There has been widespread criticism and dismay at the recent policy of Arsene Wenger in which he prefers to let his young players grow while signing other younger players to provide Arsenal with what can be seen as an exciting future. Many people see this as an approach which is doomed to fail and can be summarised with the now infamous quote by Alan Hansen ‘You never win anything with kids’. However, with the current style which Wenger prefers from his side, I don’t see any other way of attempting to reach success.
In the last few years, there has been a vast, if reasonably un-noticed, shift in the style of play Arsenal try to play in an attempt to end their trophy drought. At the beginning of the 2009-10 season, Wenger’s traditional 4-4-2 formation was changed to a more fluid and, seemingly, solid style of 4-5-1/4-3-3 with two wingers and three interchanging central midfielders supplying the ‘false nine’ position which Robin van Persie seems to be made for.
This approach means that Arsenal have begun to play a patient, possession-based style of football which aims to pass the ball across midfield, keeping it on the floor and probing for opportunities by working their way through the opposition’s usually deep defence. This is different to the previous style of fast tempo, counter-attacking football which had been seen since Wenger took over and had provided three league titles, including the Invincibles of 2003-04.
One of the advantages to this new style was that there was extra protection in front of a defence which had looked shaky and had been Arsenal’s main weakness in recent years as they had struggled to replace stalwarts such as Sol Campbell, Lauren and Ashley Cole. Having an extra central midfielder meant they could harry more in midfield, winning the ball further up field and starting attacks in more advanced positions, as had been seen by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona in winning the treble the previous season.
Along with this extra solidity, it gave The Gunners’ midfield pivot and playmaker, Cesc Fabregas, the ability to play further forward, behind the striker, and took some of the defensive responsibility off him which had inhibited him in a central midfield two.
As a result of this tactical shift, it has led Arsenal’s style to being far more specialist in the requirements of the players playing it and an increased reliability on players who had grown up playing the ‘Arsenal Way’, specifically in the midfield three. In the 2009-10 season, the first choice midfield consisted of Alex Song, Denilson and Fabregas. The first two having been at the club since the age of 18 and the Spaniard since he was 15.
They had grown through their latter teenage years being taught the play this style of football and having Arsenal’s mentality instilled in them at the London Colney hub. By this time, the three of them had amassed twelve years at Arsenal between them and were all confident and assured in playing this patient style of football which led to great success in the first half of that season until injuries and poor mentalities conspired against them to end with another trophy-less season.