Arsène Wenger’s new model Arsenal is built for upward mobility

The league leaders, weary from a tough trip to Napoli, today travel to Manchester City, who have been in scintillating form at home. Can Wenger’s men win the battle of the midfield maestros?

Football is changing and Arsène Wenger hopes that his new team – mobile, nimble and smart – will be on the right side of history once again.

When Wenger first arrived in English football, 17 years ago, he was a relentless progressive, unusually cosmopolitan, applying science, and swiftly building a modern team, arguably still his best, to win The Double.

That Arsenal side was built around the imposing core of Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira, but the game has moved on since then. At times, especially in the long nine-year wait since their last title, the old radical Wenger has almost looked outmoded, as his team were overtaken by the benefactor clubs Chelsea and Manchester City, and by Sir Alex Ferguson’s last great Manchester United side.

Wenger believes the game is still evolving and that the changes favour a new breed of fast, evasive, quick-thinking midfielder, always on the move, and less reliant on physical strength to beat opponents. Pursuing these intimations, Wenger has built a new team to win in this new way.

“Football at the moment is in a transformation period and players have to adapt to what are the new problems in the game,” Wenger said recently. “Part of it is they have less time available to make a decision.”

Wenger was discussing Aaron Ramsey, and the importance of the Welshman’s improving first touch, long passing and the speed of his vision; vital skills in the frantic transitions of modern football. But the Arsenal manager returned to the topic last night, explaining why the famous old battles between Vieira and Roy Keane might be a thing of the past in the modern game, as players like Ramsey, Mesut Özil and Santi Cazorla take over.

“It was two personalities who met at the same time at the top of their potential, it was very interesting,” reminisced Wenger on Vieira and Keane. “Today we have a different type of players. The game has changed today, I believe. In the midfield it has changed. At the time it was a bit more static with the fights of impact, today it’s much more transitional, more mobile.”

Wenger said that this was because of the rapidly improving fitness of top-level players – a process he was part of, too, with his suggestions of what was and was not suitable pre-game nutrition back in the 1990s.

“It is because the qualities of the players have changed,” Wenger explained. “It would be interesting for a journalist to analyse the Premier League in the last 15 years and what has changed physically in numbers – the distances, the high intensity, the number of sprints per game. You will see it is absolutely unbelievable how it has gone up.”

This means, of course, that the Arsenal midfield now looks different from its earlier incarnations. “This one I would say is a bit more creative, maybe fewer physical impact players, but as well more versatile. Everybody can play everywhere so it is easier for me to rotate from game to game.”

And Wenger hopes this stable of scurrying creators will seize the game at Manchester City today, in a way that they failed to do on their last trip to Manchester. Arsenal’s only league defeat since the opening day was at Old Trafford last month, when they looked slightly cowed by the stage. They went 1-0 down in the first half and did not start playing until it was too late.

Today, Wenger does not want his team to be embarrassed to take the ball and attack. Along with his players, he has studied the tape of the game at United and hopes that they can avoid the same mistakes.

“The task of the two teams will be to stop the opponent from being dangerous offensively. But not to forget to get forward. We forgot a little bit to project ourselves forward at Man United,” he said.

“People forget that United had two shots on target on the day and they scored a goal off a shoulder from a corner. But on the day I believe we were not completely ourselves offensively and that’s what we want to do better tomorrow, to be dangerous offensively. It’s what we want to show at City. We learn from it and we go again.”

City have been relentless at home, with 25 goals in their last five games at the Etihad, and Arsenal are unlikely to be able to camp in their own box and block City off. If they are going to win, they need to attack and they need to seize control of possession.

“You need a strong defensive performance and maybe the best way to do that is to attack and us have the ball and let them not find their flow,” Wenger said.

“We need to make sure we have the ball. When they have the ball they are dangerous: Silva, Touré, Aguero, Negredo – they have potential to be dangerous. For us it is important we have the ball.”

It might sound reckless but one of City’s problems this season has been the lack of a holding midfielder, and too much space in front of their defence. Those are the gaps that Wenger’s new model army can burst into to test a City back line that is still settling down after Vincent Kompany’s long absence.

“City have a very strong squad, I do not deny that,” Wenger concluded. “But I look at my squad and think I do not envy them.”

Wenger cagey on Sagna

Arsène Wenger said last night that the future of French right-back Bacary Sagna “could be decided in the next two weeks”. Sagna is in the final year of his contract at Arsenal and will face a late fitness test for today’s game at Manchester City.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
Life and Style
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions