Rules of Engagement: Wenger Shows Willingness to Adapt
Arsenal's 2-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium was a welcome tonic for supporters of the club.
Not since the era of Downton Abby had the Gunners achieved victory over a team that had finished in the UEFA Champions League spots. 16 games played to be exact; an alarming record illustrating the multitude of deficiencies that have plagued Arsenal Football Club in their challenge against the elite teams of the Barclay's Premier League.
On Sunday, it was Wenger's willingness to adapt his approach and tactics that allowed his team to cruise to a comfortable win.
The Professor said au revoir to champagne football and bonjour to compact, resolute, defending.
Arsenal set a deep line of engagement, allowing the Citizens to posses inside their own half, and enjoy 65% of the ball; establishing two banks of of four and five players in the middle and defensive third, they conceded little penetration, and played on the counter with a legitimate, balanced, game plan that frustrated, denied, and ultimately exposed the reigning champions.
This weekend Arsenal discovered a winning formula.
The manager, somewhat out of character, was willing to sacrifice a degree of free flowing, all out attack-minded commitment to getting players up the pitch, and forgo, to some extent, his unwavering desire to dominate possession as a primary objective.
This allowed the Gunners to compete against the holders.
The squad absorbed and deflected pressure, and after regaining possession, began to utilize the supersonic mental processing of Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, and Tomas Rosicky to exploit the outstanding pace and trickery of Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Wenger's side may not be quite as fast as Real Madrid's lighting-quick counterattack, but they can come close, especially if they chose to play direct and ignite the Chilean and English rocketeers after recovering the ball.
There was an admirable assuredness, collectivism, and maturity about the squad.
Hard to imagine, or overlook, that a big part of the equilibrium on display for Arsenal the last few matches has been due to the outstanding Francis Coquelin. The young Frenchman has been a breath of fresh air in front of Arsenal's back four. His reading of angles, positioning, and tenacity in the challenge has been just what the doctor ordered.
Whatever they're putting in the water down at The Valley seems to have worked wonders for the loanee.
Coquelin's impact, and the signing of young Polish prodigy Krystian Bielik seems to indicate that Wenger will not sign an established player for the position of defensive center-mid.
Arsenal absolutely require a world class player in that role and only time will tell if Coquelin or Bielik fit the bill; for now, it seems clear that the former's solid performances and the later's upside will rule out big name signings like Moussa Sissoko or Ilkay Gundogan.
Thirteen days remain in January and Wenger has made it clear that signing a center-back is top priority.
If Arsene can secure the talents of a Fabian Schar, Virgil Van Dijik, or Winston Reid, and further expand upon and develop the recent willingness to alter the team philosophy in critical fixtures verse the heavyweights, the Gunners look set to be on the ascendency in their quest to retain the FA Cup and make a deep run in the knock-out stages of the Champions League.