I’d like to tell you that I’m still reeling from Sunday’s performance but much like our domestic season, it all feels a little pointless and actually, it wouldn’t be true, because I just feel resigned when I think about Arsenal this season in the league.
People have stopped talking to me about Arsenal specifically at work now, because it’s clear I’m not interested and inevitably, conversation shifts to something else. Anything else.
But I’d be lying to say that in the back of my mind there isn’t always questions and today what I’m thinking of is our current crop of players and their best positions in specific conversations and what really worries me is the sheer amount of surgery that is needed on this team in the summer. But in addition to that, what worries me is that Arsène appears to have flip-flopped so much from a team set up point of view in the last 18 months, that we find ourselves now with players that don’t really all fit in the system he plays.
I’ve been listening to a few podcasts of late and talk has inevitably drifted into going into specifics of players. The guys on the Arsecast have touched on it but when you actually start to think about the individuals Arsène Wenger has assembled in his squad, his changing of team and style seem even more baffling.
It’s the change from three at the back with wing backs that I’m talking about predominantly. We seem to have a team in which most of our players are set up for the formation that we ended last season with. We have a glut of central defenders who can all operate in that system but when they play with two at the back they look exposed.
Historically Arsène has always looked to have a maximum of four senior central defenders in his squads. That’s a first choice two, one that is on the periphery, then perhaps a younger player who has potential. It has been a clear pecking order and he’s kept the team as it was. But with the shift to a back three last season and then keeping Chambers and Holding in the first team this season, we’ve had five central defenders plus Monreal who seemed at one stage to be a playing being converted into a central defender, then Elneny, who has been tried as an auxiliary defender.
That’s six players plus a spare. Makes sense if you’re playing with three at the back, right?
We also bought Kolasinac as a wing back on big wages. So for all intents and purposes, if you look at the way we started the summer, we were geared up for a season with a back three. That’s the sort of players we had in the squad and when you’re setting up your team with players that operate best in that position, surely you should stick with it, no?
Arsène binned off his back three by November if my failing memory is right. That’s a third of the way into the season. That tells me that he never really believed in the back three and was only doing it because he thought he had found a formula that worked with his current crop of players. The problem is, his quick eschewing of the three at the back for the back four hasn’t really worked either, because what he did in the summer last year was not buying the right type of players for the system we have.
If we’re playing with four at the back, two midfielders, three creative midfielders and a striker, then to avoid being too narrow in the middle of the park – something we saw again on Sunday – you need to have players who are more naturally suited to running those lines out wide. But we don’t have that. The only player who did that in the team was the now departed Theo Walcott. He was certainly not the answer and it was clear from the first few weeks of the season that he wouldn’t get game time, so why didn’t Arsène/Arsenal address this last summer by going for wide men?
Nothing makes sense from a structure and tactical set up point of view at Arsenal. Last summer we bought like a team that was wedded to three at the back with wing backs, yet we didn’t buy one to challenge Bellerin, then never bothered playing Debuchy either. But we didn’t buy like a team that was only using three at the back as a short term solution. If we’d have bought more naturally wide players who will stretch the play, then I think I’d understand that we were more than likely to shift our team structure and set up. But we didn’t.
It just speaks to no real plan at the club at all. There is no philosophy and short-termism has completely permeated the club. We don’t think a year or two ahead, we think a month ahead, which is why we’re in this mess where we have a squad geared up for one formation, yet we’re playing a totally different formation.
It’s why change needs to happen this summer. We need a fresh voice. A man who says “this is how I am going to set the team up. These are the current players who probably don’t fit that system in our team and this is the type of player that I’ll need”.
Can anybody see Arsène Wenger doing that? He’s already proven over the last 18 months that he’s not able to and it has felt like he’s been clutching at straws for some time now. Football has changed, Arsenal has changed, Arsène hasn’t and the result is what we’re witnessing now: steady decline.
I think we’ve passed the point of no return with Arsène I’m sad to say. I’ve always harboured hopes he’d find a formula to turn it around, that an old dog had secretly been learning one more new trick, but sadly I think the chances of that are gone.
Arsenal need a new philosophy, a new voice, a new coach.