Wenger´s tactical inflexibility costs Arsenal
Published: 29.10.12 / Written by: David Gold
The predictable suggestion that had Robin van Persie been fit and available, Arsenal would have beaten Norwich this weekend, is a short sighted view.
Van Persie, undoubtedly one of the world’s best strikers, would improve any team, and Arsenal would take him back in a second. But the Gunners’ problems are rooted in a tactical inflexibility evident in Arsene Wenger’s substitutions in recent weeks.
Arsenal found themselves up against a familiar problem on Saturday. Norwich fielded two banks, one of four and one of five, to nullify and constrain Arsenal. Whenever Wenger’s men had the ball, they were confronted with this blanket of pressure, and found it difficult to break through.
All credit to Norwich, not only did they stick to their game plan with impressive discipline, but they also looked more threatening in attack than Arsenal. But then, that was the heart of Arsenal’s problems. Norwich were able to get the ball in threatening areas as Arsenal poured men forwards, where as the visitors could not. Every time Arsenal got the ball, they found themselves unable to pass through midfield, as they usually like to. That meant they were unable to put much pressure on the Norwich defence – it was mainly the Norwch midfield which they found difficulty breaking through.
This should have led Wenger to bring in another central midfielder. Mikel Arteta, Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla were not able to dominate proceedings in midfield. Norwich wanted to force Arsenal out wide and to cross the ball, which they duly did, and predictably failed. The best riposte from Arsenal would have been to play a fourth central midfielder, which would have given them control of that area of the pitch. They were not passing the ball quickly enough, and their players not moving fluidly, therefore stabilising the centre of the pitch would have been the most sensible measure. That would have given Arsenal more of a foothold in Norwich’s half, and meant they were more threatening.
As it was, their forwards barely had any chances to score. If Van Persie was playing, he would not have been much use. He would barely have had the ball, even less any real goalscoring opportunities.
Wenger has shown a stubborn intransigence when it comes to his formation. There is nothing wrong with having attacking principles and wanting to play possession football – it’s what Barcelona and Spain do, and they are the best teams in club and international football. But both can adapt their systems, change formation and use tactics to get the better of the opposition. Wenger seems to lack that. His inability to think around a tactical problem and react effectively has rendered Arsenal increasingly vulnerable to tactically astute opposition.
How van Persie would help with that is unclear, however good he may be. Arsenal’s problems are not rooted in personnel, they are rooted in their tactics.