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From Tactically Clueless To Tactical Mastery

Manchester City
0 - 2

Etihad Stadium

18th January 2015 4:00 pm

Attendance: 45,596


Football punditry is the easiest job in football. Thierry was wise to go for that as a career path instead of a more challenging role having to make your decisions before the event. Given in glorious retrospect everyone's opinions can seem wise. Thierry identifying Song, prior to the game as the sort of defensive midfielder we needed in the absence of Vieira or Gilberto is just the sort of populist guff that would have some nodding in agreement at his sagacity. Of course it overlooks the fact that we weren't always really any more defensively secure for most of the time Song played that role for us or that Coquelin outperformed the former Barcelona bench warmer in our recent encounter with West Ham when their respective performances could be directly compared.

Similarly Gary Neville, after applauding our more controlled performance in the first half against City, while pointing out that Sanchez and Ox were beginning to tire chasing back in the final 15 minutes of that half, spent the first 15 minutes of the second half expressing bemusement that we were not content to sit back and hold onto a one goal lead. You could almost feel a Wenger tactical naivety conclusion was being drawn in readiness should we concede.

As it happens it seemed tactically the right thing to do. City were clearly going for it bringing on another attacker and the prospect of us sitting deep hoping that we could hold out for 45 minutes against one the league's most potent attacking sides would have been risky. Of course us looking to hit them any time we could in that spell was also risky but at least that made it just as risky for City. It seems the tactics were the right tactics. We know they were right because the result tells us so and that is the difference between tactical mastery and being tactically useless, clueless and directionless. The less anticipated the result the greater the degree of tactical mastery.

The mathematical formula for measuring the degree of tactical mastery is expressed as follows:

X = sqrt(a^2) * b /c

Where a = the number of pundits predicting a different result, b = wins in the last 6 games and c = number of times the manager has been accused of being tactically useless, clueless and directionless through the season. A rough calculation based on estimated figures gives Wenger a current tactical mastery rating of 720. Probably still some way behind Allardyce and Pulis but he won't mind that while we're above them in the league.

Of course we're not above City in the league but they are one of the big four we appear to have difficulty beating so it's another valuable 3 points in our quest to finish in as high a league position as possible. With 16 games left we've played two fewer home games than Tottenham who we meet away in 3 weeks time, and one fewer than ManU and Southampton of whom we've also to play ManU away. Where we finish this season may well have more to do with the results against teams outside the big four but good results against Spurs and ManU could make the table look more comfortable for us.

Tactical mastery is one thing but the players have to execute those tactics masterfully in order to get a result and in this game we did just that Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal aided by the rapidly improving Bellerin doing their jobs well with Coquelin protecting the space in front of them winning as many aerial duels as Giroud and more than Bellerin, Mertesacker and Koscielny combined. If he continues to play like this we may have to find another picture to replace the open mouthed, slack jawed pose that does him few favours when seeking to illustrate his more intelligent contributions.

While we've become accustomed looking to Sanchez as a match winner his contribution to this match was more industrious than spectacular but in its own way just as valuable. For the most part ploughing the left channel but coming inside when he could he chased every ball in both halves. He wasn't able to create an awful lot but Zabaleta was rendered less effective too having to keep tabs on him. Ox played a similar role on the right flank and both players worked very hard to allow Cazorla, Ramsey and Coquelin to control the central areas of the pitch stifling City's creative intent while maintaining an attacking threat of our own.

Wenger also timed his tactical substitutions to perfection replacing the tiring Ox with Rosicky midway through the second half and with 15 minutes to go giving the seemingly tireless Sanchez a rest for the fresh though sometimes fragile legs of Kieran Gibbs. He then further reinforced the defensive intent with 10 minutes left bringing on Flamini for Ramsey.

Whether this was truly a triumph of tactics or simply a triumph of execution of tactics we've deployed several times this season probably doesn't matter greatly but if it inspires more external confidence in the team and the squad's tactical competence that would be a triumph worth savouring.

Star Player

Santi Cazorla

Date:Sunday January 18 2015
Time: 10:33PM


Brilliant summary, Amos.
18/01/2015 22:56:00
Amos. Had serious worries when Dean booked Kos after six minutes, but really glad when Kompany started to abuse him. I went to sleep a very happy fan.
18/01/2015 23:10:00
And we have finally abandoned the insane zonal marking system on corners. If only we abandoned it before Skrtel had a free run to equalize at anfield.
19/01/2015 00:17:00
Have we abandoned zonal marking? When did that happen?
19/01/2015 00:28:00
Surely you could see a difference in the way we set up today than in the away games last season. This was very much like when we payed Dortmund and bayern. I knew you would peddle out something like this.
19/01/2015 01:09:00
Ramsey himself said in the interview that they approached the game differently by beign less open. If you looked at the amount of players getting forward, it was reigned in from many of our other games. Really was a breath of fresh air
19/01/2015 01:27:00
It is no surprise at all the number of pundits using this result to affirm their unproven propositions and prejudicial views of Wenger. In just one sampled game they have affirmed why they have always been right about DM, and plan B, and Wenger's stubbornness all along. I think they pick the wrong result to make their case. There are so many variables even amateurs like some of us could point at to explain this win. The obvious one is the increasingly stable lineup and recovery time between games (which Wenger highlighted after the game). Granted that we started the game in a measured fashion and pretty much maintained that approach throughout the game. The thing is we were not chasing the game and so risks have to be calculated. Personally, the robust variables to explain this masterful display are the near perfect balance of the team and how hard each player worked. An absolute team win, this.
19/01/2015 02:19:00
When I read the headline I didn't have to scroll down to know who wrote it. Typical condescending Amos. Funny thing is, the headline is 100% accurate. When I saw tactics being used that are proven to be effective in away matches at top teams, and a substitution made on 65 minutes, I thought, who is that guy in the technical area pretending to be Wenger? Amos and his alias NYArse always moan that people always come on here when we do poorly but never when well are mistaken. There is no excuse for Wenger's dithering and negligence in the transfer market, but he got everything right today, and he deserves credit for that. Well done Arsenal, well done Arsene! Of course the elephant in the room - why did it take 10 or 12 poor away results for Arsene to figure it out? Let's keep it going, with players coming back to fitness, unexpected players (Coquelin, Bellerin) stepping up, and the Arsene impersonator actually changing tactics for the opposition, we can get third place this year, maybe even second, get to at least the last 8 of the CL, maybe win the FA Cup, and push on next year with a shot at the title if we have a full squad.
19/01/2015 04:02:00
A totally accomplished performance that. Well done to the team! Except the manager ofcourse who continues to do nothing worthwhile. He didnt identify and recruit the players on the field today who made it possible - Gazidis did. He didnt execute the game plan today - Bouldie did. He didnt even make the substitutions today - Akers did. The point is, whatever happens, even if AW genuinely learns from the past, even if the team and club improve all around, he remains Unforgiven. The Metallica number of the same name could as well have been written for him.
19/01/2015 04:48:00
You've done us (Chelsea) a wonderful favour, we might need to pay back someday; just ask... 5 points clear once again!
19/01/2015 05:21:00
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