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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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The Journalist

Writer: Amos Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Thursday July 31 2008

Time: 11:08AM

Your Comments (oldest first)

Change to most recent first
traore playin up in midfield towards the tailend of last season also proves your point amos. wenger knows best.
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31/07/2008 11:21:00

and Walcott learning to be a CF on the wing, like Henry...
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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
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31/07/2008 12:15:00

Typo: INeffective winger Thierry was, unfortunately.. :P
Lou the Gunneress
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31/07/2008 12:16:00

Oh and Lou, you must stop apologising for your posts!
Little Dutch
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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
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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!
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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.
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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.
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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!
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31/07/2008 15:54:00

Bently's always been a Spurs fan, and a first rate tosser at that.
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31/07/2008 17:39:00

I'm not sure why some people are getting very exercised by the prospect of Eboue in CDM position - he was probably only there because he needed a game and is an experienced defensive player. He didn't do anything wrong as far as I can see and if there was a dire emergency, it's always useful to have multi-skilled players in your squad to fill in different positions.
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31/07/2008 18:05:00

stop talkin about our signings if u dont care but its obviously ye do, worry about yer own incommings? sorry out goings
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31/07/2008 18:17:00

Why should it be any concern of yours if we talk about one of our ex players here 123spud? If you don't want to read it then don't stop by!!! Simple eh!! As for Eboue as CDM I agree that playing there yesterday doesn't mean that we will see him there again anymore than Clichy and Sagna as centre backs means that's a role they will play again. But the fact that Wenger was willing to try Eboue there when it would surely have been more important to try one of the more obvious candidates given that this is still an 'open' role since the departure of Flamini and Gilberto is an intersting insight into his thinking.
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31/07/2008 19:29:00

ok fair enough but why all the negativity bout it, an our signings
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31/07/2008 19:50:00

Why do you care what we think about your players then? Why can't you just stay happy with your signings regardless of what the Gooners you hate say? If you like them, you like them. You have every right to think they'll take you to the top 4. We have every right to think they're positive or negative. e.g. I don't need you to approve of Nasri, Vela and Ramsey and I like what I've seen from them so far. When you don't feel the need to come over and have a peak of what the Gooners say about you, you are a grownup.
Lou the Gunneress
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31/07/2008 20:13:00

just cause we are rivials, we dont have to hate eachother
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31/07/2008 20:25:00

123spurs, fair enuf, I won't slate you. I for one don't hate Spurs, I just hate some of your club's fans, esp. the type who come on this page and act like idiots. Also, nice to see you write a comprehsible post, usually I can't understand your textspeak. We get a lot of nasty spurs fans here, which is why the hostility level is sometimes a bit high. Tho I think your posts generally aren't that bad. It's natural for us gooners to pay attention to Bentley when his sale means the club profits, and after he's slated our club, and then he goes to our N. London rivals.
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31/07/2008 20:44:00

cheers for that jaelle, i no i tx type a lot, ya there fans like that for every club an sometimes like you said blood goes to the head. but i am a football fan not jus for my club. hop we can have nice debates in future, jus chat an opinions etc, no harm in friendly riviley
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31/07/2008 21:22:00

Looking at the pre-season, Arsenal will be good this year. Good but good enough to win? I won't know until the first 6, 7 games. Wenger needs to produce some magic. We'll be good but to win we need to be great. And somehow, i'm nervous because the premiership is tough and we are going into it with the old kids one year on plus nasri, vela and ramsey, good players but will need the time to bed in. I hope Wenger proves me wrong but i was expecting a little bit more when he first spoke of his transfer targets. This squad looks good for 3rd place but we knew that before. What killed us last season was RvP and others injuries and the experience to cope but we don't seem to have learnt and it would be very optimistic to hope for an injury-free season. I see a lot of hype on this being Theo's year but he is still too inconsistent for me and a bit of a one-trick pony and tries too hard to see things that aren't there. He still relies solely on his pace and runs in straight line. This trick worked in the early days of Anelka and Henry but defenders have wisened up to this now. I want him to play upfront to display the calm and deadly finishing Wenger spoke about. He's still very yound and way ahead of Anelka and Henry at that age. He's just unlucky to have been so noticed at 16. I don't what all you gooners think but would be interested in how you see this squad compared to last year... Of course my favourite player Gael-Force Clichy will be hard to stop this year and should get his maiden goal at last.
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31/07/2008 21:24:00

Good point there Amos. I've often heard Wenger say that good players can play anywhere and you can see that he takes this philosophy seriously. For all we know, the experience of playing a season at LM could prove to be good for Diaby. Its evident that this philosophy extends down the reserves at the club, coz I have seen players switch positions frequently. I wont take Eboue at CM too seriously, for now, as its an interesting experiment. As for Eboue, I think this season could well see him repaying some of the faith that Wenger has.
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31/07/2008 21:54:00

Gael-Force, for my part I am withholding judgment on the squad until I see what it looks like the day after the transfer window closes -- after having seen the Emirates Cup and Ajax tournament results as well. If today were the day the window closed, my own opinions wouldn't be far from yours. And, frankly, I can't be as complacent about Spurs as most gooners are. If indeed they get BOTH Arshavin and Pavlyuchenko, I think we'll have to take them seriously. Yes I know their new squad will take time to gel and get used to the PL...but I don't underrate Ramos' ability to get a good result from them. Not that I'm saying they'll overtake us, I'm not that crazy. :-)
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31/07/2008 22:04:00

Spurs' problems are all in defence, they haven't begun to address that, no matter how many lightweight playmakers they buy.
Little Dutch
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31/07/2008 22:36:00

Good article amos. Interesting stuff. Although I do hope he converts Eboue into a skateboard and Senderos rides out of town on him
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31/07/2008 23:09:00

Lou the Gunneress
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31/07/2008 23:35:00

Imagine a big Senderos riding on a super fast skateboard that's Eboue! I know Eboue dressed as a tiger at a team gathering (and it's not even a fancy dress party) and surprised everyone before. But him rolling around as a skateboard, with Senderos on his back.. gliding across London! LOL
Lou the Gunneress
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31/07/2008 23:47:00

I reckon spurs are definately on the up since Ramos has come in, but I am not convinced that they will be ahead of the Evertons Blackburns and Aston Villas of the league, and ,having spent so much, surely if they didn't get results over the next couple of seasons, their financial future will become a little unstable.?
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01/08/2008 01:38:00

that wud be my concern aswell our defending off the ball, so hopfully all the a CB is next for us
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01/08/2008 10:20:00

It's FC Twente in the CL qualifying round!!!
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01/08/2008 11:16:00

just seen that mclaren is the manager with them
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01/08/2008 11:34:00

Any wishes or gestures you would like passed onto Mclaren 123? As long as they are attached to a brick i'll be more than happy to deliver them myself!
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01/08/2008 13:08:00

shud have no problem beating them over two legs, nah ur grand on this one LG
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01/08/2008 13:33:00

Well I think if you look at it you will see we have addressed our defence, Hutton, Woodgate and don't forget BAle was out injured for a season so he will be back. Plus a new goalkeeper so can't really your point. But I agree a defensive CM is a must and probably cover for our two crocks King and Woodgate. Still the transfer window hasn't closed yet. As for Arsenal Rob we've spent consistently and still mange to be the wealthiest club outside of the CL clubs, don't ask me how. "Creative accounting" maybe... Anyway who would you guys like to see ´Wenger go out and buy with his warchest?
North Upper
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01/08/2008 14:57:00


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