Bayern gave re-birth to classical wing-play: time to unleash Gnabry and Miyaichi?


My first live football experiences date back  to the mid to late seventies. My home team, Roda JC, was only a ten minutes cycle ride away and my dad would take me along to watch ‘De Koempels’. Dutch football was slowly on a decline after the incredible highs in the early seventies of Ajax and Feyenoord’s successes in Europe, and the national team almost winning the world cup with a new ‘brand’ of football: totaal voetbal (total football).

Roda JC, like their bigger ‘local’ competitor, PSV Eindhoven, did not play total football. My first live-footie experiences were all about fast and effective counter-football; the sort of football that was not appreciated anywhere near as much as what Ajax and the national team were capable of. But as a ten to twelve year old kid I did not understand the difference and I loved the way Roda played. Towards the end of the seventies Roda had two proper wingers: Adri Koster and Pierre Vermeulen: fast, good close ball control, and  they had more than a decent cross into the box; and a classic nr.9 in Dick Nanninga: tall, good jump, and therefore scoring a lot of goals with his head.

Some of you might remember the name Nanninga. He scored a late equaliser for Holland against Argentina in the 1978 WC final which meant extra-time had to be played. He also became the first substitute to be sent off in a world cup finals. Here is his goal against Argentina, a quintessential Nanninga header:

In recent years, we have seen the slow death of the classical wingers in the PL. More and more teams play midfielders on the wing who, together with their full backs, try to ‘make things happen’ from the wing, rather than time and again try to get behind defences and put the ball into the box, or get into the box themselves to score a goal.

Whilst watching Barcelona struggle to deal with some teams who opted to park the bus against them – Chelsea, and most recently, Milan at the San Siro, for example – I started to realise there is still a future for the classical winger. Trying to orchestrate every attack through the middle can literally be one-dimensional, as the inability to stretch the opposition’s defence and get behind them from the sides can render the best teams ineffective at times.

Bayern showed us all, and especially Barcelona, how incredibly valuable proper, classical wingers still can be. Robben and Ribery are among the very best wingers in Europe, and for quite a while now. Robben scored one goal every two games on average during his time at Bayern and Ribery one in every three games, and both produced an incredible number of assists as well.

At Arsenal, we have not seen proper wing-play for a while, other than from Theo and, to some extent, Gervinho. Theo prefers to play more centrally and the Gerv lacks consistency in his delivery as well as finishing off the chances he creates for himself. Arshavin has withered slowly away on the wing and Podolksi had a rather mixed season on the left wing as well. Cazorla and Ox also had stints on the wing, but neither have impressed in terms of classical wing play, although the Englishman has potential to become an effective winger if he wishes to be one.

At times Arsenal have looked flat and one-dimensional this season, simply unable to get behind defences from the wing – with the exception of Gervinho –  and therefore focussing far too much on somehow getting through opposition defences from the middle.

I wonder whether Wenger is planning to improve our wing-play next season by adding a couple of more traditional wingers to the team. With Gnabry and Miyaichi, Arsene can fill the gaps internally, or he could go out and buy a more established and experienced traditional winger.

Both Gnabry and Miyaichi have looked promising in recent seasons, but they are still young and unproven. I would love it if they get more chances next season, but with Arshavin gone now and rumours about Gervinho being sold continuing, I wonder whether Wenger is on the look-out for an experienced powerful winger who will give us thrust and variation to our attacking play (almost) straightaway.

What do you think fellow Gooners?

Written by: TotalArsenal.

94 thoughts on “Bayern gave re-birth to classical wing-play: time to unleash Gnabry and Miyaichi?

  • Are we sure Gnabry is any better suited to the right wing than Theo, or even Bendtner?

    There is pace, and there are wingers with pace. If you want a quick winger, convert Bellerin.

    Sorry TA I will now read your blog … i had only just replied on the last one. ha ha

  • Gerry,

    Bellerin was a winger converted into a RB if i’m not mistaken ; ) so basically that shouldn’t be a problem getting him to play as a winger once more if need be ; ) he needs to look at Bale and follow in his footsteps i reckon – he’s got plenty of potential and promise

  • Fantisticos TA.

    Yes, i remember Naninga hahahaha, What a name man. hahaha.

    Very interesting stuff. Munichs success, and the way they thrashed Barca realy raised some big tactical questions. Are we about to see teams copy the Munchen model? is possesion football no longer the be all and end all? How many wingers are plying there trade at the top level?

    Lots of questions, of which i have no answers TA. hahaha, but it will be fun watching it pan out.

    On a side note, Man Utd also play with width and seem to do okay.

  • thanks TA, another quality subject and very well written.

    yes, we certainly seem to have plenty of options or let’s just say some fine upcoming young prospects who can give us that extra dimension and offer us width, however, with classical wingers comes the problem of them neglecting their defensive duties , hence both the youngsters in question need to work on that bit.

    i doubt if we’re going to be buying any wingers (although i wouldn’t mind us getting Nani or Even Robben;);) but that would mean bad news for the likes of Theo/Ox/Gnabry e.t.c

    Theo and Ox played for England vs Ireland and they did a decent job at giving the national team some width pace and so on, i just feel if we played them together that much more, we would be more effective and they can always switch as well.

    as much as everyone including me is excited by gnabry, i feel Ryo is going to be an important player for us in the future as well !

