I have vehemently criticised Arsene Wenger for his tactics, handling of players and transfer and ultimately poor management of the club in recent years. Like Rodgers and AVB he seemed too intent on following on ideal than being pragmatic to the league and what was necessary for success. Yet so far this season Wenger appears to have learnt his lessons.
When Arsenal decided to invest in a world class stadium in order to make Arsenal one of the world's best sides, Wenger understood that he would be limited financially to bring in players. His decision therefore was to build a project which focused on developing players and bringing in cheap recruits. His vision was to bring in youth players in order to teach them about Arsenal's style and culture.
However, the project was flawed. Arsenal neglected experience and in doing so they were weak both physically and mentally. During the "project" Arsenal have been found guility of over passing, with many seemingly wondering if they have forgotten the purpose of the game.
As well as their possession style football, their biggest concern has been their lack of organisation and care about their defence. Wenger appeared content to focus on the attack while neglecting the defensive inadequacies and mistakes which were costing Arsenal from being successful.
The replacement of Pat Rice with Steve Bould is clearly showing dividends and much praise has been lauded at Arsenal after three games. Now before I become too complimentary of Wenger, the reason Arsenal look so strong is because they appear to have actually worked on their defence. They appear better because they have simply practiced. It is a simple remedy to a problem which has been neglected.
A stitch in time saves nine
Imagine therefore if Wenger had decided to bring in a coach like Bould five years ago, when the problems were evident and when the side possessed genuine quality. The neglect of the defence led to a period of discontent due to a lack of success, which has meant top players have left to find a better side with a better chance of winning trophies.
Bould has clearly improved the side defensively, not just with the back four, but with the forwards especially wide players and the midfield three appears to know what they are doing in and out of possession. Arsenal do look more solid, yet it is early days before Arsenal are considered title challengers, yet fourth may be a possibility.
It would appear that Wenger's youth "project" is over. Players like Arteta, Mertesacker, Podolski and Cazorla are all experienced players. This is what Arsenal have lacked. The young players have lacked guidance and support in the tough games and thus Arsenal have appeared "weak". Adding essential experience to the side has certainly improved the side and will help the young players develop further.
Special mention should go to Mikel Arteta. I felt that Arteta went to Arsenal several years too late, however as with many older players, his role has taken a deeper position. Many questioned what Wenger was thinking to let Song go (I thought Song was poor last season) without bringing in an adequate replacement for that defensive midfield position.
I questioned the logic of not bringing in a player like Tiote or M’vila, yet it turns out that Arteta was exactly the player Arsenal needed. Last season it appeared Arteta was covering for Song more than actually playing that defensive midfield role, however on viewing Arsenal so far it appears Arteta is much better and essential for the side in that role when there permanently. His performance against (a poor) Liverpool was impressive, he broke up play, distributed the ball well and provided the necessary cover for his defence which was lacking last season with Song. Whether by design or luck Wenger has found the player which was necessary.
Lessons learnt and improvements seen
Arsenal have only scored twice so far yet they appear to have abandoned two “ideals” of which was costing them success. Over passing and height. Both appear to have been addressed this season. Whether because of their improved defence, causing them to defend slightly deeper and get more men behind the ball, has meant that the counter attack has become a fruitful route to goals.
It is similar to how Arsenal were in the early 2000’s when on winning the ball, they would get the ball to the final third in a matter of seconds. In the past few years this counter attack style was replaced with over playing when on the break. A fast break attack opportunity was lost when the midfield played too many passes or took too many touches. With Cazorla and Podolski Arsenal do appear to have players who are willing to counter quicker and with more direct play. The first goal against Liverpool showed this perfectly.
Finally, Arsenal look taller. I have spoken before how Arsenal’s reduction in size, strength and power has contributed to their barren run. With the strength of Campbell, Vieria and Silva the side was dominant and overpowered other sides. As Arsenal reduced in size they posed less of a threat and sides began to overpower them. Watching the game against Stoke and Liverpool Arsenal do appear to have regained that strength and power which served them so well before. Even players like Diaby and Mertesacker have impressed and although Jenkinson and Giroud have not been great yet, their height does indicate that Wenger sees the value again in height.
With this extra height Arsenal have looked to cross the ball more frequently. It may be important for Wenger to work on crossing in training because on viewing Gibbs and Jenkinson need much work to improve their crossing and feed Giroud with more quality.
Ironically as sides like United and Chelsea seek to play tiki-taka football Arsenal seem inclined to go against the grain. I do not always agree with the methods of Wenger, yet it would appear that his new assistant Steve Bould has given him some considerations which have been implemented.
For Arsenal fans it is a shame that these changes weren’t implemented several years ago when Arsenal were serious title challengers. I do not believe that Arsenal will win the title or the Champions League, yet it does appear they are on the road to improvement, this should be a welcome relief to Arsenal fans.