in

Celebrating Arsène Wenger’s eclectic mix of right-backs at Arsenal | Football


None of Arsène Wenger’s achievements at Arsenal – the Invincibles, the way he reshaped English football, the Double he claimed in his first full season, the long unbeaten run or the way he kept the club among the elite despite heavy financial constraints in the early days at the Emirates – would have been possible without his eye for talent. And nothing epitomises his recruitment philosophy better than the list of Lee Dixon’s successors at right-back.

Replacing the famous back four was a monumental challenge and the way Wenger approached it – particularly when it came to Dixon – underlines what made him a visionary manager. Dixon’s future replacement was brought in early – in the summer of 2000 – two years before he retired. In later years, Wenger would be ridiculed for his habit of stockpiling central midfielders, but signing one as a replacement for an old-fashioned, natural-born defender was unorthodox even by his standards.

Lauren established himself as a right-sided midfielder at Mallorca, but before that he had played as a No 8 or even a No 10. When he arrived at Arsenal he disliked the idea of becoming a defender so much he pleaded to be given a chance in his former central role. But the boss was never going to listen: “I signed him as right-back,” Wenger later recalled. “He just didn’t know it.” The manager used to cite Lauren’s character, strength and pace as the traits that made him a perfect Arsenal full-back, but his technical quality and ability to distribute the ball from the back were also key.





Lauren fends off Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2005 FA Cup final.



Lauren fends off Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the 2005 FA Cup final. Photograph: John Sibley/Action Images

Whatever way you look at it, signing a Cameroonian player who grew up in Spain – and whose mother had to flee Equatorial Guinea while pregnant with him – from a mid-table La Liga side and moulding him into one of the world’s best in an unfamiliar position is an extremely Wenger thing to do. There is one box the Lauren did not tick as an archetypal Wenger move – the price. Lauren cost Arsenal £8m in 2000; he was still one of Wenger’s 10 most expensive buys a decade later.

Before Lauren made the right-back spot his own, he had to fend off competition from a much cheaper Wenger signing. The fact that Arsenal only paid £250,000 for Kolo Touré was a personal point of pride for the manager for years to come. Touré’s stint as a makeshift right-back and defensive midfielder was short-lived. In the summer of 2003, Wenger moved him to the centre of the Arsenal defence – consciously trialling the new setup in a friendly against Besiktas, as he sought their manager Mircea Lucescu’s opinion on the idea. It worked and Wenger never looked back.

Lauren and Touré played side by side in the Invincibles team, but in the end Lauren was displaced by a player from Touré’s home city of Abidjan. Emmanuel Eboué’s career at Arsenal had a grim ending – many will remember the day he came off the bench against Wigan, tackled a teammate and was himself substituted to deafening boos – but for a time he was brilliant, particularly when Arsenal made it to the Champions League final in 2006.

When Eboué – a £1.5m signing from Beveren – delivered a series of menacing displays against Europe’s top sides, it looked as though Wenger had pulled off another transfer miracle. It seemed all the more spectacular given that, until Lauren’s injury in early 2006, Eboué barely got a look in, playing fewer than 180 minutes of Premier League and European football in the space of a year.





Emmanuel Eboué in action during the 2006 Champions League final.



Emmanuel Eboué in action during the 2006 Champions League final. Photograph: Michael Regan/Action Images

Curiously, in January 2005 Wenger had introduced the newly signed Eboué as a “centre-back, who can play right-back or in midfield”. However, unsurprisingly, his one and only outing at centre-half for the club took place 13 years later, in an Arsenal Legends friendly. Eboué’s excellent spell as first-choice right-back turned out to be fairly short-lived, as in 2007 Wenger unleashed another one of his specialties.

At that point, 11 years into his regime, Wenger had signed at least one French player for every outfield position. Except for right-back. Enter Bacary Sagna – another familiar-sounding type of player: the standout performer at a mid-table Ligue 1 side. However, the move seemed odd at the time. Arsenal were in a difficult financial period – when most big-money signings were made to compensate for outgoings – so it was unusual for the club to spend £8m on an upgrade for a position that seemed to be well covered. The new arrival marked the beginning of the end for Eboué, the once-exciting Ivorian full-back being demoted to the position of mediocre wide midfielder.

The £8m price tag seemed high, but proved a bargain. Throughout his eight seasons at the club, Sagna was one of the most stable, reliable performers – no mean feat when Arsenal’s defence as a whole began to be known for pretty much the opposite. His introduction into the line-up perhaps marked another slight shift in philosophy – as the Arsenal frontline got younger, Sagna’s consistency became more valuable than the explosiveness and excitement his predecessors brought to the table.

The way he left Emirates tells a story of its own. At a time when departing players usually left the fans angered or at least bitterly disappointed, Sagna’s decision to join Manchester City on a free was met with understanding and wishes of good luck. Wenger’s most conventional right-back signing turned out to be the most trustworthy – in his 22-year reign only two defenders, Touré and Laurent Koscielny, racked up more appearances for Arsenal than Sagna.





Sagna attempts to stop Liverpool’s Raheem Stirling at Anfield in February 2014.



Bacary Sagna attempts to stop Raheem Stirling at Anfield in 2014. Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Sagna’s departure left Wenger looking for solutions outside of his comfort zone. He signed 29-year-old Mathieu Debuchy and 19-year-old Calum Chambers for a combined fee of £30m. Neither really worked out – Chambers’ best performances have come at centre-back, while Debuchy’s promising start was undone by a string of injuries. In his absence, Wenger had already found a new long-term solution for the right-back slot – and it was another bargain.

Arsenal relied on Wenger’s knack for discovering and developing the best youth players from around Europe and Héctor Bellerín is the last of these success stories. The club’s current right-back is another case of a player being moulded into the position. Having arrived from Barcelona as a winger, Bellerín learned the basics of his new role under Steve Bould’s tutelage for two years, before making his first-team debut in the League Cup in 2013, coming on for current Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta.

Like Eboué before him, Bellerín eventually took advantage of others’ misfortunes and claimed the starting spot. Now he is just one year short of equalling Sagna’s time as an Arsenal first-teamer. Bellerín’s story completes the set of Wenger’s right-backs and he fits in well with this collection of obscure, reinvented and underrated players.

The Squall is a new digital magazine brought to you by The Blizzard. Pay what you can to read this issue and support the freelance community during this uniquely difficult time.



Source link

Written by sortiwa

Multitasking in the workplace can lead to sadness, fear – sex and relationships

Opinion: New workplace realities highlight opportunity for cloud-based apps and devices