Director of Football: The Sensible Wenger Compromise

On Sunday Tottenham defeated Arsenal by 2-0. Less the brilliance of Peter Cech, the score line flattered Arsenal’s performance. Spurs outplayed Arsenal in every department of the game. They were faster, stronger, hungrier and more purposeful. They knew their script, and went about their job with confidence stiffened by determination. Arsenal ran around for 90 minutes fruitlessly seeking the gear that would make it a contest. Viewed against the backdrop of the Invincibles, the team was a pathetic sight. Alexis gave the ball away 20 times. Same too Chamberlain. Ozil sought the spaces not exclusively for creative purposes but also for escaping the responsibility of having to press or fight to regain possession from the opponent. Giroud didn’t have a clue how to engage and the game passed him by. Ramsey fought gamely but punctuated his effort with regular exhibition of his total lack of knowledge of his limitations. Gabriel confirmed everybody’s hidden fears. Only Peter Cech was at the North London Derby.

Every now and then, from the dugout, Wenger opened his palms questioningly. What wasn’t clear was what he was questioning. Steve Bold?  The defence? The officials? The 3:4:3?  Meanwhile Steve Bould and Skipper Koscienly continued in their vow of silence. Solution was not coming from anywhere. I had thought the 3:4:3 was the solution but it’s beginning to look like it’s a try-your-luck gambit. Is there a deep understanding of and real belief in it? 3:4:3 demands a more direct and quick offensive play. And to think the team can attack with pace and directness with slow Giroud as the anchor man is not to think at all. Sanchez’s limitations positioned as an inside left forward, which the 3:4:3 demands, was apparent. It compelled him to cut inside which not only negated the need for verticality but also landed him in the crowded central areas where he repeatedly lost the ball. 20 is the number of times he turned the ball over to Spurs! Meanwhile the third offensive player Ozil, who is always seeking vacated spaces, dropped deep. The sum effect of these three forward players was an impotent attacking force.  Against Spurs, Wenger kept looking puzzled while Bould stoically maintained his vow of silence. Pochettino never stopped licking his lips.

Our 3:4:3 has given us three very uninspiring victories and a pathetic loss. I am convinced that the selections and positionings, particularly in the forward areas, don’t bring the best out of the formation. Sanchez aught to be switched to the inside right position for more directness. Iwobi runs the left channels very well. Oxlade forward runs would also be very effective there. Both Welbeck and Perez have pace, but the latter has more directness and would be my first choice striker. Yes, Ozil is missing in this 3:4:3. If he has to show up, he shows up exactly the way Fabregas shows up in Chelsea’s 3:4:3, that is in the midfield. It’s not by coincidence that Fabregas who has many things in common with Ozil now sits on the bench a lot of the time. By the way, the 3:4:3 suits Ramsey’s box runs to the tee. When Arsenal attack, his runs restore the offensive numbers to four and this time around the team’s defence remains secure through the existence of the back three.

Luckily the Arsenal fans have gotten as ‘immuned’ to losses as the fans of the middle of the table Stoke City, and  Sunday’s non contest has failed to pollute the fandom air any further. This weekend, Arsenal will square off against Man U at the Emirates. A victory there will not assure the now coveted 4th place trophy. But all the same, a victory there, any victory anywhere is a little trophy so the fans are still up and hoping. That’s what it takes to be a Gooner, every game matters irrespective of current history.

How have Arsenal gotten themselves down to the basement floor? Where does the blame lie. For sure not with the fans. There have been pains and pains and pains and my bet is that there is not one fan that has not cracked at one point or the other to lash out at something. I hear there have been a number of unlucky dogs and cats whose only crime was that they where at the right place at the wrong time. Hearteningly, no Gooner on record has quit – not to talk of jumping ship.

Kroenke and the BoD have gotten a handsome dose of the lashing and Wenger must be very much punch drunk sucked directly into the vortex of the storm. There are signs that the Board is split. As amongst the fans, there seem those of them who cannot accept the present state of affairs. They argue that Arsenal has the 4th most expensively assembled squad in the league and that there is no reason the team should be trailing ‘minnows’ Spurs by 17 points, Chelsea by 21 points and the 4th placed team by 5 points albeit with a game in hand. To this group, Wenger’s time is due. Again like it is amongst the fans, it is believed that there are those who factor the past into the equation and urge that the Board make haste slowly. They warn that history shows that nations where power has been concentrated in one hand for a long time, are most liable to fall into anarchy at the sudden exit of the maximum ruler. It is important, they argue, to begin to put supporting structures in place to cushion the exit of Wenger who has held so much power in the club for so long.

