During what was arguably the most successful period in Arsenal History from the time Arsene Wenger took over in October of 1996 until the end of the 2004-2005 Season, Arsenal played a brand of football that was unmatched throughout the world. They were anything but the typical English team, a more skilled, fluid, technical team than the gritty teams relying largely on long balls and physicality. Although Arsenal could play a physical game when needed, more often they were defined by their brilliant passing and flair, seemingly creating chances that most other teams could never even thinking of having, much less stopping.
However, as the Arsenal moved away from Highbury and into the Emirates, and players began to leave, the technical ability of the squad, while still better than the majority of the premiership began to decline. Fast forward to today and it is clear that the majority of the Arsenal squad this year would fail to crack the starting lineup in any of Wenger’s teams during the “glory years”.
Whereas Wenger once had the players to make his system look like the best in the world, he no longer does, yet he still attempts to make it work. His desire is to continue to play the beautiful passing based fluid football that was used to numerous league titles and other successes. But, he would be better off if he didn’t. In the past two games, we have watched an Arsenal team that has struggled mightily defensively this season shut out Bayern Munich at the Allianz and defeated Swansea in Wales.
To put this into perspective, the last time Bayern lost at home without scoring before their loss to Arsenal was November 19th, 2011 when they lost 1-0 to Borussia Dortmund. That’s a stunning 480 days between home shutout losses. The clean sheet at Swansea was no easy feat either as Swansea have notched an impressive 40 goals in the EPL this year.
So what does this mean? Wenger should abandon his desire to play dominant total football until he again has the players to do so. The current Arsenal squad is one that if it took a strategy similar to Chelsea in the UCL last year, or as we have seen in the past couple games, a strategy based on solid defensive organization and counter attacking, could be much higher than just competing for fourth place. Sometimes, pride needs to be abandoned.