The times are a-changin’
But our formation is not. It’s as simple as that.
Before you close this article, I’d like to point out that I’m not a part of the “Arsene Knows Best” or the “Wenger Out Brigade,” and I hope you see what I have to say. Also, I’m not really on the fence. It’s a bit hard to explain where I stand but Andy Wood (@yorkshiregunner) pretty much described how I feel right now in one simple sentence: “I love Arsene Wenger, but I’m no longer IN love with him.”
I have always supported Arsene’s decisions and he is the most successful manager in Arsenal’s 126 year history and is responsible for the club we are today. But, personally, after some thought over the last three weeks, I think some questions need to be asked and problems addressed.
Don’t get me wrong. By no means am I saying “Sack Wenger!” For as long as he is in charge, I will back him, but it doesn’t mean I cannot criticise constructively and question.
Our first flaw, as every Arsenal fan would tell you, is our predictable tactics and formation. Opponents can read Arsenal like an open book and expect exactly what our game plan will be. Teams from Norwich to Man United have dealt with our side in different ways, and it’s obvious that we’re far too predictable tactically.
I hate taking United as an example to prove by point, but it has to be done unfortunately. In our 2-0 FA Cup loss at Old Trafford in ‘10/’11, Ferguson fielded seven (YES, SEVEN) defenders, with the quick da Silva twins on either side of midfield and O’Shea alongside Gibson between them. He knew that we would be susceptible on the counter attack and even though it meant starting with an unconventional and strange eleven, it would be enough to catch us off-guard and beat us.
Similar to that, Ferguson has tinkered and tweaked with his formation and system throughout this season so far. In the absence of wingers, he tried the diamond formation and moved to 4-4-2 when necessary.
That’s when I wonder why we didn’t even try and accommodate a different formation, especially when three of our first choice wingers are unavailable. I hate to say it, but Arsene has been stubborn tactically.
He made quite a big change to our system to bring the best out of Cesc, but he jumped ship and we’re trying the same system with different personnel. That simply hasn’t worked out because the players we replaced Fabregas with are very different, and although Santi is outstanding, he’s s different player.
If you follow City on a regular basis, you’ll notice that Mancini almost always never keeps the same formation. He started with a 3-4-3 last night and has gone with a classic 4-4-2 and sometimes an unorthodox 3-5-2. This change in strategies and system keeps opponents guessing and although it sometimes doesn’t work out, they have the option of switching back to the formation they are most comfortable with during the game.
I sometimes wonder why we constantly put Ramsey on that right wing and Gervinho upfront, because they are out of their comfort zones in those respective positions and are used as scapegoats if things don’t go well.
Ramsey is arguably in the side on RW to play the “Benayoun role” where we intend on keeping possession and controlling the midfield area, but if we’re going to have a battering ram in the form of Giroud upfront, why not play to his strong point, which is obviously heading the ball?
Something else which I haven’t seen in Arsene in a while is his man-management that he used to be known for. One piece of exceptional man-management this season is suprisingly from Roberto di Matteo.
RDM gave Mata an extended holiday after the Olympics so that he could come back fresh and raring to go. The Italian was initially questioned as Mata was arguably their best player last season but look at how that’s paid off. The Spaniard’s been outstanding for The Blues so far.
Arsene used to be able to motivate players a lot, especially after they suffered some disappointments. After Domenech left out Nasri from the ’10 World Cup squad, Arsene stepped in and guided the young Frenchman to the best season he’s ever had individually. He was very close to winning the PFA Player of The Year and was unplayable at times.
I wonder why we don’t see Arsene handle situations like he did on so many occasions before.
Another chink in Arsene’s armour is how he rewards mediocrity. Manuel Almunia cost us the Champions League final in Paris with two blunders and what happened the following season? He was handed the number one shirt.
We have also had to put up with players like Eboue, Squillaci and Park, who simply aren’t fit to put on an Arsenal jersey. I am happy that Arsene has accepted that they are not good enough and he’s tried to get rid of them, but we need to step down on mediocrity heavily. We can spend those wages on ore capable and reliable players.
One person I have stood by and defended for a while is Andre Santos. But yesterday, we saw that he playfully asked RvP for his shirt at half time, when we were 1-0 down and he was especially getting battered. What’s next? Ask him for an autograph? Was he thinking about what colour frame would go with the shirt during the first 45? That might’ve explained where his mind was.
