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Arsene's contrarian approach

Arsene's contrarian approach

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
Time: 11:08AM


traore playin up in midfield towards the tailend of last season also proves your point amos. wenger knows best.
31/07/2008 11:21:00
and Walcott learning to be a CF on the wing, like Henry...
31/07/2008 11:31:00
Thanks Amos, this is so interesting and I've been thinking about it for a while now. It's also an incredibly brave thing to do in our bread-and-butter competitions like EPL and CL. I'm all for this as we've seen the benefit of these "experiments", if you like. Bobby and Freddie I think were the most succcessful conversion from CM playmakers to world-class wingers in Arsene's tenure; Kolo and Lauren and possibly Clichy now from midfielders to defenders; of course Thierry's complete transformation from an effective winger to the best striker in the world at the time. The only questions I have is WHEN and WHERE we do these. WHEN (1) It's rather simple: as early in someone's career as possible, that's why I have absolutely no problem with Theo, Traore, Vela and the Hoyte brothers switching positions. Even Eboue last year as he's 23 or something. (2) Pre-season is the perfect chance, if you don't do it in friendlies and reserves, when can you afford to? Which leads to my point about Eboue: it cost us goals/assists in the league when we arguably had someone who got more of those in the locker in Theo, esp. in the 2nd half of last season. (3) Some players are naturally versatile, e.g. Rosicky, Parlour or even RvP, while some are really specialists at their jobs, e.g. Cesc, Bendtner, Vieira. We need Arsene to judge when we "call it a day", e.g. what about Eboue and Diaby now? For those less versatile players, I'd prefer to see them switch positions for education and, as they reach like 23-24, they pursue a career in their natural positions, maybe just fill in in other positions when necessary, not week in week out. WHERE: I'm more inclined to think that we have more flexibility for these experiments in the front 6 or front 5. In our bread-and-butter competitions, I'd prefer the back 5 or ideally back 6 (including DM), to stay as stable, and the pecking order as clear, as possible, cos mistakes (that're bound to come in the education process) are much more costly in those areas. But again, in the CC or reserves or youth, why not, let the youngsters play across the field and learn the trade. But in the EPL and CL, I'd really like to see some clarity in the pecking order for the sake of stability. Hehe sorry for the long post, this is interesting.
Lou the Gunneress
31/07/2008 12:15:00
Typo: INeffective winger Thierry was, unfortunately.. :P
Lou the Gunneress
31/07/2008 12:16:00
Oh and Lou, you must stop apologising for your posts!
Little Dutch
31/07/2008 12:48:00
Absolutely right, Arsene doesn't get too locked into the formation thing, he looks at ROLES not POSITIONS. As with the 98 Double winning side, to all intents and purposes it was a 4-4-2, but in reality Overmars was a wide striker, Bergkamp sat off and Parlour pushed in field. It was a fluid formation, much like the so called 4-5-1 we've seen over the last couple of years, with Rosicky, Hleb and Fabregas constantly swapping positions. Recently Eduardo has played as a striker and a winger within the framework of the same match. I'm also minded of an interview Wenger gave in 2003 when Toure emerged and he simply said, "a good player can play anywhere."
Little Dutch
31/07/2008 12:48:00
I like giving Eboue and Diaby Flamini's role. I know Eboue is an extremely frustrating player, but he is extremely skillfull and clever on the ball. he may really flourish in the role if he gets the attitutude part corrected. Remember, he is only 23 and in his third country in 6 years (including Belgium). Diaby has to learn to to be more conservative with his posistion and his didtribution to play the role but he has all of the other qualities. I liken our concern for this position to the summer we worried about the central back role when Kolo was chosen. What a year that was!
31/07/2008 15:35:00
Ramsey for me has looked the most likely to nick Flam's spot but in reality he and Coquelin are probably too young to rely on from week to week. thats why a purchase IS necessary I am sorry to say. Its useful to know we have lots of back ups in case of bad inujury crisis though.
31/07/2008 15:46:00
Wenger said one player is still missing, and he made it pretty clear that it won't be a striker. Attacking midfield looks alright as well, so we can be pretty sure to get a defense-minded player in.
31/07/2008 15:51:00
oh, and what kind of an idiot is bentley? "my heart was always at spurs", i bet he'll stay 2 seasons before moving on. Although he sounds like a spud already with his "this is the season" talk!
31/07/2008 15:54:00
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