From totally predictable Arsene to pleasantly unpredictable and surprising Arsene – My new respect for ‘Le Boss.’

And it's a thumbs up from me too
And it’s a thumbs up from me too

I have been thinking a lot recently about how my feelings toward Arsene Wenger have changed over the course of this season. In recent years whilst having complete and total respect and gratitude for what he had achieved for our club I had found myself drifting away from the man.  It was not a conscious decision and it certainly did not happen over a short space of time but I had reached a point where my initial reaction when seeing him from my seat near the dugout or when interviewed on television was not one of warmth.  Indeed if I was asked any time between 2012 and the end of last season to use one word and one word only that best summed up by it would have been ‘Frustration.’

Had I been asked would I want him sacked my retort would have been ‘No’ but were I asked would I want him given a new deal my answer probably also would have been ‘No.’ It would be safe to say that I therefore fell into neither acronym camp but it would also be fair to say that my frustrations at the great man were not born out of the lack of big money signings or even his inability to deliver trophies as with many. I always recognised the constraints and whilst not a scholar of the accounts like some it was not his perceived unwillingness to spend the money that was reportedly always there, that irritated me.

Equally I hold no truck with the views of some that Wenger in fact over achieved or remained at par given the unlimited wealth of some of his competitors. Wenger never had the money of United in the late 90s or early 2000s but he was able to out deal and out think Fergie on several occasions. I think that view is rife amongst those who only recognise the Premier League and the Champions League as noteworthy silverware. For those traditionalists such as me, both domestic cups mean everything and in the well documented 9 year gap Wenger could easily have won them on several occasions had he taken them more seriously.

However that is going over old ground and perhaps opening old wounds which I have no wish to do. These musings are inspired by a growing realisation in the past 12 months that my recent indifference toward Wenger was lessening and my affection for him growing and a healthy respect re-emerging from somewhere within me.

In reality the soul searching to find the cause of these unexpected symptoms is not actually so hard. You see the ice began to melt for me on the FA Cup run last season and really kicked in when I was at Wembley for both the semi final and the final. Certainly as waited for the team to go up the steps to lift the FA Cup once more and during the lap of honour I was crying for joy. For myself, for the team and yes for Arsene Wenger, our much maligned manager.

Realisation of my joy for ‘Le Boss.’

When thinking about it after the event my joy at the trophy however was actually underpinned with a more analytical joy. A joy that Arsene Wenger had on both Wembley occasions fundamentally changed the team’s formation in order to change the pattern and ultimately the outcome of both games. Not just because he had shifted to my old favourite 442 but that he had reacted to a game that was going against him emphatically and by doing something fundamentally different and not just changing personnel. And make no mistake it was a tactical shift based on Hull’s organised 352 and the inability of our midfield to combine with an isolated Sanogo.

So with a trophy secured was this new flexibility and pragmatism actually real or was it born out of desperation? This for me was critical because whilst others bemoaned the lack of decisiveness in the transfer market and the lack of star signings it was the apparent lack of decisiveness on the pitch that had become my biggest bugbear. I have lost track of the number of times I have written about this but it was Wenger’s seeming unwillingness to change tactics and formations from match to match and in game, to adapt to opposition and emerging situations that was the principle cause of my huge frustration. I watched other coaches change team structure, personnel to win matches against certain opposition so effectively and it angered me that Wenger always seemed to play the same 4231 regardless. Whether it was arrogance, believe in the system or his players I cared not because I watched other managers totally change their teams to play us and get results against us whilst we simply refused to so the same.

I am not arguing the semantics of how fluid and flexible our 4231 was or indeed is but even with our player interchange and skill with the ball when we did not have the ball we were always reliant on the players getting back into the same defensive shape and that shape was always the same. The same and arguably utilising players not as comfortable defending as they might have been. Let’s not forget we spent 6 months of 12/13 with a 3 of Podolski, Cazorla and Walcott and wondered why we leaked goals.

So in essence my recent antipathy at worst and frustration at best at Wenger could all be boiled down to that one factor. I wanted him to accept the limitations of the 4231 and to use different systems dependent on the stature of the occasion, the opponent, and the gravity of the fixture or a match itself as the game unfolded. After the Wembley triumph and the swift movement in the summer transfer window what I needed to witness was that the decisive tactical changes at Wembley were not flashes in the pan.

