‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’ How Albert Einstein described insanity.
Is there a more relevant quote to the last decade of Arsène Wenger’s reign in North London?
There is no question about it, Arsène has been a revolutionary genius during his historic tenure in London. He has given his life and soul to Arsenal Football Club.
He is Mr. Arsenal.
With a career that has spanned over 1,160 games in charge, 3 Premier League titles and 6 FA Cups. Le Professeur has certainly secured his place in Arsenal folklore.
But has the time finally come for him to step aside and allow a new approach direct the Gunners forward?
Wenger’s family home village of Duttlenheim, was occupied by German soldiers during the Second World War. His father was among 100,000 local men who were forced into the Germany army. The alternative was to have their families taken to the concentration camp in Schirmeck.
His father didn’t run from this, and it taught Arsène a valuable life lesson, not to run from anything.
This isn’t the first-time Wenger and his team have come under fire. We’ve lived through the ‘stepping –stone’ saga, in the period that saw numerous key Arsenal players being sold to rivals. Wenger also come through a shady beginning – when allegations in the public eye almost caused him to quit only several months into the job.
But after consecutive protests organised prior to Arsenal’s last two home games, and with a selection of fans having decided to organise a crowdfunding aircraft to fly over Arsenal’s next away game advertising ‘Wenger Out’.
Surely this is the most consistent and loudest appeal we’ve heard from supporters so far during his tenure, so is the Frenchmen’s time really up?
I don’t need to go into detail why Arsenal fans have become so restless with Wenger, as history looks set to repeat itself once again at the Emirates. February – Bloody February.
It seems to be Wenger’s bogey month if such a thing is possible.
February seems to be the month where everything falls apart for Wenger. Champions League embarrassment often takes place – usually at the hands of Bayern Munich. Complied with poor results in the league, effectively ending any possible claim Arsenal might have put forward to win the Premier League.
In a profession where you can find yourself performing miracles one season to getting fired 6 months later (Yes, that’s right I’m still fuming about Ranieri) Wenger has done exceptionally well to survive as long as he has in charge of Arsenal.
But I don’t want this article to be bogged down discussing the Arsenal Board, it’s executives and balancing the books because let’s face it that’s pretty boring and to be honest I’m not sure anyone knows really what’s going on – I certainly don’t.
But it does look like as long as the club is making a profit and financially getting rewarded by making the Champions League season after season – Wenger will continue to get another bite of the cherry.
With Champions League qualification looking an exceptionally tough task this season, with the emergence of their local rivals Tottenham; and also the improvement of Liverpool and Manchester United this season – If Arsenal fail to qualify, will he stay or will he go?
I mentioned earlier that Wenger has been brought up not to run from anything, but has his stubbornness become his biggest weakness too?
Ever since he was young, he studied Rinus Michel’s Total Football. Fascinated with this approach, he knew from a young age that this was how he wanted his teams to play – and he hasn’t looked back since.
But there is no Plan B with Arsène – there is no shutting up shop in Germany when they are already 3-1 down in a 1st Leg Champions League game.
There was no damage control when they went on to lose 8-2 at Old Trafford in 2011.
Surely there must be a Plan B. Sheer stubbornness to change formation and tactics shouldn’t continue to dictate the outcome of Arsenal results – should it?
Arsenal have always been portrayed to play beautiful football on the floor, and have been described thousands of times before that they would rather pass it into the goal rather than have a shot from outside the box.
But at what cost? They aren’t deadly on the counter attack like Chelsea have become, they struggle to compete with Spurs in midfield & they haven’t got the intensity to live with Liverpool.
A double-edged sword for most Arsenal fans I presume.
Yes, some of the team goals scored over the years have been sensational and well deserving of the awards they received. But where have these goals been in the big games? Where have the ‘superstars’ being during the big games for a matter of fact.
Now I might be doing Arsène Wenger a massive disservice, and I can’t wait to hear what Gunners fans think to this article – as I’m genuinely interested, is it time to reshuffle?
But I find it hard to believe that this is the same manager who has not only delivered 3 Premier League titles during his time in charge, but also the same manager whose side went a whole season without getting beaten in 2003/04.
A feat that hasn’t been achieved since and won’t for some time with the way Premier League teams defend in the modern era.
Wenger built that 2003/4 Invincibles side player by player, and deserves all the credit he received for that incredible achievement.
But what has happened since that side? Well that’s exactly what I’m going to look into now for the second part of this article.
