There was a stretch in the 2016/17 season where we lost 7 out of 10 games in all competitions, winning only 2.  The fans were confused, angry, and in a self-destruct mode. The players were not far behind us. Suddenly our form reversed. The team changed formations from 4:2:3:1 to 3:4:2:1 and our results switched gears.

Numbers-wise, what stank about the 4:2:3:1 formation was conceding too many goals. The team was scoring enough but letting too many in. In those 10 matches we conceded 26 goals, the same number Tottenham gave up in the entire Premier League season. Something had gone wrong with the team and the subsequent revival showed that what was wrong was the system being used, or, put more accurately, the way it was being used.

The flaw in the use of the earlier formation was that our full backs were operating as wing backs. That means the real formation, identified by the average touch position of each player, was in reality 2:4:3:1, not 4:2:3:1. This gives a front 8 that scored sufficient goals and a back 2 (less the keeper) that let in the huge number of goals. This situation was further compounded by the fact that our central midfield was manned by players who were not good enough defensively, or, when Coquelin (a good defender) played, there were still too many other players who were lacking on at least one side of the ball.

Apart from its lopsided and offensive nature, this 2:4:3:1 (4:2:3:1 on paper) creates an uneconomical on-the-field positioning of players as displayed below.






The above are theoretically the average positions during play. It can be seen that Walcott is in the way of Bellerin and Sanchez in the way of Monreal as each pair occupy the same vertical strip too close to one another. This jam was mitigated by the fact that Sanchez usually cut infield and Walcott frequently used the channels for his off the ball runs. Invariably, however, over 90 minutes, they got in each others’ way, tactically speaking, more often than in the 3:4:2:1 detailed below. The Must/Xhak and Kosh/Rams same vertical strips (refer to the line-up above) did not matter as the central defenders’ vertical movements are essentially to adjust to the space between their lines and the central midfielders. Also, in the central areas, there is greater freedom for lateral movement than at the wings.

On the other hand, the use of the 3:4:2:1 formation employs a front 7 as opposed to a front 8, as well as a back 3 vs a back 2. This arrangement–by numbers alone–increases the defensive security of the team.  Observe that the vertical arrangement of players is much more economical. Below is a 3:4:2:1 formation with tucked-in inside forwards (Ozil and Sanchez).






This gives a perfect use of the vertical strips of the field which gives extra efficiency to help compensate for the loss of an attacking player. Remember, small percentages can make all the difference.

Wenger’s game hinges so much on full backs bumping forward to join attacks and therefore a 3-man defence system with wing backs becomes a better balanced arrangement than our (so called) 4-man defence. Of course, there are other factors at play, but this analysis is focusing on the weak point in our defensive use of the 4:2:3:1.

With this analysis, we should expect Wenger to continue with the 3-at-the-back system as his Plan A. We should also expect him to use Monreal, the only left footed defender we have, as his first choice starter on the left side of our 3-man back line. Kolasinac’s signing as a replacement for Monreal at the left wing back position is therefore a consequence of this tactical reshuffle. That augurs well for Gibbs retention in the squad as left wing back cover.

The 2017/18 Premier League fixture list is out and a notably thorny part appears to be that 5 of our 6 matches immediately following our Thursday night Europa League games must be played away from our home stadium. I am sleeping easy. Wenger is likely going to prioritize the Premier League over the Europa League–at least in the group stage. If you take a look below at what our “B” team might roughly look like, your worries may leave you too. That “B” Team can bloody any nose and Arsenal should be given a relatively easy group by virtue of UEFA’s coefficient of teams in that competition.






BENCH: 3 “A” team players plus 4 under-21s: Jeff Reine-Adelaide, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Kelechi Nwakali, if I am to guess.

Further signings have not been taken into account in the illustrations and allowance has been made for some players leaving.  (Note, there are a few names missing from the line-ups.) The composition of Teams “A” and “B” tells us fairly accurately the players we need to retain. Of course, adjustments to both squads should be expected with any further top signings.

In my estimation, our “B” team can comfortably see us to the knockout stages of the Europa League, after which a game to game strategy might become necessary. This means that we can afford to keep our “A” team fresh for at least the 1st half of the Premier league season, a luxury the teams in the Champions League cannot afford. Coupled with League Cup games, our “B” players should be kept happy, fit and more able to slot into the first 11 effectively when the occasion arises. Meanwhile I keep hoping and dreaming of Lacazette and Fabinho signing on to help strengthen us.

