Last night’s performance wasn’t just poor and lacking in intensity, in my view, it was tactically inept.
For some, Wenger can still do no wrong, and they will ask how I can comment on football tactics or critique those of ‘Le Professeur’. I accept that, but in my defence, I would say that I have coached and spent time observing at three separate academies, 2 at Premier League clubs; but the truth is that, in essence, football is not a complicated game.
As Brian Clough used to say when asked about his incredible coaching success, he told his players to pass the ball to another player with the same colour shirt on and then move into a space where they could potentially receive it back.
Simple for Brian
Football at the core is truly as simple as Clough maintained, but the key, of course, is the space. When a team is well organised defensively, as the Baggies were yesterday, finding or creating the space is critical. And whilst I think of it, I saw many excusing Arsenal’s display by concluding that Pardew ‘parked the bus’, well he did not. West Brom played with two strikers and had Rodriguez’s composure matched with his runs and spacial awareness Arsenal could have been behind in the first half. We should not confuse well-disciplined shape and defensive organisation, when without the ball with parking the bus and perhaps look to ourselves.
When up against such resoluteness and compactness, Arsenal and Wenger’s way in the past and even now has been to attempt to intricately pass through the packed ranks of defenders. This is brilliant when it comes off and a beauty to behold, but it should not be plan A or indeed the only plan. Certainly, the chance of success is low at best with the current squad and lower still without Mesut.
So I come back to the use of and creation of space. When team’s go toe-to-toe with Arsenal, space is often readily available. Yesterday, the only player who looked likely to beat a man and create space for Arsenal was Wilshere, but even when he did so he found his space restricted more often than not by his own team mates.
Iwobi and Alexis, rather than being disciplined and retaining the width to help create the space and potentially allow themselves to beat a man on the outside, were continuously coming infield, depriving their own midfield of space to play in and, indeed, options for meaningful passes. Another way to create space is to retain width, and then when the time is right, run in behind. Without Ramsey to time his runs from deep, the runs behind from wide areas were crucial and Iwobi and Alexis offered NONE. I simply do not understand why Wenger cannot relay such obvious instructions from his dugout. Any fan with a degree of tactically understanding could see the issue, and Gary Neville was continually observing the problem as co-commentator.
Spotted problem easily
It would appear that Alexis is given licence to roam, which on occasions is fine, but yesterday was not one of those days. This was exacerbated by Iwobi, a player of less ability and far intelligence doing the same.
Ironically, the last time it did work having these two ball followers in tandem was at the end of the 2015/16 season, when Iwobi was on the left and Alexis was on the right, in our old 4231.
On that subject, yesterday I was screaming at Wenger to switch to 4231 and get some width against this compact West Brom defence. On the bench, he had two players who in their own way would have created space for his team. Welbeck, for all his failures, will retain width, work tirelessly and try and beat a man to create space, and Walcott stretches the opposition defence. Even when given the perfect opening of Koscielny’s injury, Wenger still elected to change like for like and not switch to a four.
2 potential space creators on the bench
Yes, we got lucky with a deflected free-kick and then unlucky with a penalty decision that went against us, but without Ozil, yesterday needed common sense tactics to replace Mesut magic. Instead, Wenger allowed Iwobi and Alexis to restrict our space for 70 minutes plus, even when he had the perfect and obvious options available to him to change the dynamic of the match. However good Alexis is, he has to be coached when to exercise his free role. He used to take players on and retain width in the 4231. Iwobi simply plays like a talented schoolboy in a primary school playground, following the ball and standing two yards from his friend expecting to be passed to. With the former, it probably is too late to matter, but with Iwobi, he needs to be coached in match intelligence and awareness before it is too late and a promising career is frittered away.
Anyway, I will leave you with another ‘Happy New Year’ and a quote that Clough never used –
“Pass the ball to another player in the same colour shirt as you, then run towards him.”
This article was originally published at gunnerstown.com