During the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Arsène Wenger emerged as a pioneer in English football. He left the continent to join Arsenal and with him he brought a wealth of revolutionary ideas and tactics.
From philosophy to tactics, and style to nutrition, Arsène introduced English football to a brand of breath taking that would be emulated and celebrated for years to come.
Arsène’s beliefs about how the game should be played are well known by all who have watched Arsenal over his 18-year reign in North London. Fast, attacking football is the philosophy he aims to instil in to his players and this philosophy has never wavered.
During his earlier years when the Premier League was still relatively young, his Arsenal side took the game by storm. The combination of style and top class players that Arsenal had both bred and bought saw them reach new heights.
Two league doubles and an Invincible season means that Arsène Wenger will forever be in the history books at Arsenal as one of the clubs most successful and influential managers. Now however, the formula seems to have gone sour and there isn’t any evidence to suggest it is going to change.
The football community are all well aware of Arsène Wenger’s stubbornness and it prevails across the all areas of the club, irrespective of what the issue is. Whether it’s the media, tactics, or the transfer market, it makes no difference. It’s Arsène’s way, or the highway.
In the earlier years it wasn’t a problem. Other teams hadn’t faced a style of play so different, so devastating. But, in years gone by, teams like Chelsea and more recently, Manchester City, have caught up. In fact, they have now surpassed Arsenal, and Arsène’s approach to the game has been left out-dated.
Until recently, fans and pundits have largely speculated about the reasons for Arsenal’s resounding collapses against big teams. Inept defending and poor tactics have been the most widely agreed reasons, and that is essentially the problem.
The players have also bared a large brunt of the criticism in recent seasons. Full backs out of position and a slow Per Mertesacker have been somewhat criminalised for the heavy defeats. Add to that the lack of a solid central midfielder and the picture of Arsenal’s shortcomings seems to come together.
However, in a recent instalment of Match of the Day 2, Martin Keown revealed the worrying reason behind the poor performances and lack of preparation, and it boils down to Arsène Wenger.
When prompted, Keown explained to Mark Chapman that Wenger’s refusal to study and adapt to different teams’ styles of play is the reason behind Arsenal’s embarrassing away defeats.
It is almost unthinkable that in today’s game, a manager could be naïve or stubborn enough to believe that there is only one way to play the game. I am, of course, in no position to preach to a seasoned Premier League manager about how to coach a team, but surely adaptation is an obvious necessity?
The more Keown spoke about the situation at Arsenal, the more concerning it became. He went on to explain that Arsène’s preparation for a game goes no further than drilling in his philosophy of attack, attack, attack.
He also revealed that due to the nature of Wenger’s footballing philosophy, players such as himself, Lauren and Vieira would actually manage themselves defensively on the pitch, and that in time, our current defence will learn to do that.
Should they really have to do that? Why, when Arsène Wenger is the manager of the team, should the defence have to take it upon themselves to organise the back line because nobody else will? It’s all very worrying.
The obvious question that this throws up is, will Arsène ever change? And if he doesn’t, will the club decide that his time is up?
Given that ‘Le Professeur’ has been in charge for almost two decades, and his approach to management has never changed, it’s hard to see him adapting to the modern game this late in his career. If he does persist with this approach, Arsenal’s remaining years under Wenger will be spent battling for top four and occasionally winning an FA Cup.
Whatever your view on the current situation at Arsenal is, there is but one, irrefutable conclusion that can be reached following Keown’s comments. Arsenal’s inability to challenge for the league is not solely a result of the millions of pounds that have become available to Manchester City and Chelsea, but rather Arsène’s refusal to adapt to the modern game and his insatiable desire to play attractive football.