For me, the 17/18 season is suddenly full of promise.

by Pony Eye

Posted in Uncategorized | 42 Comments

Kroenke and Wenger Ready to Spend

Or Are They?

Bergkampesque is generally an optimistic place.  One of our contributors,  Pony Eye, recently wrote a two part series of posts which inevitably led to thoughts about building our squad over the summer.  Keeping the bulk of the more successful players in the squad while adding a few key–or even “world class” players (definition, please) seems the only way to compete with the clubs who finished ahead of us this past season.  Can we do it when faced with Europa League football in the coming campaign?

Unless the “Leopard(s) can change his (their) spots” all signs would point to the answer being a massive NO.

Let’s play detective, shall we…

I’m probably dating myself (I’m from the class of 1964), but watching “Dragnet” (American television show) was part of my early childhood experience…

On Wenger:

It can probably be agreed by most Gooners that Arsene Wenger’s managerial career at Arsenal can be divided into two phases, roughly (or not so roughly) divided by his time managing in our two stadiums: Highbury and The Emirates (Ashburton Grove).  With the former as our home, his trophy tally reads as follows: three Premier Leagues and four FA Cups.  At the latter: three FA Cups.  At Highbury, there was also the “Invincible” season (and a streak of 49 matches undefeated) as well as an appearance in the Champions League final, a game lost by a single goal despite having to play with 10 men for most of the match.  Since the move to the Emirates, the best finish in the CL was a semi-final appearance, lost to Manchester United, 1-4 on aggregate.

Many would also argue that the Emirates phase can be further divided into a couple of its own periods.  A first one where the team was built around younger and less expensive players, and a more recent time where pricier and more mature players were brought in, most notably Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, but also first team regulars such as Granit Xhaka and Skhodran Mustafi, and, before them, Petr Cech, Olivier Giroud, Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Per Mertesacker.  In this second period, Arsenal have also been more successful at holding onto our best players by gradually upping the overall wage bill.  The results?  Nothing better than 2nd in the PL (once, but 10 points behind miracle winners, Leicester City), seven straight round of 16 exits in the Champions League, and the three FA Cups (in the past 4 seasons).  Some Gooners might argue that the FA cups represent improvement.  Others would point to the thought that the domestic cups are considered less and less important as time goes by.  This season’s results in the two biggest competitions, a 5th place finish in the league and the 10-2 aggregate drubbing by Bayern Munich in the CL, clearly seem a step backwards.  Finishing behind Tottenham Hotspur, for the first time in 21 seasons, adds insult to injury.

Soon after the stadium move, Stan Kroenke became majority shareholder at Arsenal.  Let’s look at some facts about him.

He’s American, he’s married to one of the world’s richest heiresses (a daughter of Sam Walton, the developer of Wal-Mart) and he owns several American Sports franchises.  Although he was already successful in real estate, inheriting the Wal-Mart wealth is what made him a billionaire.  In the early 2000s Kroenke bought several Colorado based clubs including the Denver Nuggets (basketball) and the Denver Avalanche (hockey) and a few others including a lacrosse team, the Colorado Gran Prix and the Colorado Rapids of the North American Soccer League.  In 2010 he became majority owner of the St. Louis Rams, a storied club in the National Football League.  Here is a well researched appraisal of the success of some of those franchises– or lack thereof.  Increasing the value of his sports portfolio–rather than personal (and supporter) satisfaction through on-field results–seems Kroenke’s goal, most notably exhibited by his successful efforts to relocate the Rams back to the more lucrative Los Angeles market.  On the other hand, some of the more optimistic Arsenal support might argue that his attendance at the recent FA Cup final victory over Chelsea could make him keen to witness other, even bigger, triumphs.

Of course, English (and European) football is a very different landscape from American sports with their structures to prevent excessive debt spending and provide more level fields of competition.  Could it be that Kroenke and his board are ready to “speculate to accumulate,” as so many other billionaire owners seem willing to do?  Arsenal have released statements suggesting that Wenger has the full financial support of the Arsenal Board of Directors.  As majority shareholder, that would mean Kroenke.  Are the two central characters at our club going to go for it?

