Desperate times call for desperate measures, even when you’re a legendary manager like Arsene Wenger, apparently.
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With his Arsenal side having won just two of their last seven Premier League games heading into Monday’s clash away to Middlesbrough, Wenger set the Gunners starting 11 out in a way that hadn’t been done in some 20 years: three at the back, with four in midfield, and a fluid front three. After the game, Wenger explained the thought process behind such a drastic change after two decades, and praised his team’s response after a humiliating defeat away to Crystal Palace last time out — quotes from the BBC:
“I felt [playing three at the back] added a bit more stability on the long balls. We faced a direct game and we have been punished a bit on that. It gave the opponents more of the ball. Against Palace we had 70 percent possession, but lost.
“Sometimes we want to have the ball but when a team lacks confidence just to change the system can help believe something different.”
“We responded well. I think it was not perfect but the commitment and focus was there. At 1-1 we found a response and managed to win. It was a big test, Middlesbrough gave everything. It’s one of their last chances to stay in the league.
“It [the top four] is mathematically still alive. We knew we needed to win. Now we have a little break with the FA Cup and then we come back again to the league.”
“We have not been good enough, we need to take responsibility for that and today we had to win.
“We had to get back to basics, it’s a massive honor to play for a team like Arsenal, you have to give 100 percent and maybe that’s been slipping recently. The formation was something new, a change, but we adapted well to it. It worked well in the first half especially.”
With seven games to go, Arsenal (57 points) sit sixth in the PL table and trail fourth-place Manchester City (who have played one game more than the Gunners) by seven points in the race for a top-four finish. Manchester United are fifth on 60 points, having played the same number of games as Arsenal.