I’m a fan of Wenger, but over the last 8 years, he has come into a lot of criticism for his unwillingness to change from Plan A; criticisms which not even the most ardent Wenger supporter could fully refute. On the flip side, I do believe he comes under excessive criticism from some sectors over his stubbornness, the reason being his changes are normally subtle; rather than substituting or changing systems, he would rather change players’ roles or moves.
I also pose the question that if Wenger was such a poor tactician – as some fellow Gooners believe – we would not be the best second half team in the premiership this season; as it is in second halves when in-match tactical changes tend to show really well.
Despite my support, the defensive frailties are a tactical issue that Wenger has not really addressed for the vast portion of the season – much to the frustration of our fans, who grew wearisome of watching a Vermaelen cock-up that Mertesacker couldn’t keep up with to stop. Times were looking bleak until finally, at the Allianz Arena in Munich, it appeared that Wenger rectified the mistakes he was making at the back. The first question is why? What caused the change in system that had been plaguing our defence?
First things first, it is clear that in Munich we had nothing to lose. With no Wilshere, our midfield threatened to be overrun; we had lost 3-1 at home and were no longer under the illusion we could win this game stylishly. For once our team had the luxury of going for broke, and Wenger took it with both hands. With a team who had come under a lot of fire for shoddy-defending, Wenger saw the chance to try something new against top class opposition.
Secondly – The Tottenham loss and the missing game against Everton. Mertesacker spoke about how the Tottenham game caused the defence to have a closer look at their issues. I believe the break that was enforced due to Everton’s FA Cup game massively contributed to its effectiveness, as it gave the players a longer time to reflect.
In what was considered our biggest game of the season, two high-profile Vermaelen errors gave us the excuse to drop our captain – giving the now-impressing Koscielny his chance. I know it maybe too early to draw conclusion, but the Bayern game seemed to show me that the more disciplined Koscielny is a far better partner to Mertesacker than the gung-ho Vermaelen.
But what caused us to stick with Bould-ball? Well, quite clearly the performance against Bayern. Now I’m not just talking about the fact that we won, the crucial part of the win was that we scored twice, and could well have had an ONSIDE Walcott 3rd , or narrowly–missed Gervinho 4th. There is no point dwelling on the missed chances, but the point is that when fans watched the game they were thoroughly entertained, watching a defensively focused team that produced a game that in no-way could be labelled as anti-football.
Swansea, a fairly attacking team, then faced us next.This could not have been timed better; a slightly weaker team that like to attack enough to allow us to test out our new system once again. Despite early errors, we showed over the 90 minutes how sturdy our defence can potentially be. In spite of the praise received for the result, there is still reason to worry as questions can be raised as to when the system is effective. The deeper 4-2-3-1 sacrifices something in the attack, and that should be kept in mind when we are facing opposition that will look to lock us out. For example, don’t expect Reading or WBA to attack us like Bayern or Swansea.
My final and main reason I think this system will work, is actually due to the problems we’re having. The play is breaking down in the midfield; watching the silly passes, it seems to me that this is due to the lack of familiarity with the tactical style. It is very clear that our new defensive system requires our midfielders to step up. It is very plausible that in a few weeks we will still retain a serious attacking threat, without sacrificing our defensive strength.
You can view the decision to start dropping deeper as a negative way of playing, but I disagree: with more attacking fluency our team could play a beautiful attacking game, whilst maintaining defensive solidity. Others may disagree, but I believe we have the quality there, and as the crunch time approaches we might just be starting to show it.
Written by: Rohan
Rohan has recently started up his own Arsenal weblog: Ashburton Arsenal. It is a great blog with some fine articles for you to read, and I encourage you to have a look at it and a leave a comment on his site:
http://ashburton-arsenal.blogspot.co.uk (see also BK’s blogrole).