In a massively inflated transfer (and salary) market and unable to offer Champions League football to potential signings (and current players, of course), what would that mean?

First off, let’s not forget that the revenues from playing in the Europa league instead of the CL will reportedly cost the club some 45 million pounds.  To my mind, this alone signifies that Kroenke (and/or, possibly, other board members) will have to dip into the club’s reserves of cash–currently just over 100 million pounds–AND his (or their) own holdings.  Frankly, this seems far less likely than Wenger being willing to spend at ever increasing record levels.  Even that seems a longshot.  The manager’s parsimony–or at least an eye for a good deal–is often cited as a principal source of those very same cash reserves, and a big reason Kroenke and the board continue to offer Wenger new contracts.

So, many Gooners, already extremely divided on the subject of their manager AND their owner–Wenger Out signs have taken to the air, Kroenke Out signs have thus far only been seen held up by supporters–probably feel that spending big on new players, or on greatly increased salaries to keep our most expensive current guys, is the only means of truly competing for the biggest prizes.

My question: is that a likely scenario or will the fan base have to rely upon the current squad, perhaps minus some of our most sought after players, youth coming up through the ranks, and second-tier additions? Can a team built in that manner–and playing in front of a sometimes hostile set of supporters–get the results that might satisfy?

I wonder.  Mostly, however, I’m just trying to ferret out the facts and calibrate my expectations accordingly.  Perhaps other Gooners can help me out.

Go on then…

by 17highburyterrace

Posted in Uncategorized | 36 Comments

Arsenal’s Young Player of the Year Revealed. Who Will it be Next Season?

Although he dropped out of the first team towards the end of our recent campaign, taken overall, 2016/17 was a successful breakthrough season for Alex Iwobi.

Alexander Chuka Iwobi, still only 21 years old, made 38 appearances in all competitions last season, 25 of them coming with him in the starting 11.

Overall, he made a good impression, especially on Alexis Sanchez, who recently rated Alex as the best young player at Arsenal.

Iwobi only scored four goals last season which has to be an aspect of his game that he needs to work on as an attacking player–not that he’s alone there!

Arsene Wenger will be acutely aware of Alex’s development, of how he needs to push on over the next 12 months, and how Arsenal’s transfer business in the summer must be executed so that it doesn’t hamper that development.  It’s a fine balancing act for Arsene as Iwobi could become a really important player for us next season. A young player can grow enormously in just a year and Wenger will not want to stunt that growth by bringing in players who could block off and frustrate a football education, that, in Iwobi’s case, is at a crucial stage.

That priority, however, has to balanced against the here and now.  Arsene knows only too well the clamour he faces for new signings this summer in what is possibly his most important transfer window since 1997.  At the same time, Wenger will always try to develop home made talent.

Of course, Iwobi’s situation isn’t helped by the unnecessary, selfish and rather crass comments coming from within the Nigerian Football Association, where certain officials in that organisation have urged Alex to leave Arsenal to get more game time.  Fortunately, Alex is surrounded by more sensible people at Arsenal who are advising and guiding him towards a long term and fruitful career rather than allowing him to be swayed by the short term needs of a national team coach.

Alex has been the breakthrough story of 2016/17.  Who is going to be the next player to take that giant stride for Arsenal in 2017/18?

With Wenger looking to move on as many as eight players this summer and not wanting to bring in more than three or perhaps four new signings, there must be opportunities for two or three youngsters to establish themselves in the senior squad this coming campaign.

Jeff Reine-Adelaide, still just 19 years old, spent most of last season–in fact the last two years–in and around the senior squad, gradually growing and maturing. He had only six appearances with five starts last season but this could be his time.  Arsenal playing in the Europa League should, in the early games at least, offer “The Jeff” the opportunities to showcase his talents and he’ll likely get more game time in other competitions even if it’s only from the bench.  Reine-Adelaide has all the attributes to be a top player.  All he needs are minutes on the pitch, and, with the upcoming double of Europa League and League Cup matches to look forward to, he should enjoy a lot of exposure.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles, also 19 years old, spent 2015/16 on loan at Ipswich Town, where he made a good impression, despite his mother.  Last season he was retained at Arsenal, making seven appearances and slowly being integrated into the senior group.  Maitland-Niles has now been told by Wenger that he has been promoted to the first team squad permanently. That–and his recent success as part of England’s U20 World Cup winning squad–should set AMN up for a breakthrough season.  Ainsley could well find himself sharing a central midfield spot in both the Europa League and League Cup competions alongside more senior figures like Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny, especially as it appears that Santi Cazorla may not being available until late October or early November. Maitland-Niles is a flexible player who has played in various midfield positions as well as at right back.  If Arsene continues the three-at-the-back experiment which served so well at the tail end of last season, it could be just the catalyst for Maitland-Niles to establish himself.