  • being young and unproven can also act in ones favour as you can surprise the opposition,

    look at raheem sterling for liverpool earlier on in the season ? Ox in his first season ? the surprise element can do wonders for the young gunners if they were given the chance to show their skills against EPL teams or in domestic cups.

  • Hi guys 🙂

    Been away most of the day so not much posting of me today.

    Terry, yes Dick Naninga is a great name. The Dutch had some great names back then: Rob Rensenbrink, Johnny Rep, Neeskens, etc. 🙂

    Jambo 🙂

    Good point about Theo and Ox’s performance for England. If Theo was happy to continue as a dedicated winger, that would be great, but it looks like he is very keen to move away from the wing more and more.

    An experienced winger like Robben would be great for the youngsters: they could learn from him and take his place if and when he needs a rest/is injured.

  • 17 🙂

    From previous post: Gazidis has made the statement now and I can only imagine that he knows what this means: they will need to deliver now. Let’s see indeed how the Q&A go!

    I liked your: ‘A ready-made solution for the trouble at the double’ re Fellaini: that is it in a nutshell! 🙂

  • Admir 🙂


    And agreed that the DM position remains the fist priority.

    Re your dream: would you really like Dzeko to join us i.e. how much do you rate him (in our team)?

  • Yes, – Great stuff TA. However, finding any might be harder? Navas, would have been one such player.

    The other thing, presumably they would be the wide ones in a 4-4-2? That might explain why they have gone out of fashion, as the central midfielders would be overwhelmed?

    In a 4-3-3 with two wingers the striker would be isolated? in a 4-5-1 gives more variation, and they could be on hand to break out of defense?

    Which leads me to think, if internal promotion why not Gibbs in front of Monreal?

    Mind the suggestion of using Bellerin similarly on the other side is not so daft. That boy has got serious pace!

    I could point out that ‘my buddy’ PEA, is possibly what AW would look for, as he is more versatile, than say, Rio? But it would be nice to assess Rio at some point this season?

    Don’t ask what I am doing writing at this time, I’ll be woken up in another 5 hours.

    Night all ..

  • You are spot on there, Gerry, that is why they went out of fashion a bit in recent seasons.

    Even MU (Terry) have curbed their wing-play, and their wingers had average seasons at best. In 4-3-3 the striker would only be isolated if the (other) winger(s) do not join him in the box regularly and the AM is not tall enough to pose a threat. At BM they have Muller in the hole, who can also be a second striker when the ball is crossed into the box. Rooney or Jovetic, and to a lesser extent Cesc, could work really well for us in a similar set-up.

    Gibbs and Coquelin could work on the ‘4-4-2 wings scenario’. I have not seen enough of Bellerin to make a judgement, but I go with what you are saying. 🙂

  • Interesting Post, Total…

    Wingers, now that is a term that means different things to different people.
    Marc Overmars was, to me, a winger, but I don’t recall him crossing the ball very often.
    Brian Marwood was also, a fine winger, his crossing was superb, accurate & consistant.
    George Armstrong likewise… But Geordie was also a workhorse who would chase back and help out when we were under pressure.
    Peter Marinello was more direct, attacked the opposition with pace, much like Overmars, or Walcott.
    Theo might see himself as a striker, but i’m not convinced myself.
    Ryo reminds me more of the fast traditional wingers I used to watch.
    Not seen enough of Gnabry, to have an opinion.

  • Hi all..
    TA.. I agree with you.. for me it is better to play 4-1-2-3 or 4-2-1-3.. than 4-2-3-1..
    We have some good wingers..
    Walcott is a pure winger.. the best RW for me.. try to make him play as a ST is wrong.. Ronaldo scores a lot for Madrid.. and he play as a winger.. cmiiw..
    Cazorla is a CM or AM.. not a winger.. playing him there slowly will kill his real potential.. haha..

    On the other way.. Podolski is not a winger.. If I have to choose between him or Gervinho.. I will choose Gervinho.. Playing Podolski as a ST / CF will be better.. let him compete with Giroud.. and not Cazorla.. hehe..
    Although I still think his best position is a second striker.. but We don’t play that formation.. Unless Wenger change his formation totally.. and play the 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1..

    But.. just maybe that will come true.. hehe.. With rumours linked for Higuan, Rooney, Fabregas, Felaini, Grenier, Gundogan and Bender.. all are good midfielders.. except Higuan.. Although I think Wenger will keep playing 4-2-3-1 formation.. and for that consequences.. I think better to send off Podolski or/and Gervinho than to bench them all season.. hehehe..

    And TA.. for your last comment.. I don’t think RvP is suitable for Dutch Captain.. Holland don’t bring Strootman along.. so Van Gaal give him that honour.. Five time failed to score is so un-persey for me.. hehe..
    But still better than Sneijder.. I think Sneijder so unperformed.. I don’t know what happened to him.. I think his glory is over.. and its Strootman time.. and Sim de Jong look very promising also..
    Thanks for your flattery to our GK.. Kurnia Mega.. Yes he did great that night.. Sim de Jong gave us a nightmare.. hehe..
    But overall not to bad.. haha.. Our team gave some good job.. especially in the first halftime.. and We lost to Holland.. the best team in the world.. hahaha.

  • Hi TA,

    Interesting! I would argue that wing play hasnt gone out of business, but wingers have gotten less chance for two main reasons:

    a. A long time ago if you were an outside back, you were, by definition, slow. That has changed a lot an thus, the field has gotten a lot shorter for wingers and thus harder to get behind

    b. Equally, more teams get back in front of the ball or park the bus entirely, which means less football than ever is played within +/- 10m of midfield these days, or so it sometimes seems. Easier to just go wait a bit and pressure/chase lightly in that area so you dont get burned. Again, the field got shorter..

