Vital Football

Latest Arsenal FC News

Wenger Does Tactics

Wenger Does Tactics

As I watched Wenger squatting among his team at the end of normal time in the FA Cup final, using water bottles to demonstrate what seemed to be tactical instructions to Giroud and Sanogo as to how they should play together to create the space needed for us to score in extra time, I thought briefly of the various claims over a few seasons that he doesn't do tactics, or if he does then not very well. The commentary also made an observation that Wenger had apparently told Cazorla, and presumably any other potential free kick taker, that McGregor was weaker going to his left which rather belies the received wisdom that Wenger doesn't study the opposition.

We sometimes convince ourselves that tactics only exist in the minds of those coaches who set out to nullify the opposition and hope to capitalise on their mistakes. A tactical master class is a conclusion almost invariably attributed to a coach who has managed to defy a team which has created more chances but not managed to score especially if he has also managed, perhaps from a set piece or penalty, to nick a goal from his team's only attempt. More often than not in football tactical success is seen in essentially negative terms as in stopping your opponents from playing rather than in positive terms when outplaying them and creating more chances, yet the tactical demands in creating goal scoring opportunities are greater than preventing them. You're more likely to hear a brilliant attacking performance described as and credited to a woeful display by the opposition than a tactical master class in creative football.

There's often confusion between strategy and tactics. You can have an attacking strategy, designed to create more goal attempts and entertain the spectators or an essentially defensive one designed to limit opportunities for the other side to score but tactics are really the actions intended to deliver the strategy. From an attacking perspective tactics can vary enormously whether possession based or more direct or fast counter attacking but defensive strategies are usually simpler in denying space and are less reliant on, though not without individual technical abilities.

Wenger's strategy has been clear since he took over the managerial role at Arsenal and it is that strategy that has changed dour perceptions of the club that had existed for some decades previously.

'I believe it is always easier to correct the defensive side than getting your team to score goals,' he said a couple of seasons back. 'When you score goals you always have a chance.'

But within that attacking strategy there have been many tactical changes over the seasons whether formation in changing from the flexible form of 4-4-2 that Graham Taylor on the Uefa training website credits Wenger with introducing into the English league and the various incarnations of 4-5-1 or 4-3-3 that Arsene claims he had modified from other coaches, or in adapting the playing positions of individual players to suit strengths they didn't always realise they had.

As a couple of examples, when discussing the formation that Barcelona had so much success with in recent times Wenger explained:

'I played 4-3-3 before Barcelona. I played 4-3-3 at Monaco' said Arsene 'Barcelona has not created that system. That system is a Dutch system. Johan Cruyff exported it and played in that system. The Dutch used that system in 1974 in the World Cup in Germany.

'I thought it was more suited to the quality of our players. It suits Fabregas, it allows Van Persie to play in a free role up front and because we have so many versatile players we are not made for a strict 4-4-2. It gives us more freedom to be creative.'

In recognising the possibilities of that system he was able to convince Robin van Persie to play the front role despite the players own doubts. The then 26 year old RvP had been with the club for 5 years before Wenger convinced him to make the tactical change.

'I never really thought that I would end up as a main striker' RvP told at the time. 'I actually never played there before - I did it a couple of times at youth level but it was nothing really special. We only tried it when Adebayor went. The boss didn't buy someone else because he was convinced I could do it. I wasn't even convinced about it. I wasn't so sure, because I didn't really play there so much. Then, in pre-season, we had a game against Inter Milan. I scored a good goal, played well and he told me after the game, 'You see? It will work'.

Both are illustrations of Wenger's tactical ability to innovate and adapt to suit the resources available in contrast to the often expressed view that he is too stubborn to change his approach. As a 25 year old Wenger was teaching other coaches to gain their coaching licenses and he has always rejected the accusation that he doesn't take on board other tactics. 'I'm ready to sit down with anybody who coaches, believe me.' Wenger replied when questioned a few seasons back on his willingness to take advice from others. An objective appraisal of Wenger's time at the club shows many such tactical adaptations.

As another illustration you could consider whether the task of coaching is made easier if you aren't coaching players at different stages of development. Wenger has always, as a strategic decision, even if financial constraints pushed us in one direction more than another for a while, looked to build a squad comprising a mix of very young but precocious talents through more mature players to those at the latter part of their careers. It's a much easier task to coach a squad comprised only of mature and developed players in an age range of say 24 - 30 or so if you don't burden your coaching talents or tactical prowess with integrating younger players or those from lower leagues in Europe. Those clubs with unrestricted resources to buy 'ready made' players place fewer demands on coaching ability and the tactical nous needed to allow those younger players to learn 'on the job'.

Arsene will trust players to understand the tactical drills and to adapt them to suit the circumstances in the game while expressing their individual talent and strengths but contrary to popular opinion, that those tactical drills take place in structured and organised sessions involving set piece drills is confirmed by both present and former players. Vermaelen recently spoke of the work they have done throughout the season on team shape and in his autobiography Pires speaks of regular set piece routines in training sessions.

Wenger has the highest win percentage of any manager in Arsenal's history by some distance and even though this has dropped slightly at the Emirates from his tenure at Highbury from 70.6% to 68.2% , an arguably more competitive period, his is not the record of a tactically inept manager. Don't expect Wenger to deliver a tactical master class in defending, that's not the strategy though his 99-00 team conceded fewer league goals than any of George Graham's Arsenal sides, but there's plenty of tactical input that goes into trying to create teams we can enjoy watching.

