Arsenal legend Martin Keown believes Arsene Wenger’s biggest mistake at the club was trying too hard to emulate Barcelona.
Wenger was often synonymous with his free-flowing and beautiful style of football at Arsenal. Initially, it led the club to a glorious era which saw them even go the entire 2003/04 Premier League season unbeaten.
Things, however, began to fall apart for Wenger during the latter stages of his Gunners career. Fans and pundits alike slammed him his tendency to place too much focus on technical ability, which compromised Arsenal’s defensive capabilities.
Upon failing to qualify for the Champions League in his last two seasons, Wenger left in 2018 after 22 years.
“The balance between physicality against technical players went too far one way,” Keown told Sky Sports.
“I think it was done in pursuit of trying to match the excellence of Barcelona, which is the team Wenger wanted to copy most of all. The balance at Arsenal was lost.”
Although the former centre-back, who made 251 appearances under Wenger, thinks Unai Emery can get Arsenal back on track.
The Spanish coach had a respectable first campaign in charge of the Gunners despite missing out on a top-four spot by a single point. He also lost the Europa League final to Chelsea in May.
“Unai Emery is trying to get that back but he needs to get a better balance to the group because they forgot how to defend and for fifty per cent of every game, you are going to be without the ball,” continued Keown.
“It is still their Achilles heel, particularly away from home.
Keown added: “I have watched Emery with great interest.
“He has been working, urging, cajoling these players to be at the Arsenal level that you would expect.
“He wants them at boiling point and they lost that in the latter years under Wenger. There is a lot of pressure on him but I think the manager was inheriting a fairly difficult situation.
“It looked for a while like he had solved those defensive problems away from home but then they fell away at the end of the season and the problem returned.
“It probably cost them fourth-place and the Champions League. That pops them into the Europa League and makes life much more difficult with the calendar and the regular Thursday night football.”
Arsenal have won both of their opening Premier League games of the season as they bid to make a top-four return for the first time since 2015/16.
“If I was still a competitor I would be thinking that fourth place is up for grabs,” said Keown.
“Frank Lampard is a talented manager but he’s a novice and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t much more experienced at this level.
“From that point of view, Emery looks a much better bet. But are the players good enough? Can he get them to be more defensively resolute?”