    Thus, I think one loss of wing play has been due to changes in how we play. Robben and Ribery are so good ball at feet and with pace (or change of pace) that defenders cannot affort to sit back or to come up (see all our prior discussion about Theo). They thus create space that would otherwise be taken away.

    So, I feel like we are a bit back at the beginning a few posts back. Just a little. Perhaps it is as simple as less players with pace and good ball skills are getting put wide, and instead find their way to more glory at ST, or simply, per my prior bits, focus on the one main aspect because it works..

    Thus, the main question. Is wing play dead because of how teams play or because wingers dont seem to appear anymore, or because…

    Just some ramblings.. cheers — jgc

  • TA, top posts on traditional wingers and whether we would benefit from them. You even used a bit of ancient history. 🙂 😀

    From my understanding Wenger has never really used traditional wingers. He has said he prefers to play AMs or poachers on the wing who come in from out wide. Freddie and Pires (from years back) were AMs. Then look in recent years. Arshavin, Rosicky, Yossi (loanee), Ramsey (although that was mainly for development), Santi, Nasri (you could argue) and the Ox 😉 are all AMs. Podolski, Gervinho, Walcott are all poachers. Gnabry could end up as a SS (HH can tell us where he can end playing in his future post).

    Traditional wingers are a dying breed and Di Maria is probably the best traditional winger about. His costs around 30 million and can play on either flank.

    It would be useful to have at least one experienced winger and it would be really beneficial to Giroud to get onto the end of some good crosses which a traditional winger would offer but I do not feel he will ever buy one.

  • TA, from my understanding Ribery and Robben are not traditional wingers. Traditional wingers look to beat the fullback cross the ball into the box. Ribery and Robben look to dribble past fullbacks and cut in looking to play through balls or shoot on goal although they can still cross the ball. They will also swap wings frequently.

  • TA, another fine post my friend and very unique one at that! Really enjoy these gems you are able to churn out on a consistent basis :).

    I would add that Barca also showed us what happens when you can’t defend :). A Bayern team with equal players capable of producing offense, but one that defends as collective whole (individually as well) better will always come out on top in those situations. Barca’s CB pairing of Puyol and Pique was a weakness all season and I wouldn’t call either Alba or Alves world-class defending full-backs either.

    The idea of playing with more classical wingers is certainly an intriguing possibility. I’ve always been a big supporter of having a plan B for the attack, especially when teams park the bus against us or on days where our creativity just lets us down as a whole. The larger issue is that our team struggles mightily with any change in mid-game strategy. Whether this is nailed down to the fact that we lack “intelligence”, “quality” or “flexibility and practice on the training ground” remains to be seen.

    However, I would preach caution in constantly changing strategies to the current fad. Bayern’s wing play may have helped them this season, but where was it last year (aside from making the CL final) and the year before in the Bundesliga? Sure, everything worked out perfectly for them this season (no Pep at Barca and a new coach who’s been away ill quite a bit, an Arsenal squad in transition, a BD team that lost Kagawa then Gotze to BM before the CL final etc.). Before that, it was Barca/Spain’s possession and tiki-taka that was the desired blueprint and before that it was having some combination of the best players in the world (Utd and Real Madrid).

    I would love to see Gnabry with the first-team next season, but as Gerry pointed out he’s not a classical winger either. Much like Ox, he’s destined for a role in the center of the pitch. Miyachi on the other hand would certainly give you that classical wing play, but he’s been far too injury prone already during his young career that it’d be difficult to depend on him.

  • Just about time for me to nod off and (by the time I’m up, maybe) the big stories will be all about the big promises Arsenal Gazidis, et. al.) are making….

    Still, a very interesting post…and I love the historical stuff…

    I gotta say, I’m with jgc and AFC on this, that (as the shorts have gotten bigger) the field has gotten too small for “traditional” wingers and that I too don’t think of players like Ribery and Robben (or Walcott) as traditional wide men. In fact, when I see any of our forwards hugging the touchline I ask myself, “are they angry with the manager? (and trying to make a point”)….

    These days, at the highest level, the fullbacks are expected to get all the way to the touchline and cross it (or even cut inside and pull it back). Fullback is not the job it used to be–for unskilled guys who could barely make the team and knew how to throw the ball in….Nowadays it’s about stamina and passing and maybe it’s a refuge for guys who don’t really have a shot nor any size or are maybe a little too one-footed. For sure our FBs need to do better with their crosses, but wingers or wide forwards, I think, see crossing as a last resort, when their preference–getting to the middle of the pitch, is closed off.

    (I also think this is a function of the extreme injection of money into the game at the highest level. If you want the “big move” you better do more than serve up good crosses–better to be a glory hunting striker yourself than just a runner/assist guy…)

    All that being said, I think there’s a place for a guy like Antonio Valencia (ManU) who really shies away from going inside. Still, it’s too easy for defenders to play him (despite his speed and power) and his starts have been dropping off. Part of this is also the demise of the traditional #9 in favor of the more mobile “false 9.”

