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Page last updated at 13:35 GMT, Monday, 5 October 2009 14:35 UK

Lee Dixon's tactical view


I can still remember my first impression of Arsene Wenger when he took over as Arsenal manager back in 1996.

He had the look of a geography teacher about him and came across as being very studious.

A few of us in that Arsenal side were of an age where we were set in our ways, but also looking over our shoulders to see how long we had left in the game. So we were pretty receptive to new ideas.

At 32 years of age I was wondering whether he was going to phase me out, but he told us he would extend our careers if we followed his advice.

I was more than happy to listen to him if he could get me playing until the ripe old age of 38 - and he did.

WENGER'S FIRST GAME (12 Oct 1996)
Blackburn 0-2 Arsenal
David Seaman (English), Lee Dixon (English), Nigel Winterburn (English), Patrick Vieira (French), Steve Bould (English), Tony Adams (English), David Platt (English), Ian Wright (English), Paul Merson (English), Martin Keown (English), John Hartson (Welsh)

So we did the stretches and we ate the boiled chicken.

We stretched before training, we stretched during training and then again afterwards.

The morning of the first game he got us to meet at 9.00am to stretch before breakfast. It was the first time I had ever worked on my hamstrings before eating anything.

We did it and it worked and I cannot talk highly enough about him.

He realised our back four had been together for years and knew what we were doing defensively, but he gave us freedom to play and express ourselves, in contrast to the rather regimented style under George Graham.

Wenger was just brilliant to play for. He never ranted but if he needed to say anything he did and everyone respected him.

I have seen him lose his temper a bit more recently but the Premier League changes people - he has become more animated.

Taking nothing away from Graham, who was a great coach and taught us how to defend, Wenger is the best manager I worked under.

SUNDAY'S STARTING LINE-UP
Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn
Vito Mannone (Italian), Thomas Vermaelen (Belgian), Gael Clichy (French), Bacary Sagna (French), William Gallas (French), Andrey Arshavin (Russian), Cesc Fabregas (Spanish), Alex Song (Cameroonian), Abou Diaby (French), Tomas Rosicky (Czech), Robin van Persie (Dutch)

I enjoyed going in every day because it was always fresh. He treated us like adults, which is all you can ask for and he was honest as the day is long. I tried to give that back to him on and off the pitch.

He really is one of the nicest blokes you could ever meet and can talk about anything. The Frenchman is a self-confessed football anorak but I have never found a subject he does not know about. He is a very well-read and intriguing man.

Wenger's legacy is there for all to see - not just at Arsenal but in English football.

He was the first foreign manager to win the Premier League but everything he has done has been to the benefit of English football.

From the players he has brought here to the style of play - even the most biased of observers would admit that on their day Arsenal play the best football in the country.

His impact at Arsenal is clear for all to see - the three or four new teams he has built, the training ground, the Emirates Stadium and the silverware.

They are falling short of trophies at the moment but that will change.

The building of the present side has taken a bit longer than he hoped but the game is changing quicker than he thought. He is sticking to his guns with their attacking football and you have to admire him for that.

He celebrated becoming Arsenal's longest-serving manager with an outstanding attacking performance in beating Blackburn 6-2 on Sunday.

The current Arsenal side really is on the verge of being really good

Lee Dixon

Some of the passing and movement was as good as I have seen from any team in a long time. It was breathtaking stuff at times and a pleasure to watch.

But being ultra critical, a question mark against their defending that reared its ugly head again.

They are such a forward-thinking team they even get themselves in trouble from their own shots.

Blackburn's second goal was a perfect example.

Both their full-backs went forward at the same time and it led to them falling behind 2-1.

Bacary Sagna went to close down the ball on the right-hand side of Blackburn's box, while Gael Clichy was also in a forward position on the other flank.

El-Hadji Diouf cleared and Blackburn suddenly had a 3-versus-2, with Arsenal defenders Thomas Vermaelen and William Gallas the only players between the ball and the goal.

David Dunn scored a breakaway goal to give Blackburn a 2-1 lead
Dunn scored a breakaway goal to give Blackburn a 2-1 lead

Chelsea push both full-backs forward at the same time, but they are able to do this as Michael Essien drops back from midfield to make up the numbers.

In this situation he would have made it a 3 v 3.

Arsenal's holding midfielder Alex Song is not Michael Essien but he has similar qualities. He has the physique, is strong, quick, gets around the pitch, breaks opponent's attacks down and he can tackle.

I like Song a lot but he is still young and learning that role. He wants to attack but he needs to learn quickly there are times when he has to rein himself in.

The Gunners need to be a bit more savvy and stop giving goals away to these teams.

It may seem like I am being overly critical after a 6-2 victory but it is only because I want them to push for the title. I do not think they will if they give goals away like that.

You need to be coached and educated but a professional player at that level has to take responsibility for their own performance.

Wenger does not sign idiots. It is part of his philosophy to sign players with footballing intelligence who can learn.

606: DEBATE

When I was a player I probably made more mistakes than anyone but I used to look at every goal we conceded and ask if I could have done any better.

I would love to think Clichy is studying the tape of the game and wondering if he was too advanced.

The current Arsenal side are much more fluid than we were and the game is a lot quicker, but there are still basics of defending. Do not get outnumbered at the back and it is your responsibility as full-backs to look across and see that you are not both pushing at the same time.

This team is on the verge of being really good, but it is these little aspects that let them down.

Can they learn quickly enough to challenge for the title? I hope so but I am not convinced.

Lee Dixon was talking to BBC Sport's Andrew McKenzie.



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see also
Arsenal 6-2 Blackburn
04 Oct 09 |  Premier League
Wenger excited by Arsenal future
05 Oct 09 |  Premier League
Man City 4-2 Arsenal
12 Sep 09 |  Premier League
Man Utd 2-1 Arsenal
29 Aug 09 |  Premier League
Lee Dixon's tactical view
14 Sep 09 |  Premier League


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