With Krytian Bielik being lined up for another season on loan, the two above are my strongest tips to follow in the footsteps of Alex Iwobi.  I suspect that Chuba Akpom, Dan Crowley and Gedion Zelalem will be off on loan again, whilst the future of Chris Willock still remains uncertain.

But that’s just my opinion.  Maybe there are those among you who avidly follow the academy and have some tips of their own.  If so, let’s have them.

OK chaps, that’s ya lot.

by Allezkev

Posted in Uncategorized | 23 Comments

Arsenal Glory In the Eye of the Beholder–The Journey is as Important as the Destination. (Video)

(Editor’s note: This is a fun one. Long time Gooner and BKesque stalwart, Retsub1, is at it again and shows that–even if you miss a few of Arsenal’s greatest triumphs–there is much to be appreciated about our club and its football.  Here he shares some of the finest footballing moments–and a couple he “almost” got to see–he has witnessed over the years.  Enjoy.)

A few years back I wrote a post on how I had never physically seen Arsenal win anything.  This was due to school journeys, being shut out at packed stadiums and picking the wrong cup finals to attend.   I decided a few years back that I was obviously jinxed and no longer attempted to get final tickets, etc.  So, having supported this great team for 50 years, I decided to remember a few of the great–and not so great moments–when I did attend.  In this modern era, one can share the majority of these through internet videos, which are presented here.  Hopefully, they will stimulate some magic memories others have experienced, maybe even including ones seen by our overseas friends on TV.  Of course, there’s nothing like being present for true moments of glory, and I would gladly swap them all to have been at Anfield in May 1989.

OK, here we go…

1999, 2-nil down at Stamford Bridge and feeling pretty glum.  This was the Kanu hat-trick match and the third one is a piece of real beauty (and rubbish goalkeeping).  Arsenal went on to win 3-2.

The 2003 FA cup semi-final versus Sheffield United at Old Trafford.  My Daughter and I witnessed a a fairly dull match versus Sheffield United.  Arsenal went on to win 1-nil, but David Seaman pulled off a fantastic save from a close range header.  It looked good from the other end of the stadium, but, having seen the highlights later, I realised just how good it really was.

My Daughter attends very few games with me, but she was also there when Thierry Henry came on as a sub and scored the only goal in an FA cup third round replay against Leeds in 2012.  Henry was on loan from his US side at the time.  The king had indeed returned.

In the double year, 1970/1971, Arsenal played Stoke twice in the cup semi-final and the semi-final replay.  The first game is famous for two goals by Peter Storey, including a last minute penalty against no less than Gordon Banks.  I had tickets for neither game.  The following season the same thing happened.  Stoke in the semi and a replay at Goodison Park.   I was at that one, and, having been 1-nil down, Arsenal came from behind to win 2-1.  When John Radford scored the winning goal I threw myself forward in celebration and head-butted the crash barrier.  I remember very little after that.

Some time in the early 70’s, Arsenal were playing Coventry at Highbury.  Coventry had a throw in and Willie Carr, a very short Coventry player, came over to take it.  Charlie George, who was about two feet taller than Carr, stood about six inches in front of him to stop him taking the throw.  I think someone was injured, so play was held up.  During the injury time, Carr turned around to avoid Charlie’s larger than life presence and started talking to a few of us in the stands about a fantastic goal scored by Ernie Hunt in which he had played an essential part.  The technique was subsequently banned because it was deemed that the first movement of the ball by Carr was illegal.  So, I wasn’t there when the goal was scored, but it was fun talking about it.

My Dad and I attended the 1969 League cup final against 3rd division Swindon Town.  The only problem was that we had Swindon tickets.  I have to say, however, that the Swindon supporters were fantastic to us, even singing, “It’s all gone quiet over there,” and pointing at me.  This one is worth a look just to see the state of the Wembley pitch.

