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 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:
Arsenal 1 Chelsea 1, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 1, Manchester United 0 Arsenal 1
Arsenal 1 Chelsea 0, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal 2 Manchester United 2, Manchester United 4 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3, Chelsea 1 Arsenal 2
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3, Manchester United 0 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 3, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 3, Manchester United 2 Arsenal 1
Arsenal 3 Chelsea 1, Chelsea 2 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 0, Manchester United 1 Arsenal 0
Arsenal 0 Chelsea 0, Chelsea 3 – Arsenal 5
Arsenal 1 Manchester United 2, Manchester United 8 Arsenal 2
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.
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.
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.