    So, in the end, I think we need more guys who “can” get out wide and to the byline and cross the ball and are willing to do so as an option to their more preferred central play. Total football requires players willing to run and fill spaces vacated by others as the play progresses so it may be more about attitude than ability. We’re on the cusp of developing a “team mentality” but our successes in the Spring were built on defense first. The next step may very well come from such an attitude further up the pitch. Buying guys who do so naturally is one approach. Sacrificing individual glory for a team ideal (most likely with the players we already have) is another….

  • AFC

    One could ask then what is a winger versus an AM besides the “how” of gettig behind the fullback.

    IMO, I dont care too much how you get there, with the ball at the other end, as long as you get there regularly … And do something useful to broaden our attack

    If you get my drift.. cheers — jgc

  • 17HT

    Good point about how full backs, once the slowest and least running are now basically being asked to do more and more B2B running and play besides what they did back in the ancient history..

    cheers — jgc

  • Very good points AFC! I would have to agree that Ribeiry and Robben are not “classical wingers”. However, I think what TA was trying to say was that they honour their responsibilities on the wing and largely attack down the flanks, opposed to drifting centrally and looking to initiate the offense from there (a la Cazorla).

    I think “classical wingers” are players like Valencia, Navas, A.Young etc. These are players who rarely, if ever, drift centrally and do their best work running up and down the flank, looking to cross the ball into the targets in the box.

  • JGC, the roles of an AM and a winger are very different. AMs might possess similarities in attributes but they also possess differences in attributes. An AM has a different role which affect the rest of the team.

    JGC, scan through this and you will see my point a lot clearer.

  • Guys, the link below gives a description on all the different midfield roles and the attributes needed for each. It also will tell you about the evolution of these roles, using examples of players. It is worth reading to clear up any thoughts!

  • HH, I know what TA was trying to say. 🙂

    Read the link what I put above. Santi is classed as a false 10/central winger and not an AM.

  • * An AM has a different role which affects the rest of the team in a different way a winger would.

  • Also we play a system which is heavily dependant on our fullbacks, so we have to ask ourselves, is Wenger deliberately playing AMs/poachers/false 9s/SSs on the wings with the intention that they neglect their wing play, come centrally with our fullbacks providing the wing presence and taking on the role of traditional/classical wingers?

    I think Wenger is to a certain extent.

  • * Also we play a system which is heavily dependant on our fullbacks to get high up the pitch and attack as well as defend, so we have to ask ourselves, is Wenger deliberately playing AMs/poachers/false 9s/SSs on the wings with the intention that they neglect their wing play, come centrally with our fullbacks providing the wing presence and taking on the role of traditional/classical wingers?

    I think Wenger is to a certain extent.

  • Also if we are playing a system which is heavily dependant on our fullbacks, to get high up the pitch and attack as well as defend another question could be asked. Are we playing with two fullbacks or two wingbacks?

    It is not uncommon for teams who play total football such as ourselves to play with two CBs and two WBs as opposed to two CBs and two fullbacks. So I am assuming we play with two CBs and two WBs so is it not the job of the WBs to provide the width. So should Gibbs, Monreal, Jenkinson and Sagna not be taking on the role traditional/classical wingers when attacking.

  • Good morning, I’ve had my 5.0am brekky, and the theme is still rolling.

    I agree with the points above about the changing nature of the game. One player who was on show last night showed what you can do with ‘instant pace was Tello? The horse racing term is a quick turn of foot, and that is how you can ‘first run’ – another racing term – on a defender facing the wrong way?

    Walcott, I think, is less quick off the mark than Ox, but can sustain pace better?

    Some are not so quick running with the ball as they are with it, Gibbs perhaps, but as another converted ‘winger’ to full back, that is an attribute. If Bellerin does keep his pace as he grows older, then in 2014/15 he will be one to watch? I doubt if there are many in the club that are as quick as him into full stride, or running with the ball, but he is for the future.

    Ryo probably typifies another reason why wing play is a dying art .. the late tackle? Avoiding injuries at speed is always going to be a priority if you are going to survive. I hope Ryo can come back stronger this time, he would add a bit of balance to our play, allowing that switching from one side to the other that was mentioned on an earlier post?

    HH – Regards changing shape during games. I think our lack of confidence in doing this has been down to a combination of factors, some of which you mention. However, because we have not been on a ‘confident’ winning run, the fear of trying something different because 3 points have been hard to come by, it became a self fulfilling legacy? If we can get off to a good start and win games in the first half, build that fear factor into the opposition, then such opportunities will be so much easier, and in my view bring even greater rewards?

  • Maybe that is why Wenger brought a certain Andre Santos. 😉

    Santos was a wingback before he came Arsenal and Wenger’s plan probably was to play him as a LWB and not a LB in our system but Santos could not fit into our system and play as a WB in a formation with two WBs and two CBs as he was just not good enough. He did not have the speed and stamina to perform this role. Performing the role of WB is one the hardest and most demanding roles with 3 CBs behind you so imagine how much harder and demanding (and do not forget more emphasis on being defensively sound, defensively where Santos is the best) it is to perform the role of WB with 2 CBs behind you. Santos could just not hack it.

  • AFC – I agree with you on it being a demanding role, yet people can be very quick to criticise our best two?

    Gibbs, whenever caught ‘out of position’, and Sagna, being cautious after injury, and failed to deliver a meaningful cross?

    I do not recall Sagna being poor at crossing in previous seasons? I think he found it difficult this season because we had so few bodies getting into the box, and delayed crossing which enabled a defender or two to block them?