Jon Sammels scored some good goals during his time at the club, including an absolute cracker of a goal against a star studded Manchester United (2nd goal on the video) that I witnessed.  The third goal in the clip is from the EUFA Cup final against Anderlecht.  Like so many others that I missed, I had a ticket but was in Derbyshire on a school journey.

My friend’s mum worked in the Charlton box office, so I attended many Charlton vs Arsenal games.  As much as it pains me to say so, my favourite ever goal was scored by a certain Robin van Persie–a truly  spectacular volley.

So, there you go, some of my favourite memories. I would love to hear–and see–others.   Please share yours.

As 17HT might say… Go on then…

by retsub1

Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments

Bellerin to Barcelona? Wenger’s Back-Up Plan

Ox or Bellerin in 3-4-3?

So let’s have your views on this one.

When we play 3-4-3 we have good cover in the right back position, especially if and when we combine Bellerin in midfield with Mustafi or Holding behind him in the defensive ‘3’. But we need more from the young Spaniard than just good defensive cover; we need him to add real value in attack too. We all know that Hector Vector can run from Barcelona to Madrid in under an hour, but he is still lacking an attacking end product. In 2500 PL minutes he produced just four assists and had on average 0.8 key passes per game; and in all those minutes he scored just one goal. He can be both exhilarating and frustrating in the same ten seconds…. time and again.

In the new formation it is vital to have all-round wing-backs who deliver in all areas. Since the rumours of a move for Bellerin to Barcelona started to get more momentum, Arsene has give the Ox more time on the right wing-back position, it seems. He had to get used to the defensive side of things but compared to Bellerin his seasonal defensive stats do not compare badly: 0.7 interceptions and 1.3 tackles per match against 1.1 and 0.7 by Bellerin respectively.  His positional awareness and concentration levels still need improving but he has played his part in the good defensive team stats since going 3-4-3.

And the good thing about the Ox is he is now starting to deliver the bread and butter stats: 2 goals and seven assists in 1550 PL minutes and 1.1 key passes per game. I have to add that these are his seasonal stats and have been established whilst playing in more than one position, rather than just as right wing-back. But it has been clear for us all to see that the Ox is starting to really hurt the opposition now, not just with his pace and deadly dribbling skills, but, most importantly, also with his ability to deal the crucial blows – and yesterday’s goal and a couple of accurate crosses during his cameo for the national team underlined this once more.

Both the Ox and Hector Vector are promising young(ish) players and you would expect the Ox to be better at this stage, given the age gap between them (approx 1.5 years). I also feel that Bellerin will get better and better but am unsure whether his crossing and ability to deliver key passes will improve enough to make him our first choice wing-back going forward. Only time will tell.

In fact, I am starting to think that the Ox is probably our first choice in this key position now. If we works hard on his defensive responsibilities over the summer, he could become undroppable/unstoppable. Wenger has a big decision to make, and with Chambers and even Mustafi as back-up wing-backs on the right, he may be tempted to cash in on speedy con-Bellerin….

But what do you think?

By TotalArsenal 

Posted in Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Is Rob Holding the New Gilberto?


For so long we have been cruising the brightly lit highways of Champions League football but now comes the time to truck the tougher terrains of the Europa League.  More games, more congestion in the schedule, but also more obscure and distant parts of Europe. There will be less fanfare, less revenue, and, perhaps a toxic hangover from the season just ended.  In a stiffer summer window, we must come out with a deeper squad.

Yes, a deeper squad. For while the demands of Europa League football impose the need for a bigger squad, the contest for Premier League glory cries out for a more competitive one. Nine wins in 10 since we switched to the 3:4:3 formation says that we have–and always have had–a good team. But we dare not rest on our oars. Even if our late-in-the-day discovered good form was able to get those results, every team is strengthening and we have to do likewise. With the resources available to them, the top 6 teams of the 16/17 season can end up rearranged in any sequence by the end of 17/18 season, and, of course, we desire a sequence that would find us at the top. We must battle to hold players in the squad while fetching new ones that would make us better. Otherwise, it could get damn ugly with the fans even before the race has begun. 17/18 is going to be a war in which prisoners are not taken.

