Arsenal: How Wenger is evolving the Gunners during a season out of the Champions League spotlight

Nine games into the Premier League season, Andy Dickinson highlights five areas in which Wenger deserves credit.

After surviving months of protests and media speculation, Arsène Wenger has started to restore some of the credibility he lost during a season which saw his side plummet to the depths of fifth place with only an FA Cup for company.

As a manager who has been in charge of Arsenal for over 21 years now, he has witnessed the game go through several transitions. Yet the current change taking place within his own squad could prove to be his biggest personal overhaul during his time in North London: a change which is being facilitated by the lack of Champions League football this season.

While many still firmly believe that, for better or for worse, a new manager is now required to provide a spark in the team, Wenger has started to address some of the issues which have been aimed at him. There remains a long way to go, of course, and Arsenal could fold in a very Arsenal-like fashion at any given moment. However, there are signs that progress is being made.

Here are five of those signs.

  1. 1 Trimming the Fat

    During the summer months, Wenger raised many eyebrows in his assessment that the future of football would see high-profile players running their contracts down on a regular basis. He also claimed that in a bid to re-shape the team and build for the future, he would need to cut the then current roster. While two new faces joined the dressing room, five players who had been in and around the first team last season left the club for new challenges.

    The biggest surprise was that neither Alexis Sánchez or Mesut Özil were traded in as Wenger remained adamant that both players were needed for his plans and he had faith that they would treat the situation with respect and professionalism. So far, they seem to have done just that.

  2. 2 Names Don’t Matter

    To help get the best out of his squad, Wenger has regularly been picking his starting team based on form rather than potential or star quality. After playing the first four games of the season, Özil was then dropped from the starting line-up for the following seven games in all competitions after failing to live up to his own high standards.  

    This has also been a similar story for Sánchez who only re-established himself in the first eleven at the end of September but still missed out of the Watford lineup with Danny Welbeck being given a chance to rekindle his early season hot-streak. 

    The attacking triumvirate of Sánchez, Lacazette and Özil has only been used together for the first time against Everton and, while it produced mouth-watering results, it also shows that Wenger has plenty of other options at hand to use as he see’s fit.

  3. 3 Heavy Rotation

    While Premierships sides in the Champions League have been subjecting their players to a heavy schedule of games, Wenger has been able to use the Europa League as a competition in which he can rest his star names. Rather than treating the competition as an annoyance, though,  Wenger has used the competition to blood youth and bring injured squad members back into contention for inclusion with the first team.

    Although many teams have tried this in the past, Arsenal have done so winning all three of the European ties this season, a greater feat than Manchester United achieved last season before they went on to lift the trophy in May. The Europa League may be considered a huge step down in standard. 

    However, rotation has been central to Wenger’s plans so far this season with the midfield, in particular, being subject to change on a reasonably regular basis. This also has it’s advantages as tonight's match against Norwich could easily see a completely different 11 players used and still feature a front three of Theo Walcott, Olivier Giroud and Alex Iwobi, all of whom were completely rested against Everton just two days ago.

  4. 4 Slow introductions into the team

    In the absence of a true leader on the pitch, a collective mentality is being bred at Arsenal with the team coming first. Wenger also appears to have been protecting his players from the spotlight in the way that he’s slowly been introducing his top players into the side this season. 

    While relieving them of mental pressures, it also serves to insulate them from physical stress and any chance of prematurely burning out as we head into a long season that will be followed by a World Cup next summer.

    Jack Wilshere is said to be fitter than ever and has shown good form in the chances he’s been given so far. However, caution is the only way ahead after he’s suffered so many serious injuries in recent years. 

    The same treatment has also been handed out to the new signings. Sead Kolasinac had to wait until the fourth league game for his first Premiership start while Alexandre Lacazette has routinely been substituted and only played the full 90 minutes in their opening match against Leicester.

  5. 5 Motivated Atmosphere

    One of the most important summer transfer stories for Arsenal was in a different player they kept in the dressing room. Arsène Wenger gave Olivier Giroud the option to leave in the summer with Everton one club keen to pursue the French striker's signature. 

    Instead, Giroud chose to stand by his manager and fight for his place in the team, the determination of which can be seen from the impact he brings from the bench. This loyalty and willingness to prove himself has fed a positive atmosphere back into the dressing room, especially important due to so many stories constantly circling regarding players wanting to leave the club for pastures new.

    To complement this, Wenger has seemingly adopted an open-door policy at the club which has allowed players on the fringe to come back and stake their claims for minutes on the pitch. This has even seen the re-emergence of the long-lost figure, Mathieu Debuchy, who has made his way back onto the pitch after being lost in the footballing wilderness. 

    This motivation is starting to look like it’s building momentum. But while Arsenal have proven themselves to be a team capable of hitting the heights performance-wise, a big question mark still hangs above the word consistency.

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