Why Arsène Wenger’s side will forever be in transition

Arsène Wenger’s big test will be to find the balance between the pass-and-move style of football and providing greater protection from the counter.
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Bendtner-Bellamy

Two goals were scored away from home and four were conceded therefore it should be clear which end of the pitch the problems lie. However the analysis after the defeat to Manchester City was split close to 50-50 between the two disciplines.

There are a number of reasons for this but each will inevitably reach close to the same conclusions, namely along the lines of organisation, discipline and balance.

Arsène Wenger’s post match analysis usually plays down the performance of the opposition after a win and that was the case once again against the Eastland club. “There was more in the game for us than what we got” was Wenger’s staunch analysis (although he did criticise his defence), referring to the amount of possession and territorial advantage his side had, not to mention the chances. But in today’s game, it is a perfectly viable tactic to have less of the ball and look to counter-punch the opponent when possession changes hand. And City did that, ruthlessly exposing Arsenal on the break as Wenger’s side looked to press on for victory. 1-1 was quickly 2-1, 3-1 and then 4-1 all in a blink of an eye.

In his book ‘Teambuiding: The Road to Success’, Rinus Michels states the best teams play a brand of football which is all about dominating possession and having all players capable of creating chances, knowing when to release the ball. (It should also be noted, the best teams can alter the style of play to a counter attack style and switch back seamlessly). That’s stage three of a club’s development cycle, a phase in which Arsenal are said to be in.

In contrast a club in stage two, which Manchester City are in (e.g. having a stable youth infrastructure, stadium etc. but yet without the trophies) in their quest for domination, are typically all about compactness, organisation, and counter-attacking football. They were perfectly happy to give the initiative to Arsenal, defending deep and once the opportunity arose, looked to break with speed. It will be interesting to see as City develop as a club, should they look to become more possession orientated. But why should they?

As mentioned already, counter-attacking is a viable modern tactic while on the other hand the margins for a possession side are thin; one will always be better than the other which inevitably will turn the game into one of thrust and counter-thrust. The hallmarks of English domination in the Champions League against ball tapping opposition has been their ability to attack from all angles and adapt to a change tempo, dynamism, speed and of course supreme organisation. Judging by City’s signings so far, Mark Hughes side won’t be any different.

How the once masters of the counter-attack have become out-counter-attacked was one fans reaction after watching the late flurry of goals at Arsenal’s end. He was obviously referring to Wenger’s Invincibles side who were not only quick as a bullet from the break but were very confident in possession, strong, ruthless in front of goal, experts at controlling zones and possibly also, fantastic at making up superlatives.

Their unbeaten championship win perhaps fittingly also came at the dawn of a new era in the Premier League. Liverpool under Gèrrard Houllier (when attention was not focused on whether he had signed the next Zidane) had signaled their arrival as a force once again while money, and lots of it in the form of Roman Abramovich and soon with the hiring of Jose Mourinho had changed the outlook of the league. The Special One’s 4-3-3 which doubled up as a 4-5-1 became in vogue and soon ‘smaller’ clubs gave up all ambition against the bigger sides, defending deep and in two organised bands.I recently took a quick flick at ESPN’s Premiership classics programme where they were showing a game during Wenger’s Invincible period and it was particularly surprising just how high up the pitch the opposition defended at Highbury.

It would do the other league bosses injustice to attribute the change of thinking to the already inflated ego of Jose Mourinho but he had brought about more awareness. In an interview he gave with UEFA he mentioned just how key transitions had become in turning games, also stating that he always kept five back in order to safeguard his side from such moments. “Transitions have become crucial,” he says. “When the opponent is organised defensively, it is very difficult to score. The moment the opponent loses the ball can be the time to exploit the opportunity of someone being out of position.”

Because Arsenal is so elaborate it may mean they require more resources when getting forward which in turn is likely to leave gaps at the back. The trade off for this is effectiveness and with Arsenal’s goalscoring start to the season, it seemed Wenger had found the right balance. His side where pressing high, tirelessly tracked back and provided able support to the lone forward. There was the steel to go with the flashy football.

