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Arsenal… What Next?

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“Learn the art of patience. Apply discipline to your thoughts when they become anxious over the outcome of a goal. Impatience breeds anxiety, fear, discouragement and failure. Patience creates confidence, decisiveness, and a rational outlook, which eventually leads to success”.

Job is a biblical figure, a blessed man who lived righteously. He faced several adversities and lost much, as an assessment of his patience. He later was rewarded with restored wealth and health. Arsene Wenger is a football manager, blessed with a dominant managerial philosophy, ideas, and values. He won 11 titles in 9 seasons, and then failed to win any in the subsequent 8. He has been facing continuous pressure ever since. His restoration to success and redemption is long overdue.

Arsene Wenger

One of Wenger’s main traits is his patience. He has a knack for spotting and nurturing young talent, going through the long painful process of creating an identity for relatively unknown players, and helping them craft a name for themselves. George Weah, Vicotr Ikpeba, Nicolas Anelka, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Alexander Song, Kolo Toure, Frances Fabregas are only some of the names that owe it all to “Le Professeur”. When it comes to managerial philosophy, Arsene Wenger has always been a pioneer, developing well-trained teams with a desire to entertain and attack. To a certain extent, he managed to discipline his ideas and restrain anxiety from coming between him and his goals. But if patience creates confidence and decisiveness, and impatience breeds anxiety, fear and discouragement then lately something wrong must have crept into Wenger’s operational structure.

 Without digging deep into their detailed achievements, Wenger’s “Invincibles” bagged several titles, demonstrating – along the way – an authoritative style of football that swept aside all threats, trumping teams week in week out, and gaining global recognition. Their feat of wining the 2003-2004 Premier League without a single defeat is a clear indicator of their dominant technique. Even years after their last title in 2005, Wenger’s Arsenal remained loyal to his thoughts, and marched on playing an attractive style of play. His attacking mentality was clearly encrypted in his pupil’s minds. Even while failing to win any silverware, he was always ready to entertain the Emirates (formerly Highbury) aficionadas. But has this been the case lately?

Starting with the 2010-11 season, and partially due to loosing several key player, the professor’s troops have been found wanting. The spark that distinguished Arsenal all these years started to fade away. Shaky performances, unconvincing wins, killer instinct deficiency, absence of a leader, Gooners disdain, diminishing expectations, lack of motivation, woeful mistakes, and persistent injuries started to blight Arsenal’s campaigns. This season in particular exhibited the low level that this team has reached. Qualifying to the Champions League has always been Wenger’s salvation route, but even this stumpy objective seems far from reach this season.

Their performances are not worthy of a top four finish – one of Wenger’s effective pointers in judging a club  – loosing to almost all top EPL teams, and constantly traumatized in the Champions League. Certainly there is something missing. If patience leads to a rational outlook and subsequently to success, then where is the rationality in Arsenal’s performances? Where are the promised successes? And if impatience generates nervousness and failure, aren’t the past 8 helpless seasons a fine measure of this teams endurance abilities? Shouldn’t there be some kind of glimpse of the long awaited success? If patience is a prerequisite for achievement, and if the team’s performance is constantly declining then what should be done?

 Talking pure football, options such as chopping Ivan the terrible, and changing the ownership are not discussed.

Clear out the deadwood:

Arsene Wenger should start by selling underachievers, rarely used, and aging players such as: Olivier Giroud, Tomas Rosicky, Sebastian Squillaci, Francis Coquelin, Andrei Arshavin, Gervinho, Andre Santos, Johan Djourou,  Emmanuel Frimpong, Nicklas Bendtner, Marouane Chamakh, and Park Chu Young. While some of the above mentioned might be good players, they are definitely not Arsenal material, and they are not the type of players capable of elevating the club back to its normal stature.

Promoting from within:

Give more chances to youngsters with potential such as Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ryo Miyaichi, Joel Campbell, Ignasi Miquel, Serge Gnabry, Benik Afobe, Hector Bellerin, and Jon Toral. After all, Fabregas started to impress at the age of 17 when given the chance.

 Bold Transfer Ambitions:

No one can argue that this team is in urgent need of new reinforcements. Wenger has been constantly criticized for not buying more players like Santi Cazorla – star players with massive capabilities – but it should be noted that impulse buying is not the answer. A thorough analysis of the team’s needs should be done before dipping in the transfer market, but it doesn’t hurt to consider some of many tested names available in the market. Arsenal has the advantage (due to not spending big in the past couple of seasons) over many European teams facing financial shortage.

Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama, Christian Benteke, Franco Di Santo, Gastón Ramírez, Connor Wickham, Adam Johnson, Mohamed Diame, Ryan Shawcross, Michu, Julio Cesar, Leighton Baines, James McCarthy, Marouane Fellaini, Ricardo Van Rhijn, Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen, Tobias Sana, Viktor Fischer, Luciano Narsingh, Dries Mertens, Georginio Wijnaldum, Kevin Strootman, Joao Moutinho, Ezequiel Garay, Jackson Martinez, James Rodriguez, Steven Defour, Abel Hernandez, Salvatore Bocchetti, Ciro Immobile, Juan Manuel Vargas, Radja Nainggolan, Nicolas Lombaerts, Sotiris Ninis, Angelo Ogbonna, Mauro Icardi, Alexander Merkel, Hernanes, Adem Ljajic, facundo Roncaglia, Domenico Criscito, Stefan Jovetic, Asmir Begovic, Mikel San Jose, Iker Muniain, Ander Herrera, Jesus Navas, Adil Rami, Benat, Isco, Inigo Martinez, Antoine Griezmann, Adrian Lopez, Henri Saivet, Younes Belhanda, Dimitri Payet, Nicolas N’koulou, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, Steve Mandanda, Dejan Lovren, Aurelien Chedjou, Samuel Umtiti, Eljero Elia, Marko Arnautovic, Simon Kjaer, Serdar Tasci, Marc-Andre Ter Stegen, Havard Nordtveit, Granit Xhaka, Andre Schurrle, Leonardo Bittencourt, Mats Hummels.