    Gibbs was less used in attack towards the end of the season, but remained in good health. It was unfortunate that the Poldi combination was not so effective, possibly due to the latter’s niggling injury? But that did offer balance to the side when Gibbs got forwards? If both are fully fit at the start of this season, then that too can provide width, and with Monreal as back up, so maybe Gibbs can stay fit?

  • Hi AFC

    I don’t disagree, BUT, those are words, and to me the modern game is ever more fluid and thus roles are blurring. You also noted that as FBs become more wings (as well) you have to move those others inside

    To me, where I struggle with definitions and such is the rigiditiy. Roles ARE important but, increasing fluidity and flexibility is ALSO this eras total football. IMO of course. The trick is the balance between fluidity and loss of structure.

    Equally, I strongly feel that as players have gotten more athletic and skilled over the years the following has happened:

    A. It is ever harder to find and create space at the top level, demanding more fluidity and flexibility

    B. it is thus ever harder to create numbers and advantage, requiring more players moving forward in a pointed fashion, your outside defenders and Koz or Verm, to create, locally, those numbers. Increasing risk and difficulty.

    IMO, these things drive the modern game and choices

    THAT ALL SAID, I still DO very much believe in keeping all the width you can, to maximize space, but WHO does it is ever changing it seems.

    2 more p for the pie — jgc

  • Spot on JGC … you’ve gone Caps?

    This is why my shopping list is a long one? To have the options, over time to be able to have the flexibility, and the fluidity that goes with it ?… But it will take time to bring that to fruition?

    i don’t care who ends up in our squad by the start of the season, but I would keep the bulk of our finishing squad in place for the opening game or two. Depending on fitness, naturally.

    But a front 3 of Poldi, Giro, and Theo would be fine. Higuain would be a nice fear introduction from the bench?

    Again, in midfield, start with the double pivot of Arteta/Ramsey, unless the DM is from the EPL, otherwise introduce slowly from the bench, except if Cesc has a second coming?

    Back 5 is a given, imo

    Can’t wait for the real thing to begin … in just about 8 weeks???

  • I’m not sure both ‘ll get the opportunity next season. Ryo may be with the team 4 cap1 games b4 going-out in january. Wenger ‘s plans 4 Gnabry, Akpom and 2 spands 4 new wengerish

  • Morning all……..Have to agree with Gerry on Bellerin. I watched him a lot in the next gen series. He was one of a few that stood out in that competition, along with the two Chelsea midfielders (names escape me at the moment).

    If he progresses and matures he will be a star in the future I’m sure. The problem will be if we can keep him. Jenkinson is obviously in front of him at the moment and if Sagna signs a new contract and stays he will be third in line. That will pose the question, will he stay and fight to get into the team?

    Fixtures out at the end of the week. Can’t wait.

  • allezkev – yes Ryo looks like the traditional winger and Gnabry is pretty similar. They both have speed and the ability to dribble their way past defenders and get the ball, or themselves with the ball, into the box.

    Overmars was a fantastic winner who could cross well but usually had options to keep the ball low and pass to fellow attackers or midfielder to finish the opportunity. He also had a great ability to finish off a chance himself.

  • Henry 🙂
    Good comment re formations and usefulness of wingers.

    Re Holland. It looks like Sneijder has lost the captaincy and that VJ is the new one. Dennis help us! Arsene should sign up Kurnia Mega!

  • Hello, people! 🙂

    Another great text, TA, and the one that raised a question that I have found myself asking more than once recently. The main reason for that was the fact the proper beating we suffered against Schalke, United and Bayern respectively. All three teams were targeting our left defensive flank (Andre Santos and Vermaelen respectively) with overlapping right full-backs (Uchida, Rafael, Lahm) and right wingers (Farfan/Afellay, Valencia, Mueller/Robben) causing all sorts of troubles for us.

    Which leads us to the next question – the role of the full-backs. United are good example as – unlike in previous two seasons – their full-backs Rafael and Evra were marauding forward throughout whole 2012-13. Bayern have Lahm and Alaba with ability to overlap and help their attack while example of Juventus with Lichtsteiner and Asamoah as one of rare exceptions of teams playing 3-5-2 formation. Barcelona failed to match their best performances under Guardiola and lack of width (directly connected with over-reliance on Messi) made their game look rather one-dimensional. Dani Alves was far from his best days.

  • jgc – very fine comment.

    I reckon if we want to play without traditional wingers – and I agree they are becoming harder and harder to find, as per your last sentence – we need to play with a compacter midfield who all feed off the ‘holding striker’ (Chamakh in the past and now the better option of Giroud). But still, when teams park the bus, we need a ‘Gervinho with better end-product’: somebody who can burst and trick themselves into the box from the wing and create/or threaten to create havoc from there.

  • Excellent points Admir.

    Our full-backs want to go forward and often work their socks off – especially Sagna. But with usually only one target man in the box and lack of crossing skills by most of our FB’s it all looks pretty ineffective at times. The combinations between FBs and ‘wingers’ also remains a work in progress, at least….

  • All good points AFC and glad you liked the ancient history. 🙂

    Gervinho and Theo could operate as traditional wingers but the former is at best a work in progress and the latter does not want to be one….

    Reyes and Overmars were very effective wingers, but agreed Pires and Ljunberg were different types.

    The Dutch still produce traditional wingers regularly and yes Di Maria is a great example of an effective, traditional winger.