No wild dreams though. No Messi, no Ronaldo. Mbappe? All the low tone talk seems to indicate that his heart is with us–Wenger had tea with him in his home–but where is his head? And what about those huge sums that are being linked to his value, some of them even coming from us? Do we dare dream? If I am given the smallest of chances I would snap up Alexandre Lacazette of Lyon and shift my bigger dreams to the future. Ditto the Argentine Paulo Dybala from Juventus; ditto Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang from Dortmund. 24 year old Mauro Icardi of Inter is prolific with goals and he would improve our team. Then there is this little rumour that Harry Kane’s pocket has grown too big for the tiny packet from the Spuds. He only needs a short walk to become a big boy. If there is one thing that is clear, it is that we desperately need a world class striker. Planes would be scrambled up in the sky on the first day of the season if there is no world class striker in our starting line up. The fans have waited long enough.

But first we have to keep what we have and need to hold–Ozil, Sanchez, Bellerin, Chamberlain and company. Some people use the word stubborn to describe Arsene Wenger. I’ve never approved of that word. For me, Wenger is simply dogged in his convictions. If you ask me, I don’t want anything to do with anybody blown about by the wild wind. This time, Wenger’s stubbornness is allied with everyones’ wishes because he has reiterated that what he has, he holds–except, of course, if somebody comes with silly money. I ask, if some bloke comes with enough money to sign Messi, wouldn’t you deal? The referendum on Ozil/Sanch-exit is a resounding no from the fans and I can’t see what can trump it. It might be my wishful thinking, but what’s in the air–particularly on Sanchez–could be mere noises.

Sead Kolasinac is in the bag and will battle it out with Monreal for the left back position. Monreal is probably the fittest player in our squad with none of the muscle problems others have suffered. He can double as a left back and central defender. He is also the quintessential professional, a beacon for others. Being on the wrong side of thirty is mere numbers to him and I hope he has many more years with us. Sadly, I cannot talk in the same breath of Gibbs. A nice fellow, but just an OK player which is no longer good enough if our desire is to move up the ladder. However, with Monreal covering as a central defender, we might want to hold onto Gibbs. Kolasinac, we hope, improves our team, so he is welcome. I particularly love the fact that he is something of a battering ram, something for which I thought Wenger had long lost his taste. Maybe because he came as a free transfer it became so much tastier to him. There is no doubting that the signing is doubly smart as it also leaves untouched the money in our coffers for a slug-fest with all comers for the aforementioned world class striker.

Henry Onyekuru, I had thought, was all but in our bag too. But as the haze of the summer window thickens, doubts have crept in. Henry excites me, not because of his name, but because of his pace, his incredible ability to change direction and his lightening quick feet. There is something uncanny about his reaction time, as if everybody else is in slow motion. He is no Messi, but they are neighbors in the same time dimension! Give that lad to Wenger and in two years he could be unplayable. If we don’t get him now, next summer some smart fellow will have put a price tag on him that the silly money boys would be only too glad to pay. There are plenty of returns in that kid whichever way you want to look at it. One thing I don’t want to hear a year or two from now is Wenger saying that he nearly signed him. Watch my words.

In central defence, we currently have Mertersacker, Koscienly, Mustafi, Gabriel, Chambers and Holding. Age and/or injuries should put a question mark on Per and Koscienly. Despite his chronic achilles problem, if properly managed, I expect Kos to give us a minimum of 25 Koscienly-esque games and that alone is mouth watering. As for Per, who did enough in less than 130 minutes to be dubbed the ‘player of the season,’ who would dare let him go? The 3-man central defence is made for him. A very cerebral player, he has a personality that players around him find very reassuring. Blessed with a firmness that is free of any harshness, he has given us a hint that a programme is on the cards that would slowly transform his role on the field to a role outside of it. Is he the Director of Football in the making that we all have been speculating about? Arsenal have done it before in ‘Arsene who?’ Are they going to do it again in ‘Per who?’ This just about leaves us with four central defenders we can fully count upon. Is this number enough for a 3 CB system? Maybe, as Nacho can be factored in as an extra cover.

In PART 1 of this post, I drew attention to how Wenger repeatedly engineered the conversion of offensive players to more defensive roles but has never done it the other way round. The stage seems set, in my eyes, for that trend to experience its first reversal. Also in PART 1, I indicated that the stand out feature of the Invincibles, relative to our teams of the post Invincible era, was the presence of two players in the central midfield–Vieira and Gilberto–who where both equally good in possession as well as without the ball.

