Arsenal Invincibles – Part Four

People have been asking me how long this project will take until I’m happy with it and playing the type of football I’ve set out to achieve. The truth is I didn’t set any kind of time limit so it could vary. The idea behind this project was showing you how I build towards something and plan for the end goal. I’ve done articles in the past that show you how to create specific styles from the off but I wanted to highlight the other end, which is what this project is all about. I think a lot of people get frustrated when playing Football Manager because they demand instant success and that isn’t always a realistic option. So if you’re one of those wondering how long this will time, the truth is I simply don’t know.

The Analysis

Another question I always get asked with most things I write is, what do I change during the season? Now depending on what type of save I’m doing the answer will change. I play the game in three different ways at times and it all revolves around the style of play I am creating. If I’m creating something specific like the counter attacking stuff or even this Invincible project then I’ll change things differently compared to a normal save. Let me explain the three different ways a little bit more.

Team Instructions

When I’m working on a project like this Invincible one most of the style I am creating comes from the mentality I use and the players used. This means changing mentality is a big no because I’d lose the base of what I’ve created. So when I need to make changes to turn games around or to play better I’ll use team instructions to achieve this.

In this particular save because I play counter attacking the defensive line is a little too deep at times, not all the time but on the odd occasion. In these games I tend to push the defensive line up more. On this saved game this is the probably the team instruction I use the most and is the one that has the biggest impact as it pushed my lines closer together and reduces the space between the lines. It’s a small change but one that makes a big difference to how we play.

I do use other team instructions as well but it depends on the type of scenario I am facing. But team instructions are the way we play during this save. I never change the team mentality never.


I’ve wrote about this in the past and how I’ve had saved games were the only changes I make are mentality ones during a match. It’s probably the simplest yet most effective way of turning games around. I believe this to be the simplest method of tweaking and is less complex than deciding which team instructions to use. This type of tweaking method is better used when your style of play doesn’t revolve around mentality and it doesn’t matter if players are further away from each other or closer together. So if you was focused on a pure counter attacking game for example, then you’d steer clear of this method because it would make things complicated and depending on how far you adjusted mentality, it could mean you losing your whole style you’ve created.

The Players

This is normally my preferred method of playing the game and probably the most complex way. What happens is I have my first eleven players and then the backup players will all be very different from the first eleven. This means I use substitutes to turn games around and get a different way of playing. Or the starting line up is selected differently to give me a different dimension. For example I might have a deep-lying playmaker who is very creative and is focused on being a passing outlet and dictating play from deep. However the backup player used for this position might be more a destroyer type of player who is more mobile via player preferred moves. This means that when he plays the deep-lying playmaker role his interpretation of it is different than the other player. It’s also not unusual for me to have yet another player, normally a youth one, who plays the role differently to those two players as well.

Playing this way is all about having different kind of options and influencing games via substitutions or line up changes. In my opinion this is the most challenging way of playing the game yet the most rewarding.

Those are the three main ways I play the game but deciding which way I’m playing depends on what it is I’m trying to create, with regards to the overall club playing style. I think this is one of the reasons when people ask me ‘what did you change during the season’ and sometimes I say nothing or very little, it’s because it will have been a strategy that evolved round the players and using substitutions wisely. I just wanted to cover this point quickly because I’ve been asked that question about 40 times so far during this current series of articles. Maybe at a later date I’ll rewrite about them in much more detail.

Anyway, back to the game. To give you an idea of just how far away or how close I am to the end product that I’m trying to replicate, I think we should look at some analysis to give you a general idea.

First I want to start with a bad game.

People normally see the league tables or my results list and think I play the perfect game in every single game I play without a bad day. I want to show that isn’t the case and at times I still get outplayed. In this game my side stuck to their plan and played the football that had been getting us results but Arsenal were always that much better due to the difference in player quality. I still had players playing who I had in League One. Nonetheless even though the stats suggest we were being outplayed I didn’t panic because I saw my team doing exactly what I had instructed them to do. At this point I could have easily panicked and started changing this to stop us being dominated but what could I have altered? I’ve already said my side was playing how I’d expect so if that’s the case then why try changing? I’m a firm believer of you will always get results if you focus on what you are doing and not the AI and many of you, will have seen me write topics about this and mention it quite a lot.

Based on the stats above without any real match context to them, how many of you would have panicked and tweaked the tactic somehow regardless of how well your own side were doing the things you instructed them to do. I bet an awful lot of you would have changed things. But not me. Don’t get me wrong I’m not stubborn and set in my ways far from it. If I saw my side not playing how I wanted then I would have looked to use the team instructions to change this but I felt there was no need. In fairness though, out of the three seasons I’ve done so far, this is the one game where I have been dominated the most in terms of every single stat. Was it just a bad day at the office? Maybe. Was it just player quality shining through? Definitely.

But look at the score, we FM’d, Football Manager.Like I said above this was a game that isn’t a reflection of how we normally play and was one of those one off ones in terms of stats. My point here and the reason for including this explame isn’t to say ‘Oh look at me I still won’ it’s more about the context and if you believe your side is playing the way you want or not. If it is doing everything you expect then why even consider changing anything? What you do is important not what the opposition is doing.