  • Regarding Džeko – I rate him highly and the main reasons are his ability to find space and his decisions to exploit it. He is an intelligent versatile striker (take a look at his four-goal-haul over Spuds in 2011-12 – he scored with his head, right foot and left foot), he can score from both inside the box and outside the box (take a look at his goal against France in 2011 when he dealt with Rami easily before firing the ball into the net) and his shooting technique gives him a lot of options. The only thing that might be a problem for him (and it’s something Giroud also had problems with) is his pace. Džeko is also a very nice lad, a down-to-Earth-guy who helps people that need help and sometimes he looks like a kid who simply enjoys playing football. I remember when we won against Belgium away four years ago, Džeko scored a magnificent opener with curling shot. We won 4:2 and Džeko, just after the game, told to Bosnian commentator: “We gave them four!” with childish smile on his face. His signature would make number of Arsenal fans in Bosnia much bigger. I mean, even people that didn’t know how many footballers are on the pitch (we call them women here 😀 ) and didn’t know that there are actually two shit-clubs in Manchester before Džeko signed for Oilers now “know” that Džeko is playing for Manchester City, that Mancini hated him and that Tevez boycotted him on the pitch.

    However, it seems that he is going to stay at City as Pellegrini sees him as part of his plans. Lewandowski will stay at Dortmund so Džeko won’t join them.

  • Cheers HH – it has been overcast and miserable here for the last few days so the minds easily wanders… 🙂

    All good points and agreed we need to focus on ourselves rather than going with the latest ‘fashion’. The issue is about being effective from the wing and adding variety to our attacking play, and we need to add something there, either internally – and I disagree that Gnabry is not good potential for a traditional winger as he plays a lot more natural on the right wing than Ox from what I have seen – or externally. It will be interesting to see what’ll happen this summer… 🙂

  • Admir, cheers for the Dzeko update. I believe he is a lethal striker and possibly better than Giroud in the long term, but am not sure whether he would add a lot of extra value right now – other than of course lots of drop dead gorgeous Bosnian women supporting the mighty red and white colours around their sexy bodies hahaha 😉

  • 17 and others

    Robben and Ribery are classical wingers for me: they maintain the width of the team, have speed to receive a pass and get behind a defence and can get there themselves with close ball control/dribbling skills. They can open up defences from the site without being totally reliant on the triangle passing game to do so. For me they are the full package of what a winger should be.

  • 17 great comment at 05.04: a really good addition to the post. All agreed on the changing role of the FB.

    Under Van Gaal total football is played with proper wingers/wing-play (with support from the FB’s) and it remains a joy to watch at times.

  • TA,
    Love the article. And you have brought up something that provokes a lot of analysis.

    Yes, Arsenal is one of the teams that abandoned wing play a long time ago. Even Pires and Ljunberg weren’t the traditional hug the touch line type of wingers that say Nani, Valencia and Di Maria are. They were players who loved to cut it and score goals. It was a very versatile and mobile front line.

    Currently, based on Arsenal’s type of play, anyone in the midfield and attack (except maybe Arteta and Giroud) can and probably has played on the wing. And in our current set up, we do not have a more-of-a-winger type of player (on the basis that Gervinho is crap and the OX is still being experimented everywhere). The closest we’ve had for a long time was Nasri.

    See the thing is, I understand why Wenger abandoned traditional wingers and where he’s coming from. The dynamic aspect of having a front three who can interchange positions at will during a game makes it impossible for team to mark and completely stifle you out (provided you have personnel of the correct quality). Ironically, having a traditional winger makes the team one dimensional. Look at Valencia for example. A right footed winger who plays on the right wing. Any half decent full back knows that he only way he can beat you is to let him cross. Close that avenue of attack and his only other option is to pass the ball backwards.

    Same to Robben and Di Maria. Left footed players played on the right wing. They may have all the tricks in the world but if you prevent them from cutting in, they are as dangerous as a toothless shark. Their predictability based on their abilities decreases their threat level by a whole lot.

    Now contrast that with having a front three of say Jovetic on the left, Benzema centrally and Theo on the right. These three players can play anywhere across the front three and not only that, can score and create. If a full back comes up against Jovetic and lets him cut in, he will shoot and probably score. If closes that avenue but lets him cross, he will find Benzema or Theo, who you can bet will score. He is too skilled to lose they ball easily so if you foul him you create a set piece situation where may concede a goal. You get my point?

    Also, against such a line up you CANNOT man mark. Due to their free movement, they would inflict total chaos upon your defense. They only way is to mark zonally and lock the defense but ask yourself, with Wilshere and Cazorla behind them pulling the strings, exactly how successfully and how long can you keep them out?

    Also compare statistics (goals scored and created) of these traditional wingers with our type of wide men. Look at for example Theo Walcott vs Robben. Or El Sharaawy vs Di Maria. Our more dynamic players blow these traditional wingers out of the water.

    Finally, there’s the aspect of possession. Traditional wingers tend to have two qualities, running at opponents and dribbling. They tend to keep the ball longer and are only effective when they have space to run into. Take away that space and see how erratic they become. Robben and Di Maria (two of the world’s finest wingers) are often criticized for being too selfish. When you close them down,8 times out of 10 they will give away possession as they will try to dribble past their opponents rather than pass (look at how many times these two have lost possession). Sure, there are those days when they will produce a breath taking skill and actually beat their opponent but that is very rare. In a possession team like Arsenal, we are better suited with highly technical players who can play in restricted space and hence why I feel that Wingers aren’t what we need.

