Arsenal Substitutions Are A Sign Of Deeper Problems

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about research that some American dude did into the best time to make substitutions. This concluded that if you were losing and wanted to affect the result then you need to make your first substitution no later than 58 minutes in, the second by 73 minutes and the third by 79 minutes. Following this pattern can double your chances of turning a game around – though you still have a less than even chance of salvaging something.

Less than a week later The Times then published this Fink Tank piece about substitutions. The Fink Tank approached it from a different angle: They looked at the times of substitutions, but also at whether it makes a difference when you substitute players in different positions – an attacker for a defender, midfielder for an attacker, and so on.

The evidence seems to suggest that firstly most substitutions are like for like – attacker for attacker, etc – and in most cases don’t affect the result.

fink tank on subs 17Nov2012

However, it seems there is more chance of holding on to a lead by bringing in an extra defender than there is of coming back from a losing position by bringing on an attacker. So if you’re winning with ten minutes to go, bringing on a defender is a positive move, in the sense you are more likely to still be winning at the end.

It also suggests to me that although the chance of turning a game around may not be that high, managers should be a bit more adventurous when losing. If you’re going to make a substitution, don’t take off your poorly performing attacker, take off a defender and bring on another attacker to increase your chances of a comeback. And if you add in the previous research, then you should be doing this by the 58th minute.

Arsene Wenger is notoriously conservative with substitutions. Like for like at 67 minutes is the usual thing. Yesterday against Swansea, when 67 minutes came up it was the Ox and Giroud on for Podolski and Gervinho. That’s not going to win awards for tactical bravery.

Thirteen minutes later Wilshere was replaced by Rosicky. You could say that was slightly more attacking, but it’s a small step if anything. By general consensus Arsenal were poor for the whole game, but the starting tactics remained in place.

Meanwhile at Reading, Man Utd went behind twice and had conceded three goals by the time half an hour was up (though to be fair they had also scored three). Alex Ferguson decided enough was enough and took off Rafael on 32 minutes. He may have been replaced by another defender, but the point here is that the manager took action to rescue the situation. Result: no more goals conceded, and Man U went on to win.

Would Arsene Wenger have done the same? I think not. In fact I think never in a million years, but if you disagree please do tell me why.

Was it not fairly obvious in the Arsenal v Swansea game that the Gunners were not getting anywhere? Sitting and waiting for something different to happen without doing anything different is usually pointless (which coincidentally is what Arsenal were at the end of the match). Or as Steven Tyler once sang, “If you do what you’ve always done you’ll always get what you always got”.

I don’t want to turn every blog post into a criticism of the manager but Arsenal are now predictable, stale and dull. Arsene Wenger may make the excuse that the team is jaded, though I’ve no idea why they should be – hadn’t anyone told them the season is the best part of ten months? – but the fans are even more so. A good shake up is the only way to get out of a rut, and the longer you leave it the bigger the shake needs to be. It would be a shame if the legacy of a great manager were to be irretrievably  tarnished, but that looks like the direction we’re heading.

I guess Arsene’s choice, while he still has one, is whether to do the shaking up himself or let things drift until he becomes the victim. Shaker or shakee, if you like. Lay your bets.

Twitter: @AngryOfN5


16 thoughts on “Arsenal Substitutions Are A Sign Of Deeper Problems

  1. These sure are trying times for poor Arsene. Were his tactics different in the good old days? I don’t think so. Were his substitution times? Probably not. Arsene is an economics grad and he generally plays percentages; one suspects that he decided which tactics/style, etc were more favourable and which were less favourable long, long ago (and I bet his criteria were far more sophisticated than Mr Fink). So what HAS changed. In a word, PERSONNEL. It helps, if you are going to make a substitution, to have someone decent on the bench. I mean, it’s a lot easier if, like Mancini, you have, say, Tevez on the bench, or, like Fergie, you have Hernandez. Even Perry Groves or Solksjaer back then. And it helps even more if the team sheet includes a few truly outstanding players – the likes of Cesc and Robin, say. And here we have the crux of poor Arsene’s predicament: he has been loyal to his paymasters, never breathed a word of disapproval publicly, never complained of lack of transfer funds, made do and mended – and what do you know, HE is identified as the main culprit. Simply no justice in life, is there?

