Arsenal, Tottenham, and their use of substitutes yesterday 0

Will Quinn returns to discuss the substitutions made by both North London managers yesterday to similarly underwhelming effect…

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Arsene Wenger decided against playing a pro-active game at Old Trafford on Sunday, opting instead to choose two holding midfielders in Arteta and Flamini. In fairness, Rosicky’s illness may have forced his hand, but he still had the option of using Jack Wilshere. Arsenal’s best spell of the game came when Wilshere replaced Flamini. As it happened, Arsenal were predictably picked off by Rooney’s excellent set piece delivery and Van Persie’s lethal finishing.

It is difficult to be too critical of Wenger - a similar strategy worked perfectly in an even tougher game at Dortmund on Wednesday night. Less defensible was the decision to bring on Bendtner with fifteen minutes to go in an effort to get an equaliser. Setting aside the fact that Bendtner barely constitutes a footballer, Arsenal were at that stage controlling possession almost entirely and putting United under a lot of pressure. A tiring United side might well have cracked in the last fifteen minutes had Wenger not gifted them a way back into the game by sacrificing a midfielder.

The move combines two fallacies managers seem especially prone to lately. The first is using all of their substitutions, all of the time. There is no way Cazorla was so tired after 75 minutes that he was a less threatening option than Nicklas Bendtner. If there is no good option on the bench, just don’t make a sub.

The second, as also reprised by AVB yesterday, is bringing on a striker for a midfielder when the side needs a goal. This is certainly not always a bad tactic, especially against teams that, when ahead, tend to sit deeper and deeper as the game goes on. But it sometimes seems quite simplistic, and with little consideration of the relative quality of the player being replaced. Sigurdsson and Cazorla both carry a considerable goal threat, as well as creativity and tactical balance. Defoe and Bendtner, in comparison, are very limited. There’s a time and a place to bring on an extra striker in search of a goal, and, yesterday, both North London clubs got it wrong.

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