    That said, I can’t comment about Serge as I haven’t actually watched him much. For Ryo however, I can tell you that he is going to be a massive star. He actually plays like a young raw CR7. Had it not been for his niggling injuries I think he could have had they type of influence that Lukaku had at west brom. Plus I am actually frustrated because the experience he’d have gotten would have been completely priceless in his development. On the plus side though, he’s still very young so has time to shake off those injuries and establish himself. Another loan would to an EPL side benefit him greatly.

  • Wenger shys away from out and out wingers because he likes his players to be versatile. Everyone we have used on the wing this season can play in another position like in central midfield or as a striker. Whether they are any good is another story. Also we use a passing system usually 1-2’s in and around the opponents box, I don’t think Wenger is a fan of solo efforts to the byline and hooking in a cross. Most of our crossing is ineffectual in games anyway, despite the presence of Giroud.

    Ryo needs another loan, last season was unlucky for him, I’m hoping someone can see the benefits he can give a team, maybe a short run in the championship wouldn’t do him any harm. I think it’s key he gets some game time as he won’t have many chances at Arsenal this term.

    Good Post by the way!!

  • Hi Marcus 🙂

    Thanks for a very fine comment – in effect, a mini-post!

    Traditional wingers can interchange just as much as our fluid-three up-front can do. Robben and Ribery interchange as well as Muller, which makes Bayern very hard to play against or ‘man-mark’ out of the game. Valencia, when given a dedicated winger role, is one of the best wingers around; the season before last he almost produced an assist per game.

    I can see your point re one-footedness of the likes of Robben but the Dutchman is seldom or never a toothless shark, and he delivers almost in every game in Germany as well as in Europe. Same goes for Ribery.

    Feel free to look up the stats in terms of goals and assists between the likes of Robben and Ribery on one side and Theo, Pod and Cazorla on the other and you will see your statement is incorrect. Robben or (and!) Ribery in our team would make a great difference imo.

    I am a big fan of possession football but you have not covered what needs to be done with park the bus teams: how are Ribery, Jovetic and Theo going to deal with that?

    We have lacked sufficient levels of deadly penetration from the wings for quite a while now, and just relying on a fluid-three of generalist attackers might not be a wise thing to do going forward.

  • JGC, totally see your point. 🙂

    Formations in football in the early days often consisted of two defenders as there was no offside. When the offside rule was created formations were changed to consist of 3,4,5 defenders. More and more players seem to be joining in the attack and in years to come we could see an altered re-evolution of formations consisting of two defenders.

  • Gerry, as you have seen in my comment regarding Santos the WB role is demanding. So with Sagna getting older and coming back from injuries he had some performances which were under par. Next season he will be back from injury and back at his best, but you have to ask yourself this question. How much longer can he perform the role of WB in our system. He is bound to lose pace and stamina as the years go on (I think he has already lost a bit of pace and stamina) and eventually he will not be able to hack it (and could lead to too much strain on him resulting in continous injuries), which is why I proposed turning him into a CB in one of my last posts.

  • Gregarious13 – good point about Wenger not opting for another style of football and when it is good it s very good. The quesiton is though, what are we going to do with the park the bus teams, and how are we going to improve our counter attacks?

  • TA, I have not had the time to start any, but I have got the templates for at least 3 posts.

    I will be writing a post on the demanding role of WBs in total football formations like ours and looking why Santos who was a WB failed to fit into our system and how long will Sagna be able to deal with the demanding role of playing WB.

  • Fair enough TA, we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I can see why Robben and Ribeiry would be considered dedicated wide players, but I don’t see them as “classical wingers” as per my definition. For me, classical wingers are players who hug the sidelines and look to initiate the play from out wide through a cross or pass to a CAM/ST in the box, rarely drifting to the middle on the dribble on in general (as marcus and AFC described).

  • Gerry @ 6:22, excellent points mate :). Definitely agree that confidence early on in the season to switch strategy within a game plays a huge role. Without being able to establish any real sort of presence, we become rigid, conservative and timid in both creativity and formation as well.

    However, I also think that the problem stems from the training ground. The mentality of “possession football” has been over emphasized, leading to more rigidity and to the static, sideways and backwards passing. I know AW prefers expressive football and leaves a lot of the responsibility to the players but I think there needs to be a little more structure, training on plan B strategies and a focus on forward, direct passing (my assumption that this isn’t emphasized in training of course).

  • TA,
    Another point I forgot to mention, perhaps the most important is that I have a feeling even if we bought a traditional winger, Wenger would still find a way to convert them into a more technical player. Kind of like the way barca did with Sanchez.

  • Cheers AFC, I don’t see any difference between Downing, Giggs, Valencia, Robben or Ribery, other than in quality and effectiveness. As wingers they peform the same tasks/roles.

  • TA, you could argue that all a traditional winger can do is beat the fullback by beating him for pace/dribbling and crossing the ball. Downing still crosses the ball but does not even have the ability to beat fullbacks for pace/dribble past so he has to look to pass his way past defenders.

    I think Robben and Ribery can play as traditional wingers but they have more to their game. They can cut in and dribble and also have a good finish.

  • Some wingers prefer to cut infield (as opposed to staying wide) and pose a threat as playmakers by playing diagonal passes to forwards or taking a shot at goal. Is this not what Robben and Ribery do TA.

  • Agreed AFC,

    A typical winger can lauch himself past (a) defender(s) with speed and/or trickery and/or triangle play with co-attackers, or make the fast runs to receive the ball by the AM and penetrate the opposition’s defence from the site with a subsequent cross, pass or further dribbling skills.

