Statistician’s Journal : How long did Wenger rehearse to unleash Counter-attacking Arsenal?


Tuesday’s much-needed win over mighty Bayern will surely be an unforgettable night for the gunners but how did Wenger pull it off going completely opposite to his old theory of possession and passing football? This change didn’t occur overnight but it now looks like a well-rehearsed strategy which Wenger unveiled in Francis Coquelin’s breakthrough match — a 2-0 away win against Manchester CIty nine months before.

Before Wenger took charge at the Highbury 19 years ago, the north-londoners were accused of playing defensively. The Frenchman came and revolutionized the way the team was playing. Arsenal gradually became the team to keep the possession of the ball, play exquisite passes and score from a well crafted build-up play. But, during the barren spell of nine years (2005-2014), Wenger was often criticized due to his lack of adaptability to the modern game which cost him plenty of points against stronger rivals. The Professor needed to pull something out of his hat to fare well against the bigger opponents.

Now, it looks like he has finally got the things in place. To assess statistically, let’s see what happened in those matches where Arsenal kept less than or equal to 45% possession of the ball in the Premier League over last three seasons.

Season Opponent Possession Arsenal Player Sent Off Result
2012-13 Man City (H) 45% Yes Loss
2012-13 Swansea (A) 45% No Win
2013-14 Swansea (A) 44% No Win
2014-15 Liverpool (A) 43% No Draw
2014-15 Man City(A) 44% No Win
2015-16 Chelsea (A) 43% Yes Loss
2015-16 Man United (H) 44% No Win

If we leave away those matches where an Arsenal player was sent off (assuming that playing with less number of players is a disadvantage for a team to keep control of the ball), there were only five such occasions and they did not lose in each of them (4 wins and 1 draw – because of a 97th minute equalizer from Martin Skrtel in the match against Liverpool).

Now, if we quickly shift our focus to Champions League scenario, we observe that from 2013-14 season, Bayern Munich was the only team against whom Arsenal have managed less than 45% ball possession. In one instance, Szczesny was sent off in a home clash and that is the only time Arsene’s boys have recorded defeat. The other two consist of a well fought draw at the Allianz Arena in return leg of round of 16  fixture and the much-talked about 2-0 victory which ended Guardiola’s 13 match winning streak.

These stats clearly prove that coming out of his shell, Wenger has equipped Arsenal with a new machinery of winning matches. The mantra is simple – stay organised in defence, make the opposition pass around, recover the ball and catch them in a quick break. As seen above, they have previously taken resort to this mechanism only in away matches but now, the likes of Koscielny and Coquelin give them the necessary defensive rigidity to apply it in important home matches too.

Strikingly, set-pieces also play an important role in the newly tailored gameplan of Wenger. We have seen, in both of the 2-0 wins over Bayern and City, Cazorla’s free kick and Giroud’s conversion made a key impact on the result.

Wenger just turned 66 and in the wake of this Bayern result, we have realized how the veteran has maneuvered a miracle to construct a versatile unit who can play the passing game as well as the counter-attacking football if need to be.