28 Comments

Has Wenger Changed ?

A Guest Post from Muppet ( @MuppetGooner )

Perhaps we should be concerned with more pressing matters, but I couldn’t ignore when a 1st world problem appeared on  Twitter. The assertion that Wenger had changed was made by a well known blogger, and therefore all was well. Well, nice to  hear, given that this particular blogger has spent the best part of the last 9 years squealing like a stuck pig. Let’s be  fair here, and assume he could be right. Did Wenger change ? Did he ? What does he mean ? Well, I’m guessing this is all about old accusations and concerns. We are familiar with them. We had no DM, the manager is stubborn, We had too many injuries. There was no plan B. We never spent money. You get the gist. The blogger’s presumed opinion is that all of these situations have now been resolved to a degree of satisfaction, and therefore Wenger has changed.

Unfortunately it is difficult to react to this assertion without some degree of mirth. As the natural reaction, being positive about what AW has done anyway in the last 10 years, is to dismiss this out of hand. Moreover, it would be natural to say that the last 2 years have been not a result of Wenger changing, more, the effect of Wenger’s actions, and indeed the club. But to say that would be just to appear ingenuous.

It would be better I thought to examine these points and ask if the composition of the squad, the training, investment, tactics, the team play is that different in the last 2 years than the period, say, from 2006 to 2013. And also  include some those bug bears expressed over the years.

The DM

The revisionist argument is that now we have Coquelin (apparently a lucky break by AW), it is one facet of change, as Coquelin is seen as a specialist DM.

The players seen to occupy this position were Gilberto Silva, who left in 2008, then Denilson, until 2011, then Alex Song in the 2011 to 2012 season, then Arteta from 2012.

Does this point to a change in direction ? It is true that out of all of these players, Coquelin may represent the one who is the most defensive in his style, strengths and what he is asked to do. The other midfielders, especially Arteta and Song, have played more box to box. Denilson too, more attacking than coquelin, and seen as a lot weaker in the defensive respect.

It could point to a change in direction. On the other hand, we don’t know how much AW will persist with Coquelin. The clamour, from the critics of Wengerball, is that a specialist DM, in the Makelele role was always required. The evidence up to now, is that Wenger has always eschewed that solution. He prefers mobile, ball playing midfielders, who can even go box to box if necessary. Indeed, in games where we have been chasing the game note how quickly Coquelin is sacrificed for an attacking player after 60 or 70 minutes. Not always, but notable.

There is no discernable difference in quality in all the players. Gilberto was the most high profile, a brazilian world cup winner. The differentiating factor is that Coquelin is seemingly exclusively deployed in a defensive role.

Change in the gung ho approach ?

I’m guessing the default position now is that we appear to have changed our tactics so that we are less gung ho, more cautious and more respectful of the opposition.

Is this just perception ? Or do the facts back this up ? Statistics can be made to twist anything, so I don’t want to present too many stats. If you look at our results against big teams from 2013-2014, we got hammered at Chelsea, City and Liverpool. From 2014-2015, we did not. The worst result against the big teams, was 2-0 away to Chelsea. But 2006 to 2013 ? Were we gung ho, and neglected the defence the whole time ? The stats against the 2 biggest teams from that period:

2006-2007

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 1, Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1

2007-2008

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0, Chelsea 2  Arsenal 1
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 2, Manchester United 4 Arsenal 0

2008-2009

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3, Chelsea 1 Arsenal 2
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3, Manchester United 0 Arsenal 0

2009-2010

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3, Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

2010-2011

Arsenal 3 Chelsea 1, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 0, Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0

2011-2012

Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0, Chelsea 3 – Arsenal 5
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2, Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2

2012-2013

Arsenal 1 Chelsea 2, Chelsea 2 – Arsenal 1
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 1, Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1

It is clear from these games that Chelsea and Manchester United have had the better of us.

We have to concede also that there have been some drubbings in this period.