    I believe those sort of players have been disappearing and are being replaced with attack minded midfielders who often lack the pace, or skill and/or discipline to stretch the game and get largely on their own account past defenders on the wing.

    Robben and Ribery are multi-talented players who can play anywhere, but their main task is to get behind defences from the wing and create scoring chances for others or themselves on a large scale. And boy are they good at it!

  • Jefferson Farfan(Schalke and Peru), Milos Krasic(Fenerbahce and Serbia), Balazs Dzsudzsak(Dinamo Moscow and Hungary), Dimitri Payet(Lille and France).

  • As I see it, wingers have always been cutting inside in order to add variety/unpredictability to their attacking play, AFC. No?

  • @ TotalArsenal June 10, 2013 17:25

    All wingers by trade and could be said “traditional”-types as well.

  • TA, not if you look at guys like Beckham, Downing and Milner (maybe). I think the more talented wingers, who have multi-dimensional will look to cut in like Robben and Ribery. You could argue Downing lacks the ability to do this.

  • AFC

    I have seen Downing trying to cut inside, but like you said, he is not very good at it…

    Beckham was indeed a special case and I would not regard him as a typical winger. He just had a great ability to cross and work-rate (and set-pieces of course!).

  • TA, Beckham probably really was a playmaker or an AM. Milner has has the crossing ability and work-rate to play on the wing.

  • TA, I would class Valencia, A.Young, Navas etc. as “classical/traditional” wingers. Robben, Ribeiry are sort of hybrid wingers/players played out of position due to their pace. Or perhaps they are just so skilled that they need not rely solely on their “classical wing play” and can cut inside to create.

    JM, I wouldn’t classify Farfan as a classical winger either, he falls into the same category as Robben, Ribeiry, Ronaldo etc. as the “modern winger”. The position has evolved beyond the “classical winger” and players with pace, dribbling ability and scoring prowess are now being played in wider positions.

  • HH, maybe you could write us one of your masterpieces comparing traditional and modern wingers, like when you compared traditional and modern box to box players. 🙂

  • Robben and Ribery are traditional wingers who are just very good and cleverly interchange with each, whereas Ronaldo and Messi are positioned on the wing but have a totally free role. Robben and Ribery have to stick predominantly to their role of winger imo.

  • TA, then we shall agree to disagree my friend :). Imo, Robben and Ribeiry are wide forwards, not classical wingers. Figo, Conti, Overmars and Giggs, for example, were classical wingers. I believe that the classical winger has been slowly phased out of the game due to formation shifts.

    “Classical wingers” were more effective and prevalent in the soon to be extinct 4-4-2 formation and the traditional width in the middle of the 4 gave birth to the “classical winger”. In any formation of a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 etc., the players are undoubtedly a little more centralized and can deploy “wide forwards” that can dribble, run fast and score, in order to compensate for the lack of “traditional” width.

  • I would add to my comment @ 18:09 to JM that Farfan plays better as a support forward, like he does with Peru and like he did at the start of his career at Alianza.

  • Just got back from New York City and I saw Santi Cazorla today!!!

  • Hahaha TA, I saw him, did not get to speak to him or ask for an autograph or anything :(. It was raining and I didn’t want to bother him as I already saw a few other fans “trying to talk to him”. I don’t think he’s entirely grasped the English language quite yet but was good enough at a conversational level.

    He was much, much shorter than I had originally expected too. Seems smaller than the proposed 5’6 for some odd reason.

  • Never mind his height, HH, he is one of the grandest players around, and all his growth hormones went into the development of not one but two footballing feet! 🙂

  • Very true TA, I guess it’s not nearly as impressive when I tell you lot I saw Santi walking around the streets when I’m sure it’s a more common occurrence in London. My friends in Canada were quite jealous hahaha!

  • TA, Gerry et al,

    TA wrote:: “But still, when teams park the bus, we need a ‘Gervinho with better end-product’” .. ARGH (more caps for you Gerry! 🙂 ) … What is Gervinho ball skills with better finishing and pace, but .. Theo with just a little more confidence on the ball as I still hold that he has the skills but doesnt rely on them (if only cuz AW likes skills best, I think)

    Gerry, I only use all caps to show emphasis on the word(s) rather than yelling. My form of smiley 🙂 .. and thanks for the kind words at 6:22 I think…

    HH, I dont mind sideways and back passing as long as it is *not* just about posession (see, Gerry, there I used ** 🙂 ) .. Movement is what creates space and pulls/twists defenses as players move in/out to add numbers. So, backwards, sideways whatever as long as it is quick *and* leading to the incisive through pass… If just to keep the ball … ack, I agree with you..

    Just my quick responses before the next post… TA, if you think it is miserable there, it is Belgium in early early early spring here…

    cheers — jgc

  • JGC – overcast for three days on a row, not a bit of sunshine and just thirteen degrees in flipping June!!!! AND all that without regular footie BAH!

    Theo is end-product: so focus more on your strength son (and rest of team) and you’ll get even better.

    Gervinho lacks confidence and composure, and I would give him the same advice as Theo hahaha 🙂

  • Shame you guys (Total and pup ) on the east coast are having cloudy weather, the land of Lesbania aka Cornwall has been drizzled in sunshine for weeks, the lesser clothed native females are keeping my boner ticking over nicely in anticipation of a BOING factor being released !. hahaha

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