Since Arsene Wenger arrived at Arsenal, he has rarely veered from the staple English 4-4-2, however in a subtle manner, he has reinterpreted it. To understand Arsene Wenger’s tactical strategy at Arsenal, we must visit his tactical education in France and Japan.
At Monaco, in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Wenger employed a fluid 4-4-2 that accommodated as many attack minded players in the line up as possible. The full backs made ventures beyond the halfway line with the wide midfielders and normally a ball playing playmaker in the middle, providing ammunition for his venomous strikers. This was aided by having two commanding central defenders and a protective defensive midfielder to give balance to the team.
At the back, he had the raiding French right back Manuel Amoros, the towering centre back Luc Sonor with the emerging Lillian Thuram and Emmanuel Petit. In midfield he bought in the under appreciated playmaker Glen Hoddle, the current Lyon manager Claude Puel as the midfield buffer and a prodigious Youri Djorkaeff on the flank. Up front he had a hungry striker by the name of George Weah as well as the likes of Mark Hately and Jurgen Klinsmann.
These tactics delivered one Ligue Un title in 1988, and in between many near misses on both the domestic and continental fronts, then again he was up against the legendary Olympique Marseille team that went on to win four championships in a row, with another stripped for match fixing allegations. Monaco were widely acknowledged to play the best football in France at the time, with only the likes of Sacchi’s AC Milan and Van Gaal’s Ajax playing football as attractive as them in Europe, with the former awash with Bellusconi’s money and Ajax’s golden generation emerging led by Dennis Bergkamp.
Against this backdrop, he was formally approached for the coveted Les Bleus job, which he turned down, his visionary tactics were heavily favoured since France had failed to qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups and performed dismally in Euro 92. Public consensus saw Wenger as the ideal man to lead stars like Papin, Cantona, Ginola, and integrate the young players like Petit, Deschamps, and Djaorkaeff, in playing to their potential and not the boring play produced by Platini and Houllier. Tactically in France, Wenger is known as one of the most shrewd, to defeat his opponents through flair attacking football.
In his sabbatical in Japan, he clearly had his eye on a bigger job in Europe. In a country where football was an emerging sport being enthused by Brazilian legend Zico, Wenger was able to experiment more with his tactics whilst keeping himself motivated. His team Grampus Eight carried on the attacking purpose, scoring 99 goals in 51 league games in the 1995 season. Factored in he had some limited players, the goal tally remains very impressive in his debut season.
This short stint was as Wenger bided his time, and when Arsenal wanted a change in style from the ‘boring boring Arsenal’, the Wenger Era was nigh.