That probably still is the case as we haven’t seen enough of the real Arsenal because of the personal they are missing. The injury to Fabregas was a big blow at United which would have made the big difference. Walcott’s speed gives a new dimension on the right while Rosicky and Nasri’s ingenuity are key to the side’s style. However such a team as the one put out against Manchester City would have had to make sure they were watertight in defence because of the lack of creativity, movement and cutting edge. With two non-wide men playing in wide forward roles (Diaby and Bendtner) it meant the Gunners lacked dynamism forcing the full backs to push forward to make up for the ineffectiveness, leaving space at the back to exploit.

It’s going to be up to Arsène Wenger to prove his side have that balance in the long run because while there is always going to beauty when he’s in charge, there will also be transitions. And with that being the case, clubs will always know that they have a sniff of a chance of beating Arsenal.

* NB: There is already some confusion and a bit of finger pointing. The title is only a play on words on the word transition as it has a number of meanings. The one I’m referring to is the process of change in football from defence to attack and such a process will always stay in the game. I’m in no way implying Arsenal will be stuck in a rut forever.

There is unlikely to be match analysis following the Standard Liege game unfortunately (I will try and fit an article in) but normal service should resume for the game against Wigan.

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16 thoughts on “Why Arsène Wenger’s side will forever be in transition

  1. Great article bro, but I think the headline is a little misleading. You didn´t explain why the side will never properly find the balance, and will “Always be in transition.”

    I´m anxious to hear. From what I see we are one or two years away from being a top team in Europe.

    ArsenalAdam

    1. we’ve been one or two years away for the last few years,
      not being negative i still believe the team needs a catalyst to give us that final push to greatness but it lies solely with the manager to provide that.

  2. nice try. But do you really think that you know more about the team than arsene? He sees them on a daily basis,and we see them on a weekly basis or twice a week at most.
    The defeat at city was because of sloppy play mostly and poor defending nothing more. United we handed them the victory FACT! I think it’s quite unfair to make this sort of analysis after two defeats. We lost games we shouldn’t have lost imo that’s difficult to take but let’s move on and support the team.
    Everytime we lose we always seem to make more out of it,no wonder we’re becoming the laughing stock of the league. If us fans cant support the team then who’s gonna do it? The Mirror, The Sun??
    And we wonder why we are hated,Liverpool have lost two games also to worse opposition than we lost to,but their fans are not having a field day! We are becoming like our the disgraceful neighbours from across the road. Come on Arsenal!

    1. I’m an ardent supporter of Wenger. I’m merely stating Arsenal are vulnerable and have been for a number of years from transitions (or counter if you will) because of their expansive and elaborate style. Mr Wenger and his players will have to find a way to try and stop that from happening like it did at City. That match is also an isolated case this season (because of missing men) but it may well happen more.

      Teams are set up on the counter when up against our men and it is likely to remain the case this season.

    2. @arsene – brain seems to be diehard wenger supporter and watches almost all games. you can’t say that about him after reading one article (the irony . . .) he is also trying to be as objective as possible using the evidence he had in front of him to make a judgment as to why we lost. that is the point of the site, mate.
      arsenal have been shown to be vulnerable on the break for a few seasons already. there are always games in which we lose because we were not carefully set up against the counter-attack. example? the game against united at home in the champs league last season is an extreme example of that problem.
      this particular game was a problem with denilson. it was an isolated incident, but mark hughes definitely exploited it to the maximum and our mistakes led straight to goals.
      i think that if rosicky gets fit and starts tracking back, we won’t be as weak on the counter when he’s on the field.

  3. great article i see your points, kinna concludes the agrument fellow gooners have been making this term for a defensive midfielder etc

  4. I agree that transition is the weakness that has been exposed in the last game and even the ManU game. It seems to me that once the Denilson-Song partnership is sacrificed, our tails look obviously up for opponents to exploit. That’s worrying tactically because, as the City game showed, we have to take risk at some moments in some games. If we can’t seal the hole in the back, going all in in attack simply hands in the game to opponents.

    That said, your theory doesn’t completely fit the first 70 minutes of the City game. We barely gave up any chance at all while taking most of the initiative (what if Arsene could have afforded to start Tomas instead of Diaby?). Adebayor was as if not present throughout that period. Clichy looked masterful in long strides against SWP and Belamy.

