Why Herbert Chapman Was Better Than Arsène Wenger

I’ve recently been reading ‘Herbert Chapman on Football’, a collection of the great man’s newspaper columns from his time as Arsenal manager. I’m not even half way through yet, but the man’s genius shines through from almost every page. He introduced so many things that are taken for granted now, because we have all grown up with them, but someone had to be the originator, and usually it was Herb.

He had a diagram of the pitch painted onto his desk, so that he could easily explain to players what he wanted them to do, or get them to explain problems to him. Nowadays whiteboards with pitch markings are everywhere, but someone had to think of it.

He talks about the importance of getting players at every level of a club playing the same way, so that when they make a step up they slot in to the team quickly and easily – a method that was later perfected by the likes of Ajax and Barcelona.

He recounts how he started the practice of team meetings on the mornings of matches to discuss what had gone right and wrong in the previous match and how to improve. This seems basic now, but again someone had to do it first.

Original And Best

There are subjects where it’s clear to see that Arsène Wenger is a disciple of Herb: he says “A player’s value should be judged on his ability to fit in with the other members of the team. The best player who ever kicked a ball would be small use if he were as one apart. This is the danger of every transfer.” This is exactly the point overlooked by so many who think that spending money on the latest fashionable talent is the easy answer to all a team’s problems. Herb also values intelligence and good character as attributes for a footballer, as indeed does his modern-day successor at Arsenal.

Where he goes off at a tangent from Arsène is here, on the subject of preparation:

“I am convinced that much of the success achieved by the Arsenal has been through the team quickly sensing a weakness in the opposition. Indeed this has been a very remarkable feature of our displays, and I assure you that this is not an accident. We know our opponents before we take the field, or believe we do, and in our discussions on the match, in which every man speaks frankly, without a fear of hurting any one’s feelings, the last detail of the plan by which we hope to win is studied. We are prepared, and though the plan may go wrong, it does not follow that it has been ill-conceived. Moreover, it may be altered at half time. I freely confess that these match talks have been of inestimable value to me. I have learnt much from them. They have given me new ideas, which I have put into practice. I am always looking for new ideas. I would borrow one from a programme boy at Highbury, if it were a good one.”

Whenever I write anything that dares to presume what someone else thinks, I know I am going to attract some criticism. How can I possibly know the motives or feelings of anyone inside Arsenal? This is particularly so if I dare to criticise Arsène Wenger, so I’m sure there will be a few as usual. But does it strike you that Arsène prepares for the opposition in any way, shape or form? Does it strike you that he takes a blind bit of notice of who we’re playing against or what their tactics might be 90 per cent of the time? Oh yes, he might give an instruction or two if we’re playing Barca or Bayern – perhaps. But does he treat Wigan any differently to Stoke, or Aston Villa or Everton, even Chelsea or Man Utd?

I believe Arsène’s methods are all about playing your own game and being confident enough in your ability to succeed doing it. Ignore the opposition. The trouble is this has stopped working. It only really works for any time at all if you have players who are genuinely more talented than your rivals – you know, players like Henry, Bergkamp and Vieira.

You would think that a man of Arsène’s intelligence would have noticed this and tried to change things by now. Perhaps trying to prise back a bit of the advantage by specific tactics to counter what we can all see the opposition are going to do. Chapman would have.

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25 thoughts on “Why Herbert Chapman Was Better Than Arsène Wenger

  1. There are a few errors of logic and rational argument in your otherwise salient post:

    1) Unless you have been in one of Wenger’s match planning, week-long training and review sessions you cannot meaningfully argue that he does or does not do things a certain way.
    2) Chapman was a genius but so is Wenger….they are two different individuals but both are brilliant innovators, excellent motivators and skilled man-managers.
    3) Your belief that Wenger is a ¨do your own thing manager¨ is unfounded in fact and demonstrated regularly each week. Whether his players always follow his lead and directives is debatable but Wenger himself carefully plans for each game like Chapman did.

    There is little point in comparing the two as they lived and managed in absolutely different epochs. Trying to diminish Wenger by comparing him to Chapman unfavourably is disingenuous and futile.