While I am well-aware that we are not playing Football manager here, but the above mentioned name pool contains either young players with massive talent, or experienced players, tested in Europe’s top leagues. Signing such names might prove to be extremely hard, but this is what it takes to possess a team of world-class players capable of restoring Arsenal’s glory.

The following team can be the impetus for something big:

Begovic/Forster/Cesar-Van Rhijn-Shawcross/Ogbonna/Bocchetti-Vermaelen-Monreal-Wanyama-Wilshere-Walcott-Cazorla-Belhanda/Isco/Elia-Jovetic/Michu/Higuain

Shift in Formation

Wenger always preferred the traditional 4-4-2, reaching great heights with his Invincibles, before occasionally playing with the 4-5-1 in some of the Champions League matches. From the 2009-2010 season and on, Arsenal played a fluid 4-3-3 and then the most popular 4-2-3-1 to make good use of Fabregas and later Cazorla’s technical abilities. Lately, Arsenal started to lack variation in their playing style, becoming a one-dimensional team. In the past, the team used to score many goals from set pieces and headers, now they are too predictable, a good manager can easily figure out a way to stop them. As we have seen in the past couple of seasons, a deep patient defense can neutralize a crude team such as Arsenal. When a team plays short-passing possession football, it is easy to counter-attack them. Quick ball retention through upfront pressing should be employed, in addition to improvement in ball holding skills, and wide men defending.

The team should attack and defend as a unit, a bit like Sacchi’s Milan; eliminating creative space between the three lines, advancing together and retrieving together. But since we are in the process of taking daring decisions, why not let go of the now-too-predictable 4-3-3 and maybe try Bayern Munich’s 1999 3-2-4-1 formation, or the ancient WM created by Arsenal’s Legend Herbert Chapman, or even go back to the traditional 4-4-2 that Wenger used to employ. Two capable central midfielders in the form of Diaby and Wilshere would protect the defense, as Vieira and Petit used to do. Cazorla and Chamberlain can play out wide. A pairing of Walcott and Podolski upfront will give the team a much needed thrust going forward, forming a partnership close to the Bergkamp-Henry. One who possesses pace and dribbling skills and the other dropping deeper to dictate play. Whatever the formation, a shift needs to be done; A shift that utilizes player’s capabilities.

Improving the wage structure

Players who are doing well should be paid for it. Look at Barcelona, with all their debt they are the highest paying football club in the world in terms of wages. They have achieved wonders in the past 5-6 seasons, mainly due to stability in the dressing room and retention of star players. As much as it is fulfilling to play in illustrious big clubs, players are always out for the money. In order to keep your best performers you should pay more. During Josep Lluis Nunez’s era Barcelona lost many important players such as Maradona, Romario, and Ronaldo due to his strict policy regarding wages which in turn lead to a partially empty trophy cabinet. Somehow similar to what is happening to Arsenal now.

Give Wilshere the armband

No one can ever deny that Jack is the heart and soul of his team.  He simply represents everything that Arsenal stands for, a leader on and off the pitch, and a world-class warrior. Even though he is still young and lacks a bit of experience, there is no one better to lead the team in their rejuvenation process.

 Managerial Reaction – Correcting mistakes

Wenger should take lessons from Jose Mourinho’s substitutions in the Man utd game. When a strategy is not working properly it needs to be changed immediately, not postponed until the dying minutes of the match. Modric’s introduction was a quick reaction from Mourinho to take advantage of the spaces created from Nani’s dismissal, and it paid off with 2 goals in 12 minutes. That is exactly what Arsenal is lacking in terms of reaction. Wenger’s substitutions are often made on a position for position basis; hardly ever does he attempt to introduce a tactical change in the form of a substitute.

Proper match preparation

When a manager possesses a team of world-class players then he has the luxury of just sending his 11 players without giving any relevance to the opposition’s weaknesses and strengths, because whatever happens on the pitch and whomever you are playing, you can always count on your players to grab the win. But this is not the case at Arsenal, with a relatively mediocre squad; thorough analysis should be done before each and every game. Wenger has always stated that he never gives special attentions to opposing star players, he prefers to focus on the team as a whole. But when you face players (such as Rooney, RVP, Aguero, Silva, Suarez, Bale, Mata..) who are single-handedly capable of toppling your team, and who are becoming increasingly abundant in the EPL, then Wenger should start thinking twice before sending his lads onto the field.

 At the end, it should be said that a team of Arsenal’s caliber definitely has what it takes to make the long awaited comeback, and return to their proper position on top of the EPL table competing with the likes of Chelsea, Man utd, and Man city. Their trophy cabinet surely needs dusting, but I have a feeling that it will start to be filled again, and maybe sooner than expected.

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