Arsenal: Arsene Wenger must be the counter to his and team’s norm

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his sides fifth goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on February 3, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 03: Aaron Ramsey of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his sides fifth goal during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on February 3, 2018 in London, England. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images) /
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Arsene Wenger has stated that it is important that Arsenal find the balance between attack and defence. It is he who must provide the counter to his and his player’s norm.

Aaron Ramsey’s second, and Arsenal’s third, goal, after his shot deflected off Eliquiam Mangala, sliding, agonisingly, through the palm of Jordan Pickford, who perhaps should have been stronger to parry it up and over the crossbar to safety, was the perfect demonstration of the attacking potential of this team.

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Shkodran Mustafi wins the ball in the defensive-right quadrant of the pitch. Hector Bellerin picks up the pieces and plays a clever little pass into a centralised Granit Xhaka. Xhaka then spreads the ball to the spacious left flank, where, after a lovely first-time lay-off and then return between Mesut Ozil and Alex Iwobi, the former scampers down the wide channel. Ozil then plays a pass back to Iwobi, who is in support, who then tees up Ramsey on the edge of the area to shoot.

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It was a lovely goal. A quick, free-flowing break, from one corner of the pitch to other in just six passes. It was indicative of some of the sumptuous football that Arsenal played. And it also revealed the natural tendencies of this team, and its manager: attack. As soon as Bellerin receives possession deep in his own half, under pressure and needing an outlet, he doesn’t simply clear to touch. Rather, he bides his time, before playing a pass that sets up the sweeping counter-attack. He, as his manager has instructed, was looking to attack first, defend second.

That natural philosophy is good, but it needs to be tamed, controlled, curtailed somewhat. That is something that Arsene Wenger has always been a little hesitant to do, even if he recognises it as a need. This is what Wenger had to say, in his post-match press conference, about the performance, and how it sets him and his players up for the remainder of the year:

"“Our challenge, I think, is to find the balance. We are a very offensive team, we want to play that kind of football, but we have to find the balance between attacking and defending and that will certainly be our challenge between now and the end of the season.”"

Wenger is absolutely correct in the assessment of his own challenge. He cannot allow the many attacking options that he has to grow unhinged and untamed. Football is a game of balance, compromise and connection. It is futile to have one mightily powerful strong area and another shortcoming undermining all of its great work. That is what Arsenal are in danger of doing.

The problem is that Wenger himself as an extremely attacking coach. His philosophy centres on creating and scoring goals. When it clicks, as it did against Everton, it is truly wonderful to watch. When it doesn’t, results can be far harder to find.

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Wenger must challenge his own natural instincts. He must control his own tendencies, his own desires, his own principles. I, unfortunately, have little confidence in his ability to do so. This was a wonderful performance and a wonderful win, but consistency is now required.