Arsene’s An Artist In A World Of Engineers

We’ve had some good discussions over the last three days or so. One point that seems to be shared by some, including myself, is that Arsene isn’t tactically as good as the likes of Mourinho, Hiddink and even Fergie.

I have to say I don’t claim to be a tactical genius or have better footballing acumen than Le Boss. Having said that, I do feel all of us have a right to an opinion and to analyze the work of people who might be far superior to us in their chosen field. The following piece is just my take on the work of some of the top managers of this era.

First, let me focus on Arsene. How many times have we heard him talk of players creating magic on the football field? Isn’t that what attracts a lot of the neutrals to Arsenal? For what else is free flowing football with intricate passing and seamless movement if it isn’t magic!?

I think Wenger is from a rare breed of managers who give their players freedom on a football pitch, freedom to express themselves and impose their personalities on the game without compromising the team work ethos.

I feel this is the reason most of the players who have played under him hold the Frenchman in such high regard. It is also the reason we see such a unique footballing approach from Arsenal. When the team is in full flow, almost every goal is different and every creative move unpredictable.

Of course, this is based on a foundation of strict training, diet and so forth. I see that as an artists effort to ensure the materials used in the creation are flawless.

On the other hand, the flaw, if we can call it that, with this approach is that Wenger doesn’t like to spell it out for the players. He doesn’t mark any boundaries on the pitch. That’s the reason we see our DM’s or Center Backs marauding into the opposition territory. At times this freedom turns out to be fatal. Some of us call it tactical naivete, others accept this failure as a fundamental part of an artists work while the most prosaic amongst us would consider it stupid or incompetent.

Now let’s contrast this with Wenger’s contemporaries. With due respect to their achievements I consider managers like Mourinho, Benitez and Hiddink to be the Sith Lords of Anti-Football. In simpler terms they are the footballing engineers.

Mourinho, for instance, spent hundreds of millions to produce what can be considered the most boring champion team in the history of football (Yes, my knowledge of football history is very limited.) His teams always went out to make sure they never lost. Is it a surprise that the players who prospered in his regime were the likes of Terry, Makelele and Essien!?

Similarly, Benitez was another who sent out eleven men to defend. I don’t have the exact quotes but Ryan Babel, a short while after his transfer to Liverpool, said that he played 20 yards deeper under Benitez than he did at Ajax. Rafa is probably one of the few managers who can take a prolific center forward like Kuyt and convert him into a hard working right sided defensive midfielder. I am sure Robbie Keane will have a similar story to tell when he decides to open his mouth about his time at Anfield.

Don’t we all remember the scoreless draws their teams played out. Games that were decided by a freak goal on a set play. Two teams utterly devoid of creativity and canceling each other out all over the field.

This is not an attempt to criticize these managers. They have their own styles and those who can appreciate it support them. Those who value results more than anything else will never find a better messiah than Jose.

Hiddink is a similar manager. He put an eleven man wall against Barca and only an incompetent referee and a profligate Drogba prevented him from winning the Champions League semi-final. It would have been a great achievement in some eyes and a great shame in some others.

Most recently, Fergie engineered a victory at the Emirates with much the same tactics that Rafa has been using against his United. How predictable are these teams!? We know that every opportunity they will spread the ball wide and try to cross it in. They will always have players rushing into the box to get on the end of it and if they can do it often enough, eventually one or two will go in. Of course, there are some other tactics but just as easy to define.

What makes it somewhat easier for these engineers is that football is essentially a defenders game. That is the reason we don’t see a cricket score in a football match even when a Premier League team plays a third division team. If you put enough men behind the ball chances are you will keep most of the attacks out. If you collect top quality defenders chances are you will convert your home ground into a fortress.

Defending is something you can define. Players can be told exactly what is to be done. You do enough drills with top players and your team becomes impenetrable. It’s not rocket science exactly but it’s highly scientific and predictable.

Creativity on the other hand is beyond definition. You need vision and imagination to be creative. The only attacking moves that can be planned are set-plays. That is exactly the reason they are called set-pieces! (and perhaps the reason why we suck at set-plays 😛 )

The modern world of football is highly result oriented and the Engineers are the ones who are most likely to succeed. You put two highly clinical and skilled players like Rooney and Ronaldo in front of a tightly knit defensive unit and you get a Champion outfit. But it is also the reason why the Artists like Wenger and Guardiola are so important, they bring the game to life.

I, for one, am happy to live with the odd tactical mistake for the sake of that rare moment of magic.

