativity to the team's moves. Arsenal lack that metaphor in attack - a reference point. Ozil will sort out the over elaborating and self-indulgence, negatively consistent in Arsenal's play over the last eight years, and bring in the required incision and penetration to win games. The sum of the transfer is irrelevant. The figure for a for a player's transfer is not co-related to his talent or potential in my opinion.

Arsene Wenger had been averse to spending vast sums. He pushed back on the idea, and played the maverick. The longest serving manager in the premier league perhaps has lost his long standing argument; being the lone voice in the wilderness. The landscape of Club soccer in Europe is altering rapidly, and the force of change is money. Money from plutocrats funding Chelsea, Manchester City, PSG, Monaco, and a host of Russian sides. Then Bayern Munich won the champions league last season, and no one can deny  their star studded team was assembled on the cheap. Spending big is becoming a a mainstream concept.

Arsenal's fiscal conservative model meant the club risked being an empty giant, and it has done the right thing changing it's course. With the German international, Ozil aboard,  Wenger and the Arsenal board have re-defined the Club's strategy, image, and ambitions going forward. That is crucial after the messy failure to sign Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, and Luis Gustavo. It's the trend for the heavy weights to throw their cash around; as laudable as it was to stay pragmatic with their finances, the morale of the fans needed to come first at this point.


There's little doubt this club side has lost it's compass to trophies. Wenger got too mired in the financial calculus to the detriment of his tactical advancement as a coach. Maybe the time has come for him to recalibrate and refine his concepts.

Sometimes, not having too many stars; or bringing players through the ranks could blunt a coaches tactical edge. Whereas, having a few stars provides food for thought, and puts a coach under pressure, forcing him to innovate. Wenger falls squarely in the former.

Having a real star since Thierry Henry should stimulate the him tactically. What formation would he play with Ozil in the side ? it would be a downer if he retains the 4-3-3 set-up. With a tackler like Flamini in the team, Wiilshere and Carzola's technical skills, Wenger might have to tinker a little, and go 4-2-3-1, or 4-3-2-1 to effectively harness the his team tactically.

For too long Wenger has been building teams pretty as a rose, but with a delicate spine. With Ozil and Flamini, Wenger's team now has some spikes. If that dove-tails into his tactical re-awakening,  I am sure, Arsenal's barren eight years might not go beyond this season. I'll strongly tip them as solid league title contenders this season.