On the other hand, there have been some years where the results have not been too bad, and were arguably more impressive then this season’s, against a stronger Chelsea and Manchester United team back then. In the 2010-2011 season we beat the champions, Manchester United at home. In the 2006-2007 season, we also beat the champions, Manchester United away from home. Chelsea were runners up in 2010-2011, and we beat them at home.

It occurs to me that looking at these results, it is also true that the adage that we can’t beat the big teams was only a recent phenomena. There are 6 premiership wins out of a possible 28 matches here, which although deemed a failure, seem to be commendable in my view, given the relative financial position of the 3 clubs during this period.

There were also champions league games where we slipped goals. Notably the QF in 2007 v Liverpool. But the result can be compared with the Monaco R16 match, where we conceded 3 goals at home this season. There may be a perception of a change of tactics, but the result was still an exit from the competition.

Transfers

The assertion here is that AW has been inflexible in the transfer market. He has not signed marquee players because of a philosophical preference to promoting from within, and baulking at the transfer fee, even though, allegedly, we have had the money.

If you define a marquee transfer as being over £30m, then on face value this is true.

Between 2006 and 2013 our biggest transfer was Arshavin. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Arsenal_F.C._records_and_statistics, Arshavin arrived for £12m + 3m + add ons, in Feb 2009. Jut prior to this Nasri was signed for £15m from Marseille in 2008.

When we go back to between 1997-2005, the largest transfers here are in 2000, when Sylvain Wiltord arrived for £13m, Henry in 1999 for £10m, Reyes in 2004 for £10.5m. Interestingly, Hleb was signed for £11.5m from Stuttgart in 2005.

In 2011-2012, a season where we hadn’t yet starting signing big players, we spent £48.2m, bringing in Ox, Arteta, Mertesacker, Gervinho (the so called supermarket sweep).

The arrival in 2013 of Ozil for £42m signalled a significant change to the amount of money that was spent on an individual player. It broke the transfer record. This was followed by Sanchez for £31m. Interestingly, the spend on players overall in 2011-2012 was the same as 2012-2013, around £42m. But in 2014-2015 it doubled to 92m.

Final Thoughts

The assertion in some quarters is that Wenger didn’t do tactics at all, and is now doing tactics. The “in game management” was poor, the subs were a joke, and there was never any shape.

The narrative is that the penny has dropped. Along with transfers and Coquelin, Wenger has seen the light. The Bould effect is also attributed. The recent success of Borussia Dortmund and Juventus point to examples of teams who punch above their weight finacially, yet can take on big teams, and reach champions league finals.

One can argue that on today’s valuations, because of inflation, and the market, all the players signed in the period 1997-2005 would have cost double today. The money spent on Ozil and Sanchez also coincide with an increase in Arsenal’s turnover. The figures from 2011-2014 are £257m, £243m, £280.4m, £301.9m.

If the accusation was, that AW did not sign marquee players because he preferred a development policy, then the arrival of Ozil and Sanchez has disproved that. If  the accusation, that Wenger does not spend at all, then that does not seem to be backed up by the facts either. The total spent on players in the last 4 years is around £220 million.

With respect to tactics, and the attitudes towards defence, it seems curious to me that despite achieving a net spend in the period of 2006 to 2013, or in other words, having virtually no extra cash for transfers, we were able to reach top 4 qualification and still reach the quarter final of the CL in 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, and the semi final in 2008-2009. The argument could be that tactics would have improved this position, had we been less defensively naive. This is the default position of some bloggers. On the other hand, at least we got that far in the competition. None of the premiership teams got that far this season, and their squads are stuffed with players valued at far more than our squad from 2006 to 2010.

