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Thursday 11 October 2012

Wenger: Barclays Premier League has undergone tactical shift

Arsenal manager says a tactical sea change has occurred since he came to Barclays Premier League

  • Arsene Wenger gives a fascinating tactical insight in this month's Arsenal magazine

  • The 4-4-2 was the default setting of the Barclays Premier League in Wenger's early days

  • Wenger's expansive football style secured the League and FA Cup double in 1997/98

  • Thierry Henry was converted from winger to striker as Arsenal won the 2001/02 double

  • Facing European opponents such as Gus Hiddink's PSV Eindhoven influenced club thinking

  • Robin van Persie was another successful convert from the wing to the lone striker role

  • Skilful Italy and Juventus midfielder Andrea Pirlo has redefined the holding midfielder role

  • Gervinho is the latest wide midfielder to be deployed up front for Arsenal to good effect

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger believes the Barclays Premier League has evolved tactically since he arrived to manage in the English top flight in 1996.

The 62-year-old, who recently celebrated his 16th anniversary at Arsenal, says that when he came to England, the prevailing formation deployed by Barclays Premier League managers was the 4-4-2 system.

"Today teams are more versatile, they can go to three defenders, five defenders, they can go to 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, all kinds of variants"
Arsene Wenger

Since then, however, there has been a strategic evolution with clubs turning to a variety of different formations, such as the 4-3-3 generally deployed by Wenger's side and even systems using three at the back, as manifested by Manchester City this season.

"When I arrived in England I would say there was one rigid formation, 4-4-2," said Wenger, who has guided the club to three Barclays Premier League titles, to the club's official magazine.

"Today teams are more versatile, they can go to three defenders, five defenders, they can go to 4-4-1-1, 4-3-3, 4-5-1, all kinds of variants.

"I think the formations teams use are much more flexible than 15 years ago, more adaptable. Evolution has happened, aided by a lot of European games and the influence of foreign players."

The arrival of overseas signings has led to many teams adopting a similar playing style, according to the Frenchman. "The Premier League has become more 'European', and there is less stylistic opposition than you had 15 years ago.

"Everybody plays with the ball on the ground, trying to work from the back; the teams down in the Championship try to play a similar style to the Premier League and it becomes more uniform.

Crazy Gang era

"All over Europe, everyone plays the same style of game. Remember you had Wimbledon before – that was a shock for any foreign player who came here, but it doesn't exist any more."

Wenger, who this season has taken to playing Ivory Coast forward Gervinho in the centre of an attacking trident instead of wide, where he spent most of last season, also considers that the development of football in the modern era has favoured attacking midfielders over defensive, screening players and strikers.

"Holding midfielders have had to become more technical – you saw it during Euro 2012, with guys like [Italy's Andrea] Pirlo playing in this position. They are not destroyers any more, they are players that the game starts from and the quality of their passing has become very important. That's why you don't really see purely destructive players in these positions any more.

"You can call it evolution, but to reduce it to an overall point you would say the midfield has been strengthened and the attack has been weakened."

This is an excerpt from Arsene Wenger's exclusive monthly interview in Arsenal's current Official Magazine, which is available in newsagents now. To subscribe call 0845 301 7626 or visit:

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Key Points

  • Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger says tactics have changed in the Barclays Premier League since he first arrived
  • The 62-year-old says that back in 1996 the 4-4-2 formation prevailed
  • Nowadays midfielders are favoured above strikers, says the Frenchman