There has been a distinct lack of new signings at Arsenal this summer, but one thing that is effortless to see is the club’s change in strategy.
Arsene Wenger’s side have only lost one Premier League game since March, against Aston Villa on the opening day of the season, stretching back thirteen games to the defeat in the North London Derby at White Hart Lane after which the club’s playing strategy has been tweaked.
After moving to the Emirates in 2006 Arsene Wenger has looked for his side to play a wide, expansive game as his side control possession drawing criticism at times as Arsenal look to score the “perfect goal” with their fluid passing style.
This hasn’t always been the case for Le Professeur’s sides with his early sides developing a reputation for counter-attacking football, sitting deep, playing off a rigid backline before launching their counter-attacks with blistering pace provided then by the likes of Marc Overmars and Thierry Henry and also being notoriously ill-disciplined.
However coinciding with the move to their new home, and slight change in strategy which it could be argued was first implemented after the success of the Invincibles side of 2003/04 has been the change in recruitment, Arsenal have gone from a side full of big, physically strong and powerful players running through the core of the team to those capable of unlocking even the tightest of defence with their creativity and flair, with even the defenders bought in recent years capable of playing out of defence (barring Per Mertesacker).
After that defeat in March to archrivals Tottenham, in which it was clear Arsenal lacked a ball-winning midfield player a position that has been seen as not as important by Wenger as he looks for creative players in all positions of the pitch, having never convincingly replaced Patrick Vieira, Arsenal learned to be stubborn at the back and win matches by the odd goal. This is typified in the Gunners’ last three away matches of the last campaign as they took fourth from under the noses of Spurs. Wenger’s men won all three one-nil, grinding out the victories they needed.
As many fans have called for the addition of marquee signings it is obvious to see the collective team spirit that their excellent run has provided, with players like Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker and even Tomas Rosicky becoming vital to the way the side operates as they were previously largely regarded as players holding the club back. That’s not to say these player still don’t need replacing as Arsenal’s squad is threadbare and they will look to add quality to the squad as they look to end the eight year trophy drought or that Arsene Wenger has struggled in the current climate of the transfer market, highlighted since the departure of David Dein.
This change in mentality leads more to importance of the team effort rather than focus on individual brilliance as was perhaps previously the case, helping lift the pressure on the likes of Theo Walcott whose pace is key to springing counters and Olivier Giroud who was previously clearly struggling to deal with the expectancy lumbered on him after the departure of Robin van Persie, with both starting the new campaign expertly.
It’s not to say the club are still not capable of playing their expansive passing football as they will surely do against lesser sides at the Emirates but away from home the side will most probably look to shut-up-shop in cagey matches, as well in games against other sides competing for the top four.
In previous seasons Wenger’s side have looked to implement their game even in the top fixtures, but without the strength his teams use to posses and the absence of a ball-winner in the centre of the midfield they have often been overrun, especially against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City. However in today’s North London Derby Arsenal implemented their rediscovered counter-attacking style with Spurs dominating the possession but Arsenal coming out with the crucial goal, it was a similar case against Manchester United at the back end of last season although an individual error from Bacary Sagna gave van Persie his chance to equalise from the penalty spot.
This counter-attacking blueprint could be the way for Wenger to bring back silverware, with individual errors costing Arsenal when they have had a chance to secure trophies, although they won’t be fancied for the league title with the lack of strength in depth, but the underdog title could help the Gunners go under the radar in other competitions.
Counter-attacking has been productive for other sides around the continent with Chelsea winning the Champions League off the back of their stubborn defence and Dortmund’s variation almost landing the same prize last season too.
One-nil to the Arsenal is a chant that is synonymous with the club, especially during the days of George Graham, but with Wenger looking to go back to a counter style expect the chant to ring around the Emirates once more.