So for me there are two points to make here. One, your defence cannot be that bad if you do reach top 4 qualification every year. Two, that AW is an attacking coach. He has never taken the Mourinho or Benitez approach, and parking the bus. I think this is an observation of fact. I am not supportive of it, either way. If you want to argue, as some do, that in big games, this has hampered us, and we’ve not been able to progress in big competitions, then feel free. My only reply to this is to say  that if this were the case, then wouldn’t every good team just adopt a defensive approach, and therefore reach the latter stages of all the big competitions ? Certainly not Chelsea this year, or last. My belief is that an attacking philosophy has meant that we always gamble for 3 points, and this has been useful, but it’s about balance. Sure, we did need to tighten up on defence at times, but we also needed better players. And ultimately, the biggest factor for me was being blown out of the transfer market from 2006-2013. It is a fallacy, in my view, to suggest that defensive tinkering would have improved us significantly. We just simply did not have the ingredients. But the absurdity is, that we actually did better than the punditry gave us credit for. We had 2 very good league campaigns, from 2007-2008 and 2009-2010, with the aforementioned CL runs between 2007 to 2010. If Wenger has changed, I hope not too much.

28 comments on “Has Wenger Changed ?

  1. You are absolutely correct in all you say. The people who are twisting themselves in knots to ignore what’s in front of them and maintain their own silly narrative are those claiming Arsène has somehow caved in to their demands and starting spending money and using a beast DM.
    Coquelin is not a big tackling DM. He is an interceptor who relies on reading the game, he can stand up for himself and playing on while getting his nose broken in every game suggests the boy is tough but his real quality is in his superb ability on the ball. Look at him turning through and past that Villa player while on the touchline at Wembley – sublime skill. Look at his excellent range of passing. He’s an Arsène Wenger player not the beast these idiots want to pretend he is.
    The simple fact is Arsène used to have no money now he has some and another of his young players has come good at just the right time. End of story.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. As I said in a post the other day that piece requires time to read and reflect upon before lunging in with a comment.
    Having read the opening paragraphs the writing is the result of watching football, and players, rather than watching the internet during games, as well as in the aftermath.
    For that alone it is an innovative and welcome gift.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Interesting, some things have changed at the club, like the new fitness regime and (allegedly-I remember Rosicky talking about it) greater emphasis on micromanaging strategies in particular games. The latter was something I always thought we did, there were quite obviously games in the last 4/5 years where we were set up in a particular way or used the ball in a targeted manner, maybe it became more prevalent?

    However, I don’t think Wenger has changed much. I remember when we have had bad runs before we have gone more defensive, I remember a sequence of draws where we were playing Denilson-Song as our midfield partnership, for example. He wants to win, and if you have to compromise some attacking verve until you’re able to be the offensive team he wants us to be, he will do that. Hell, until the last 3/4 months the ‘pretty passing’ we were renowned for had pretty much disappeared for 2 or 3 years after losing Cesc/Nasri, we were winning games based on grit and hard work with the occasional bit of inspiration.

    I’m pretty sure it’s just the guys who said ‘we’ll never win anything under Wenger’ revising themelves to ‘I never said that, I said that he had to change or we’d never win anything under Wenger’, conveniently forgetting that a large part of their argument for him leaving was that he would never change. There was a lot of crap said, some of it is true but a good chunk of that was, and is, inconsequential to the central intention of actually winning.

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  4. Dick,

    Great point in your 2nd paragraph. There have been periods of exactly that, where we have adopted a more cautious approach in the past. The perception is that, on the other hand, is that we never had, and the bloggers who are hailing the new way, after the Man City game, 0-2 away forget such caution in the past. We have gone to big teams before and won matches. How did we do that I wonder ? In a lot of cases, I would say we did it by playing Wengerball but still mixed with a degree of defensive discipline. The revisionists are interpreting playing Coquelin as being part of a new era of caution. I say this is BS.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Aye, I think it’s part of the need to find an easy reason why we weren’t winning the title; I’m sure we remember the ‘Arsenal can’t beat the small teams, and that is the key to winning titles’ argument that somehow changed into ‘beating the big teams is how you win the league, and Arsenal can’t do that’. Quick and easy can hook people in, whilst considered thought and analysis requires time. The fact that it doesn’t even require that much time to unveil a lot of the crap that is talked probably tells you a lot.

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  6. Another very enjoyable and useful piece Mr. Muppet. It seems like a riposte to the puerile rants of Pedro of LeGrove fame. If Arsenal’s good form continues he is going to have quite a time living down his myriad arrogant comments about Arsene, the medical department and the board…..