Join The Vital Debate

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Date:Thursday June 26 2014
Time: 10:43AM


Not a very bright taunt but one that shows that it's you that's a part of the herd!. You need to do two things if you've any real wish to understand what was said. Firstly read the piece which refers to a more 'flexible' form of 4-4-2 and secondly visit the Uefa training site and listen to what Taylor says about it. In case this still presents too much of a challenge for you let me offer you a little more help:
26/06/2014 13:16:00
A very interesting read. I checked out the video; Taylor's praise for Wenger and his contribution to the English game is effusive and rightly so. Perhaps it is fair to say that this general critique of Wenger (lack of tactical nous) is not separate and indeed must perhaps be seen as part of an 'ostentatious campaign' or just 'echo-chamber' behavioral pattern among sections of the press and fans to 'diminish' AFC's/Wenger's contributions to the modern game, on and off the field.
26/06/2014 19:48:00
credit to wenger for his unsurpassed mastery in developing and transforming players, amongst others include george weah who credited wenger's influence in his fifa world player of the year reception. apart from taylor's comment, there were others no so flattering insights on wenger's tactical nous provided by saf & mourinho which should not go unmentioned in a fair analysis. of course his record against his two rivals (ex) was not the most impressive too. nevertheless, credit goes where it's due. wenger without a shadow of doubt is the best manager the club have ever had
27/06/2014 05:37:00
Did Fergie or Mourinho provide any insight into Wenger's tactical nous that's objective enough to be included in any fair analysis? This year Fergie claimed "I always enjoy watching Arsène’s sides – Arsenal play the right way. Playing against them always presented special challenges that I burned many hours over the years thinking about." I'm not aware of any specific criticisms of Wenger tactically by Mourinho either. Wenger sometimes get his tactics wrong but that's just stating the obvious as every other manager does too.
27/06/2014 06:45:00
saf & mourinho talked about their experience in nullifying wenger's which to an extent rather successful. saf noted that all it took to neutralise wenger's game plan was the execution of quick interceptions but that required a very good set of players. mourinho once commented thar playing against us was not difficult because the system stayed the same no matter who were playing. saf's record against us especially in his final 5 seasons or so was very impressive. needless to say about mourinho's. backed by such statistic, thier insights are objective enough for me
27/06/2014 08:48:00
Fergie's record against most clubs was pretty impressive but it's only since we moved to the Emirates that Wenger's record against Fergie worsened. Up to the end of the 2007 season Wenger won more of their contests but even now it's not entirely one sided P52 W16 D11 L25. Mourinho has only worked with clubs with the resources that should win something but I'd hardly call his views objective. Tactics alone won't determine the outcome of a game if the resources available are greater. As in the example I tried to give above if your tactics don't have to incorporate the development of young players the tactical challenge won't be the same.
27/06/2014 09:19:00
no doubt, wenger's strategy is good enough against probably 80% of the teams in the bpl. the results against lower teams especially over the the past 2 seasons had been very consistent. he is not the worst tactician but many felt he has to find some ways to prevail against top managers who constantly outwitted him. extraordinary measure is required for extraordinary circumstances. if stronger opponents planned to sit back and wait for counterattacks, why open up and play into their hands? just give them what they planned for - a draw. it doesnt matter if he bores the fans to death a few games a season. as long as we do the job against other lesser teams we would have better chance for titles
27/06/2014 09:59:00
The team that won the title last season played in much the same tactical style we did - but with a better deeper squad of more developed players so I don't think it's a case of stronger opponents playing only on the break though our home record against the top three at home last season wasn't as poor as it was away. Our record of the last 8 or 9 years against those teams that have tended to finish above us hasn't been great which is kinda how they get to finish above us but tactical superiority isn't the only reason for that. The execution of our tactical plan rather than the tactics themselves has let us down in some individual games. History is always written by the victors though so a win gained will often be accompanied by the claim that the losers were 'outwitted' tactically whereas often the result is a consequence of other failings. Sure Wenger gets his tactics wrong sometimes but then everyone does. I understand your point about playing for a draw sometimes but that really isn't Arsenal's strategy and is probably as likely to end in defeat as going for a win. Having said that we don't do damage limitation very well though there were times last season when we were able to dig in.
27/06/2014 10:34:00
Taking unflattering insights into account is a good point but I am not sure the examples cited by Joe should be considered as such. Taylor's main observation was about the advancement made in the 4-4-2 system and the role played by Wenger in moving the system forward. How Wenger's teams have fared against top 20% or bottom 80% had nothing to do with or undermine Taylor's observation. If the performances are to be used to measure Wenger's tactical acumen then as Amos points out we should acknowledge and control all other variables.
27/06/2014 16:07:00
Page 1/1
  1. 1

Login to post a comment

Recent Arsenal Articles

Stats: Arsenal v AC Milan

All the stats from Arsenal (3) vs (1) AC Milan, Emirates Stadium, 15/3/18 Att:

Arsenal v AC Milan - Team Sheets

Arsenal are at the Emirates Stadium with AC Milan the visitors today, this is an 8.05pm kick-off - the line-ups have been confirmed.

Who Makes Southgate's Squad For March

England manager Gareth Southgate has now confirmed his squad for the upcoming games in the month of March.

Could Arsenal Star Have Signed A Pre-Contract With AC Milan?

I'm certainly not saying that's the case, but with Jack Wilshere's contract at Arsenal still sitting on the table, it's a strange set of quotes from AC Milan's Gennaro Gattuso.

Arsenal Archived Articles

Vital Arsenal articles from

Site Journalists

Write for Vital Arsenal
Write For Vital Arsenal
Apply Here

Current Poll (see more polls)

EL - AC Milan MotM
Suggested By: Site Staff
Sub - Chambers25%
Sub - Elneny0%
Sub - Kolasinac0%
ScoopDragon Premier League Network Sites
Write for Vital Football
Latest F1 News
Latest Vital Boxing News
The Vital Football Members League

Recent Arsenal Results (view all)

Arsenal Fixtures

Vital Football Comment