Arsenal: Harkening to Invincibles past brightens future

LONDON - APRIL 25: Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira of Arsenal celebrates with team-mates at the end of the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 25, 2004 in London. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
LONDON - APRIL 25: Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira of Arsenal celebrates with team-mates at the end of the FA Barclaycard Premiership match between Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal at White Hart Lane on April 25, 2004 in London. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images) /
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Jack Wilshere has stated that Arsene Wenger has hearkened back to the Invincibles way of pressing the ball in transition. Such a tactical shift only brightens Arsenal’s future.

One of the most frustrating aspects of Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal is the differing styles that he has demanded his sides play from decade to decade. During his first few seasons with the club, he instilled an intensity and purposefulness that bulldozed opposing teams. And then, gradually, the tempo slowed, lethargy seeped in, and success, as a result, dwindled.

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What was so threatening about the early Wenger teams was the blend of pace, power, and precision that they played with. They could win a physical battle, they could out-play their opponents in a technical match. They could out-run anyone; they could out-fight anyone. And that was because of the tempo that they played at.

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It is this tempo that Jack Wilshere says is being re-implemented in the current Arsenal side. Speaking with the official club website, Wilshere stated that Wenger is instructing them to press high up when they lose the ball, trying to win it back as quickly as possible when the game is in a period of transition:

"“The boss decided to change the shape last year, it worked well and he’s stuck with it. We’ve improved defensively as a team. In that transition when we lose the ball, we want to win it back quickly, like the best Arsenal teams over the years. The Invincibles were great at it because they’d lose the ball but then win it higher up and we’d be in a dangerous position. That’s probably the best change.”"

And given the personnel that Wenger has available to him, such a style, I think, is the best way to play. This current crop of players have always played their best football when they are on the front foot, injecting pace and impetus into the game, both when in possession, fizzing passes in and out of midfield, making those darting runs into the channels, and when out of possession, pressing their opponents, hounding and harassing them, giving them no time on the ball, suffocating the game, restricting any room to breathe or manoeuvre.

Given Wilshere’s recent comments, that seems to be the strategy that Wenger is trying to instill. And that is only a good thing. The Premier League especially rewards teams for playing at pace, with referees less likely to give fouls for slightly more aggressive and physical challenges. And the pressure that is forced as a result will yield mistakes. That is where Arsenal can truly make hay.

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It is an exciting shift in approach by Wenger, one that I did not expect to see. However, by harkening back to the style of play that inspired such unending success during the early years, Wenger is brightening the prospects of the present.