It’s long been said that we play the finest football in the land. Whether it’s Bergkamp, Henry, Denilson, Chamakh, Bendtner, Fabregas, Alexis or Ozil the mantra has always been the same: we will out-football you. Wenger’s teams have always had a fluidity about them no matter the personnel, granted we had the grit in the days of Vieira and Gilberto however even in their absence we stayed true to the philosophy that Wenger brought to the Premier League. Playing in triangles, devastating counter-attack football and excellent possession based slow to quick transition play to break down a stubborn team. It’s been a privilege to watch this over the years, but over the last 18 months or so we’ve looked like we don’t really know what our style is, what our identity is, what our ‘go to’ method is when approaching any game. It begs the question; is #Wengerball dead?
Arsenal football club has been struggling to find a formula that works for quite some time now and there are a number of reasons as to why. Previously, when it’s worked really well, we’ve had a spine that has stayed constant throughout the majority of the season around which Wenger has added patches of talent to and kept the football playing machine going. In recent times we’ve found it hard to maintain that identity and I believe a lot of this is to do with the type of striker that the players around have gotten used to playing with. Before the arrival of Olivier Giroud we had Robin VanPersie, who whilst not the most mobile of strikers in comparison to an Alexis or Aguero, his movement was incredibly incisive and a fair bit quicker than Giroud. He was no target man. Before him we had Chamakh, Adebayor, Eduardo, Bendtner & Vela who played a significant(ish) amount of games to justify that they were important to us as a team. Bendtner aside, we had a more mobile strikeforce than we do now, and have done for the past 4 years or so. Yes Podolski was also bought at the same time, but I firmly believe he was bought as the main man and Giroud as the plan B, however it didn’t work out that way. Buying a more mobile striker has always been the way for Wenger, and this has been why our teams have had to be so good in possession. There was no quick and easy outlet as a long ball that can give teams a breather. There was only one way of playing and it included keeping the ball and keeping it moving. As Guardiola has famously said “Take the ball. Pass the ball”. It’s the way we played and we didn’t have a choice. That means that in training and in games it was always likely to be a more intense scenario as the ball was always on the floor. There always had to be a way to play our way out of trouble. I think that this mentality kept every single player a little more on their toes than they are right now. The introduction of Olivier Giroud as the main striker over the course of the last few years has taken its toll on the identity of our football. No longer is it on-the-toes-pedal-to-the-metal free flowing football, there’s always an out ball that lets our team catch their breath. This, whilst incredibly useful at times, has over time created a more sterile possession based team that lacks a little direction.
Wenger’s teams have always been ‘allowed to play’ in the way they want to in terms of when attacking, however with a target man as the tip of our sword we have now become overly reliant and a little lazy in our approach play. It’s not something that’s happened overnight, as towards the beginning of our target man era we had played some scintillating football to which Giroud was a key figure (Wilshere goal v Norwich, Rosicky goal v Sunderland). Though our game has swung from an occasional outball to OG into a more regularly used option. This coupled with the changing of the modern game to having just the one centre forward has almost pushed us in this direction no matter how hard we try to change it, and try we have. Wenger has tried to sign Suarez, Benzema & Higuain for their intelligent movement and finishing abilities. They are not target men at all, yet can still score the same types of goals as Giroud. Wenger has been trying to adapt to the modern game by buying a more dynamic centre forward than Giroud. The conundrum is that Giroud has performed so well for the money we paid for him, that we’re stuck between whether to pull the trigger or not. I saw a great clip that identifies Giroud as being just short of an elite centre forward based on the money spent on him and his goal return (95 goals in almost 5 seasons), which you can see in full here. It’s basically saying that to bridge the gap between a Giroud and an Aguero shouldn’t be as steep a cost as is portrayed in the media these days.
We saw against West Ham this week that #Wengerball is clearly there to be seen in fit and spurts, but unfortunately it’s become us playing Wenger’s brand of football sporadically rather than playing badly sporadically. Wenger has always had the same principles and I don’t see them changing, however to change the way the team is playing and to once again bring back the identity and brand of football that we all know and love he will need to go out and break the bank for a more mobile centre forward. It’s the only way the jigsaw puzzle makes sense and is the only way that our sterile approach play will be sharpened up to what we’ve known and loved in years gone by. Yes there are defensive issues, yes there are midfield issues and yes there are issues of mental weakness however none of this is new information. We’ve dealt with this in the past and yet still played excellent football, so the only way we are going to see what we want is to finally go out and buy that elite front man. It’s the only way we can keep #Wengerball alive.
Follow me on Twitter @MiteshLakhani1.