Ladies and gentlemen, Rob Holding is the candidate I propose for Wenger’s first ever conversion from a defensive role to a more attacking one. Holding in central midfield would be the resurrection of Gilberto. Dubbed the ‘invisible wall’, Gilberto was also excellent on the ball. It’s the same with Holding, a defender with incredible composure on the ball. He’s a dream defensive midfielder but will Wenger do it or would he prefer to find us a Vieira instead and, if so, who might that be?  Maxime Gonalons of Lyon? A battler, but, in my opinion, not nearly there. Naby Keita of Leipzig? Terrific with the ball but not exactly an N’golo Kante without it. Kevin Strootman of Roma? He plays like Xhaka, but with a quicker turn. All of them are great players, but my pick for a place in the Arsenal central midfield is a 23 year old Brazilian international, Fabinho of Monaco. Excellent with and without the ball, Fabinho is Vieira Mark II. It is noteworthy that Fabinho was converted by Monaco’s manager, Leonardo Jardim, from right back to central midfield. Check him out please and tell us what you see.

Wenger has hinted that there will be a maximum of three signings. I wish the operative word was ‘minimum’ because one signing is still within a maximum of three signings. Wenger is an old fox. If he actually means three signings, that would be wonderful–as long as they are world class players able to individually improve our team.  The three signings should also come with a proviso–if we lose any world class player, we replace with another.

I saw a certain glint in Stan Kroenke’s eyes as he watched our team slice through Chelsea at Wembley like a knife through butter. It was as if he was seeing for the first time that we actually can make a bid for the top. I figure Wenger must have seized the opportunity to place an ambitious plan on his table the very next day. Do we dare dream of sitting atop the rearranged sequence of top teams come the end of 17/18? I should think so.


Posted in Uncategorized | 30 Comments

The Difference One Player Can Make at Arsenal. This Guy.


It has been a topsy-turvy season for Arsenal as fortunes alternated playing with Santi Cazorla, without Santi and then switching to a 3:4:3 format. These include finishing out of the top 4 for the first time in 21 years, getting crowned a record 13th time as FA Cup champions, Wenger-outism, Wenger-inism and all the numerous sagas of the dotted lines.  Euphoria, toxicity, despair and hope grappled with each other all season in one hell of a ride.

Unfortunate for our season was Cazorla’s injury and a few other acts of fate that caused us to stumble in a fast paced race for the league title.  Quickly up on our feet, our robust home stretch performance was a reassurance that dares us to survey the plains of next season with optimism.  What better way to begin to ready ourselves for that new season but by X-raying the last.  Three distinct segments in our performance are visible in the 2016/17 season: games with Cazorla in the starting line up, games without Cazorla, and games using the 3:4:3 formation

——————————P—W—-D—-L—-GF—-GA—–Pts/game—-% of Max Pts
WITH CAZORLA———7—–6—–1—-0—-16——5——–2.71—————-90.
WITHOUT CAZORLA–23—10—–5—-8—-45—–34——–1.48—————49.
WITH 3:4:3—————8—–7—–0—-1—-16——-5——–2.63—————88.

From the table above are derived the following:
1) The rate at which we scored goals are relatively similar in the three segments (2.29, 1.96, 2.00 goals per game respectively).
2) With Cazorla playing, we conceded goals at the rate of 0.71 per game.
3) With the change of formation to 3:4:3, we conceded at the rate of 0.63/game.
4) Without Cazorla and using the 4:2:3:1, we conceded at the whopping rate of 1.48/game.

The following can be surmised about the way we were conceding goals:
1) In a 4:2:3:1 without Cazorla on the pitch, we conceded goals at more than twice the rate as when we used the same formation with Cazorla playing.
2) In a 4:2:3:1 with Cazorla playing, we conceded at approximately the same, much lower, rate as with the 3:4:3.

Can Cazorla’s presence on the pitch have such a dramatic influence on our defensive numbers? This is difficult to see and I would have explained it away as the fluke of a small sample–except that it has been a consistent pattern over the course of two and half seasons, particularly when Santi has been paired with Francis Coquelin in midfield. Coquelin has been his most regular partner and the source of the ‘Cazorla magic’ might actually lie in that partnership, the famed ‘CoCa’ combo.

