Reshuffle: Will Welbeck bring enough to the table? Is Arsène a card short in his defensive deck this season?

At the last showing Arsenal’s weaknesses were rather exposed. Against Leicester the team missed Olivier Giroud, while injury to Laurent Koscielny was a reminder of the shortage of central defenders. The question sailing on the final draught whistling insistently through the closing transfer window was whether the late signing of Danny Welbeck and a preparedness to juggle defensive options would be enough to cover the gaps?

Welbeck's shirt hangs in Arsenal's Changing Room
Welbeck’s shirt hangs in Arsenal’s Changing Room

The sound of Arsenal’s travelling support imploring Wenger to buy another striker echoed around the King Power Stadium against the Foxes as Arsenal endured another relatively disjointed game. However, with the capture of Welbeck Wenger will argue that he has conclusively filled that gap. The transfer nay have divided opinion, but there is no doubting that there is potential for success.

However, it is that other conspicuous gap which leaves many concerned. Even last season Arsenal were lightly staffed at centre back, with the first choice of Mertesacker and Koscielny only supported by the benched Thomas Vermaelen, and Bacary Sagna making some commendable emergency appearances in the centre.
It was clear for a long time that Vermaelen’s future lay away from Arsenal and following his departure for Barcelona,
Wenger has admitted that the club need to strengthen the defence.

Debuchy has arrived, a great replacement for Sagna at right back, but not able to cover in the centre. Meanwhile, Chambers has produced some composed performances in that position so far and shown the potential that encouraged Arsène to spend £16 million on securing his services.

However, beyond Chambers the only other senior cover for both right back and centre back berths is Nacho Montreal. Indeed Montreal was deployed at centre back several times during preseason. The further departure of Ignasi Miquel and Carl Jenkinson leaves the defence looking rather sparse.

With some shuffling Arsenal might make it through the season. Perhaps Monreal is seen to have sufficient skill to cover at centre back, something that might get him the increased game time he desires, but Wenger has left himself with a very, very small fig leaf to cover the defence. Any injuries to Mertesacker or Koscielny could spell disaster. Following years of turmoil at the back, defensive stability has been one of the key factors in our improved performances over the past two seasons, the high scoring disasters against the big sides notwithstanding.

Even last season Arsenal played at risk in the centre back position and only made it through with Sagna standing in. Now they have one option fewer.

This approach seems odd and was nicely summed up by Amy Lawrence in the Guardian recently.

However, one should acknowledge that striker was almost as concerning. While it is fair to say that the transfer of Danny Welbeck has not set the world alight, he is an improvement on options in that area and the general consensus is that he is a talented young English player who needs a chance to prove himself. This is an opportunity he will have at Arsenal.

His rather shifty appearance at his first interview belies the shock he must be feeling after deciding to leave the club he has played for for 15 years in just a matter of hours, but the opportunity that awaits him at Arsenal with Giroud out and Sanogo remaining unconvincing is too great. If he can take this on successfully he has the chance to do at Arsenal what he couldn’t quite manage at Old Trafford.

A relatively promising cameo for England against Norway was followed up by a good performance against Switzerland, and most importantly two goals. The second of these was well taken and it is clear that Welbeck has a point to prove. The comments from Van Gaal criticising his development and record should hopefully spur him on to greater things at Arsenal this season.

On internationals, it is a strange feeling to see an England squad with four Arsenal players and more to return. Though this doesn’t say much about Arsenal considering the current quality of the England team, I think it is fair to say that Arsenal have some of the more promising prospects, whether that potential is fulfilled is another question. The British core at the club is oft talked of, and clearly a lesson Wenger has learned following the emotional departures of certain players over recent years.

In terms of the transfer window Arsenal have been relatively successful, barring the fact that they didn’t get the centre back required and appeared a touch disorganised in the last minute chase for a striker that led to Welbeck.

In general the team’s performances so far have been rather stuttering but the side remain undefeated. The real test will come in the next game where they face Manchester City at home. Will Welbeck start in the centre? It seems likely.

Is winning trophies important? A comparison of titles and success in English football: Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – The Trophy Data

On Sunday age old questions over the definition of footballing success resurfaced as Arsène Wenger’s current generation of Arsenal players failed in their bid to win a trophy of their own in the Carling Cup final against Birmingham, who prevailed to win their first silverware in forty eight years, against the side who have been waiting a mere six.

