Dennis Bergkamp has revealed that Arsenal’s decline after winning the Premier League and reaching the Champions League final in 2006 under Arsene Wenger boils down to the Frenchman’s tactical changes.
Wenger masterminded three Premier League title-winning campaigns in the space of six years between 1998 and 2004 with Bergkamp in the No.10 role, supplying the ammunition for Nicolas Anelka, before he was replaced by his compatriot Thierry Henry.
Wenger began tinkering with formations and relying on a sole striker. It was a system that helped the club reach its first and only Champions League final in Bergkamp’s last season with the club, but the Dutch legend believes it was at that point that his old boss became obsessed with dominating the midfield and neglecting his forward line.
Asked by his former teammate Martin Keown why the second half of Wenger’s reign was nowhere near as successful as the first, Bergkamp said: ‘Arsene started experimenting. Arsenal after 2006, there was too much midfield play. There were no players going into attack, and only one striker who was lonely.”
Keown, himself, appeared to concur, adding: “With five in midfield. Instead of having you there, he had Cesc Fabregas. You would start high then drift into midfield. Then Wenger reversed it.
“Then the player started deep and went high, as Fabregas did. Many years later, I spoke with a big-name winger at Arsenal. I asked him: ‘Why do you always stay wide?’ Play with freedom. Be instinctive. That’s what the boss wants.”
Bergkamp also gave his thoughts on Arteta’s reign so far: “I watched Arteta’s first game in charge at home [against Chelsea].
“In that game it was clear to see what his intentions were with the team. The front four would chase the ball and put pressure on the opponents, but the midfield stayed behind. There was a big hole.”