The insane stat that goes some way to explaining Arsenal’s lack of progress under Wenger
After Arsenal’s comprehensive 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge, the future of Arsene Wenger was once again the subject of heated debate.
It’s 13 years since the Gunners last won the English Premier League title and their hopes of ending that barren spell were left in tatters, after they were outmuscled and outclassed by a rampant Chelsea team.
So, where has it all gone wrong for Arsenal? To answer this, let’s first look back to the reverse fixture between the two sides, played at the Emirates in September. Arsenal ran out easy winners, defeating the Blues 3-0 and fueling that early-season optimism that seems to be an annual feature.
Wenger’s side played their usual shape in that victory but Antonio Conte, who was under pressure after a somewhat indifferent start to the season, reacted. He switched to a 3-man defence and Chelsea haven’t looked back since. They now have a 12 point cushion over Arsenal and the yearly inquisition has started at the Emirates.
The usual excuse that is banded about is that Arsenal are not competitive enough in the transfer market to compete with Chelsea, Manchester United and Manchester City for the top players, while some pundits argue that their players don’t have the stomach for a fight.
The problem may lie elsewhere though, firmly at Wenger’s door. WhoScored provide detailed statistics on the starting formats used by each Premier League club – Wenger has gone for a 4-2-3-1 set-up in every single game this season. However, perhaps even more worrying is the fact that the Frenchman has gone with the same system in every game for 5 of the last 6 seasons, that’s an insane 201 times out of their last 214 Premier League matches.
Sure, Arsenal’s football can be pleasing on the eye but the repetition makes them too easy to read, they can easily be outnumbered in key areas of the pitch and their weaknesses become far too obvious.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the 4-2-3-1 formation. Spurs used it in all but two of their Premier League matches last season, when they gave Leicester a good run for their money in the title race. Mauricio Pochettino hasn’t rested on his laurels though and he’s been mixing things up to great effect this time around. He went with a 4-1-4-1 pressing game against Manchester City at White Hart Lane earlier in the season and more recently opted to match Chelsea’s three at the back. Spurs won both games, claiming six precious points in the process that could prove pivotal come May.
José Mourinho started with two up top at Leicester on Saturday but switched his formation after just 20 minutes and United ran out emphatic winners. Mourinho likes to assess the opposition and he will gladly sacrifice a player, effectively turning a contest into a 10-a-side game if the situation warrants.
Arsenal have some talented players, not least Alexis Sánchez, who has had a fantastic season, turning himself into a ‘must-have’ fantasy football pick in the process and the Gunners are the joint-top scorers in the division. However, Wenger has a stubborn streak in him, with a philosophy that always wants to impose his brand of football on proceedings. Unfortunately for him, his side gets found out far too often on the big occasion – they still haven’t secured a Champions League trophy despite qualifying in every single season, prompting the question of how much longer failure will be tolerated by the Emirates faithful?
Those ‘In Arsene we trust’ banners might not be around for too much longer!