  2. It’s blatantly obvious that Wenger never changes how Arsenal play to adjust to the opposition – he never changes the formation for a start and his substitutions are nearly always pre-planned. Wenger is incapable of punching above his weight, especially in Europe where tactics are king and he’s always been a miserable failure. One of the richest clubs in the world and in 16 years of Champions League football, only one semi and one final both lost. And in the UEFA Cup lost to weaker opposition in the final as well.

    Wenger was an innovator, but never a tactical innovator. His innovation was dietary. He was a great attacking coach too, distinguished in the art of pass and move, but his blinkered, one-dimensional approach has not moved with the times. Now he only achieves the minimum that is expected in terms of the Premier League, very poor in domestic cups, useless in Europe still. His career needs to be re-assessed, as he’s now overpaid and overrated.

  3. Wenger is way overated. his inability to win EPL back to back as well as the champions league is a proof to that. He falters whenever he meets astute tacticans like Mourinho. Now he just hides behind the board and uses FFP as an excuse. He buys cheap and young players becuase he knows there is less pressure to win anything.

  4. I agree Arsene Wenger prefers to focus on his own team rather than the weaknesses of other teams. It has come for a fair share of criticism in recent times.

    However, I am not sure that focussing on weaknesses of other teams always works. Reasons:

    1) If you focus too much on the other team, your natural game gets disrupted and might prove counter-productive. Looking to neutralize opposition’s strengths does not always mean you play to your own strengths. A classic example of this is the Spain v/s France during Euro 2012. France tried to adapt their play to Spain (10 men behind the ball) rather than playing their natural possession football. They lost. Blanc came in for a lot of criticism as a result. Mourinho is famed for his tactical nous. Yet, he was embarrassed by Barcelona everytime he did “tactics” against them.

    2) To adapt to the opposition, you need to have different “types” of players in the team. Arsenal have too many players of a similar mould which makes it difficult to adapt any kind of tactics. The current players are very focussed on finesse and technical side rather than the physical part which may not always work. This is why the invincibles were so successful. They were a healthy mixture of pace, power and technique. The current arsenal team lacks “power” in my opinion.

    Of course, there is a need to adapt to the opposition and I think there has been evidence of that from Wenger recently like playing Ramsey in away games, Kos/TV at CB against Chelsea. But he refuses to greatly modify his team vis-a-vis the opposition.

    I myself am of the view that we need to study the opposition more and identify their weaknesses but I can understand why Arsene Wenger refuses to do so.

  5. When you want to compare two people dont limit the areas to your limited knowledge of them, try to look deeper into the operations including the changes in times and oppositions you are facing. In the past almost all teams in England were playing typical inswinger English football. This means even the tactics you are referring to were really very few. The kind of talent in the EPL at the moment is almost 1000 times what was there and the issue of financial forecast including trying to generate funds by capacity building to accommodate more fans. Add to that making the games attractive for overall world wide following to enable your team get enough TV allocation. I mean, I dont know what this writer does for a living, but I would say he is really bankrupt in imagination, of course from some of the comments I read up there he is not alone so he has nothing to be ashamed of.

  6. Yes, Arsene is (mostly) inflexible: he made up his mind long, long ago on the style of football that he judged offered both the best chance of success and was enjoyable to watch and has stuck to it ever since. And yes, he knows everything there is to be known about the game of football. And yes, if he had the quality of players that he once had, he would still be winning PL, and most probably would have won CL too. And yes, if he had adopted a more cautious style, a more defensive one, he might have won a domestic cup or two these past 7 years. And yes, in view of the financial constraints he works under, he has done remarkably well to qualify each year for CL. And yes, he is the best manager we have had since George Graham.

  7. Some hilarious comments really. Top post as per usual. I hope when you finish your research you’ll be kind enough to share with us.
    Of course Herb’s better than Arsene, judging by the quote you brought. I liked Arsene, but sadly he’s too arrogant to even consider sharing ideas with others.
    Those who think I’m making “unfounded” conclusions should go back & read of Arsene comments, about how he knows how to train & he doesn’t need help, how he did 50000 substitutions (Or was it transfer deals?) & doesn’t need to explain every bit of it ….. The man isn’t willing to listen to any kind of criticism whereas Herb was willing to take ideas from anyone basically? What a great man.
    Not to mention of course the compulsory subs & timings …..

  8. Someone wrote on other Blog this, and it’s really very accurate to describe Arsene’s position

    When Arsene 1st came to Arsenal, he was 8 years ahead of all the rest (managers). But he stalled since, so now he’s basically 8 years behind ……

    I mention this only because it fits what this Blog post sentiment ….

  9. Since Bruce Rioch only managed Arsenal for the interim year between George Graham and Arsene Wenger, your point is lost. The one thing that Rioch did – for which Mr Wenger must be eternally grateful for – is bring in the greatest player ever to wear an Arsenal shirt, Dennis Bergkamp.
    We know we don’t have the resources of Chelsea or MC, but the resources we have got, used intelligently enough, should be more than enough to compete. And if we are unable, or unwilling to compete, why did we leave Highbury?
    It says a lot about our manager’s eye for a player that when offered the choice, he chose Walcott over Bale. Van der Sar, right under Mr Wenger’s nose at Fulham, went to MU for £2m.
    And on a shopping trip to Lille, he brought back Gervinho when we all know it should have been Eden Hazard. What exactly have Diaby or Rosicky given us in six years? Arshavin for £15m? David Moyes bought a proven prolific striker, Jelavic, for £5.5m, Mr Wenger paid twice that for Giroud, who is struggling to take the step up in class.
    ‘Silent’ Stan has all but neutered the club as a competitive force, and the manager is complicit with that, for which he is handsomely rewarded.
    And that’s disregarding our abysmal European record.

    • Very selective AAA anti-Wenger memory Herpes’ Auntie……..Wenger’s list of accomplishments, including spectacular transfers and youth development far exceeds any other manager to date, in the EPL with the exception of SAF perhaps.
      Abysmal European record? Then Real Madrid’s recent record must be horrendous according to your jaundiced and unfair prejudice!
      Lets face it Herpes, you need top return to LeGrove’s website with all your other soul-mates and wallow in the vitriolic sewer that passes as an Arsenal website. If you don’t care for AW then that’s your privilege but to bullshit your way onto this site with your narrow-minded crap is just bad taste and ignorant.

      • You’re very disrespectful and rude, ‘weedonald’, it’s only opinion.
        Do you see me using bad language anywhere?
        I don’t post on Le Grove, but at least they don’t wear blinkers and pretend we have the greatest manager in the world. Who are you, the football karma police?
        I don’t support Real Madrid – who have nine European Cups – but even Tottenham have won more than us in Europe. That isn’t solely Mr Wenger’s fault it’s an overall club failing.
        You must have missed the recent AGM, where the mood of Arsenal fans was very sombre and down-beat and fans like you who think it’s all rosy in the Arsenal garden are becoming a minority.
        If you feel the need to address my opinion, please do so without the childish vitriolic name-calling

      • Herb……you tend to use hyperbole to describe AFC and Wenger’s failings and exaggerate everything that is going wrong at the moment and as I said, you are entitled to your opinion buit it is you who are wearing the gloomy glasses. I don’t believe everything is rosy, not in the slightest….AFC are going through a bad patch, its happened before and it will happen again…so what? The vast majority of fans are in my camp, disappointed but always hopeful that things will turn around as they always seem to do. It isn’t time to diss Wenger or panic….he is a great manager and will recover from these setbacks. will he bring somebody in during the January transfer window….maybe, if the performances don’t improve.

  10. Whether you accept it or not, weedonald, we are one of the biggest clubs in the world, who have spent more time in the top tier of English football than either Liverpool or Man Utd, and yet look how far behind we are in terms of major trophies, with no sign of us closing that gap any time soon.
    We have two billionaires, Usmanov, whose wealth out-strips that of Abramovich but isn’t allowed on the BoD, and silent Stan, who rather than invest, is looking to take ‘dividends’ out of the club.
    We are massive under-achievers, but it started twenty years before Mr Wenger arrived. Terry Neill was a poor appointment in 1976, Brian Clough or Bobby Robson would have been so much more dynamic. I remember Bobby Robson’s Ipswich completely out-playing us in the 1978 FA Cup final. Again in 1986, the BoD got it wrong, and it is something Arsenal fans have never been properly compensated for. Alex Ferguson agreed to become Arsenal manager. A manager who broke up the ‘Old Firm’ duopoly in Scotland, and led Aberdeen to European glory, beating Real Madrid in the 1983 CWC final. But the BoD didn’t have the patience, or the minerals, to wait until he’d over-seen Scotland’s World Cup campaign in Mexico, which amounted to about a fortnight.
    Had either of the above appointments been made, I believe we would be supporting a very different Arsenal today, far better than the bland corporate self-sustaining non-competitive rubbish currently being served up. If a club has any semblance of ambition, they do not sell their only world-class player to their direct rivals.
    Think big, you’ll be big, and nothing makes more money than a winning, exciting brand.
    And in an age where goals were plentiful, and clubs were regularly scoring over 100 goals a season, no Arsenal side were ever thrashed 8-2 under Herbert Chapman.

