Eighteen years ago, the French soccer coach Arsène Wenger came to England and started a revolution. Piles of pasta instead of pints of beer. New training methods, focused on short passing and ball retention. A scouting network with a continental scope.
The Arsenal coach has never lost faith in his playbook: Squeeze as many dainty attacking midfielders as you can onto the pitch, and have them try to walk the ball into the net (see this delightful goal from Jack Wilshere). Bonus points for names with accents graves. Give Wenger a lock to pick, and he’ll use a procession of ever-smaller paperclips while the hammer rusts in the corner. This style has led to lots of beautiful performances and rather fewer championships. But Wenger’s influence is everywhere, and his favorite type of player—the foreign playmaker—is now ubiquitous. This week muscular Stoke City trotted out the cherubic ex-Barcelona prancer Bojan Krkic to play between the lines. Even the West Ham manager “Big Sam” Allardyce—the last, truest practitioner of the English ethos, of hoofing it to the big lad up front—turned to the mercurial Mauro Zarate to support his wingers.
English soccer, quite simply, has changed.
This week it seemed England had rubbed off on Wenger too: His starting lineup for Saturday’s 2-1 defeat at home to Manchester United featured six Brits, including Danny Welbeck, a big, athletic English center-forward. And his best player was the $58 million man Alexis Sanchez. Frugal by nature, the Frenchman has had to get the wallet out and try to keep up with the Joneses, the Pochettinos, and the Mourinhos.