Amongst the structures that is rumoured they want to put in place is the appointment of a Director of Football. What must be a bone of contention is what the powers of this Director of Football should be. Would Wenger tolerate loosing the powers to shape the playing philosophy of the team which naturally goes with the responsibility of recruitment of players? That in effect reduces him to a field manager. I don’t see that happening. Would the Director of Football, who need must be an experienced footballing man, be there to understudy Wenger and the club with a view of establishing reasonable continuity when Wenger leaves? Or would there be a middle tier arrangement to introduce checks and balances to the powers of one man about to exit? I suspect the Board is split not into two but into fragments, which maybe is the reason for the great silence.

The truth, if it has to be told, is that Arsenal Football Club has been a marvellously run club. The management is committed to sustainability, to long term visions, and to remaining faithful to the long term goals irrespective of hiccups along the way. I trust that they would come up with the best decision all things (short and long) put together. If I should hazard a guess I would say a Director of Football who essentially would be Wenger’s understudy for one season.

As for Tottenham whose team brushed the Arsenal team away on Sunday, they are where Arsenal FC was 14 years ago. Aberration happens in nature but never endures. So expect the Spuds to regress to their real level as quickly as Leicester has done. I cast my vote for a well thought out baton change.


49 thoughts on “Director of Football: The Sensible Wenger Compromise

  • P E very well written and an interesting read. If you don’t mind me being ultra critical, to correct my pet hate, you don’t loose a match you lose. I can say this safe in the knowledge that your posts are far better written and grammatically correct than anything I would produce in my lazy English.

    I agree with a lot of what you say, but I don’t think it’s fair to say the City victory was uninspiring. In fact the guy I found very inspiring was Gabriel who was prepared to put his body on the line. If only a few more players showed that level of commitment. Unfortunately it was short lived and he returned to normal form against Spurs.

    The other thing I would disagree on is Spurs being a flash in the pan. They may get derailed next season by the move to Wembley or some of their players being tempted by bigger offers. But they are a young side with no big star purchases in their team. I think this team ethic is probably their biggest asset. Man for man I don’t believe they a better side than us, they just play for each other. I don’t see them doing a Leicester.

  • Wishful thinking or massively deluded if you think this Tottenham team won’t be lording it over AFC for the foreseeable future, the longer AW stays the longer the demise will take to be reversed.

  • Cheers PE for a passionately written post and filling the void for us.

    The Spuddies are indeed a flash in the pan and they will at best finish second, just like we did last season. This summer they will be bought empty and the manager will go too, because that is the rule in capitalist football: the smaller clubs gets sucked out by the richer ones. We were there once but Wenger and co helped us to overcome it. And we got further in the CL and FA cup this season, in fact we could win and our season is still better than theirs.
    Wenger will do what he likes and the BoD know that he is still the safest bet for what they need to achieve from a stability and financial point of view. Not many want to get this, but they are not in the shoes of the BoD. They could gamble on another manager and there is a ten percent change that we would do better under them and a 50 per cent chance we would do worse, I reckon. If Wenger wants to stay and have another go, I will support him again. If he were to leave the manager’s role, it is fine with me too. I reckon he will leave the club rather than move upwards. Let’s see what happens next.

  • I love rubust comments but one thing that would be hard to dispute is that Spurs are 14 years behind us. This their team is the equivalent of our Invincibles. Money for the stadium = Selling team.+ 2nd rate replacements = Middle table team = Another long stretch of annual St Totteringham’s Day. Indisputable.

  • Well written PE. For me, I don’t see Arsenal improving enough under Wenger from a tactical, player recruitment and team selection perspective to genuinely challenge for the title. I base that on watching those same issues being repeatedly mismanaged by Wenger for the past 10 years. I don’t think that will change with or without a Director of Football.

    That said, I am a big fan of the Director of Football model and would personally love to see Marc Overmars be appointed to that role, with Frank de Boer, who Marc work very successfully with at Ajax, recruited to replace Wenger. If Arsenal were to make those appointments I wouldn’t be shocked to see Mr Bergkamp join Arsenal’s coaching staff, as an Assistant, alongside Steve Bould.