20 Responses to Arsene’s An Artist In A World Of Engineers

  1. Tazz says:

    Very well written again. I personally would prefer Arsenal playing the ‘beautiful football’, that they do under Wenger, & achieve relative success, than we switch managers, who are more war general-like, & opt for ‘long-ball’ football. Years down the line it’s the brand of football we play, which’ll be remembered, & not the trophies we didn’t win. Don’t we remember Cryuff’s team from ’74, or Barca’s men from ’94. Agreed they were fairly successful, but let’s not forget our team still only averages a timid 23. So we have time on our hands.

    Replacing Wenger would not only affect our on-field credentials, but will also greatly hamper our financial set-up. Ask United or Chelsea or Liverpool, who are reeling with under-payments.

    Wenger’s an artist who dons the ‘thinking hat’ as soon as he is off the pitch. His Master’s in Economics speaks for that.

    For now, let’s back the boys in defeating Chelsea & keep the faith in Professor Vesuvius. After all only ‘Arsene Knows’!

  2. Nischit says:

    People may consider trophies to be the be all and end all, but even Champions are forgotten in due time. A quick look at forest will elucidate my point. What endures longer than champions however, is a philosophy. A philosophy of how the game is meant to be played. All great teams have a philosophy. Barcelona have their way of playing the game. The dutch team of the 70s scored some of the best goals I’ve seen in my life ( youtube 😛 ). Brazil and Argentina have their own style of football. Manchester United has brought a lot of great players through their ranks in their history. What Arsene Wenger has done is change the philosophy of the club, atleast from what it was before he just arrived at the club. Arsene Wenger has delivered some of the best football, best goals and best players to Arsenal Football Club and it is only after he is gone will people realize what he has achieved. I bet he is the most frustrated of us all, seeing his canvas so obviously lacking beauty and the colors just not residing on it in harmony.

  3. gooner61 says:

    i also much prefer watching wenger football but agree he isnt the best when it comes to tactics like switching players when he sees a problem to adjust to it.
    although im not a fan of bendtner i still think he should have come on from the start of the second half it would have given us a striker on the pitch different options and something different for manu to deal with.

  4. Saintyjones says:

    Barca has quality strikers. Last season when their games seem a stale mate bojan makes the difference. This season its pedro. So their free flowing football has strikers to put the call behind the net but arsenal, NO!. Thats the difference between the two teams. We r like e toothless lion. Can only scare u but cant bite

  5. jamie m says:

    I’m amazed that someone can have the attitude where they would rather see a team play pretty football than see a team win trophies.That has just put a real downer on my day,is this the reason why we have the Arsene Knows Best brigade where everyone is delighted playing great football and coming fourth every season like Wenger himself is…. this is crazy stuff

    • desigunner says:

      lol. This just made my day. That someone can read this article and assume I am saying I want to “see the team play pretty football than see a team win trophies.” Thanks for the laugh.

  6. scartishoo says:

    I’ll be honest, because I for one believe in the power of the tongue. I want Arsenal to win trophies! I still want them to play beautiful and win trophies. That is the vindication of the beautiful game. If the beautiful football cannot win matches then trophies, then it is not an effective method of play. Let’s be honest here. How many of us go to watch a match hoping the team plays beautifully and lose? No one I think (hope).

    That said, I think Wenger is a great, yet stubborn tactician. He wants to prove that he can still spot, mold then create the stars. Well, it’s not exactly working according to plan, is it. Still, it’s a long way to the end of season.

    • desigunner says:

      Even I want to see the team win. This article has nothing to do with us winning or not winning. I am just comparing different styles.

      At the end of the day all these managers are great and have achieved success in their own way.

  7. Tunde says:

    Itz like saying itz okay to fail ur exam as long as you have a good handwriting,what a load of crap!(imo)

  8. hmm... says:

    creativity and vision shud also be there in defence…..u gave only one side of the coin…fair enough

  9. Ole Gunner says:

    I hold a contrarian view about Hiddink’s so-called tactical genius.

    Chelsea were knocked out of the Champions League last season because, Hiddink gambled. He went and played for a 0-0 draw at Nou Camp. First of all that wasn’t clever because, it was only a bad refereeing performance missing a penalty on Henry, a red card for Ballack, and bad finishing by Hleb & Krkic when faced with the open goal that saw Chelsea get a 0-0 result. They could have lost 2-0.

    To expect that Barcelona would not get an away goal at Stamford Bridge was wishful thinking, and they got knocked out eventually by an away goal.

    How anyone can call that brilliance is beyond me.

    Anyway, tactics do not always win football games. After all is said and done, it’s 11 vs 11.

