Early Doors

Tactics Bored: What makes up Arsenal’s DNA?

Early Doors

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As predictable as an Arsenal fan being a graphic designer, Arsenal scraped through in the FA Cup final and treated it as something that means something, rather than a blip in a trophyless future. Nevertheless, there were still tactical lessons to be learned from Arsenal's incompetence, where you can see it afflicts both ends of the pitch. Also, following on from the bigotry on display in the clubs of the Premier League, there is also an examination of it in the institutions of football itself. Lastly, there is a study of what Gunnersaurus giving himself over to medical science means for the future of Arsenal.


Congratulations to Arsenal for their success in winning the fourth most important trophy available to English sides, after the Champions League, Premier League and any position that qualifies for Champions League football, which Arsenal also won by virtue of finishing fourth, as is their custom. Wenger was relieved with the victory, and then set his sights on redefining the future of Arsenal by seeing two first team squad players leave on free transfers, and then planning on signing a French striker who is destined to underwhelm his new team.

When pundits rightly said that because of Olivier Giroud, Arsenal needed a new striker, it is unlikely that they meant one who was worse than him. But Wenger is a maverick. It is often said that he puts his footballing principles before the success that pragmatism might earn him, and that is seeing in his eschewing - often - of the more expensive and obvious player in favour developing a younger and cheaper option. But it’s more than that. Wenger is an aesthete with a delicate understanding of football that is beyond most of us mortals. He focuses on the more sophisticated end of football tactics and formations. Rarely does he sully himself with the lager-and-Spitfire primivitism of 4-4-2. No, he is a 4-5-1 man, and more often than not, a fully-fledged embracer of 4-3-3.

While most managers take that on board with a shallow usage, just on the football pitch and nowhere else, if you check Arsene Wenger’s last nine league finishes, you can clearly see his obsession is now reflected in his league table finishes, with nothing but fours and threes:

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A heatmap is usually employed to demonstrate where players occupy the pitch throughout a match, to track positional play more than possession. But it can be used for other things. A heatmap might tell you from where most shots are taken, or tackles made. But there’s other, bespoke heatmaps for each club, and on Saturday the first use of the Arsenal Heatmap, which measures the most Arsenal things that happen on a pitch. If you examine the diagram below:

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You can see that there were three key instances of Arsenal occurring on the pitch. On the left hand side is a deep red, which when tallied with a synchronised recording of the game, shows this was when Arsenal went down 2-0 to a mid-table side, in the first ten mintues, to set pieces they were unable to defend like grown adults. At the other end is Yaya Sanogo’s attempt at a neat flick outside the box, which ultimately resulted in the move breaking down as the entire side tried to be cleverer than their talent allows, and Kieran Gibbs ran the ball out of play. When Arsenal go top of the league in October next season, and then lose six games in February and March 2015, the heatmap will, obviously, be an entirely red pitch.


It was discussed last week that the most successful teams in the league are the most bigoted. It is sensible to not repeat the details of that, because it only leads to death threats from angry fans who have no sense. However, it is noticeable that this rule of thumb is not just in clubs, but in the institutions who run the game. The Premier League earns an awful lot of money and has a global audience of billions. And it, too, is matched by a bigotry reflected in Richard Scudamore’s braying, sexist emails. It goes further, too, when you consider that even the FA’s investigation into equality included members who had said iffy histories on homophobia - Rio Ferdinand and Michael Johnson. The FA, of course, is also successful in the sense that it has a great deal of power and money, if not in how it uses or spends them, respectively.

In fact, you can use possession stats on the FA and Premier League. The bar chart of possession here:

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Reflects that 100% of the FA Chairman, executive director and Premier League chief executive positions are all taken by white men.


Lastly, Arsene Wenger is known for his revolutionary approach to the diets of players, by suggesting they no longer solely eat sausages and solely drink beer or Vimto. This was responsible for the famous Arsenal defence of Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould. Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon playing well into their thirties. In the famous Milan Lab, their approach to fitness extended the careers of people like Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta. Wenger has now taken that one stage further, and introduced his own laboratory.

Gunnersaurus was ritually slaughtered in praise of the football gods after the FA Cup win, and Wenger sent slivers of the flesh to this new lab to detail analysis of the DNA. It is hoped that lessons can be learned from Arsenal DNA to mitigate any weakness and play up any strengths. You can see in the pie chart below what makes up Arsenal DNA:

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Alex Netherton (On Twitter: @lxndrnthrtn)

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