  2. When a group of high potential players continually fail to deliver, who should be at fault? The players, the manager or the higher mgmt? in my opinion, Arsene always believe in his judgement. Its crazy to do the same thing over and over again and expecting for different results. He keeps defending his players unlike Sir Alex. There are many contributing factors to the current mediocrity. In my opinion, the very first mistake was to appoint Bould. He should hv got someone outside of arsenal tradition to inject differences. Secondly, we need to have more direct players that are more willing to beat defenders in the final 3rd rather than playing “arsenalisation” style i.e (patience and passing)

    Substituting players in the early stage is something Arsene would not do unless of injury matters. This part I’m in an agreement with you. The players are jaded totally unacceptable reason. It only shows the failure of the person who manages the team. Last season we got 29 points from 15 matches and this season only 21 points in 15 matches. Clearly something is collapsing and can’t he notices it???

    I’m from Malaysia and have to wake up at 3.45am to watch mid-week matches or CL matches. Its getting very frustrating lately. You guys in London pls do something to protest! The board are like leeches sucking on fans monies. Boycott the next home match is a clear signal to the mgmt and Arsene.

    Also pls tell him to get rid of those dead woods, Ramsey and Diaby as well. He’s a liability.


  3. Wat i believe wenger needs to shake up,is arsenal formation back to 4-4-2 formation,d 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 is playin is nt workin even threatin d central backs.we are eazily marked out due to d slow passin game we play allover d pitch.look at both manu teams,everton All have two strikers upfront.wenger should play d english way,when he took over d coaching work,he inherited a 4-4-2 formation dat workd perfectly 4 us.wenger has killd d arsenal drive by playin formation dat doesnt suits d players.wenger should learn from d reading match in d 2nd half where he added upfront 1 more striker to make two upfront,dat chamak and giroud both upfront and we won.wenger needs to start playin 4-4-2 formation,fans wants wins nt ball possessions without no result.

  4. I don’t have a problem with his substitutions when he eventually decides to make them. My problem is with the team he puts out.
    Everyone and their dog can see Gervbeanio is an out an out clown, but Wenger insists on playing the dope.
    I wouldn’t mind if there was half a chance that the no hoper could make a little tinsy wincy bit of a difference to a game, but over the last few seasons i think it has become pretty obvious that Gerv is a complete waste of time.
    I also have a problem with our defence. Season after season our defence has been a laughing point. Why doesn’t Wenger address this problem?
    Everything about this club is imploding around Wenger and the board except for their bank balances.
    Act now Wenger.

  5. Well Phil I’m not sure what to think today. I was criticised some weeks ago for having a go at the board not that I mind that but I fear that the time for criticism has passed.Those in charge of Arsenal FC need to take a very close look at the situation. All of them ,the board, the manager the coaching staff and in particular the players themselves. They need to take a long jaundiced look at their performances. Now is a time for cool heads and steady nerves . A time to pull together.

  6. Come sun,come rain,manu will everly play 4-4-2 formation against any opponent.pls.fellow fans is wenger scared of playing 4-4-2 formation,playin two strikers upfront,Wide wingers supportin d attack.why cant wenger play chamak and giroud together,then walcot and podoski or gervinho on d wings,arteta and cazorla distating d midfield.wilshere,rosicky,arshavin,coq. On d bench.To me 4-4-2 formation is d best,attacking and most threating.


  8. It was a bad result the way we conceded two so quickly so late on. Both the keeper should have done better with but the problem there is your out for a length of time and get straight back in the team means no reason to improve. Why was Szcessa to blame well he went down to early for the first goal making Michu’s choice easy though he still took it well and the second he didn’t have the near post covered well enough and again Michu finished well. We are still in a position to turn the season around and hopefully Wenger will treat the olympiakos games as dead rubber and play a second string team so that the game against wba is better.

