Why Arsenal Need To Hire George Graham

Bring back Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn.
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Bring back Dixon, Adams, Keown, Winterburn.

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A back four of Lee Dixon at right-back, Tony Adams as captain and central defender, Steve Bould or Martin Keown alongside him, with Nigel Winterburn at left-back. Behind them the imposing figure of David Seaman in goal.

That defensive unit was the foundation of the successful Arsenal team that won two league titles under George Graham, before being a vital part of Arsene Wenger’s Double-winning side in the French manager’s first full season in charge.

Wenger’s job was made all the easier when he took over at Arsenal for the fact that Graham’s miserly defence were still intact. Adding Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit for protection in central midfield, Arsenal were a formidable defensive team during Wenger’s early years.

In a week when the Gunners have collapsed twice to lose valuable leads, it is hard to think that Wenger’s teams were once as pragmatic as they are adventurous. Now he seems to have long lost sight of the importance of a balanced side.

When did that moment come? Some five years after winning that initial Premier League and FA Cup, Wenger masterminded his last great side - The Invincibles. It was built on similarly sound principles.

The full-backs Lauren and Ashley Cole had more attacking intentions than Dixon and Winterburn, while the central defensive partnership of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure was based more on pace than the impeccable positioning of Adams and company, but they could all still defend. In midfield, Vieira was still there and played with the Brazilian holding midfielder Gilberto Silva.

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Along the way, Wenger abandoned the principles on which his success at Arsenal had been based. Compare those earlier well-drilled sides to the current defensive shambles, where left-backs are played in central defence, even though the right-back is more comfortable playing there and the team starts without even one truly defensively-minded midfielder.

It’s not just the personnel that are the problem. There is obviously something deeply wrong in the way the team is defensively coached. Basic errors are continually made. Runners from midfield are not picked up, full-backs gallop forward leaving huge holes behind them and markers are lost at set-pieces.

Wenger’s right hand man these days is Steve Bould, who as a player was signed by George Graham. What is he doing in his role? He must know that the teams and strategies employed by Wenger leaves Arsenal almost guaranteed to concede goals. Does he just sit back and say nothing, or is it a case that Wenger will no longer listen to anyone?

What Arsenal could really do with is someone like Graham himself back at the club, in a role as a defensive coach. A man who could organise, improve players and wouldn’t be afraid to tell Wenger when he was wrong.

Of course, it will never happen. Graham left under too much of a cloud and it would undermine Wenger, but the likely alternative is that the club will continue to suffer as they have in the last week.

If Wenger wants to carry on managing Arsenal in the long-term he must change his ways. Ironically, that means going back to the original blueprint, in which the defensive documents were drawn up by a certain Mr Graham.

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