Is winning trophies the definition of a good side? Most football fans would agree that it proves something, but there are always those who judge sides on other merits. Indeed the cult of the glorious loser is one that only increases with age.

The pain of defeat: Carsten Jancker in tears after losing 2-1 to United in the Champions League Final 1999, and Jack Wilshere confiding in Eboue after the latest Arsenal defeat.

Say what you like about the Carling Cup, but it represents something tangible, a measure of mental strength, which Wenger’s current side, led by Cesc Fábregas have been accused of lacking time and again. There are those who claim arrogance on the part of Wenger’s charges in their adherence to a certain style of play, but it has to be said that in terms of basic quality the side does have the potential to win something.

Continue reading “Is winning trophies important? A comparison of titles and success in English football: Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal – The Trophy Data”

Can Wenger win the Champions League at Arsenal? Understanding Arsène and Europe through the lens of AS Monaco vs. Werder Bremen Cup Winners’ Cup Final 1992

In the final installment of Wenger: The Beginnings we bring you a tale of heartbreak and mystery. The 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup Final.

European continental competition is club football’s greatest stage, the final frontier, a pinnacle of achievement. Millions of people around the globe watched Arsenal’s 2-1 Champions League triumph over Barcelona last Wednesday night. This was Arsenal’s first against the ‘best team in history’, and most of all this was a moment to savour for Arsène Wenger. Success in Europe has consistently evaded Wenger, arguably the greatest manager never to win a European trophy.

There is no doubting Wenger’s depth of experience in Europe. Even in his modest playing career he managed to appear at centre back in a UEFA Cup tie for RC Strasbourg in 1979. His selection there was out of desperation, the youth team coach called into the side against Duisberg, only to see his side lose 4-0. As a manager though, he is a veteran, playing teams in Europe since 1988, and leading Arsenal into the Champions League every year since 1998. However, the pain of those campaigns which never quite lived up to expectation still lingers.

Wenger and Jean Petit on the bench during Monaco’s 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup final in Lisbon.

Continue reading “Can Wenger win the Champions League at Arsenal? Understanding Arsène and Europe through the lens of AS Monaco vs. Werder Bremen Cup Winners’ Cup Final 1992”

Arsène Wenger: The Nancy Years

You’ve heard the story of Wenger’s time at Monaco and some of his transfer tales. Now prepare for the latest in Wenger: The Beginnings, on his days at AS Nancy from Andrew Gibney.

Today Arsène Wenger stands as one of the most respected managers in football. When he moved into the Arsenal hot seat in 1996 no-one could have predicted the influence he would have on not just the Gunners, but the whole of English football.

His managerial career hasn’t always been full of praise and plaudits though. Pundits will always quote his time and France as the seven years he spent at Monaco from 1987, winning the league and cup and the appearance in the UEFA Cup Winners Cup final, but the story starts years earlier.

Arsène Wenger as a young coach, interviewed in 1984 on taking the job with AS Nancy. Interview and translation.

Before being handed the reins at the principality club Wenger had gone through a tough initiation. Starting as RC Strasbourg’s youth team coach in 1981, he spent two years there before joining AS Cannes as an assistant manager to Jean-Marc Guillou in 1983 (later of KSK Beveren). After just a year in Cannes it was time for Arsène to take his first senior job, at AS Nancy-Lorraine, after being offered the job by a certain Aldo Platini.

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Is winning trophies important? Arsenal trophies since 1925: Graphic Data and Herbert Chapman

With Arsenal’s triumph over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup on Sunday, passed a fixture of significance few failed to note. The name of Herbert Chapman dominates both clubs, a revolutionary manager who engineered periods of success for each in turn, and pioneered the counter-attacking W-M formation at Arsenal which culminated in back to back title wins in the 1930s, a feat never achieved since.

The great Herbert Chapman. Image courtesy of Adam Bowie under Creative Commons licence.

Not only did Chapman win an FA Cup and two titles for Huddersfield Town, but won Arsenal’s first trophy within five years, the FA Cup in 1930, oddly enough against his previous employers, Huddersfield. Although he suffered a premature death in 1934, Chapman set the side up to continue in winning ways until 1938, after which wartime interruption broke the momentum of the Arsenal.

Only one manager has exceeded Chapman’s reputation at Arsenal, and that is the current incumbent, Arsène Wenger. The first decade of Wenger’s reign was one of success, doubles and Invincibles. Since 2005 however, pundits are quick to remind Arsène that the trophy tally is zero.

