As Roberto Martinez stood and marshalled his troops on the touchline, Arsene Wenger slumped there in his sleeping-bag-cum-coat muttering along to assistant Steve Bould. Wenger’s continuing bewilderment over Arsenal’s inability to gain points in the big Premier League fixtures has become troubling.
In contrast to the likes of Martinez or Brendan Rodgers, Wenger’s interviews and pressers have become increasingly repetitive. They lack creativity, give no tactical insight, and tell the lay people nothing they can’t see for themselves. And with the rise of these younger modern managers in the Premier League, they are proving that even a man with the pedigree of Wenger can have a sell-by date.
It is with almost comical regularity that Arsene Wenger refers to ‘spirit’, ‘character’, ‘mental attitude’, and most tellingly ‘confidence’. Whether the side performs incredibly or abysmally, all of these platitudes come out so much so you could play ‘Arsene Wenger bingo’ if you were sad enough to. He gives little insight into what the team did well or what they could have improved on. Everything is based on psychological aspects.
In stark contrast, the likes of Rodgers or Martinez approach their post-match obligations with perspicacity. Both men speak of their approach to the game. They refer to opponent weaknesses, praising both the psychological, technical and tactical application of their side. They are articulate and interesting. Wenger, on the other hand, is predictable and bland.
It’s hard to think that a man as intelligent and experienced as Arsene Wenger doesn’t understand the nuances of tactical changes. Maybe it’s just Wenger’s way that he doesn’t like to give too much away publicly. He keeps the analysis in-house and focuses all tactical observations behind the scenes. But observing the way Arsenal get pushed over by the top teams, and the fact they seemingly don’t learn from past experiences, suggests that tactically Wenger is lagging behind his counterparts.
No matter who, where or when the Gunners play, it’s all about possession. It’s about fluid movement, dragging players out of position, and getting in holes in front of the defence. When faced with an opposition who plug these holes, and can sit deep, Arsenal struggle.
Equally, teams that have the ability to defend on the front foot, pressing Arsenal’s midfield into mistakes, they have failed to adapt. The home game against Borussia Dortmund showed the damage a team with an intense pressing game could cause. The game at Anfield was even worse, and Chelsea… I won’t even bother.
Arsenal have failed to impose their style of football on the very best. The consistency of the failures this season has been enough to show this to Arsenal supporters, but sadly not Arsene Wenger. When Arsenal have gone behind, they’ve struggled to solidify and at times have opened up even more. Regularly abhorrent performances have shown that if Arsenal have a ‘plan b’, so to speak, it is rarely (if ever) implemented.
When you see the way that somebody like Jose Mourinho will approach a game, he evidently takes into account the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition. Away at the Etihad he opted for David Luiz to sit alongside Nemanja Matic to stifle the presence of Yaya Toure. They performed exceptionally. Not only are they physically dominant, but dynamic and technically outstanding footballers. Both players were also utilised effectively against Arsenal at Stamford Bridge, overpowering Arsenal’s smaller midfield players.
Similarly, Roberto Martinez spotted the weakness down Arsenal’s left flank and deployed the pacey and powerful Romelu Lukaku out in a wide right position. He tormented Nacho Monreal all afternoon; it was a tactical masterstroke. It’s rare, if not non-existent that Wenger ever makes as bold a move as this.
The tactical tweaking by Martinez, Rodgers, and Mourinho are common features of their managerial styles which make them so enterprising to observe. They aren’t afraid to react to opposition strengths and weaknesses without compromising their principles. They watch the game from the touchline, observe meticulously, take notes, and respond appropriately. Half-time tactical substitutions occur regularly enough, whereas at Arsenal they are simply unheard of.
Wenger’s managerial approach has always been strictly based around getting the most out of his players by instilling them with the confidence to perform to their maximum. When the confidence dissipates, it returns very slowly. The players are only human, and questioning one’s ability is natural. But when it seems to be at the crux of the side’s approach, and the one key cog in the machine, if confidence is out of sync it culminates on the field.
With other managers up at the top of the league demonstrating a depth of tactical malleability, any lack of confidence can be overcome by a change in approach. If it isn’t working at Liverpool, Rodgers has no qualms in adapting his game-plan. Nor does Mourinho. Wenger appears to lack the capacity, or bravery, to make such alterations.
For all the dietary, training, and tactical changes Arsene Wenger brought into English football, he now finds himself falling away. He was once a revolutionary, but now he is becoming stale. The emergence of reactionary, forward-thinking managers is beginning to show up Wenger’s dogmatism. And sadly, at 64-years-old, it is doubtful whether he is likely to change.