Wenger: Forget about the opponent - Risky business?

Arsene Wenger Casual

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger fielded questions in his press conference on Friday, ahead of Arsenal’s trip to White Hart Lane on Sunday where they face Tottenham Hotspur and Gareth Bale.

The Arsenal manager must have expected Spurs’ young Welshman would be the focus of his pre-match press conference and, upon being asked if his preparations for this weekend’s North London derby had been focused on Bale, he replied:

“Always the same – focus on our strengths and forget about the opponent.”

Now, I understand that the Gunners’ boss always adopts this philosophy – he sets his team out to play their game, regardless of the opposition they face, whether that be Bayern Munich, Stoke, or Manchester United. As he says, it’s ‘always the same’.

But, as we have seen in recent seasons, especially against Manchester United, Wenger’s reluctance to be flexible, versatile, and to adapt has cost them. Arsenal fans will not thank me for reminding them but when Arsenal were beaten 8-2 at Old Trafford last season, it was the Frenchman’s reluctance to ‘shut up shop’ and employ damage control tactics that United capitalized on.

No matter who they play the boss always adopts Plan A and, to a large extent, there is no Plan B. We’ve seen that this season in abundance – Arsenal have dropped points against Swansea at home, Norwich away, Stoke away and Sunderland at home due to the opponent’s tactical nous.

Other teams and managers are well aware of how to organize themselves against Arsenal. They know if they can break up the play, camp out in their own half for much of the game, play narrow and compact defensive football, they will always get an opportunity to catch the Gunners on the break or from a set-piece. Those tactics have undone them time and time again.

Arsenal, against those tactics, sometimes struggle to break them down, find that final penetrative ball or the finish to go with it and, subsequently, become frustrated, nervous and, frankly, stumped. When they run out of ideas, there is no Plan B.

Tottenham will not play that way on Sunday – the game will be open and they will attack in wave after wave, as the home side they’ll play their game – but I wonder whether Arsene Wenger might consider Gareth Bale, as Spurs’ most dangerous threat by a long stretch, as the player Arsenal need to prepare for.

When Manchester United visited the Bernabeu last month Phil Jones did a marvellous job of shackling Cristiano Ronaldo. When Arsenal visited Old Trafford this season, Wayne Rooney kept Santi Cazorla quiet. Wenger must incorporate Gareth Bale into his Plan A if Arsenal are interested in winning the game.

When Arsenal had their unbeaten run with their Invincibles team, they could afford to ‘forget about the opponent’ because they had superior quality and fitness to every other team in the league.

That is no longer the case – Tottenham are as fit and have players of exceptional quality who can hurt the Gunners. They must remember that. If Arsenal take Wenger’s instruction and ‘forget about the opponent’ they may as well forget about Champions League football next season.

Watch the press conference below:

image: © wonker

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