    I wondered that went on in Arsene’s mind when he was forced to sub Denilson out due to an injury. But what went on in Mark Hugh’s mind was quite clear with the benefit of hindsight: his team continuously probed our left wing on almost every counterattack. Diaby was repeatedly out of position, leaving Clichy stranded with runners with yards of space in front and back of him. Why didn’t we address this during the game?

    At least compared to both ManU games last year in the EPL, we actually played better against them this year in my view. The Manchester games so far show patches of personal mistakes, from both the players and the manager. Of course, a winning team is one that proves mistakes to be accidental, not consistent, during the course of a season. So I hope these are mere accidents. At the same time, I feel it is too soon to judge Arsene’s options this season. Let’s see how he use them to negotiate more games down the road.

    1. nhan le, it is always a pleasure to read your comments. you seem to be a very sensible person and your opinions are interesting .

      these two games were lost, but we def shouldn’t panic in any way. we showed that we are a different team from last season. however, the consistency we are looking for can only be judged at the end of the season.

      it is too early to judge arsenal. let’s go gooners!!

  5. I partly agree with your statement in the title.
    When I think back to the Invincibles side I see so many ingredients missing from out current team. Some can’t be helped such as physical size and presence. But others can be taught and aquired.

    One of the biggest differences i notice is that in the invincibles every player was on the same wavelength. They all looked up when they had the ball, they all passed to a team mate who was in a better scoring position, they all knew what run to make and when and they rarely got caught offside!

    We have players of different ability and experience and they still have not mastered playing as a cohesive unit. We still have young selfish strikers who keep their head down and shoot even when their team mate is open. We have people who make the wrong pass or the wrong run and we have strikers who continually stray offside (although we did offload the worse culprit!!)

    I predict though that when all fit and we play our strongest most experienced side we could come close to that legendary team.

    Rosicky has already shown last weekend he has lost none of his class and his ability to keep a cool head. Arshavin is pure class and links well with like-minded players such as Fabregas, RvP and Nasri.

    We just need a bit of luck with injuries and a run of games where these quality players can play together and learn about each other.

  6. The same defensive errors are creeping in as we have seen in prior years.

    It never ceases to amaze me how often we look like winning a game only in a flash to concede and lose.

    I hope we iron these out and get players back together in a run of games. 7-9 on the injury table every week so far is not going to help our chances one bit

  7. One major factor missing in your piece is the attitude of Refs. Last night you saw a Ref at the Bridge (Porto game) very quickly stamp out Chelsea’s rough treatment. Two were booked in the first 20mins and virtually every tug and block was punished. If you want to know why Chelsea were easily mastered (in terms of possession) last night- the way the Ref made both teams play football was the reason. Chelsea don’t play the beautiful game and when the ‘Monsters’ (Essien and Ballack) are not allowed to elbow, pull and push any decent team has a chance. As Wenger has said so often though- not all Refs want the best footballing side- whoever they are- to win. They bow to the media pressure- particularly Sky and Talksport- who tell us constantly how wonderful and powerful Chelsea and Man U are. They gloss over the foul and cheating play- deeming it professional or organised and come out with the rubbish about the other teams having to ‘earn the right to play’. This is crass. The Ref last night MADE BOTH teams play. All Refs should do it. Who wants to see a team have to negotiate an assault course before they are allowed do what they are there for. Do neutral fans want to see professional fouling or cheating? Diving is only a part of the problem- get the cheats back in their place. Who could beat Arsenal then?

  8. If you ask me, due to the lack of height, this team may not be able to counter attack effectively. But if you field walcott in the right wing and bendtner in the middle(unlikely) it will give directness to the team. Some people have been calling for a monster of a dm. but if we play song and denilson, that problem might be solved. We need to be adept at counter attacking as a variable. As you said, our defence needs to improve and be water tight.

  9. I think the way Diaby’s play is shaping up, we definitely can count him out of playing a DM. And as most of the guys here think, we need to have 2 DMs to defend.
    It will be a real test now for the next matches without Denilson. Also, Song will be going for the African Cup of Nations rite. That will also be a time when we will have just 1 DM in our ranks.

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