Built from the front?
Let’s start with formations – During that impeccable season which must seem like a lifetime ago now for Arsenal fans, Wenger employed a very simple but flexible 4-4-2. But when in possession of the ball, it interchanged into a 4-4-1-1 with Dennis Bergkamp supporting and assisting a majority of Thierry Henry’s goals.
Henry at the time was phenomenal, arguably the best striker in world football. Scoring 30 league goals and impressively 41% of the whole teams’ goals in the league came from Henry that season.
Yes, so they had Henry in his prime scoring for fun, and yes they also had the likes of Pirès and Ljungberg scoring too. But it was a team primarily built from the back with a solid spine and solid principles. To play attacking football using movement and interchanging with full backs joining in attacks.
This undefeated side was built from the defence upwards with Wenger establishing a solid partnership with Sol Campbell & Kolo Touré as his first priority before he moved onto exciting attacking options.
Whereas with the current side there seems to be much more focus on the attacking options first before shifting his attention towards his defence. With the likes of Sanchez, Ozil & Walcott taking centre stage for the majority of this season. They might go on to score more goals this season than they did in the 2003/4 season with currently 55 playing 73.
But they have already conceded 5 more goals than the 26 they did 13 years ago.
Surely the fans would rather see success rather than the thrill of a few extra goals? But please Arsenal fans get in touch.
Of course, he has invested heavily on Mustafi who has been an excellent addition at times, but he’s still nowhere near Sol’s level during that 2003/04 season. As for Laurent Koscielny, I find it baffling – the amount of reviews I read from Gunners supporters suggesting he’s one of the best in the league.
There are two better CB’s down the road at White Hart Lane in my opinion. Another player who goes missing in the big games – He has to be stronger. Wenger needs to find his Sol Campbell if he wants to be in a title race again.
Another interesting point I’ve discovered whilst looking up some stats on the 2003/04 Invincibles side is the connection Ashley Cole & Pirès had on the pitch, Cole was well on his way to becoming one of the best LB’s in football at the time and his partnership he had with Pirès was a major factor to Arsenal being so successful.
When I watch the current Arsenal side now, it never seems to be fluid when defence meets attack – There aren’t those key partnerships where players on the same side of the pitch know each other’s game inside out. Like Beckham / Neville or Cole / Pirès.
Maybe this is due to the amount players get rotated – I don’t know. I’d just like to see more link up play. Just as a side note – Wenger used 6 midfielders that whole campaign, he’s already used 9 in midfield so far and we are only in March.
The Vieria Effect
How do you go about replacing a giant like Vieira? Arsène has been searching for the answer for well over 10 years now. I can go on and use paragraphs to describe the immense force that Vieira was on his day, or I can let Roy Keane do it for me.
‘On his day, when he was driving Arsenal on with the sheer force of his personality, he was unplayable.’
This is exactly what Arsenal are missing in today’s side. Do you really think if Patrick Vieira had been playing over the two legs against Bayern they would have lost 10-2 on aggregate? Not a chance!
They have no driving force, there isn’t that competitive spirit anymore with Arsenal. I remember watching the games at Highbury when Manchester United would come to town and the battles which would ensue for 90 minutes. Those were proper games of football to watch.
I’m not sure if it’s just the current crop of footballers in general who are more concerned with their individual ‘brand’ like #Pogba or choreographing handshake celebrations.
The Granit Xhaka experiement has not worked out, and I can’t see it working out in the future either. You can learn certain skills, but temperant is not one of them in my opion. When it comes to heat of the moment, Xhaka can’t be trusted to not do something rash. He should look at his predecessor; Gilberto Silva.
I’ve written a fair amount in this article compared to my normal ones I usually write; it’s amazing what a peppermint tea and some chocolate rice cakes will do to you.
So, I’ll leave you with this thought, Wenger got quoted in August 2003 before the season began saying ‘Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn’t surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole season’. Wenger’s confidence shines through in this statement, has anyone heard anything similar over the last 10 years?
No, didn’t think so.
If he signs a new deal or not is yet to be confirmed. But whatever the outcome is, Arsène Wenger take a bow – You’ve been an icon, an ambassador for not only Arsenal but for the Premier League.
If Wenger & Arsenal do part company come the end of the season, I’d like to see Thomas Tuchel given a chance. I believe he would continue to play football in the same tradition that Arsène has always prided his Arsenal teams on.
As always Ta for reading,