Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is probably used to hearing a fair share of angry protesters amongst the Arsenal fans nowadays and he is of course no stranger to having his work criticised. However he probably doesn’t expect to hear such statements as this from a former Arsenal player.
Former Gunner Paul Merson, who is now a well recognised Sky Sports pundit, likes to share his opinion on the club and Arsene Wenger; and usually he doesn’t have a good thing to say about either. There is nothing different this time and on this occasion, Merson is directing his thoughts on Arsene Wenger’s apparent lack of tactical awareness in the Premier League.
Wenger has often been criticised for not having a Plan B approach for when games aren’t going our way and often the lack of change on the pitch, has left the Gunners vulnerable and unable to obtain the points available from the game. Wenger’s implementation of the 3-4-3 formation has seen his approach on tactics change, but for Merson this isn’t enough. The pundit said: ‘If they keep Wenger, I don’t see them getting close to the top. I just think tactically Wenger has lost it.’
Personally although I agree that Arsene Wenger is no longer than man to lead Arsenal forward and his tactical approach is certainly outdated, I don’t think he’s completely lost it. Wenger may still be trying to implement the tactics he has used very much since his first years at Arsenal, however to suggest that he’s lost all tactical knowledge is a tad far fetched in my opinion. Wenger after all did cut his losses in what he believed in, to switch to the 343 formation. It goes against many principles that Wenger is renowned for doing, however the Frenchman noticed it worked for the Gunners and thus implemented it on a full time scale.
Merson continued his statement to explain what he means, by saying: ‘Sometimes you’ve got to play games like horses for courses. (Jose) Mourinho goes to places, sets up and makes sure they don’t get beat, Wenger does not play that game. He opens the game up and says: “You have a shot, we have a shot, best team wins.”
‘That doesn’t work anymore. It’s alright when you’ve got Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, Ljungberg, Overmars, Petit, Sol Campbell, Vieira, Lauren… saying: “You have a shot, we have a shot” is alright then, they’ll rip anybody to shreds! But not this team.’
Arsenal held a lot more freedom both in the formation we played and the tactical approach that we had towards our opponents. In the team that Merson mentions, we had the best pick of the bunch when it came to talented players. It didn’t matter what the formation was, or what position each individual was in, they managed to play to a high standard that only a few other teams could match. The players were flexible in their positioning and they’re roles were recognised across the pitch with a freedom of movement, rather than being tactically positioned to play one role and one role only. The game has changed massively since then, with skill, speed and build up play taking precedence over Arsenal’s previous free flowing style of play and therefore that is why Arsene Wenger appears to have lost his tactical edge.
Are Merson’s comments fair? Has Wenger lost all his tactical knowledge on the game? Or is the new formation proof that can still mix it with the best?