By Richard Clarke
Arsène Wenger believes the attacking excitement of the Premier League may have gone forever.
The Frenchman’s point was exemplified by Arsenal’s narrow 1-0 victory over Bolton on Saturday. The winner came very late and was preceded by 84 minutes of frustration as Gary Megson’s side refused to break out of their defensive straitjacket. It was perhaps understandable given that a spate of injuries meant Bolton were only able to name four substitutes. But it did not make for very good viewing and afterwards Wenger lamented the days when sides would go on the offensive away from home.
"That is gone,” he said. “You go 10 years back everybody played a strict 4-4-2. I can remember maybe one team coming here with one striker.
“This year I can't remember a single team coming here with two strikers, except Hull who played three just at the start but slowly they have come back and become like the other teams.
“[The Premier League] has definitely lost something. It has been linked temporarily this year with the fact the League is so tight. Teams after ninth place are all scared to go down and that could make everybody be more cautious. But I can remember when I arrived in 1996 everybody had a go at you, that meant you had space up and down. Sometimes you lost the game, but you could see more chances than we did against Bolton.
"You know I sit on the bench and I try to put myself in the position of Gary Megson and straight away I understand. And then after I think we have to be good enough to create the chances if the opposition only defends. It is maybe one of the weaknesses of the top Premier League teams this year that teams have learned only to defend away from home.
“It looks like all the four that we call the top four, that has become now five, struggle with that. Chelsea struggles, you could see [we did], Liverpool struggles and even Man United, with the offensive force they have.
"I believe it is down to the quality of the defending of the other teams and to the huge improvement in physical fitness and quality.
"But what is interesting in the game is that every new problem you face means the teams have to work to find the answer. That problem will only be temporary I think because it will force the teams to work on movement, the technique and the creative side.
“[But it is important] that these teams do not get away with only defending any more and they have to start to take risks as well.”Copyright 2014 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to www.arsenal.com as the source 12 Jan 2009