The French coach could not have had a worse start to the FA Cup Final at Wembley on Saturday as Hull City took the lead after just four minutes and doubled their lead inside eight minutes, leaving the stunned Gunners 82 minutes to take the tie to extra-time.
Which, of course, they did via a first-half beauty from Santi Cazorla and a 71st-minute strike from Laurent Koscielny, and in the 109th minute of the 120-minute final, man-of-the-moment Aaron Ramsey scored the winner to take the game to 3-2 in Arsenal’s favour in extra time.
However, with the game still at 2-1 the manager made an almighty decision that threw his usual game-plan out the window, by bringing on the young and inexperienced French striker Yaya Sanogo who has yet to score his first goal for the North Londoners.
Sanogo came on for Lukas Podolski after 61 minutes and within 10 minutes Arsenal had equalised. Sanogo’s arrival in the final-third created chaos within the Hull defence who had been quite comfortably dealing with the isolated threat of Olivier Giroud who was being kept quiet up until Sanogo came on but the 21-year-old presence, physically as well as spatially, made all the difference.
He dragged defenders out as well as Giroud, creating space in behind for the midfield runners of Ramsey, Cazorla, and later on Jack Wilshere and Tomas Rosicky to penetrate the Hull back-line and find pockets of space to get shots away.
Prior to Sanogo’s arrival on the pitch, Arsenal managed just seven shots and six on target in 61 minutes and in the following 61 minutes after he came on they managed 16 shots and 6 on target resulting in two goals. Arsenal were more than twice as dangerous in terms of their creation of chances with Sanogo on the pitch than they were without him.
The main reason for this was that Wenger effectively deployed him alongside Giroud in a 4-4-2 with the fullbacks pushing forward to create more of a 2-6-2 at times when Arsenal had large spells of possession.
They had 65% of the possession over the course of 122 minutes but only really made the most of it once Sanogo came on, due to his presence unsettling and distracting the Hull back line along with Giroud and they, as a duo, were simply too much to handle, which meant they left far too much room for the midfielders to run into as they became more stretched.
So, with that in mind is there a possibility Wenger will revert to his old 4-4-2 system next term? He was very successful with variations of that formation when he first arrived in the late 1990s and it was not until the retirement of Dennis Bergkamp that he seemed to retire that formation. As Thierry Henry became the focal point of the Gunners’ attack and then later Robin van Persie, the midfield and wide players became more prominent in terms of their contributions but could the French coach revert back to that now?
We know (or heavily suspect) that he will bring in another centre-forward this summer with names like France colleague Karim Benzema being thrown around but it has been automatically assumed that is to compete with Giroud for the lone striker role. If the FA Cup final’s gamble (which certainly paid off) is anything to go by, we could well see a striker come in to partner him up front.