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  7. Enjoyed PG’s exchanges with Pedro on twitter yesterday…keep it George…

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  8. KEEP IT UP GEORGE…..

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  9. I confess I do not read the idiocy of Le Grove hence the fun George had with him yesterday passed me by. I live a very quiet life.

    The general theme of Wenger has “changed” is, as far as I dip into the discussions, not about whether our manager has altered and developed his approach to the game since 1996, or 2006, or 2014. It is inconceivably that any manager not change if they wanted to be effective and successful. Wenger has never struck me as either unsuccessful or ineffective, or lost his appetite to improve. He is a bright man, hence he understands the necessity of learning and experimenting with his approach to the game, the players he picks, buys, discards, the position he tries players in etc. Resources play a part, cash available a notable and varying issue. As you so usefully put it Muppet if he did not have a solid grip for the past eighteen seasons how on earth did we win so much and even in more fallow periods finish in so high a position year after year in a competitive league.

    The argument I do not think therefore is about whether Wenger has changed. It is about WHY he has changed.

    My view is that he has developed his thinking on the game, in part proactive and in part reactive.

    The counter argument appears to be that finally after season after season of failing to learn or adapt, or to change, Arsene “has learned his lesson”, as the Scarfists would have you believe.

    I do not really see that. It is a process, the same process of team and club development that has always been in progress. No cliffs have been jumped off, no Rubicon’s crossed.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Muppet is hitting a rich vein of form right now.

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  11. One big clue is that this rebuilt squad which the groaning self-declared experts had serious trouble admitting had to be rebuilt after the exodus is not so different to the squads which proceeded it.

    The new Attack provides options only slightly different to the Trident of Judas, Eduardo and Adebayor

    The players have some differences but it’s more or less the same idea. However if you have spent the better part of three years denying that the club ha to cope with the same kind of difficulties seen at Tottenham and Liverpool then it’s not really surprising that they would choose to continue to live in Lady Gaga Land.

    Sadly many o the hack dwarves these people choose to regurgitate have shown a lot of sympathy for the two clubs above who’ve had it easy in comparison. This is a telling contrast.
    Perhaps some just like to do and say as they are told?

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  12. Is le Coq really more defensive then Song was before he began to learn a few tricks off Diaby?

    As Steww highlights above, if anyone can find a single game where Song, Silva or Makelele pulled off as many tricks flicks and through passes as Coquelin on Saturday I’ll be happy to watch.

    Still less then fifty starts in CM for Francis. But after Saturday I’m reassured that he can reach the heights that I thought he might be able to reach when I first saw him play against Shrewsbury, which I questioned after the Monaco home game (don’t know why but I did!).

    He took a big step forward for me in what was the biggest game of his career, the FA cup final. The likes of Moutinho and Kondogbia are harder opponents but it’s promising. Ramsey was the big miss in that first leg.

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  13. “Muppet is hitting a rich vein of form right now.”

    He’s changed. ( banned winkey thing)

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  14. Great piece, thanks for the bullets I will continue to fire them up WOBS arse’s

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  15. A5, is quite correct when he says all good managers change or adapt. Why would the most innovative manager the PL has seen not constantly evolve and to stay at the top it was a necessity.
    The funny thing is the WOBS insisted he wasn’t capable of change and now all of a sudden from his magic hat appears diversions all over the place. With an argument like that they should regard him as the new messiah.
    The reality is the Wobs change every season choosing the critical suit that fits best at the time.
    We’ve had the he won’t spend, the he won’t win silverware, the he won’t make CL each season, the he can’t beat top four sides, the he can’t do tactics, the he has got millions of cash spare and many more all of which Arsene has read and wiped his arse with.
    When your proved wrong , sometimes you just have to put your hands up and go quietly but to keep bleating, digging more holes each year is the stuff of legendary buffoons…one day my friends one day

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Oh and although he was taken off at 3-1 so we could “go for it” Le Coq was DM in the manure 8-2 game, interesting eh

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  17. Someone who is old enough to know better once wrote of the groaners:

    “Pearls before swine”

    A real shame then, when times were testing, that they began to squeal. If the noise is loud enough we can see that it can drown out people’s common sense. Propaganda simply works through the mechanism of repetition.

