Reading former manager George Graham`s comments about the Arsenal players that have impressed him most this season prompted me to look up a comment I had read elsewhere in an old members magazine. By which I mean an old edition rather than a publication purely for more senior members – should there be any doubt.
The comment came from Alan Smith, hero of Graham`s league title and ECWC sides. Smudger was talking about the triumph in Copenhagen in 1994 when his goal, and a stoically sterling defensive display, won us the Cup Winners Cup. Two important defensive players, Keown and Jensen missed the game along with Ian Wright. Given the way the game panned out you might have imagined that we put out a fairly defensive side but Smith describes something different.
“I had Kevin Campbell and Paul Merson either side of me in the 4-3-3 that George Graham liked to play” said the former front man.
It seems odd to think, with the dour defensive reputation that Graham had, him being responsible for deploying three forwards in a side that defended so well.
In speaking of the current side Graham talks of his surprise at how well van Persie has done as a front striker and how impressed he has been with Bendtner`s performances on the right.
“The surprising thing in the games I`ve seen was playing Bendtner wide right and pushing van Persie right up the middle to be the top striker. Everybody`s always admired van Persie`s talent but, for me, he`s not played enough games since he joined the club.
“Van Persie`s surprised me – he`s done better than expected, but it remains to be seen whether he can continue that sort of form and play up front for the rest of the season” said Graham, adding “Bendtner`s done very well on the right side of the pitch, especially with injuries to Walcott and Rosicky, so there are players who have improved a lot more than the fans expected.”
It`s a system that keeps the opposition full backs busy and allows a more forward defensive line. The players that Wenger uses in the current version of 4-3-3 are perhaps a little more artful and the choice more flexible than Graham`s players. Not that Merson in particular was without ability. Bendtner on the right has proved more effective than most would have been willing to accept but as Graham proved 15 years ago you don`t need traditional wingers in order to occupy defenders and attack can indeed be the best form of defence.
Restricting players to their ‘natural` positions can sometimes rob the team of an opportunity to play with less predictability – and that can often be a very potent weapon – whether defending or attacking.
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