Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger Profits as He Shows He Can Move with the Times

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Wenger Profits as He Shows He Can Move with the Times

Article excerpt

Byline: James Olley at the Riverside

MIDDLESBROUGH 1 ARSENAL 2 ARSENE WENGER isn't so stubborn after all. The Frenchman's claim last month that he was trying to "reinvent himself" was greeted with scepticism in many quarters given his adherence to a philosophy that has evoked frustration and admiration in almost equal measure.

Those Arsenal supporters demanding "Time For Change" have something a little more revolutionary in mind than switching formations, yet it felt significant that Wenger opted to join the Premier League hipsters by reshaping Arsenal into a 3-4-3 system last night.

It was not an unqualified success but the end justified the means as the Gunners secured a win imperative to their hopes of prolonging Wenger's proud record of securing a top-four finish in every season since he joined the club 21 years ago.

There is an obvious need for fresh ideas at Arsenal, a failing laid firmly at Wenger's door these days, yet here the 67-year-old proved a leopard can change its spots.

This was the first time since May 1997 that an Arsenal team had played with three at the back and around the time Wenger was speaking about reinvention a few weeks ago, his team trialled the formation in training.

"I had a hesitation a few weeks ago already to do it -- we worked on it then," Wenger told American broadcaster NBC after the game.

Wenger admitted the catalyst to introducing it now was a desire to improve Arsenal's defensive stability and when such things are a priority away at a relegation-threatened team with the worst attack in the division, it underlines the mess you are in.

The Gunners had lost their previous four away Premier League matches and Middlesbrough flirted with extending that record, particularly for a 20-minute spell after Alvaro Negredo cancelled out Alexis Sanchez's first-half opener five minutes into the second period.

Mesut Ozil settled Arsenal's nerves with only his second goal since December 10, smashing the ball home from close range on 71 minutes as Arsenal held firm for a morale-boosting win.

Wenger claimed afterwards that a 3-4-3 system would not necessarily provide the basis for future matches and it is clear the change is very much a work in progress. …

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