“Creativity takes courage” – Henri Matisse.
Arsene Wenger said something similar a few years back: “For me, the brave one is not the one who tackles from behind the player who tries to play football that is the coward one. You need to have more courage to play football when you know that someone is tackling you from behind without any intention to play the ball.”
His players are what you might call creative. Robin Van Persie, Andrei Arshavin, Theo Walcott and Aaron Ramsey are in posession of great individual skills, and create lots of space and opportunities. They are the leaders of attack in their respective national teams.
In Arsenal, though, they all seem to be jaded since the middle of last season. They play like soldiers in a system that they don’t believe in, subordinates of a general they might lose faith in.
Why is that?
Wenger sees Barcelona, a team that plays “the same way for 25 years” according to Pep Guardiola, score at free will with a 4-3-3 formation – and he might think that the same formation, played throughout Arsenal’s system, should give his players enough freedom to conquer England.
However, the dogmatic passing patterns of Arsenal seem to water down the creativity of the players.
That did not change in the aftermath of his team’s many losses.
He stayed a firm believer of the system: 4-3-3 with Walcott on the right (although he can’t dribble past players on the wing and needs the spaces in the middle to bring his pace to full use) and Arshavin on the left (although in Russia he is considered best at the play-making ’Xavi Role’).
Wenger also kept his belief that Robin Van Persie is at his best as a “number 9″ striker, although the player himself told the Dutch press he wants to play as a number 10 – in a free role behind the striker. Walcott, by the way, has said that he wants to play as a striker.
Wenger’s rigid belief in the 4-3-3 formation puts his players in a ”binary mode”.
Manchester United’s players are not prisoners of a system. They are committed to a style, but have more freedom to interpret it on their own.
Wenger, who can count his team’s wins since February on one hand, changed his skin on the brink of the transfer deadline and bought five experienced veterans . Now he should shed his belief that his Arsenal can turn into Barcelona through the same formation, and trust his players enough to let them find their own courage to be creative.