Date:Thursday July 31 2008
Watching Eboue playing as a central defensive midfield player against Stuttgart yesterday I recalled Wenger being interviewed after the friendly against Szombathelyi. The interviewer asked whether the fact that he had used both Sagna and Clichy as central defenders in the second half indicated a concern with those areas. Wenger smiled and said that we had 4 good central defenders back at the training camp and he just wanted Sagna and Clichy to see the game from their perspective. In a friendly game you can do this and it`s good for them he told us. I wondered whether there was any other manager anywhere in the world that sees the game in quite the same way.
I watched a few of the reserve games last season when full backs were played up front, defenders played all across midfield, midfielders in defence and all played wide or centrally on both sides of the pitch. Wengers willingness to make a role fit what he sees as the qualities he wants rather than get locked into the mindset that this player is only able to fit one position is what enables him to expand players minds about the game and bring out qualities others may have missed. In amongst the quotes attributed to Hleb since he joined Barca you will find him making just that point himself.
This leads to some contentious decisions notably the deployment of Eboue and Diaby as wide midfielders last season but you can see what Arsene was trying to do and times it worked very well. More successfully perhaps he had earlier converted Lauren and Clichy, both of whom came to us as midfielders into full backs.
It`s not altogether new thinking. Don Howe converted forward George Graham to midfield, midfielder McLintock to defence and defender Storey to midfield to produce the `71 double winning team. But the willingness with which Wenger is prepared to back his judgement rather than take the safe option shows what a free thinker he is.
Some fans see one solution only to any problem he told shareholders recently. That is to buy a player. Most of us feel more comfortable thinking that if we need strengthening in any position then we should buy someone who already plays that position. But this he feels ignores the potential to develop players with skills and the physical and psychological capability to solve the problem. That`s the challenge he gives himself. Match complimentary skills to those around you, find the right combination and balance and you have a winning team.
Wenger`s contrary approach can frustrate supporters at times. Central midfielders can`t play wide we naturally think and worry when he deploys players in unexpected positions. But is there any such thing as a natural winger? Isn`t that just a one-dimensional player without the ability to play anywhere else? Yet it is just this willingness to take a contrary approach, to seek, find or create multi-dimensional players that gives us much of what we like about his style of play.
I am not sure whether the thought of Eboue playing regularly in central midfield is a concept many supporters will embrace enthusiastically but that won`t stop Arsene doing it if he thinks it will work.
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Date:Thursday July 31 2008
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