Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Column: Why Wenger’s tactical shift doesn’t really matter

Arseblog News is delighted to introduce a new columnist to the site. Graham Dougan, was a youth prospect at Arsenal in the 1970s but never quite made the grade, making his career in the upper echelons of the old division two. He was also a Scottish U25 international. He is a regular pundit on TV in Malta and Luxembourg, and an after-dinner speaker of some repute.

He’ll write a column exclusively for the site and we hope you’ll enjoy his keen insight. This week he looks at the ever pressing issue of tactics.

Back in my day tactics didn’t mean a thing. Well, unless you were a tactician whose job it was to invent tactics, but as a footballer we didn’t pay much attention to those kind of things.

The manager would come into the dressing room at 2.45, straight from the bookies, and tell us what was what. We all knew our jobs.

If the opponent tried to go past you, flatten him. If he tried to go through you, stick a reducer on him. And when you got the ball, give it to one of the lads who could actually play. Once we put out our cigarettes and went out onto that pitch, we were like a finely tuned machine, and we didn’t need chalkboards and the like.

Nowadays though, tactics and so-called preparation are everywhere. Pep Guardiola is renowned for them, sitting up late at night to work out a system to prevent the opposition playing as well as they can. Maybe he should spend more time get the lab boys to create him another Lionel Messi instead of drawing in his notebooks like some kind of footballing Leonardo da Vinci.

Jose Mourinho knows how to park his bus – a Chelsea insider once told me that he had been inspired by Andy Townsend’s Tactics Truck. All the same it must be difficult for Manchester United fans see their team play the way they do, with no attacking ambition and top young talents like Marcus Rashford and Anthony Marshall sidelined for the big Dane Zoltan Imbrahimovic.

Even Arsene Wenger is at it these days. Normally a manager who sends his team out with minimal instructions – “Get out there lads and perform your football ballet” is the usual refrain – he’s been playing around with a new formation in the last few games.

It’s a brave move to go with three at the back, especially when you say you’re doing it to make your team more solid defensively. How does that work exactly?

You have a back four, you take one away, that means you have 25% fewer defenders when you think about it properly. It’s like saying you want to score more goals before changing from two up front to just one. Except with defenders, and there’s more of them.

On the udder-hand, we all know that centre-halves are actual defenders and full-backs are basically just failed wingers, so you could argue that it also gives you 33.33333333% more defenders. Which is the beauty of his plan, because opposition managers don’t know which one it is.

Is it one more, or one less? And where is the space if it’s the latter? It’s something Wenger used brilliantly in Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final against Man City.

Man City were toothless in action. Sure they scored a first half goal which should have been allowed, and scored another goal which was allowed, and hit the post and then hit the bar in normal time, but apart from that they didn’t trouble Arsenal at all.

Was it tactics, or was it simply that the Gunners players, who have been off the boil in recent weeks, finally found some spunk? For me, given the choice, I’d take a tablespoon of spunk over a cauldron of tactics any day of the week.

I remember in my playing days we signed an Italian from Italy, and you know how they are about tactics there. The old cat nacho, as they like to call it, and while he was a good player technically, he drove everybody mad with his hand signals and gestures.

“No, you-a go-a here-a,” he’d shout, foolishly asking a teammate to cover the space he left behind when he went running with the ball. As I said, we were a finely tuned machine, and we didn’t need any Italian coming over here telling us where were should be on the pitch.

Eventually it all came to a head during a cup game against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. His tactical bleating was even driving the opposition mad, and when Larry Lloyd chopped him down in midfield he suffered a knee injury that put him out for the season.

It was typically weak. Back then we didn’t even know what a cruciate ligament was, so if it went you were none the wiser, but this lad insisted on getting treatment back in his home country and that summer he was moved on quietly – that’s how things happened back then.

It also showed us that tactics are best left to generals and chess addicts, not football managers. When that whistle goes it’s all about the players on the pitch putting in the effort, fighting for the cause, and giving 110,000%.

You can have the greatest system in the world, inventing a never-before-tried 3-3-1-2-1-2, for example, but if the players don’t give you the hard yards, it doesn’t matter one bit.

As Bill Shankly once said, “Who’s favourite for 4.30 at Sandown?”, and that’s as much as any manager needs to know about tactics.

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Big Dane? Implying Zlatan is danish?


Well, looking at him, he is as fucking Danish as he is Swedish, mate!


Scandi…Scandinawov…Scayndon…..fuck it. Dane.

Burn Baby Burn

Don’t forget Anthony Marshall!


Some great insight Here, but while I’ll forgive a few spelling mistakes, and getting a couple of nationalities wrong (I mean football punditry is a tough enough job as it is wiyhout needing to worry about little facts like that) I’m not sure I can abide such poor arithmetic.
While shifting from 4 to 3 is indeed a 25% reduction, increasing from 2 to 3 is 50% extra.

Otherwise keep up the good work sir.