Yes, he was not at fault for either goal, and, yes, Santos has been unnecessarily given the blame a lot of times this season, but the fact that he asked the person who is the most hated player by Arsenal fans right now for his shirt says a lot about him and the mentality of our team. You think Keown would’ve done that? Martin would’ve given him a kick on the ankle when the ref wasn’t in sight.
They might be friends, but if you want to hug him, do it off the camera in the tunnel. Show our fans that three points is far more important than a souvenir shirt. If that was me, I would’ve given him a stern look and a far-from-casual handshake, just to show that all is not forgiven and that he must be looked at as an enemy. A deserter. (Take a look at Santi’s gesture towards the away fans after we scored that late consolation goal. Dedicated it to them. That’s what we want. That’s what we love seeing.)
Speaking of mediocrity, I feel the biggest mistake of our season so far was making Vermaelen captain. We did back ourselves into a corner by making him deputy to RvP last season, but he’s definitely our third best CB and because he wears the armband, we cannot rotate them.
Mikel would’ve been a superb captain simple cause he’s a fighter. Santi and Jack, in separate interviews, surprisingly spoke about him being the leader, with no mention of the Belgian.
To me, we have got to do what’s best for the side and the club and if that means benching our captain, so be it. The one with the armband has to be the person setting the example for the rest of the team, which lifts the spirits and gives the other 10 men a sense of belief.
I’m not saying that the captain has to go on yelling at his teammates, but sometimes it just takes a hard tackle to be slammed in to motivate the rest of the team. I’m afraid Vermaelen doesn’t do that.
Coming to the AGM, which took place a few weeks ago. People were very angry with Arsene’s words, where he said that getting fourth place is more important than the League and FA Cups. I 100% agree with that statement. Would you trade our season last year with League Cup winners, Liverpool? I definitely wouldn’t.
But I do partly disagree with the fact that only Champions League sides attract top players. We finalised the deal for Podolski well before we had secured 3rd place last season, and Santi joined Malaga when they had finished their season in 11th place (in ‘10/’11) and had no CL football.
I’m sure we can still attract talents from all across Europe, so why not aim for a top four finish AND the cups?
The main reason I think we need a cup is to get that winning and big game mentality, which we lack dearly.
Sorry to be taking the example of moneybags City again, but it is very relevant here. In that calamitous ‘10/’11 season, where we somehow dropped from 3rd to 4thin the end, with City leapfrogging us, they also quietly went on to win the FA Cup. The next season, they were obviously fuelled with hundreds of millions of pounds, but there was something about them that set them apart from the other teams. They had a never-say-die attitude and even when things were going against them completely, they grinded out results and went on to win the Premier League.
That’s what belief does to you. They had been in similar situations before and knew how to get out of them. I also feel that Chelsea winning the FA Cup last year also gave them a big boost mentally when they walked onto the pitch to face Bayern.
That’s why I think it’s essential that we go after the cups this season. We are in the Quarterfinals of the Capitol One Cup, with Chelsea as the only other “big team.” We should field our strongest XI and give it our best.
Yes, both the domestic cups have dropped in the list of many clubs’ priorities, but they are trophies, all the same.
Who knows what could happen next season if we finish top four with a cup or two? I’m no fortune-teller, but I’m sure that we’d step onto the field with a lot more assurance and faith in ourselves than we did before, only because we have proved it’s do-able.
One major positive from the season so far has been our away fans, who have out-sung the majority at most stadiums this season and I tip my hat to them. Singing “We love you Arsenal” for the last 15 minutes at Old Trafford was a superb, but it pains me to say that our fans aren’t going to be winning us games and trophies. They have done the best they can to encourage, and have left the rest to the eleven Gunners on that pitch.
Another point I would like to add is about Robin van Persie. When he issued THAT statement for us, I wrote a post where I said that he would not receive the same service like he did at Arsenal.
I was wrong.
I’ve accepted that he’s the most complete striker in Europe and has fit into that United side like a glove. Sadly, he is proving that the move is the right one for his career, as we simply do not look capable of winning the title. But that DOES NOT make what he did right and I still absolutely hate him for holding Arsene to ransom after he single-handedly shaped his career.
In conclusion, I really hope that we do find some possible solution soon as we’ve got a very tough set of games coming up and we cannot afford to fall behind further. I still think Arsene is a footballing genius, but he has to accept that there are problems which need addressing.
I’d like to finish with a line that I have before on a few occasions.
The harder things get, the louder I’ll sing. Come on, Arsenal.
Follow me on twitter: @GodisDutch10.