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  18. After that Utd game Coquelin had two impressive perfoirmances against Tottenham and Gazprom, before the Ramires’ uncalled foul led to yet another injury at AFC and a set-back in his career.

    The avoidance of this observation easily made osbservation by these already discredited Revisionists undermines the last vesti atges of their remaining credibility, if they had any left.

    Muppet I was watching a game earlier in the season and got talking to someone who was a pleasant fellow who said they were friends with the Groaner. I said to him words to the effect:

    ‘your pal dreams of being Durham,being a second rate shock-jock is what he dreams of? It’s true, isn’t it? Before we know it he’ll be spouting gibberish like ‘M.Dawson for England’, if he hasn’t already. A clickbait hunter.”

    He simply shrugged and agreed. What else could he say or do?

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Our players have improved, gelling better as a team, all that adding up to better results… Regardless of having elegant defenders over the years, we are a team that loves to attack

    How anyone thinks AW tells players to disregard defense and attack only i often marvel

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  20. Well done, Muppet, you are now responding with zeal!

    Mr Wenger, has adjusted to the changes in personnel. Leavers, injuries and new arrivals.

    The team that “owns” the ball, dictates the play and tactics of the opponent, no? It is elementary, dear Watson. We know the size of the field of play, 10 EPL pitches are 105m x 68m, with Everton, Liverpool and Chelsea are 3 of the 10, who do not comply with the regulated size.

    5 metres x 2 metres less, in the latter cases, means constricted space, for the creative player to “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee”?

    The field of play can be addressed like a chess board, as the “lawn striping” is approximately 6 yards by 6 yards.

    The cut of the grass can also affect the style of play. A short cut, will suit the Arsenal, a longer grass will suit Stoke etc.

    Overwatering the field of play, will further tax the stamina of some players.

    Square pegs in round holes, does not come into the equation. Specialists in one position are a dying breed. Except for goalkeepers, the custodians.

    Has Mr Wenger changed,, of course not. He now has the support of a analytical company, to assist in his search for the “holy grail”.

    COTG.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Arsene has also very subtly fine tied how the fullbacks work this season. It’s not just Monreal and Bellerin being better, it’s that they don’t attack at the same time leaving the sitting mid and Kos/Per exposed with no covering pace.
    Arteta mentioned the team had a tactical discussion with Arsene before the City away game and a few creases were ironed out. The captain was the conduit for this, trusted impeccably by manager and team mates – the way things should be.

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Thanks, Muppet.

    You’re clearly right that there are those who are unable to see a consistent and unwavering vision in the way AW has led Arsenal throughout his tenure, and particularly since 2005.

    But it’s probably a mistake for any of us to imagine that those who continue to make public their lack of insight and understanding are likely to be persuaded by mere reason.

    Liked by 1 person

  23. Transfer Deadline day will end on 1 September at 17:00 BST instead of the usual 23:00 BST.

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  24. i read we lost out on milner to pool

    were we in for him in the first place? another midfielder? who to replace cos am sure the city bench is more lucrative… ask sagna

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  25. Superb piece Mupps

    Excellent comments.

    My memory says le Coq played ok at OT, and was substituted despite not looking tired (but maybe the boss knew something about his health/fitness).

    I’m happy to be corrected.

    Lady gaga, haha.

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  26. has our defensive record in champions league been broken yet? the back five of lehmann, ebuoe, kolo, senderous and flamini. who would ever set a record with this bunch if he doesnt to defending or do tactics.

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  27. i was talking to an arsenal fan yesterday, he then asked me if we dont need to sign a new DM. my answer was that we already have one and that he is better than anyone being linked to us at the moment. he told me coq may be good but he hasnt play chelsea away or against the likes of barca and madrid. the funniest thing he said was that coq’s nose is not strong. and that we need to get a DM whose nose is not easily broken. then i gave up!

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