    • desigunner says:

      Well that’s just one opinion versus another. From what i remember Chelsea would have scored 4 or 5 over two legs but for Drogba’s profligacy. And as far as I remember Chelsea suffered far more due to the ref’s incompetence.

      In any case the point is not of tactical brilliance but an instance that shows tactics are important and can yield results. Chelsea were the only team that could hold Barca for 180 minutes. (We can all have our share of what if’s)

      Tactics don’t always win football games but if you ask Arsene about our last few games against the top sides, you might get a different answer.

      • Ole Gunner says:

        That’s my point. Eash of the two teams could have scored many goals. I remember sitters missed by Krkic, Eto’o & Hleb, as well as a penalty not given on Henry, and Ballack not being sent off in the first leg when he should have. I also remember chances missed by Drogba.

        Ultimately, what you can not deny is that Chelsea played for 0-0 in the first leg and got it.

        What is undeniable is that this later turned out to have backfired since they got eliminated on away goals.

        It was very stupid strategy to think you can shut Barcelona out for 180 minutes. By definition, it wasn’t successful tactics because it failed.

        I said so at the time.

      • desigunner says:

        I agree with you that it could have gone either way.

        One thing we need to consider is that no team in the last season was successfully able to take the game to Barca. Since they won everything they played in, can we say any tactic was successful against them?

        I am not saying Chelsea showed tactical genius. But these tactics were the closest that came to success.

        Chelsea didn’t exactly go for a 0-0, when a team sits back they always hope to get one on the break. Sometimes you don’t get that one goal, while sometimes you get 2 or 3.

        Mourinho has had mixed results against Rijkaard with similar tactics. Maybe if Hiddink and Guardiola squared up again we will get a better idea.

  10. diceman1984 says:

    Ask yourself this question: which team was the best in the last decade? The most memorable? Is it the invincibles?

    Manu and Barca are teams who play football the way it’s suppose to be played.

    Praise them all the want but not until Messi came that Barca looked unstoppable.

    It’s the same when we had Henry.

    It’s the same when manu had Ronaldo.

    Wenger’s way has BROUGHT success. It’s only in the last few years when we were rebuilding while teams blindly bankrupted themselves for fun that we didn’t win a trophy.

    But to me we maintained the level of competiveness that is required throughout. We were 13 minutes away from our first European cup, 4 points off a league title, 2 bullish moments away from a cup win by kids, all while being the only club who has a healthy financial bill and making profit every year.

    Sometimes being a good tactician isn’t good enough. Wenger has not made Arsenal into a selling club who can’t compete, he’s made this club into one of the best in the world and a damn stable one for its supporters and his successor.

  11. peter says:

    the success of a manager goes beyond what he achieve, how he achieves this success is equally important. I don’t think many people will love football today and follow it passionately as we do today if the game is all about winning at any cost, winning even if it means breaking the opposition team’s leg. Football stands out today and command great followership because of the beauty of the game. Without the engineers who defends and play anti football we may never be able to appreciate the football artist who carves out and split open the tightest of defences with slick movement and accurate passing. Kudos to wenger he has achieved success within available resources. Sorry i don’t respect managers who spent 300 million pounds building a team to win a champions league that the price money isn’t more than 70million pounds. Football is crazy today, its the only industry in the world that spends money that it can generate..e.g CHELSEA, MAN CITY, UTD etc…Wenger the artisr within limited resources has built a competitive team in europe…we have always been in the champions league in the last 10 years or more..its isn’t just about trophies.Thats a myopic way to view success…yes chelsea has won 2 league titles in the past 6 years…but at what cost?same for united. is this really success? i don’t want load of trophies that will eventually lead arsenal to become bankrupt…don’t know with the way things are going whether we would still have the likes of chelsea, liverpool and united in the top flight the next 5-10 years. We would soon have another lEEDS united.

  12. bobbygee says:

    Tactics can win matches but in the end players do. You can have the best tactics in the world but if your players suck you will lose. What wins futebol games is fudamentals, preparation, and players.
    Dunga is an example of this. He took over a Brasileiro national team that was loaded with fat out of shape stars. He took this team and reshaped into a very good futebol squad that can win the world cup. Wenger is the same way. Rohinbo, Kaka, and the rest function as a unit. Yes, Brasil does give up some cheap and easy goals but when it comes to nut cutting time the team wins.
    Wenger built Arsenal from the ground. The foundation is solid. A good mix of younger and older players.
    Defense wins championships but you have to score. Most of today’s players learn to play in the academies. Pele and the likes learned to play on the streets. They have the street flair for game. Many managers kill this kind of creativety.
    In the end it depends on the players you have. What are their strengths and weakness. Highlight the strengths and hide the weakness. This is my two cents.

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