Small Is Beautiful
Arsenal’s invincibles team was built on strength, power and height. The midfield was tall, Pires and Ljunberg were 5’ 11”, Edu, Vieira and Gilberto were all six foot plus. The strikers were also tall. Slowly, for one reason or another, Wenger dismantled this squad and its place has introduced a new style of player for Arsenal.
Our current squad is made of small, mobile and skilful midfielders and strikers. Look at our midfield, Nasri, Walcott, Arshavin, Rosicky, Fabregas, Denilson, Ramsey, Wilshere and Merida. In attack we have Eduardo and Vela being on the small side.
Wenger has opted for a small, fast and mobile midfield. Wenger wants a midfield that will hunt in packs and attack as a group, using their superior skill rather than their strength to win the game.
The theory is that the modern game is moving away from brawn and muscle and towards a more mobile and skilful player, just as the days of the “traditional” English centre forward are over, no more Malcolm Macdonalds or Bob Latchfords, so Wenger believes the future of midfield giants like Vieira are over. If you look at Spain and Portugal their midfield does not have any giants, it consists of players like Alonso, Xavi, Moutinho and Velosso.
This is the rationale behind Wenger’s midfield, with Diaby being the exception. So far we have been unable to assert our authority over a series of games, primarily because the English game is based on brute strength and less on skill and ability. This is Wenger’s dichotomy, whereas the rest of Europe is moving towards a more skill orientated game, many teams in the Premier League are stuck in the 1980’s rut of long ball and playing the percentage game.
Some teams like Bolton, Stoke and Blackburn cause us problems with their antiquated long ball pressure football, and this has led many to advocate the recruitment of a strong muscular midfielder in the mould of Yaya Toure. Yet Wenger appreciates that whilst such a player may be useful, he also knows that football has moved on and Arsenal needs to stay ahead of the game even if that means we put ourselves under pressure against some of the long ball dinosaur managers. Arsene wants to see the likes of Denilson and Fabregas create the opposition problems with their passing game, rather than focusing on nullifying the opponents.
We saw last season how this midfield can work, when Fabregas, Flamini, Hleb and Rosicky combined effectively to dominate games. The secret here was they were all comfortable going forward, all had great close control and the emphasis of every attack was to move the ball forward. We were unable to build on our great start last season as the squad lacked depth when we lost key players.
Once we have a full compliment of players available, and the key to getting the midfield working is Fabregas, then Arsenal will be able to dominate teams once more. Arshavin fits into this midfield perfectly and a summer acquisition of Velosso will add further to a dominating midfield.
Wenger is right in developing this small, mobile midfield, but there we cannot turn our backs on players like Diaby who have so much to offer.