What did I just read ?


Looks like blogs recruited Rambling Pete!!

a different George

I thought of Pete too when I read this. It reminds me of the time I read a column in the Guardian. You know, when it was called the Manchester Guardian, before the Suez crisis and all that. Speaking of Suez . . .


My NEW Footballing Hero!

Antony Adler

What a find by Arseblog. Finally the tactical nous and insider information we mere mortals have been craving!


Utterly Gobsmacked!?!

Gudang Pelor

Now this is thr man that will get the arsenal to a new level! Dougan IN!

Spanish Gooner

Did you vote for Brexit by any chance, Mr Dougan?


You can’t say that! You’re gonna hurt a Brexiter’s feelings


He would lose his TV pundit job in Malta and Luxemburg, so, no chance.


Nice article. Different perspective, but I enjoyed it.


This is funny, trying to figure out what the pun on “Graham Dougan” is


Andrew Mangan…Graham Dougan


I never thought I’d ever read the phrase “tablespoon of spunk” on a football blog.

Granite Xahhka

Whatever helps the medicine go down..


A most enjoyable read.



I like to think of it as who is the available defender and wingers. Seems Holding and Gabriel are more comfortable this way.


I don’t want to lambast what was probably a well-intentioned addition to the blog.. but the only reason I’m here is precisely because there is more to football than telling 11 men to give it 110%, and I’m keen to read insight from people with more than I have.

This just feels lazy.


I think the thing he was getting at was that the reason Arsenal played well and were able to beat Man City on Sunday had more to do with the players giving a committed effort on the pitch as opposed to the use of a 3-5-2, and that perhaps Arsenal’s problems haven’t been tactically related but more a lack of motivated, engaged effort by every player for 100% of the game. As he puts it, it doesn’t matter what tactics you use or how well drilled your team is: if the players don’t go out and execute and put effort… Read more »

Graham Who?

I think it’s overtly funny rather than lazy…may be next time he can write a more serious article and not being Rip Van Winkle


Haha. I remember TH14 saying the same thing back in the day. It doesn’t matter which formation the team plays with. Everyone has to put a good shift in. Seriously, that guy would kick the ball to the other side of the pitch and run after it. That is definitely not a boardroom tactic! Our players must learn to fight for every ball.


If the formation does not matter, then how did we turn around the run of poor form? And how do you explain that since we went to 3 CBs we are conceding fewer and getting more points?

Seems logical that formations have some effect. Even if it’s just a psychologically confidence booster..


We have won Just a Single league game against Boro by a Slender margin(boro got slaughtered by another mighty Team). It looked promising against Citeh but its too early to draw any conclusions. We have not turned any corners yet..


Honestly I think it’s more of an ‘all of the above’ situation. Our fullbacks are up the pitch and caught out anyway. 3 at the back is an extra defender. It also leaves a CB more or less permanently in the middle to close the gap counters continually walked through on us. The mental boost of a new mission to defend better was also very important and refocused the players. But it was also clear as day the difference maker in the Cup match was that they were more up for it than we’ve seen in far too long. To… Read more »


And score after receiving his own pass… carragher still has nightmares about that ?


Commentator going “oh no. Thierry Henry actually passed the ball to himself!”
Carragher ain’t shit.

Arsene\'s coat zipper

A change in formation shifts numerical superiority areas across the pitch, which can be argued helps or breaks a team’s chances. In this case, fewer people staying back gives the team more flexibility going forward and defending – unlocking Nacho and Ox to either go full-on offensive or tracking back, effectively boosting our defence by one when under pressure. Sure, it can be argued the same was possible in 433, but if both full backs went forward we’d be left with a larger gap than we have now. Or it could be that changing formation merely got our players out… Read more »


Bloody hell, this made me laugh.!


I wonder if this conversation is the same as some of the others we’re seeing pundits and sportsmen from the yesteryears bring to light lately. I recently heard a famous retired cricketer (Tendulkar) talk about modern cricket being about data, and how it initially looked stupid for a bunch of athletes in the ’90s to be staring at a projection slide full of numbers instead of practicing their shots and footwork on the ground. I supposed through all of the ‘intelligence’ that has come to the sport due to the many new opportunities for retrospective understanding, I suppose sport of… Read more »

Barry Chestpain

Graham you old bastard! haven’t heard from you since that incident in Morrisons in Bradford. I tried to tell them that you had no idea how they ended up in the back seat of your Ford Granada…. anyway our loss is Malta’a gain it seems!


Sorry, not feeling this at all ?


Great so now we have a “good old days” fotball guy at arseblog to. I expect next weeks topic being “Thats a proper challange” followed by “not that kind of player” ?


The reason why arse blog is so great is because of the great analysis and the tactical breakdown that they provide. However, this article was disappointing.

Ancient Gooner

50% more!

Why at

I can’t tell whether this was satire or genuine….

a different George



Isn’t that just a picture of O’Reilly from Fawlty Towers?


