What’s Arsenal’s Manager Looking for?

The International Champions Cup is coming through Charlotte again this summer. The Queen City is hosting AS Roma versus Arsenal. So, it’s a good time to share what we’ve learned about Arsene Wenger’s view of the game and the skills that future players need.

Speaking at a global sports industry event in Paris, the legendary Arsenal manager said, “the problem in football is that you learn how to play [the wrong] way round - first execution, then decision making and perception last.”

Great players, he said, see what is around them, and don’t just focus on the ball. A top player, he said, has a head “like a radar.”

Development in that direction needs to start earlier, Wenger argued. The focus on execution from ages five to 12 can interfere with development of decision making and perception. He added, “once a circuit is printed in [the player’s] brain, we managers find it extremely difficult to change that.”

Wenger is invested enough in developing the ability to analyze, decide, and then execute, that he worked with a University in Norway to research how to improve perception.

Basically, they concluded, it depends on scanning to get as much information as possible before receiving the ball. “What is interesting is that very good players scan six to eight times in the 10 seconds before getting the ball and normal ones three to four times,” he said.

Yet simply scanning is not enough. The player must also have quality perception and decision making. “My challenge is to get my players to know which the best choice is and make the optimal decision every time they get the ball,” Wenger said. “The player has to scan and decide. When he has decided he has to make the best possible solution. This means a compromise between risk and the progress of the ball."

Dr Geir Jordet at the Norwegian School of Sports Sciences is behind the research on perception among elite athletes. He filmed and analyzed scanning practices of 250 top players as part of the work and found:

•       England’s Steven Gerrard conducted 0.61 searches per second

•       His fellow countryman Frank Lampard did 0.62 searches per second

•       Barcelona’s Xavi topped them all with 0.83 searches per second. 

Picturing the Pass and Play

Other Jordet research looked specifically at strikers and midfielders to look at the impact of scanning on pass completion. The high scanners had an 81% pass completion rate, compared to 64% for the low scanners.

This clip of Frank Lampard in a 2009 match demonstrates him looking around 10 times in seven seconds before receiving the ball!

Lampard is said to have been surprised by Jordet’s finding. When interviewed, he guessed he was born with the scanning skill. Yet when the Norwegian queried a former manager about Lampard’s skill, West Ham Academy Manager Tony Carr recalled Lampard’s father reminding his son to “have a picture in his head before he got to the ball.”

Lampard Sr., who played professionally for West Ham and twice for England, said “All the best players do this naturally. Or I should say it looks natural, because it will have been drummed into them from a young age.”

Of course, at this point there’s even technology available at the top levels to help boost perception and decision making. Using biometric markers, for instance, the team can measure where the player is looking using head and eye tracking. Then, they can work on identifying how to focus perception and make better decisions based on that data.

In the meantime, while Mutiny doesn’t have that kind of virtual reality tech, we’ll continue to do our part to development perception and decision making. It’s one more important skill for young athletes to develop early and practice from a young age.

chris williams