Integrating Wiltord takes time

By Myles Palmer

Leeds 1 Arsenal 0

Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord will only become a credible partnership when they both score goals in the same game – and make each other’s goals.

Wiltord works from the flanks. Sometimes he gives you a pass,sometimes he looks for a one-two.

That should work at Arsenal because they PASS the ball from the flanks rather than CROSS it.

But Sunday’s game suggested that Henry is uncomfortable with a short-passing game.

He has been playing in avenues for the last year and now Arsene Wenger is asking him to play in triangles.

Most of Arsenal’s triangles were telegraphed. Radebe and Woodgate saw them coming a mile off and cut them out. That forced Wiltord to shoot from narrow angles.

Wiltord dribbled in his own half and lost the ball four times. And he lost it before the decisive goal. His short pass did not find Lauren, so Dacourt broke forward and was fouled by Parlour.

Dacourt hit a free-kick which deflected off the left shoulder of Lauren and fell just under the bar, giving Alex Manninger no chance (55).

Basically, Arsenal struggled to adjust to 4-4-2 rather than the 4-4-1-1 they have played for the last three years.

With Wiltord playing instead of Bergkamp, they had to use more passes and shorter passes.

It was worrying to see them passing the ball to marked men around the penalty area. That is not their game at all.

Henry did not have Bergkamp playing him in.So he did different things and they did not work. He got frustrated and whacked Wilcox (43).

Adams and Silvinho did not deserve their yellow cards, but Thierry did.And he knew it.He ended the match making three-yard passes to Wiltord.

Manninger had a good game and made a blinding save from an Ian Harte volley, tipping it onto the post.He failed to come out and punch when Wilcox muffed an early header. And he scuffed a weak goal-kick to Bowyer.He might have got closer to Alan Smith, who lacked the class to chip him.

But Manninger did enough to suggest he can keep a clean sheet against Southampton on Saturday

Looking at the season, rather than the 92 minutes, Wiltord is better than Suker, the striker he replaced. But a totally different player. As I always say, footballers do not duplicate each other.

Wiltord is busier than Suker, braver, more versatile, more two-footed.If Suker was 26 and had Wiltord’s ebullience he would be Christian Vieri and you could sell him to AC Milan for £35 million.

Wiltord is a do-it-yourself player, so he comes deep to get the ball. His style is quite hard to integrate into a team.Especially a team as specific as this Arsenal team.

Suker just hovered and waited patiently. Suker was static, a drifter and poacher, while Wiltord is an energy-bomb, a perpetual motion machine who requires others to improvise all the time because he is always turning up in different positions.

Inventing the game as you go along is difficult. When the team is stuttering it is very difficult.Against a fiercely pressing team like Leeds,it is impossible.

Arsenal need more of a pattern. The return of Bergkamp, added to Vieira,should restore their shape.

Although Wiltord works both flanks, they have become a left-sided team.

Silvinho links with the Frenchmen and scores goals.Every Silvinho goal buys the strikers time to forge an understanding.

But Parlour, Pires and Vieira need to score too. They should each score one goal a month. Or at least two a month between them.

Clearly, Arsenal also need something on the right side. I’m backing Lauren to give them constructive passing from that side. He can play a lot better than he did at Leeds.

Patrick Vieira made two magnificent breaks in 67 and 73 minutes.

He won the ball, flicked it over Dacourt, waltzed inside Bakke, and slid a lovely pass forward to Henry, who got between Kelly and Woodgate, forcing Robinson to come off his line. But Henry was just squeezed out.

Then Vieira made a superb run through the middle and found Wiltord making a diagonal run into the box. Wiltord took one touch with his right foot and then shot with his left. The ball beat Robinson but came back off the inside of the post.

Overall, Arsenal were unlucky. They deserved a draw. But Wiltord and Henry are some way off being effective strike partners. Wiltord got better as the game went on, but Henry got worse.They have work to do.

The $64,000 conundrum is whether the team’s style of play has to be revamped to adapt to those two French strikers.

Should Arsene Wenger play both against Southampton?

Should he drop Wiltord to bring back Bergkamp?

Or should he play Bergkamp wide on the right?

If Arsenal lose, would that be seen as a bungling compromise?

I don’t know. I really don’t know. I’m not a qualified football coach or an experienced manager.I’m not paid £1 million a year to figure out that conundrum.

I’m just a gentleman-amateur writing a column as a free service for Arsenal fans.


Leeds team

Robinson; Harte, Kelly, Radebe, Woodgate; Bakke, Bowyer, Dacourt,Wilcox; Smith, Viduka.

Arsenal team

Manninger; Adams, Keown, Luzhny, Silvinho; Lauren (Kanu), Parlour,Pires, Vieira; Henry, Wiltord.

Referee: Dermott Gallagher (Banbury)

Attendance: 38,084

Yellow cards

Leeds : Dacourt (61)

Arsenal: Lauren (5) Keown (25) Luzhny (40) Henry (45) Parlour (55)

Silvinho (62) Adams (90)


27th November 2000.