Date: 18th January 2015 at 10:33pm
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Football punditry is the easiest job in football. Thierry was wise to go for that as a career path instead of a more challenging role having to make your decisions before the event. Given in glorious retrospect everyone’s opinions can seem wise. Thierry identifying Song, prior to the game as the sort of defensive midfielder we needed in the absence of Vieira or Gilberto is just the sort of populist guff that would have some nodding in agreement at his sagacity. Of course it overlooks the fact that we weren’t always really any more defensively secure for most of the time Song played that role for us or that Coquelin outperformed the former Barcelona bench warmer in our recent encounter with West Ham when their respective performances could be directly compared.

Similarly Gary Neville, after applauding our more controlled performance in the first half against City, while pointing out that Sanchez and Ox were beginning to tire chasing back in the final 15 minutes of that half, spent the first 15 minutes of the second half expressing bemusement that we were not content to sit back and hold onto a one goal lead. You could almost feel a Wenger tactical naivety conclusion was being drawn in readiness should we concede.

As it happens it seemed tactically the right thing to do. City were clearly going for it bringing on another attacker and the prospect of us sitting deep hoping that we could hold out for 45 minutes against one the league’s most potent attacking sides would have been risky. Of course us looking to hit them any time we could in that spell was also risky but at least that made it just as risky for City. It seems the tactics were the right tactics. We know they were right because the result tells us so and that is the difference between tactical mastery and being tactically useless, clueless and directionless. The less anticipated the result the greater the degree of tactical mastery.

The mathematical formula for measuring the degree of tactical mastery is expressed as follows:

X = sqrt(a^2) * b /c

Where a = the number of pundits predicting a different result, b = wins in the last 6 games and c = number of times the manager has been accused of being tactically useless, clueless and directionless through the season. A rough calculation based on estimated figures gives Wenger a current tactical mastery rating of 720. Probably still some way behind Allardyce and Pulis but he won’t mind that while we’re above them in the league.

Of course we’re not above City in the league but they are one of the big four we appear to have difficulty beating so it’s another valuable 3 points in our quest to finish in as high a league position as possible. With 16 games left we’ve played two fewer home games than Tottenham who we meet away in 3 weeks time, and one fewer than ManU and Southampton of whom we’ve also to play ManU away. Where we finish this season may well have more to do with the results against teams outside the big four but good results against Spurs and ManU could make the table look more comfortable for us.

Tactical mastery is one thing but the players have to execute those tactics masterfully in order to get a result and in this game we did just that Mertesacker, Koscielny and Monreal aided by the rapidly improving Bellerin doing their jobs well with Coquelin protecting the space in front of them winning as many aerial duels as Giroud and more than Bellerin, Mertesacker and Koscielny combined. If he continues to play like this we may have to find another picture to replace the open mouthed, slack jawed pose that does him few favours when seeking to illustrate his more intelligent contributions.

While we’ve become accustomed looking to Sanchez as a match winner his contribution to this match was more industrious than spectacular but in its own way just as valuable. For the most part ploughing the left channel but coming inside when he could he chased every ball in both halves. He wasn’t able to create an awful lot but Zabaleta was rendered less effective too having to keep tabs on him. Ox played a similar role on the right flank and both players worked very hard to allow Cazorla, Ramsey and Coquelin to control the central areas of the pitch stifling City’s creative intent while maintaining an attacking threat of our own.

Wenger also timed his tactical substitutions to perfection replacing the tiring Ox with Rosicky midway through the second half and with 15 minutes to go giving the seemingly tireless Sanchez a rest for the fresh though sometimes fragile legs of Kieran Gibbs. He then further reinforced the defensive intent with 10 minutes left bringing on Flamini for Ramsey.

Whether this was truly a triumph of tactics or simply a triumph of execution of tactics we’ve deployed several times this season probably doesn’t matter greatly but if it inspires more external confidence in the team and the squad’s tactical competence that would be a triumph worth savouring.