One of soccer’s highest honors as a manager is to have a style of play named after you. Only the likes of Wenger and Guardiola, along with a few other elite football geniuses, have had their style implemented into the tactical scrapbook of football history.
So, what makes longtime face of Arsenal Arsene Wenger’s “Wengerball” so special? During Wenger’s tenure, which despite facing some ups and downs in his final years at the club, Arsenal achieved great things. Wenger, while managing the most games in Premier League history (he leads the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson of Manchester United), led Arsenal to three title winning seasons, one of which Wenger’s side went unbeaten, earning the only gold tinted trophy in Premier League history (the unbeaten streak continued into the following season, totaling 49 matches), 7 Football Association (FA) Cups, among other trophies, and guaranteed not only 19 years of Champions League, but over 15 years of reaching the prestigious tournament’s knockout stage. So, one of the reasons Wengerball was so special was because of how successful it was.
Win or lose, Wengerball was also special because at its best, it drew feelings of pleasure, joy, and awe from those watching. A modified version of Pep Guardiola’s tiki-taka seen at Barcelona, the goal of Wengerball is to basically find the prettiest way to build up to a goal, normally consisting of tight, intricate, one-touch passing finding many of the eleven players on the pitch. These sequences can last a whole minute, with 45 seconds of cautious possession suddenly leading to a few seconds of footballing genius.
It didn’t matter who Arsenal was up against or what was at stake – the best instances of Wengerball would be cemented in the minds of Arsenal fans and other football enthusiasts. In one memorable display, which featured a low-profile matchup against Premier League bottom feeders Norwich City, one of the most sensational buildups in Arsenal and maybe English football history jolted the spectators from their seats. In the eighteenth minute of play, still a 0-0 game, the Arsenal trio of Cazorla, Wilshere, and Giroud found themselves just outside the top of the box, with a mass of 7 Norwich defenders around. The smartest course of action was to turn around and recycle the move, because the odds of creating any chance was slim. But Jack Wilshere had other ideas and laid a pass off to Cazorla outside the box, and then started a darting run through the yellow sea of Norwich players. Cazorla then found the target man Giroud. This is where the magic happened. Giroud, deciding not to take an extra touch, flicked the ball back to the route of Wilshere, who had continued his run. The pass from Giroud was a bit behind the darting Englishman, so Wilshere somehow had the awareness to flick the ball back to Giroud, who at that moment had amassed half of the Norwich side around him. Yet, the ball reached Giroud, and he found Wilshere in space behind the back line and dinked the ball through the cracks of the yellow wall. To put the icing on the cake, Wilshere coolly continued the one-touch theme, and finished a one-touch right-footed shot, which rolled slowly enough for the Norwich keeper to watch hopelessly, and for the Norwich team to look around and wonder what magic spell they had just been under, even if it was only for about 4 seconds.