In general, there are two types of managers or head coaches. One follows a philosophy no matter what the talent on the squad looks like, while the other switches their ideas to fit the side they are managing. Arsene Wenger falls in the former and it’s been the hindrance of his team.
In a Sky Sports documentary to commemorate Wenger’s 1,000 games leading the Gunners, former Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein said:
“Arsene is a football, I repeat, a football purist. He’s got a lovely phrase he calls it ‘possession with progression.’ He loves to have possession. If you’re watching any game you will see at any one point the boys will have 20, 25 passes before the opposition can actually get the ball. Because he believes in control and pass, control and pass so that the opposition have to wear themselves out, their chasing the game. And that’s why invariably in most games, Arsenal have more possession than the opposition.”
In the three biggest losses this season, the North London club was on the road against the top three teams in the league. Instead of the Frenchman swapping his tactics to play more defensive and counter-attack football like the 1-0 win over Spurs on March 16 or defeating Borussia Dortmund the same way in the UEFA Champions League last year, the three-time Premier League champion decided to play a more direct style and his teams suffered miserably. Losing 6-3 to Manchester City, 5-1 to Liverpool and 6-0 to Chelsea is an embarrassment to a club that was title contenders for the majority of the season. In the Liverpool match at the Anfield, the Gunners had possession 57% of the time but could not create enough chances due to the Reds clogging passing lanes, playing physical, and imposing their will on the match. When the four-time FA Cup winner had physical players like Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva as the workhorses in the midfield, then the beautiful game Wenger prefers was possible. Now, Mathieu Flamini is the only player who gives that energy, with Jack Wilshere out. And the club suffers due to this.
Other injuries are prohibiting the team with Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott also recovering, and it baffles pundits why Wenger still chose to play a direct style against Chelsea. In the pivot roles, Jose Mourinho chose David Luiz and Nemanja Matic while Wenger had Mikel Arteta and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Blues used their defensive midfielders to break-up play and control the midfield while the 64-year-old wanted his pivots to create, attack, and build up play. It was an obvious mismatch noticed in the first 10 minutes of the match when Samuel Eto’o scored off a counter-attack when Oxlade-Chamberlain lost possession and left a big area open for Chelsea to attack and when Andre Schurrle scored off a fast break.
Wenger’s biggest nemeses in his career are Sir Alex Ferguson and Mourinho. Those two men gave him fits because they would alter their strategy to give Arsenal the biggest issues while the four-time FA Community Shield winner’s tactics were known before the match due to his stubbornness of winning by his way only.
There’s a saying that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but if Wenger wants to return the Gunners to the top of the Premier League, he needs to evaluate his methods against the top clubs to gain more favorable results.