Football News

Arsene Wenger’s desire to emulate Barcelona saw Arsenal “forgot how to defend” – Martin Keown

By Ben Green

Published: 11:43, 23 August 2019

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown has blamed Arsene Wenger’s admiration for Barcelona for the club’s current vulnerabilities at the back.

The 53-year-old believes Wenger’s aspirations to play like the reigning La Liga champions disrupted the balance between defensive solidity and ball-playing competence at the back.

What is the Barcelona blueprint? Five things to know…

  • Johan Cruyff’s ‘Total Football’ saw Barcelona develop into one of world football’s best ball-playing teams.
  • His Barca ‘Dream Team’ dominated La Liga for four successive years between 1991 and 1994.
  • Among those in his side included Michael Laudrup, Romario and Hristo Stoichkov, but also Pep Guardiola.
  • The Catalonian went on to become Barca manager, and his ‘Tiki-Taka’ style ultimately yielded two trebles.
  • The system is largely based on fluidity, ball retention and creating on-field triangles.

The Barca blueprint has been developed over the years, but largely follows the teachings of Cruyffian football, which calls for proficient ball-players across the field – even between the sticks.

The system reached a zenith under Pep Guardiola, who is now utilising the philosophy with Manchester City, but Keown believes Wenger was unable to make similar inroads at Arsenal, and Unai Emery is now picking up the pieces.

“The balance between physicality against technical players went too far one way,” he told Sky Sports.

“I think it was done in pursuit of trying to match the excellence of Barcelona, which is the team Wenger wanted to copy most of all. The balance at Arsenal was lost.

“Unai Emery is trying to get that back but he needs to get a better balance to the group because they forgot how to defend and for fifty per cent of every game, you are going to be without the ball.

“It is still their Achilles heel, particularly away from home.”

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“Edu was greatly underestimated”

Arsenal make substantial changes over the summer to their playing squad, but there were also some adaptations behind the scenes with former midfielder Edu taking on the sporting director role left vacant by Sven Mislintat, and Keown believes his former colleague can make a significant impact.

“I think it is very interesting because he understands this role and he understands the expectancy at Arsenal,” he explained.

“He cannot really affect it on the training ground. but he will be able to address things with the processes at the club.

“He is a great guy who was also greatly underestimated, to be honest. It was a big loss when he left the football club because there was an element of class to him.

“I am pleased that the club has recognised that because over the years there have been some special individuals play for Arsenal who do not work for Arsenal so I am glad one of them is returning.”

Arsenal play Liverpool in Saturday’s late kick-off hoping to earn their first win at Anfield since 2012.