Cazorla is so expert in protecting and transitioning the ball into forward areas that it allows Coquelin to play as a dedicated defensive midfielder, patrolling a small space in front of the central defenders. Dispensing with name tags, such a dedicated defensive midfielder can jolly well be viewed as a slightly forward positioned 3rd central defender. Note carefully that it is the excellence of Cazorla that permits Coquelin to concentrate on the defensive aspect of that role without the team losing adequate transitioning capacity. If a Santi-esque player is not there, a 3-man defence becomes like a ready-made equivalent option.

A question arises.  Must we play with a 3-man central defence or a 2-man defence with a dedicated defensive midfielder paired with a Santi-esque player in order to attain a good team balance? We will find out. Arsene Wenger is a manager who is committed to an offensive philosophy arising from his emotional interpretation of what football is all about. Apart from central defenders, Wenger’s obvious bias leads him to acquire players with the skill sets and mentality for offensive play. Note his regular conversion of wingers to full backs and midfielders like Kolo Toure and Krystian Bielik into central defenders. I am yet to recall a conversion by Wenger in the opposite direction.  A team assembled by Wenger can only be a reflection of himself.

To achieve the right balance for this overly offensive assembly requires mitigating adjustments to the structure of the team. In the case of the 3:4:3, it was achieved by replacing a player with a lopsided attacking skill set and mentality with a player who had good defensive attributes (e.g. Walcott out, Holding in), thereafter recasting the formation and assigning slightly altered roles to every player. The 7 offensive minded players to 3 natural defenders is a mix that fetched good results for us. Remember that a mix can only be right in relation to the available personnel. 3:4:3 has proven viable for the type of players we currently have. So also can a 2-man central defence with a top drawer dedicated defensive midfielder partnered by a Santi-esque player. What possibly trumps both is a 2-man central defence with a central midfield of two players, both excellent with and without the ball, such as the combination of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva. Its great advantage is that it makes a team very adaptive to different formations, which, in fact, is the dynamic state of teams during play. Unfortunately, such players are hard to come by and are totally absent in our current squad except for… For those names you’ll have to wait for part 2 of this post which will be coming out soon. 😀

A team of eleven well rounded players would be ideal, but trying to raise such a team would be like trying to find a needle in a hay stack. One of the great attributes of Wenger’s invincibles–a group which did not lose a single game on their path to the league title–was playing with 2 central defenders and a host of attack minded players along with the presence of the well rounded midfield pair of Vieira and Gilberto, two players equally good in possession as out of it. I can almost bet that Wenger thought he had found a player similar to those two in Granit Xhaka. Was he alone in thinking so? Now that we have accepted that Xhaka is no Vieira and re-calibrated our expectations, we have begun to appreciate him. Vieira stands alone as a player so special that even the current two-time league player of the year, N’golo Kante, cannot match him.

There have been attempts from some quarters to take swipes at Wenger by stating that he knows little to nothing about coaching. Little do such critics understand that they are only espousing their own ignorance of the subject. Coaching is not tons and tons of instructions. If it were, every professional footballer would have ended up the perfect player.

Coaching starts with the ability to visualize for building philosophies and then employing tactics with sufficient emotional content for stability. It is these philosophical templates that define the modus operandi of coaches. One coach might be more reactive in his philosophy as he chooses his journey. Another might be more proactive. One might be more developmental than the other, also defining their different routes. On the foundations of a chosen philosophy comes the onus to perceive and discern qualities in players then allocate roles that give flesh to the concepts. Then follows the job of creating the physical environment for drills to elicit certain responses from players, always with allowances for individualism. Even more delicate is the task of creating the right psychological environment for maximizing the overall output of the group which invariably includes coaches turning themselves into buffers for absorbing the shocks of collisions (of all kinds) from within and without the system to enhance harmony in the team.

To get all these and many more things right requires a coach who possesses a special capacity and emotional poise that doesn’t inundate intelligent and experienced players with instructions. This happens to be the Wenger way, distilled out of his experiences. Is Wenger the best coach around? You can as well ask me if Naomi is the prettiest girl in the world.  Watch out for more SUMMER RUMBLINGS in PART 2..


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