    With Arsenal completely and totally lacking a discernible playing identity and their squad being compromised of talented individuals but who strengths fail to compliment the respective weaknesses of their colleagues, I personally think the time is right for a change at a management level. Recruiting the combination of Overmars as Director of Football and a young but proven head coach in De Boer, coupled with Arsenal’s significant financial resources, can provide Arsenal with the opportunity to not only reform the squad and playing style to become the Ajax of the Premier League but with the relatively youthfulness of that duo, can provide Arsenal with long term stability in key management positions.

  • Admir,
    Your comment about the relative youthfulness of whoever is to be appointed interests me. Arsenal have been espoused to stability in the manager’s tenure and that might push the club in the direction of a young manager, say in his forties. If they are opting for the Director of Football model they might also prefer a younger administrator. You can bet they are cracking their brains.

    As for Arsenal not improving under Wenger, we must remember that the management can never think like a pure fan. A pure fan thinks about today only – the never ending today. An administrator tries to balance today with tomorrow. It’s like they speak a different language which the pure fan cannot understand. Maybe why we have to give them a little bit more space.

  • Waldo,
    Sorry the above comment was meant for you and not for Admir.

  • retsub,
    There is no doubting that the Spurs team are very impressive. Nobody would say it is undeserved if they win the league. But their salary wage bill is approximately 50% that of Manc, Manu and Chelsea, and about 56% that of Ars. Great of them to be performing so well, but unfortunately for them, they would haemorrhage and sooner than later regress to their mean. Aberrations can’t endure.

  • P E
    You could argue that Spurs wage bill is a lot less than ours because they don’t have players like Theo sitting on the bench earning £120k per week. I think I heard somewhere that Debuchy is on £70 k per week. I also heard that that the majority of Spurs players are long term contradts. I think it is not incorrect to say that their chairman Daniel Levy attends most games and the ultimate owner is a very wealthy British businessman. He may not be as rich as the Kroenkes but I will take a bet he knows more about football. The very fact that Spurs are a Jewish owned team suggests they will be run on tight and well maintained budgets. Meanwhile we have 10 players approaching the final year of their contracts and supposedly Wenger more or less running everything.

    I may be wrong a lot of this may be paper talk and speculation, but I think it suggests that at the current time, Spurs are a better run football club than Arsenal.

    No doubt they will suffer by playing at Wembley and of course their manager and top players will be wanted elsewhere, but I certainly wouldn’t underestimate them. I don’t think there is a person in the country who could have predicted the Leicester year, but I don’t think many people were that surprised to see them crashing down again. I believe Spurs are built on much stronger foundations as much as it makes me want to vomit to say so.

  • Hey PE, Overmars is 44 and de Boer is 46 so both fit into the age category you mention.
    As for my take that Arsenal won’t improve in terms of tactics, player recruitment and team selection under Wenger, if 10 years of Wenger repeatedly failing in those aspect is not a large enough sample to indicate future behaviour and justify the need to change, I’m at a loss.

  • retsub,

    I agree with nearly everything you’ve put down. I hate to admit this but Tot is one of the best run clubs in the league. But on the macro scale, ie vision wise, we are miles ahead of them. That’s why we are a much bigger club. As TA succinctly put it “…. in capitalist football : the smaller clubs get sucked out by the richer ones”.

    The difference in our views is that we are employing differnt time frames. Yours is shorter, mine longer. Now is what you are seeing. Am seeing something larger. Kroenke, by the way, is the majority share holder and not the man who runs the club. He need not know a fing about football.

  • P E
    With regard to hour first para and T A ‘ comments you are indeed correct. It has taken idecades to build the Arsenal we see today. We are much bigger than Spurs in terms of support , revenues etc. But we need to be very careful that we don’t lose all the momentum we built (and Wenger was huge in this) and let it slip away. It’s much easier to go backwards.than forwards you only have to look at Leeds, Aston Villa etc.

    With regards to your 2nd para I couldn’t disagree more. I am not sure how NFL support works is it mainly geographical, cultural, glory hunters etc. Maybe 17 ht has some insight. But given my understanding of what Kroenke did to the good people of St Louis and LA he obviously didn’t gitve a toss about their supporters. If people are happy with bottom line ownership that fine, but I think it stinks

  • retsub,
    Your 1st para is again bull’s eye. “…… we need to be very careful…” is exactly why Wenger should not be chunked out without a lot of ground work. We the fans want money spent like the Oilers. Blackburn did that, won the Premier league and nose dived. Arsenal invests in sustainability.

