Monday, 1 December 2014

"Back to basics" always a short-term option for Wenger

I never thought the nadir would come soon enough, but come it did. Perhaps the 2-1 loss to United was some blessing in disguise, because it finally seems Arsene has gone back to the very rudiments of the game. It's not hard, is it? Keep the full-backs in check, protect the defence with a double-pivot and don't commit once you've got the lead. Quite unbelievable it took Wenger three consecutive specimens to realize that.

Obviously we do need a defensive midfielder, but our last two games against Dortmund and West Brom showed that it isn't the absolute root of our problems. People crave for a William Carvalho or a Morgan Schneiderlin as if the players will solve the entire issue. Well, guess what? It's the system that matters. Better players ensure the system runs more effectively, but only the manager controls the system. Had we bought Carvalho (for instance) in August and not changed our approach play, he too would be pressing high up the pitch and getting caught napping, much in the same ways Arteta and Flamini were guilty of.

Which is exactly why I feel some of the complaints towards the manager are unwarranted. Don't get me wrong, of course he's made many errors in judgement this season, but they were to do with his structure and man management, not (most of) his transfer dealings. Even though being short of a DM in the true sense and a couple of centre backs isn't ideal, this is still one of the best Arsenal teams on paper. The fact that they're massively underperforming and languishing in sixth speaks volumes of the manager, not the players themselves. The question shouldn't be "Why didn't you buy xyz player to strengthen the squad", it should be "Why aren't you making the best of the already excellent squad you do have?"

Give a Rudi Garcia or a Diego Simeone this exact team and they'd be second in the league right now, maybe even higher. You don't get many teams with the magnitudes of quality comparable to Ozil, Sanchez, Walcott, Ramsey, Santi Cazorla, Wilshere, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Welbeck, Giroud, Podolski and Rosicky. These are hugely talented players with exceptional qualities, most of whom have been at the club for more than a year. Under the right system and rotational policy, they would have ripped the bananas of this regressive league and given Jose lesser hours of sleep at night.

Yes, number-wise defensively the team has taken a step backwards, but it still has quality there. The fact we leaked too many goals were much more down to the modus operandi of the team than the quantity in defence. Kieran Gibbs bombing down the left flank may not mean he doesn't follow instructions well, it may mean the instructions in question aren't reasonable.

Until Wenger became more rational, there were plenty of examples where poor man managing with a mix of stubbornness killed a player's form. Arteta and Flamini used to be way too exposed in the 4-1-4-1. Ozil was left bewildered on the, well, left. Cazorla played all over the pitch until Wenger played him at No. 10, which yielded 3 assists in 2 games. The Ramsey-Wilshere axis just wasn't a match made in heaven, at least not in a 4-1-4-1. Rosicky, Podolski and Campbell had their openings to lift the physical burdens off Alexis and Chamberlain, but Wenger chose to overplay the latter duo.

Yes, Wenger chose one of his last resorts with a more cautious "first, do not lose" approach, but don't kid yourself he's fancy on sustaining it throughout the season. The 4-2-3-1 workable style of play isn't a long-term plan - it's Wenger's reaction to the degrees of pressure he currently faces. Once the burden on him temporarily lifts, he'll lull into a false sense of security and try his outdated methods again.

Personally, I'm not especially fussed how we win games unless we go complete Jose Mourinho and park the bus against mediocre outfits. However, I do believe we can play the football everyone wants us to play and win matches. Last season's formation and approach to games were a blueprint to how we should shape in the future. We now have players who can do a better job in the same structure. Whether the manager has the flexibility to revert to the "Old is Gold" tactics for good is yet another, albeit rhetorical question.

P.S. Apologies for the huge dip in the number of posts, but I've been going through a very busy period. I don't think I'll be posting previews for matches unless they include big names or big stages.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]