IS WENGER’S FOOTBALL PLAYER ‘ENGINEERING’ KILLING OFF TALENTS? Nicholas Oyoo
When I speak football engineering, I’m suggesting Wenger’s penchant of looking at a football player, examining previously unseen strengths, bringing in the player to the squad, testing them in those areas and patiently awaiting to see if the results come off.
No doubt, there isn’t a manager in the planet that exercises football engineering of players like Arsene Wenger does. It’s Arsene’s Engineering that brought out arguably one of the greatest ever premier league strikers – Thierry Henry. That particular project worked tremendously. It also worked when Kolo Toure, a striker, was converted into a centre back. Dennis Bergkamp was moved from Centre Forward to Attacking Midfielder and it worked. It also worked when Robin Van Persie was turned from a winger to a Centre Forward. It had good results when Sanchez was moved to Centre Forward and Santi Cazorla into a deep lying playmaker.
But then, during the Invincibles years, Arsene seemed to buy players to fit a pattern of play he had already devised. When Thierry Henry was introduced, he had to encounter 7 games before the shooting boots finally came on and they never stopped for quite some time, establishing a serial performer per excellence in the department. One major aspect that got Thierry over the line was support role played by other players especially Dennis Bergkamp. Perhaps it is something the manager needs to look out for as he seeks to rebuild Arsenal and acquire new players.
This is because, amid this wonderful stories of conversion and digging the diamond out of the rough stones, there are potential diamonds that refused to release the diamonds within – and remained stones – and they are many. Walcott, he never really reached the potential we hoped he would, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ramsey, Wilshere are breathing hot and cold (someone wonders which games has Wilshere ever won for Arsenal, single handedly?). We have Striker, Giroud, who never really reached full potential. Sanchez went high up and immediately started problems and had to be sold. Lacazette – the jury is out there but imagine if Arsene insists he stays in the bench?
The reason I bring this matter up is that we knew Giroud was a great player in France because he shared the attacking role and played very effectively off another striker in the pitch. Despite this, Wenger’s pattern of play had just one space in the field for the proper striker. So it was either Giroud or Sanchez and rarely was the Sanchez-Giroud partnership tried. Neither was Giroud-Walcott or Even Sanchez-Walcott given a chance to blossom into a partnership.
We could see glimpses of these potential match-ups when Arsenal are suddenly down and chasing a game desperately and sometimes a Central Midfielder will be sacrificed and at many instances it worked. Right now there is the 3-man or 4-man defenses being tinkered with. Players like Oxlade, Walcott, Ramsey etc. have paid for their versatility. They rarely grew into a specialist role.
We now have a new project in the horizon. Project Aubameyang-Mkhitaryan-Ozil as Arsene sees it, based on the decision to bench Lacazette against Everton. When Arsene saw Lacazette-Sanchez-Ozil project, it resulted in Giroud being shut out. Clearly, Lacazette-Sanchez-Ozil did not really achieve much. Last time I checked, Giroud was sacrificed to create a 5-man defense. If Giroud had somehow been added into the Lacazette-Sanchez-Ozil project, maybe it would have been the tipping point for success – but that is for conjecture as we never got that.
If Arsene fails to find space for Lacazette in the Aubameyang-Mkhitaryan-Ozil matchup, it may just fail to get the tipping balance and talents may again be lost out. Consistency and superb performances may just not be found. If Wenger decided to have a 3-man defense that stays back and actually defends like defenders should and reinforce it with three defensive- and attack-minded players in the Central Midfield (Vieira, Gilberto were of this mold but since then we were doing four defenders, Wenger should find three players to compensate for the missing defender) in a tri-anchorage – 2 must be winger-minded players capable of coming inside to help the Central-Midfielder, able to deliver well in the wings and able to provide defensive cover. On the left – Kolasinac, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Monreal can do just that. On the right – Bellerin perhaps. Here we will need Le Prof to apply his engineering to good use until summer. In the centre – I honestly do not know who would steal away the role from Xhaka, Wilshere and Ramsey – At the moment I would go with Ramsey.
With the six places clearly filled (Even if he went with four-man defense and therefore a two-man anchorage – there will be four spaces left to be filled in the team. If we want consistency, let Arsene find a way that Lacazette-Mkhitaryan-Ozil-Aubemayang fill these spots. The ‘Ramsey’ effect of overloading the attack areas means the back is slightly exposed. With Lacazette involved Ramsey does not have to come out too often and that may just be the missing link in defensive solidity. Ramsey has an engine room quite like that which Vieira had, so an arrangement for a super attacking front will not inhibit Ramsey from getting the goals as he still will make these runs, but they will be less frequent as he would need to concentrate more in stopping attacks by the opponent and transforming the defense into counter attacks. I honestly do not want to see Mkhitaryan taken into Cazorla’s role if he enjoys his football with more freedom. That Engineering bit may just fail to work just like it failed at Manchester United under Jose Mourinho when he tried to give the Armenian a defined role.
Should Wenger put his engineering skills to work to ensure 6 out of 10 roles are given to Defense and Central Midfield and the four remaining are filled by what is called the LMOA quad-attack?