  9. Sorry if i drift away from d actual post.

    Why is arsenal in a bad state?
    1) d board (whoever makes up d board).
    2) d manager(s). Wenger, bould e.t.c
    3)d fitness team.
    4) d scouts. Wot do dey do really? ( squilacci, djorou, park,ramsey) e.t.c
    5) d ever loving fans. “why would some1 in his right senses accept Arteta as a DM? Dis tin( arteta-wlshere-cazorla) midffield that some fans clamoured for abuses d way football should be played. I seriously hate seeing such.

    6) d fans- how would some1 put up a banner sayin “in arsene we trust”? As a Christian, dat is an Insult to God. God is probably angry with arsenal bcos of that banner.

    At dis Point, i would say Arsenal either need a coach (outsider with Class) Or a sensible Wenger.
    In God I Trust.

  10. U fans are nt gettin it,arsenal poors will continue if wenger doesnt change d formation to 4-4-2,instead of copyin barca style of play,why dont wenger copy fergie style of city won d title,just becos mancini do use two strikers upfront.i just dont understand why wenger change from A two striker upfront to a 1 striker upfront dat is closely marked by d central backs.wenger needs to inject two striker solution upfront becos wenger continous playin 1 striker upfront is nt helpin our game.david moyes does nt have a large squad bt he injected d 4-4-2 formation to suit d players.In everton midfield,he plays pienar,osman,nevile,naismith in d midfield,why cant wenger play similarly.wenger is out of ideas,i will love to see david moyes arsenal coach,a coach dat is nt scared to play 4-4-2 formation against any team.French coaches do loss touches,dat is wat is happening to wenger.Against aston villa we were looking 4 goals,wenger removed d striker and added a dmf,when he was to bring in a striker to make it two upfront.just a joke coach.

  11. Hi
    Slightly different subject but you have been doing quite revealing pieces on the share ownership and power struggle at Board level.
    If Hill-Wood leaves the Board through ill health (76, pneumonia and heart attack not a good prognosis for Chairing a Football Club) or worse what happens to his shares and who is Vice Chair? Before anybody starts I am not being callous just realistic after all I’m constantly being told it is nothing but a business these days!

  12. Wenger makes the vast majority of his substitutions for physical reasons. His feeling is that at a certain point a player’s effectiveness drops off significantly, and that is the point to replace him with a fresh pair of legs. For instance, this is part of the reason Giroud wasn’t given a true run of games to start the season (I think AW said the other part was confidence and/or gelling with the team), and the reason Podolski comes off around 70′ every match regardless of good or bad performance.

    Now, I don’t agree with the philosophy, but I accept that that’s his approach to the game. The bigger problem is that there’s nobody talent-wise capable of coming on and being a difference-maker. Using the above examples, our top choice to replace either is Gervinho. Yuck.

    Lack of squad depth also shoots a hole in the philosophy to start. Look no further than Arteta and Cazorla, who play virtually every minute because we have nobody close to replicating their talent. They certainly aren’t looking very energized lately, are they?

    The other problem is we face is tactical inflexibility. Most our subs are simple like-for-like because we pursue a single playing style regardless of opponent or game situation. When that’s the case, you damn well better have good replacements if your pieces aren’t working. We don’t.

  13. I’ve often had the perhaps misguided idea that AW gives the team he sends out an extended amount of time to repay his faith in them:

    He’ll back his players to the hilt, and must figure that the long-term reward, confidence and development-wise, for a player being given a chance to shine and taking it is valuable enough to negate most other considerations, especially short-term ones on match day. I’m pretty sure that’s a key tenet of his management-style. I could never see him hauling off someone 30 minutes into a match – in fact, I’d be even more worried if he did, because it might indicate that he’s questioning his own philosophy.

    Of course, I could be totally wrong and just projecting this idea onto him. He did bring Eboue off against Wigan a few years ago after sending him on, but that was probably to protect him.

  14. The problem with Arsenal as a team is that, there is no natural depensive midfield in the team at all, why do Arsene sold Alex Song while there is no replacement. Cazola and Arteta are good attacking midfielder, but they need a strong number 4 four behind them. These will enable them to play well. Mr Arsene should stop thinking of buying straker cos Giroud is good but need only support.

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