    Your 2nd para. I don’t know how much Kronke cares about the fans. And i don’t give a damn about that as long as I know he cares about the club. Am fine if he can take good care of my baby. Luckily my baby is his business and he loves his business.

    I don’t buy the media propaganda that him and the directors care only for their profits. They can’t be that daft not to know that success on the field grows the club (business) and the growth of the club enhances potentials for success on the field. For the same reason if one crashes the other follows. Their job is balancing this interplay. If they do their job well, then hiccups along the way shouldn’t throw them off balance.

  • P E this is getting deep and meaninful now lol. Interesting you mentioned Blackburn because they were financed by Jack Walkers Stella empire and he was a trus supporter.

    Of course Kroenke will not do anything that would cause the club financial harm. However let’s just put a what if scenario out there. You will have seen that some of the NFL teams are playing are playing one or two games in the Uk. This is probably a little ‘away with the fairies’. But what if Kroenke decided it would be profitable for Arsenal to play half a dozen home games in Colorado? Putting aside F A objections, fan revolts etc. I suspect Kroenke would sanction it if it meant money on the bottom line.. Once again I may be wrong, but I don’t think the supporters are a major factor in his decision making.

  • Interesting my Goonereris infected spell checker turns Steel into Stella

  • retsub,
    I think I can see where you are coming from. It seems you are hanging unto something that is long gone. Football at epl level is big big business. Billions of pounds in motion cannot harken to a few lonely voices. And it is no more a question of just the Emirate fans for Arsenal for example. It is a global fan of over 100 million people. This Sunday against Manu, in excess of maybe 400 million viewers would be watching the match in real time and retsub’s voice will be completely drowned in the roar. Me? I’ve learnt to swim with the tide. Every now and then, I excuse myself to remember the good old days nostalgically.

  • There seems to be a lot of chatter, linking the Shalke 04 full-back, Sead K, with a move to Man City. Could be that we’re gonna be priced out again, although the salery I’ve seen quoted for this guy seems a little excessive for a full-back.

  • Yep, Peroni will do for me as well…

    Urdinger is very nice as well…

    Cheers Total

  • Ahhh Waldo, the fan can believe that De Boer would be an improvement but the BoD would want to see some proof before making such a big decision. De Boer has not been successful in Europe and that is a sign that he is not all that good. Winning the Dutch league is not the hardest thing to do when you manage the biggest club in the Netherlands, but great Dutch managers were able to work miracles in the CL or even Europa League in the past. De Boer failed in Italy but then there is no patience there so we cannot read too much into it.

    I reckon that finishing constantly in the top four and winning the FA Cup twice in the last few years cannot be poo poohed away so easily. I agree it looks like Wenger cannot give the team the last push to the very top, but then we have to wonder whether anybody can given the stiff competition we will continue to face.

  • Belgium lager is notorious for giving people a headache, Retsub. German beer seldom disappoints, Kev, but a Grolsch is still the best there is for me.

  • T A used to ntravel to Brussels a lot and many time have fallen foul of the infamous Duvel

  • haha Retsub, many of my student friends in the nineties would combine soft drugs with drinking Duvel and that was a potent combo alright!

    I like a Belgium beer now and again but still prefer the ‘cleaner’ lagers

  • I think one of my Duvel hangovers was my worst ever. I was wondering how I’ll you had to be to die.

  • West Ham are holding their own. 0 – 0′ half time anyone else watching?

  • Spurs poor on bigger fields. Wembley as home ground will hurt them next season.

  • Sod all you’re gonna win sod all (politically correct version)

  • It worries me that I almost get as much pleasure as watching Spurs bottle it, as I do Arsenal winning.

  • Not Urdinger, but Erdinger, from Erding in Germany, it’s delicious.
    Czech beers are also very tasty…

  • Each to his own TA, but I argue that with Feyenoord and PSV to compete with, the Dutch league is far from easy for Ajax to win. Given de Boer managed to do so for four consecutive seasons after joining the club in 2010 and reformed Ajax’s tactics and recruitment as well as consistently recognised and selected a complimentary and balanced first 11, it not really accurate to say the Dutchman is not proven or that there is no proof that he has not been successful.

