Arsenal Victory over Liverpool Signals Huge Shift in Tactics for Arsene Wenger

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 02:  Arsene Wenger the manager of Arsenal gives Thomas Vermaelen instructions during the Barclays Premier League match between Liverpool and  Arsenal at Anfield on September 2, 2012 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
Alex Livesey/Getty Images
Tom SunderlandFeatured Columnist IVDecember 17, 2016

For years now—seven to be exact—Arsene Wenger, or any figure linked with the Arsenal fraternity, has had to live with the endless jibes and insults regarding their inability to win trophies.

Arsenal last tasted the sultry sensation of silverware May 21, 2005, and it came in a time where the characteristic passing fluidity the club has become known for was as thriving as it ever has been.

Wenger has strived to deploy that passing mentality in all trophy-less seasons since 2004-05, and many would agree that it hasn’t yielded fantastic results, regardless of how “pretty” it may have been to watch at times.

However, it now seems possible that the Frenchman has finally called it a day on attempting to recreate “total football” and is instead more focused on results, playing in whatever way  is necessary to bring that success that has become so unfamiliar at the Emirates Stadium.

Sunday’s win at Anfield was the first sign of this possibly new strategy, where it was actually the home side that played the more attractive football, but ultimately Arsenal that took away the only thing that matters most—the three points.

Being on the worse side of this storyline has been ever so familiar to Gunners fans in recent years, playing a style of collective football that only a handful of clubs can dream to imitate at times, only to fail to come up with the goods.

Sunday was different.

Instead of going about things in their usual roundabout, pedantic manner, Arsenal were far more clinical in their approach, relying on counter-attacking rather than lengthy periods of possession.

After suffering on the sidelines for the past two years, Abou Diaby provided what seemed like an ideal replacement for Alex Song.

For weeks now, pundits have been asking the question of who it would be to fill the void left by the Cameroonian lynchpin—now of Barcelona.

By the end of their weekend fixture, Arsenal alumni were asking an altogether different query: “Alex who?”

Diaby was omnipresent, boasting a 91 percent passing accuracy, second only to Mikel Arteta, as well as the third-highest amount of touches on his side, again beaten by Arteta and man of the match performer, Santi Cazorla.

However, Diaby was but one example of this newfound urgency, as the team were collectively more rapid in their attacks than they have become known for in recent seasons.

Even Thomas Vermaelen, the Gunners’ star centre-back, was quick to initiate an assault when he saw the opportunity.

Admittedly, the north London outfit may still have an issue when it comes to the final third, with Robin van Persie no longer present to pounce on the slightest glimmer of an opportunity should one arise.

Instead, Wenger was reliant on Olivier Giroud, the saviour of Montpellier’s 2011-12 Ligue 1 triumph.

The frontman will need time to mould into his new surroundings but showed very significant signs of rust against Liverpool, squandering what little opportunities he may have had, and wasting any injection of pace his midfield may have given to the Arsenal attack.

Two summer signings who aren’t taking long to settle in however, are Lukas Podolski and Santi Cazorla, the latter of whom was a creative marvel for his side and has been showing signs of brilliance since his arrival.

Cazorla showed against the Reds that he can be the talismanic playmaker Wenger thought him to be, and if he doesn’t get the ball to an attacking partner with a threaded through ball, his pace is enough to get it there himself.

Arsenal’s most lucrative period of glory came between the years of 1998 and 2005, a period where they won three Premier League titles, four FA Cups and four Community Shields.

Is it a coincidence that in these eight years of trophy success, six of them saw Thierry Henry finish as the club's top scorer?

Not to mention that Arsenal still had the talents of Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Cesc Fabregas, Gilberto Silva, Ashley Cole and other footballing greats for much of that period.

In short, the Gunners were lucky enough to have built a squad capable of beating any in Europe and certainly in England—a feat embodied in the “Invincibles'” era that was at its finest between 2001 and 2004.

It was during this time that Arsenal once again became feared for their passing prowess, and it was all thanks to the players Wenger had at his disposal.

So, the reason Arsenal concentrated their tactics around such a pass-orientated style was simply because the players they had allowed them to do so.

The vast majority of those stars have now moved on and, understandably so, Arsene Wenger has focused his efforts on attempting to recreate and re-envision that magnificent roster.

What the Frenchman should perhaps have been doing is looking at his ranks, and changing his tactics to suit those around him. Something that, by evidence of the win over Liverpool, may be the case now.

The last two years have seen Arsenal finally change their transfer policy to compete with the spending power of those around them, and it seems their football philosophy may now be just as flexible.

Long gone are the days of Henry, Bergkamp, Tony Adams and Pires but now could come the days of Cazorla, Diaby, Vermaelen and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

To say it’s jumping the gun would be an understatement, but Arsenal may find themselves succeeding under a new banner of fast, counter-attacking football that is as much an art form in its own right.

Marilyn Monroe is famed for once saying that: “Sometimes good things fall apart, so that better things can fall together.”

Well, Arsenal have most certainly seen their good things fall apart, so surely there’s only good times ahead?


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