Wengernalysis: He Does Do Tactics – Just Not Very Well

Three at the back. No, wait, in the middle. I mean, in the second row....

Three at the back. No, wait, in the middle. I mean, in the second row….

Wenger’s supposed tactical ineptitude is a bugbear of many. I can agree, somewhat. Though in my mind, it’s more about stubbornness than ineptitude.

Wenger DOES do tactics. He can change things up. And he can take time to see what needs to change.

The issue though is more about ideology, than not knowing, understanding or applying tactics.

Settled formations

Wenger always had a set means of playing. In the early years, it was 442.Now it’s 4231. He would at best choose specific players in given positions. In the 442, if Bergkamp was injured, he played Wiltord or Reyes, who both offered a different option.

Wiltord and Reyes gave Wenger options when Bergkamp was injured

Wiltord and Reyes gave Wenger options when Bergkamp was injured

However, in this winning period, he did play 433 on occasion. Or had multiple forwards, if he needed to chase a win.

Of course, he played 451 in the 2006 Champions League final run, with Henry up front alone. In recent years, he has been rooted in the 4231 formation, with slight and infrequent formation alterations.

And some cite this reticence as a cause of our underachievement. Now, we know Wenger is principled. He believes, clearly, in the beautiful game, and that football should be about entertaining, high technical quality, quick passing, and intricate skill. Technical quality is significant, naturally. However, it’s not all-pervasive.

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Sport, any sport, not just football, is a battle. It has to be, it’s about competition, as an intrinsic root. So in any battle, the need to size up one’s opponent, and devise strategies to defeat them is paramount. It’s like Sun Tzu, who millennia ago said “know oneself, know your enemies, and victory is yours”. This, essentially, is what tactics is all about. Taking into account all facets of a situation, and executing desired goals via a plan. This is true in war, too. The greatest WWII operations, like Overlord, couldn’t have worked without planning and deployment, rooted in analysing contexts.

Wenger’s successes at Arsenal have been based on high technical quality, as well as pace and power. Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Ljungberg, amongst others, emphasised these facets. As a manager who is renowned for his technical appreciation of football, this is the secret to his success. It’s via dietary, training, scouting, coaching, developmental, medical, analytic, and similar measures that are his true measure as a manager.

Giroud as sub is Arsenal's Plan B - as Plan A, he doesn't work so well...

Giroud as sub is Arsenal’s Plan B – as Plan A, he doesn’t work so well…

Alexis, Giroud, and plan Bs….

This season, Alexis has become the main striker, with Giroud a support or “super-sub”. But this new fluid Arsenal has created our best performances this year. Xhaka, who is a good player with evident disciplinary issues, has changed the character of the team. We have on occasion played 433, and pressed as good as Liverpool and Tottenham have allegedly.

Giroud is thus a sound “plan B”, as well as Ozil playing in a Bergkamp-esque role at times. This is perhaps why Ozil has got far less assists than last season, as well as more goals.

The pattern

All managers have their own strengths, weaknesses, patterns and behaviours.Wenger isn’t like Mourinho, or Harry Hotspur’s Pochettino, in that they excel in tinkering and tactical mastery.

Wenger style HAS worked with great successs. It may NOT work now, due to a changing football environment.

It’s wrong though to say he never does tactics. He just don’t do it, as much as other managers do, or to get us as much success as we’d like.

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