    His subsequent 3 month stint at the basketcase that is Inter Milan was doomed to fail from the start as he wasn’t afforded the same opportunity he got at Ajax to reform the squad from a recruitment perspective in order to effectively implement his successful tactical blueprint.

    As for de Boer’s success in Europe, in his 6 seasons managing Ajax, they qualified the Champions League in each season. Given de Boer has only been a manager for 7 seasons, that’s an admirable record. Granted de Boer hasn’t managed a team to win the Champions League or Europa League, but neither has Wenger.

    As for Wenger qualifying for the Champions League for the last 20 years and winning the FA Cup two out of the last three season, while that too is an admirable achievement and it was great to see Arsenal actually win something for a while, I don’t know if a scrappy victory versus Hull and thrashing an already relegated Aston Villa was particularly impressive.

    While everyone is entitled to their opinion, which I respect, and I understand the fear of potential further regression arising from replacing Wenger, the obvious progressive degradation of Arsenal’s on field performances over the last decade coupled with Wenger’s evident lack of tactical nous, repeated poor recruitment decisions and a consistent inability to select a starting 11 whose strengths and weaknesses compliment one another, demonstrates to me that results are likely to get worse for Arsenal under Wenger.

    With a proven, young, attack minded manager like de Boer available and likely to be interested in taking up the post as Arsenal’s manager, I think the BoD would be negligent to pass up the opportunity to replacement Wenger with the Dutchman.

  • Waldo,
    Am not equipped to discuss your details, but I recognize an affinity between the Ajax school management philosophy and Arsenal’s. That’s why your de Boer recommendation catches my
    attention. Arsenal are enamoured with stability and their search, most likely, would be in the direction of the younger administrators/managers. Would they spring another ‘Arsene who’ on us?

  • Yes Waldo each to their own, but luckily there are some facts to help us along! 🙂

    More than 80% of the seasons in the Netherlands are a battle between Ajax and PSV for the title; Feyenoord win it every twenty years or so. De Boer deserves credit to win it a few times in a row but it does not mean he is therefore suitable for managing Arsenal in a much more competitive league. I have watched him closely in managing Ajax over the years and can tell you he is nothing special. He also is not that bright and has less than half the intellect of Wenger. In the CL he struggled every season to get through to the next round, whereas we know that Arsene got us through every single season for as long as I can remember. That is class.

    So in every sense it would be a decision the BoD is very unlikely to make.

    Re Wenger winning the FA Cup against weak teams, you must be having a laugh?! Clearly, he was not given a pass to get to those finals, or was he? On way there, we beat strong competition and were clearly the best FA Cup team in those seasons. Furthermore, beating a weaker team on paper in the final of the FA Cup is less easy than you think… Ask the Man City fans.

    Your views on Wenger’s tactics are also always short-sighted. He is one of the best managers in turning a team performance round in the second half of a game, which is the best sign of a great manager. There may well be better ones out there, but it is a hell of a gamble for the BoD, whoever they choose.

  • Its so nice to be counting ones chickens before the eggs are hatched.
    Am rooting for P-O-C-H-E-T-T-I-N-O for manager.

  • Those ‘facts’ sound awfully like opinions TA! 😋 Happy to agree to disagree.

  • Well let just say I have the advantage of having the same nationality as De Boer and have watched him for thirty years or so, so my facts are well backed up. 😜🎯

  • Hey PoyEye, the BoD’s seemingly apathetic approach to the footballing side of Arsenal makes it very difficult to predict what sort of manager they are considering to replace Wenger. It’s more than possible that the BoD could go with a complete unknown, just like it’s possible the BoD could go with a proven but younger coach like de Boer or Laurent Blanc or a highly experienced older coach like Pellegrini. It will be interesting to see which pathway the BoD go down.

  • Very difficult to decide who (and when) Arsenals next manager will be. I suspect Wenger will have a big input into who it may be. A lot has been made of the total power he seems to have, but given the limited information our BoD seem to have about English football that’s probably a good thing.

    I can’t see Arsenal trusting a young manager, equally I don’t see them taking on an older guy. So a well established 40 something would be my bet. I wonder if Wenger is considering bringing a manager elect for the next two years? Trouble is he doesnt seem to want to designate responsibility.

  • Hey fellas… I got away from the ‘puter for a few days but I have returned…

    With a…


    Please, however, feel free to continue on with the current discussion…

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