    • HA,,,,you seem to be missing the point:

      * It isn’t a question of how ¨big¨ we are nor how long we have been in the EPL or top tier, either in Europe or Britain. There are a few teams in the EPL that have even more of a ¨history¨ than us but they have fallen out of contention as well, despite their best efforts. Our achievements since Wenger came have surpassed those of Chapman and all other managers since. My contention is that any determination of how successful a team has been or is currently does not depend solely on how many trophies they’ve won but on numerous other factors and circumstances that most fans ignore or mistakenly demean.
      * Who knows what silent Stan plans to do BUT it is far from certain that he’ll try and take any dividends out of AFC as he hasn’t done this with his other franchises so far. It is dishonest and disingenuous to claim that you know his intentions since he never reveals them.
      * ¨or the minerals¨ ….is this a British expression? What does it refer to…gold,silver?
      * AFC have been forced to sell some of their top players but they have also managed to retain most of their best and have succeeded in bringing in top EPL/international players like Per, Podolski, Cazorla, Vermaelen (despite his present form), Koscielny, Rosicky, Szcesny, Arteta, Sagna, etc.
      * ¨Think big, you’ll be big, and nothing makes more money than a winning, exciting brand¨ -exactly my sentiments Herb BUT your brand of thinking big seems to be contrary to the custodial sentiments of most fans and certainly AW, the Board and most EUFA intentions, why else have the FFP rules and the pressure from EPL managers to implement an EPL equivalent?.
      * Your statement that: ¨no Arsenal side were ever thrashed 8-2 under Herbert Chapman¨ is patently incorrect since Chapman’s 3rd game in charge of the team away to Newcastle United, resulted in an Arsenal loss7-0. That’s not a thrashing? That’s 1 more goal than at OT last season!

      I believe you adjust the ¨facts¨to suit your opinion but again that’s your choice….I am a glass half full person but also look at AFC with a critical eye with a willingness to admit Wenger’s, the Board’s and the team’s real failings and lacunae. I however, am less prone to predict a poor harvest months before the harvest is in….anyway we can’t change anything unless AFC agree to it so this entire dialogue is pleasant but eventually moot.

      • Donald, on what basis have “Our achievements since Wenger came surpassed those of Chapman and all other managers since”? What are you measuring there?

      • Phil………..I did a beautiful comparison chart of Wenger and Chapman’s achievements etc. BUT my f**kin’ machine crashed and I hadn’t saved my work. If I can get the heart to redo it, I will. The real problem with trying to prove my point is that AW has had almost twice as much time to do what he’s done as Chapman did and everything is so different now from the 1920’s and 30’s but I will try. It is really comparing apples and oranges or if you prefer Roast Beef to Boeuf Bourgunon!

      • Well if you can redo it you can email it to me I’ll post it. I am interested, because Chapman was probably the greatest and most innovative manager ever, and Wenger, for all he has done, is definitely not.

      • I will do my best….I hate computers! I agree that Chapman was a superb innovator but there are many dimensions to greatness at AFC and Wenger checks a lot of boxes….anyway I’ll try and get the chart redone if I can remember what I did:)

  11. @ times AW shows his tactical ineptitude in matches dis is vry evident in our CL mauling @ d sansiro against milan nd against sundaland in d fa cup 4th round. Even cesc fabregas attested to dis fact wen he left arsenal dt AW does nt fancy d weakness of d opposite team bt pays mch attention to his own side which i tink IMO he hast to b flexible nd move wit d tyms nt to b rigid. Honestly arsene nds to b cl to oda b4 tins get out of hand.

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