As we sit here now in March there have been disappointments of course but that is the nature of football but I am happy as an Arsenal supporter and that is down to Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff. I have seen him experiment with 433, 442 and of course often play the 4213 that has been his favoured formation since Cesc emerged. I have delighted in the perseverance with the 4141 even if it has had mixed results and I have felt the elevation in my soul as this experimentation produced HUGE results away at both Manchester’s.

The new animated Wenger on the touchline at Old Traffird

So regardless of what happens between now and May 31st Arsene Wenger has won back my full support for now.  Not because of silverware or the big names he has bought or may buy but because he has restored my faith in his ability to set up a team for a particular opponent and crucially his attitude and approach to games. You can respect the opposition and plan for them without being negative and respecting and planning for a team does not equate to fearing them. Wenger has proved that this season and I am enjoying the second guessing as a Gooner of which team, which formation and who will play where. Moreover I am relishing it even more when I think about the second guessing required by LVG, Maureen and Rodgers in the coming weeks.

I cannot imagine I am the only Arsenal supporter who has warmed to this new proactive adaptability  demonstrated by our manager but long may it continue. No one wants a return to ‘Boring Boring Arsenal’ but I had grown equally weary of ‘Predictable Predictable Arsenal.’ So congratulations to Wenger who has won me back with ‘Surprising Surprising Arsenal’ and long may this unpredictability reign. Could we even see the 3 at the back formation I speculated about a few weeks ago? I certainly hope so next season.

Just maybe the Magic Hat is back – Until next time, thanks for reading.

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  1. I totally agree. Wenger has had huge constraints to work under but it was his stubborn nature that riled. He may well be taking more advice from Steve Bould who may not be quite as accepting as Pat Rice. Great post Dave: I now understand what was causing my indifference and frustration

  2. At the end of the season You’ll either be a prophet or an over excited guy.. I hope for the former.

  3. Do you think The better players we now have could be an influence on the tactical changes?

    I think the fact our squad is bigger and more talented is a primary reason for our flexibility this season.

    If Arsenal deal with any one thing this summer I hope it’s injuires. If we just had injuires like a normal club I would be happy

    Come on the gunners

    1. I am not so sure but the converse is also true. Why persist with a formation that leaves you vulnerable at the back because you advanced midfielders can’t defend.

      1. It’s hard to say for sure.

        But I think having better players and a bigger squad is influential on our flexibility.

        Hopefully we add one or two more in the summer to give us a real mix of players.

        Whatever the reason Arsene has certainly worked to change perceptions of him.

        Lacks ambition and won’t spend – Ozil and Sanchez

        Won’t change his style – numerous formations and player types from game to game

        Can’t win big games – Man City and Man U away

        Can’t win trophies – fa cup

        I just hope he makes a real impact on the league next season

    2. @ Brdgunner

      I could not agree more with you.
      In the first half of the Cup final, Villa received 4 yellow cards. That meant that in th 2nd half our players had a higher chance of not being failed and could play with the freedom that should be their right in every game.

  4. It took me a while to catch on to Wenger’s newly open mind, but I knew something was going on last year once we started seeing Sanago used alongside Giroud as the wild card in a 4-2-4 as “Plan C” situations where normally he would have changed nothing. Worked beautifully.

  5. My understanding is that Arsene now has more flexible players so he can be more comfortable changing the formations. I suspect if you enjoyed this season, next season will be quite a delight as a few timely upgrades to the squad are added.

    However, I suspect Arsenal in the ‘trophy-barren years’ would have won a thing or two in England, perhaps even the league, if the referees were fair/even-handed/not-cheaters/not-corrupt. Alas, as has been proven elsewhere, there has been an agenda against Arsenal on the field as well as off it. So, I think a caveat regarding said bias (still in evidence today in certain matches) should be included in any analysis of Arsenal teams and their results.

  6. I like the open and honest view of the writer.
    Had you mention this open view on the likes of Untold you will be bombarded by names ala AAA.

    The untold writers lost my respect and others because in their world ther should not be any kind of critics toward mr Wenger.

    Onto your article I still hold my breath .Not entirely convinced mr Wenger has changed.Let’s see at least how will prepare the team again Mourinho and LVG .

    The game you mention against Hull at Wembley it wasn’t only about formation one can see the same mental /arrogant approach against so called lesser teams that Wenger has not sorted.Something catastrophic had to happen.

    Monaco arguably case in point I guess.
    Before I start to believe Mr Wenger is changed I have to see pre planned approach not frantic reaction.

    With all due respect considering his age I am in the notion that is better if he leaves no matter how it will end this season.

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