Arsenal are poor away from home compared to their big six rivals. Even with recent away wins over Watford and Napoli, the Gunners’ record on the road leaves much to be desired. However, they are among the Premier League’s best at home. Just why is this? The answer is that Arsenal’s poor away form is a looming spectre left by Arsene Wenger.
Facilitator, Not Creator
Wenger was among football’s most quotable managers during his Arsenal tenure. One quote in particular really speaks volumes about the Frenchman’s footballing philosophy. He said,
“Religiously, it is said that God created man. I am only a guide. I allow others to express what they have in them. I have not created anything. I am a facilitator of what is beautiful in man.”
This sums up Arsene Wenger’s philosophy quite well. While most managers want their players to do exactly as they are told, Wenger wanted his players to express themselves on the pitch with little instruction.
For many years this approach worked wonders and won Arsenal a plethora of trophies. However, such an approach does not work with every player. Consider the most successful signings of Wenger’s early years at Arsenal such as Emmanuel Petit, Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry.
All three already had experience at the highest level and were not in need of exact instruction while on the pitch. So, Wenger’s style suited them perfectly. However, once Arsenal committed to their youth policy during the stadium move, such players stopped arriving at the club.
Instead, a new breed of Arsenal players came to the club and Wenger’s style was shown to be less than effective. In fact, even former players thought his methods had become outdated. Martin Keown spent a season as one of Wenger’s assistants and recalled of the time,
“There was one player who was making positional mistakes that were costing the team goals. I wanted to flag up these mistakes to the player by showing him the footage but Wenger did not want him to see it. In Wenger’s view, if a player sees himself making mistakes the problem becomes even bigger in his mind.”
While Arsene Wenger’s desire to protect his players is admirable, it was also harmful in the long term. This also speaks to a major ideal of the Frenchman’s coaching style; playing your football regardless of opposition.
The idea was that if his team played their best football it wouldn’t matter what the opposition did. And for a period of time, this idea worked.
Playing Within One’s Self
Keeping concentration is vital for a top-flight footballer. While there is an argument that Wenger’s methods would allow a player to keep their concentration, there is too much proof to the contrary. Think back to all of the huge losses of Arsene Wenger’s tenure to illustrate this point.
When a modern footballer only focuses on themselves, they begin to play within themselves. Playing within one’s self leads to lapses of concentration and mistakes on the pitch. Arsene Wenger inadvertently encouraged his players to do just this by having them focus on only their own game.
This is why Arsenal were so inconsistent. When the Arsenal way worked, we would see beautiful football for 90 minutes and Wenger’s side would usually win by multiple goals. However, when the Arsenal way didn’t work, they usually lost by a large margin as well.
This inconsistency is only exacerbated by away matches. In such fixtures, the opposition are well prepared for a club like Arsenal and are often able to at least disrupt their game. Plus, players are naturally less comfortable away from their home ground.
Eventually, even when the Gunners finally began buying more experienced players such as Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, the damage was already done. This legacy has lasted all the way into Wenger’s successor’s first season.
Arsenal’s poor away form hasn’t gone away with the arrival of Unai Emery. However, it is slowly starting to change. This season, the Gunners have already taken more points away from home (22) than they did in all of last season (16).
“There’s a lot of difference. We work tactically more, we do more video as well, how the coach speaks is different than Wenger. It’s different. It’s hard to always compare the coaches because they have their own technique to manage the team.”
There are two big differences between Arsene Wenger and Unai Emery. First, Wenger wanted his players to focus more on their game than the opponents. Meanwhile, Emery is very happy to do more tactical work and prepare his players for specific scenarios that they will face on the pitch.
Second, he does more video. Instead of detracting from a player’s confidence, this actually adds the knowledge that the player indeed knows exactly what they need to do. The body language of players such as Alex Iwobi, Granit Xhaka and Lacazette shows how much more confident they are this season compared to last.
Giving specific instruction allows a player to relax and there is less temptation to retreat within themselves. It also increases confidence as they do not have to think, just react.
It would be naive to think that Unai Emery can solve Arsenal’s poor away form before the season is over. However, he is already getting better results on the road than Wenger did in his last season.
This bodes well for the future and suggests that perhaps the Gunners are beginning to turn a new leaf.
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