In light of this I’ve developed a graphic timeline combining the competitive trophies won by Arsenal since Herbert Chapman joined the club in 1925. The achievements of the first great Arsenal manager are clear, including the first in 1930; Arsenal won five league titles and two FA Cups in eight years.

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The curious case of Alberto Méndez: An ‘Arsenal transfer’s story’

The name of Alberto Méndez is one familiar to aficionados of Premier League stars who never were, that of a Wenger signing who never quite made the grade at Arsenal. In 1997 he was ‘the craziest football story of the summer’, but joined the small list of players including the likes of Stefan Malz and Tomas Danilevicus who came from nowhere but never fulfilled the potential Wenger saw in them. For every Patrick Vieira or Thierry Henry there are hundreds of these, young men plucked from obscurity, very much a hallmark of Wenger’s successful transfer policies.

However, Alberto has a story of his own to tell. Andrey Arshavin may not know it, but this previous incumbent of the number 23 shirt also went on to become a skillful midfielder. Like Arshavin, this season has been a tumultuous one for the German of Spanish descent.

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Introducing Arsène Wenger, the Early Years: Failure and success in France from Strasbourg to AS Monaco. A Call for Writers.

Arsène Wenger changed the face of English football in 1996. A controversial view, but undoubtedly the statement contains some truth. The Frenchman was one of the first successful foreign managers in the country. He can be credited with the introduction of a unique footballing philosophy which persists to this day, complemented through added nuances after years of experience at the top of the world game.

But what of the past? Much is made of the fact that Wenger managed a young Thierry Henry at AS Monaco, or that he managed Nagoya Grampus Eight in Japan, but there is little widespread coverage of his time prior to Arsenal, what he achieved, and his playing style, apart from the obligatory Wikipedia entries, and cursory histories.

Continue reading “Introducing Arsène Wenger, the Early Years: Failure and success in France from Strasbourg to AS Monaco. A Call for Writers.”

How to beat Stoke City: Tony Pulis, Wenger and Mental Strength

Stoke City represent somewhat of an unassailable wall to many teams. Arsenal are an opponent who have struggled against a particularly rugged Tony Pulis side since their rise to the Premier League in 2008. Stoke have beaten Arsenal twice in the last three games at the Britannia, but never at home in two appearances.

Image courtesy of Ronnie MacDonald. Under Creative Commons Licence.

The contrast in styles could not be greater, and my sensibilities are in principle much against the Stoke method. On the other hand arrogance is a deeply unattractive trait, and Pulis deserves credit for his very efficient work with Stoke  no matter what the feelings you have over his style.

In reality survival in the Premier League boils down to money, and for clubs such as Stoke City, that resource is at a premium. Not only that but it is permanently limited by the fact that Stoke itself is a smaller club with limited ability to bring in large turnovers, or increase their fanbase drastically.

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Arsenal’s form at Old Trafford: Analysing Man Utd vs. Arsenal stats and videos in the Premier League Era

Considering Monday’s fixture at Old Trafford we’ve looked at the statistics for Arsenal vs. Manchester United fixtures in the Premier League era, and added in some video highlights too.

Both sides have a rich history of Premier League rivalry since Arsène Wenger’s arrival at the club in 1996, with some classic matches and infamous incidents. The Van Nistelrooy penalty miss and Keown’s celebrations, the Wiltord title winner at Old Trafford, or Man Utd’s 6-1 victory against a central defence of Stepanovs and Luzhny were all defining moments. Add into that various tunnel fracas, the Keane Vieira rivalry, pizza throwing, and last season’s debacle which saw Wenger sent to the stands, and you have an all action fixture.

Arguably the rivalry has diminished in recent years as Arsenal have slipped away from consistent top two finishes, but the fixture is still one of the most infamous in world football.

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Do Arsenal have the worst defence to lead the Premier League at this stage?

The Premier league has a new leader. On Saturday Arsenal ascended to the top of the table thanks to a misfiring Chelsea and a frozen pitch in Blackpool. Everyone knows about Arsenal’s fantastic attacking options providing the goals; Samir Nasri in particular is in the form of his life. But the most problematic, often criticised area is a defence which can give way too easily.

Image courtesy of Ronnie Macdonald. Under Creative Commons Licence.

On Sunday night, Robbie Savage was asked on Match of the Day 2 whether the Arsenal defence are the worst to top the league at this stage. Robbie’s answer was a definitive yes.

The question is – is this claim true? And whether it is or not – what is the relative state of the Arsenal backline compared to seasons past?

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