Doug an is all very well but when oh when will we get an article from former apprentice left back Albert Riddle, who sadly lost an arm as a forfeit in a game of poker with Triads in Hong Kong?


There seem to be a lot of people who don’t realise this is parody.
Maybe they just don’t like it up em.


It’s actually hilarious!I’m not sure what’s funnier- the people that don’t get it giving out or the people that don’t get it agreeing ???


I get the parody, it’s just I probably wouldn’t want to read something like this again. It’s not funny, which is the issue for most people, I think.


I’ve missed this kind of analysis since Lawrence Gray-Hodson stopped writing for ‘Three and In’. Thanks Blogs. I remember enjoying the comments below almost as much as the thinkpiece.


Sounds like the belief system that Allerdiche gets fully behind. Alright lads let’s get on the pitch and show our famous English Figting spirit, “get stuck in


..that bit about the Italian & his cruciate ligament ??. I like this guy.


I’ll never understand why Graham Dougan didn’t succeed at a higher level. Had the combined technical ability of Brady and Bergkamp, and gallons of spunk. I still remember seeing him turn out for Brighton in the 1977/78 season. Watching home games from the stands, Manny the Dwarf would always say to me “Jaysus, that Dougan’s dripping with spunk today, no wonder the opposition can’t get near him”. Still can’t quite believe that the closest he came to silverware was a runners up medal in the Entwistle and Phillipson Eggcup Trophy. Of course, the Seagulls were robbed that day. We all… Read more »

Third Plebeian

I’ve been working at the teaspoon or half teaspoon level for the past ten years. Tablespoon? Those were the days.


Heard Arseblog got a yer da writer.


Nice column graham. My last name is Dugan maybe we are long lost cousins from way back when before the name changed.

Del Dillingham

Isn’t it a little late for April Fools?


“It also showed us that tactics are best left to generals and chess addicts, AND football managers. When that whistle goes it’s all about the players on the pitch putting in the effort, fighting for the cause, and giving 110,000%.”
Just my thoughts, but I like this guys thinking. Swapped “AND” for “not” (in AW’s case). More please.

meh as fuck

I worry about the people who think this is serious.

DB\'s first touch

The arseblog readership is usually a sharp bunch compared to most other football sites and aware that Blogs likes a good spoof article, so well played blogs for fooling so many. Loved all the subtle details like the u25 team, Zoltan and Anthony Marshall, the tactics truck, spoonful of spunk and the 33% more defender when in fact going from 2 to 3 centre halves is actually a 50% increase, etc.

L-Å Karlsson

Almost as brilliant as the Gent! Yet it amazes me to read some comments. Some might really need care……


Fellas, see it for what it is. Clearly a tongue in cheek take on the sad state of much of football punditry at the moment. The classic little-Englander, not-bothered-with-facts-or-tactics, run-araaand-a-bit, Richard Keys-like living nicker.
Enjoyed it!


Love this. A bit of satire for all the old British ex players who love to act like everyone had a battle axe and no nerve endings when they were playing. “In my day you drank as many pints as the number on your back before warm ups. And warm ups were just kicking each other in the groin repeatedly and saying ‘man on’.”

Arsenal QC

Dougan: Captain, Leader, Legend.

barry wickings

no system is any good with out the players desire and commitment when they give 100% and loose its dissapointing but worthy of the effort, like they say play for the badge on the front the name on the back gets remembered


I think he learnt all his tactics when starring in the film Mean Machine alongside Vinnie Jones, before changing his name, nationality and anything else which might connect him to that! His best defensive moment was against Basildon Fawlty, although completely demolished by Sybil.


Absolutely awful piece of writing, just one big moan from a nobody when football was just about clattering each other on the pitch, bore off mate!


It’s satire. This person does not exist. This is a joke article.


Some of these comments are astonishing


”he is a regular pundit in Malta…” oh my god somebody knows my country exists!!! 😀

Crash Fistfight

Graham didn’t change his name from Dave Pundit, did he?


Did he sensor his conclusions just cause it was to be piblished on arseblog? Blaming the players regardless of formation.

Sean Buckley

Sorry who wrote this crap.get rid of him.


if this was real it would be the worst article ever to grace this website…..luckily i’m 97% sure its just banter…..82%…..50/50


??? masterful


Masterclass ??? ??


Great read! 😀

Clock-End Mike

Be honest, Blogs — isn’t “Derek Dougan” just the latest of your pseudonyms?

Clock-End Mike

Mind-slip: of course I mean “Graham …”


Fun add blogs, More humor and irreverence is always a welcome quality for me.


This article is a spoof FFS!! LOL at the quasi-pseuds critiquing it and then giving the “I knew it was a joke, it’s just not funny” BS when the joke is pointed out to them. Take your righteous indignation to the comments section of Arsenal TV or the Online Gooner echo-chamber. Great work Arseblog.

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