So let’s take a look at the game itself;

Romero whis is playing the Bergkamp role has the ball and is very deep, which is a good thing. If we look at the players around him we have the Ljungberg role cutting inside and looking to run between the two Arsenal players. We then have Henry moving into a more central role but cutting in from the left. We also have Pires who is going to run into the space that Henry creates while Cole, stays wide on the outside and overlaps. Oh and the roaming playmaker playing the Vieira role is also going to push on. This original image is a bit like the Invincibles and the movement is quite similar in some aspects but not perfect.

This is a little later in the move and while the movement is still good it’s not quite how I expected. Ljungberg has continued his run and is just about to get into the box. His movement and runs are exactly what I expect from the role and so far, from what I see, he is doing perfectly fine. So I’m pleased with what I’m seeing of his contribution.

The Henry role though, I think he may have come central a little bit too early. So I believe this role still needs a lot of work and isn’t functioning correctly just yet. However he is showing signs of the type of movement needed by starting out wide and cutting inside.

Bergkamp, I’m happy with him so far and he is dropping off the front and creating in the type of areas I expect. However overall I’m still not happy with the role and think he is too much of a goal threat. But we’ll discuss that in a lot more detail in the next article.

The wide playmaker, Pires, is cutting inside and offering the narrowness I need and expect. But I don’t think he’s pushing forward as much as I want. But I did mention this at the very start of the series and say he might need changing to an attack duty instead of a support. Then he should be more attack minded and look to push on that bit more.

The rest of the players in this move are as I’d expect but maybe the Vieira role could be more advanced too? Although he did pass the ball to Henry so this will factor into why he is still deep.

This is another move later in the game. Henry is centrally again but this move did start on the far right so it’s expected he’d be more central due to the quick switch of sides. Pires is just about to get the ball and pass into the path of Cole who is bombing forward. This is very like the Invincible side. I still feel Pires isn’t doing enough once he lays the ball back off though.

Once Pires passes the ball to Cole he drops off and hangs back on making his run. This is 100% down to the duty he has. If it was an attack one, I’d expect him to push on to where the green star is. This would be a lot more dangerous and more like the style we are creating and something that I am looking to change for the next season.

So we’ve seen glimpses of what I expect from the style I’m creating but it’s not at a level that is acceptable. The key to getting this style working lies with the two strikers, the wide playmaker and the left back. The rest already works like I want so the focus going forward is on these four players.

Bergkamp VS Romero

Getting the Bergkamp role correct on Football Manager is probably one of the hardest things you can attempt, especially when you’re going for a specific era like I am with the Invincibles. During the Invincible season Bergkamp was a player coming towards the end of his career and the way he played football had been changing since the end of the 1999-00 season. After this he was a player who became even more intelligent and was less mobile. I’m not saying he declined as a footballer, far from it. He just became more intelligent footballer and started to score less goals, bar the 2001-2002 season. His role in the Arsenal side evolved year after year and he started to contribute more in my opinion but this came at the cost of goals scored. But it also played a part in the players around him scoring more goals as Bergkamp was the star the team revolved around. We will take a look at Bergkamp and his seasons by numbers at a later date.

But first, does the above present an issue for me? I’m trying to replicate the role of an older person who was coming to the end of his career and trying to do this, with a very talented player at the start of his career. I could look for an older player but then I won't be able shape him with the long-term vision in mind. Plus by the time I fill all the roles I need to find players for, his career would just be about finished. I’m wanting to create something with a youthful side who can possibly play five or more seasons together before the side breaks up. Some of you might have seen me mention in the past few articles how I think my current striker fulfilling this role is scoring too many goals and how I need to change this. But the real question is, do I need to change things or am I just being highly critical and being unfair, comparing someone at the start of their career to someone at the end of theirs?!

When Bergkamp joined Arsenal he was already 26 years old. The player I bought to fulfill this role on Football Manager is only 19 years old. Bergkamp at 19 years old scored 16 goals in 34 appearances for Ajax and was his highest scoring season he had had at that time. The previous two seasons saw him score 8 goals in 52 appearances for Ajax. I guess it could be argued that none of this really matters and doesn’t need to be included but I think it does. The reason being, that when Bergkamp was younger he was a goalscorer and this continued in his early years at Arsenal. So does it really matter if my striker Romero is too much of a goal threat currently? I guess it does but only if he isn’t doing the things we expect him to do fulfilling the Bergkamp role. But if he’s doing all those things and scoring goals then it’s an added bonus surely. After all it’s the overall style of play I’m aiming for. And who knows, when Romero is 34 year old he might have slowed down on the goal scoring front too like Bergkamp did.

Dennis Bergkamp was a true Dutch master, he wasn’t a prolific scorer but he scored goals of beauty. Like the one below.

He wasn’t a player blessed with pace but he was that intelligent that he didn’t need it. He could score or set up goals for others and he made both look incredibly easy. He also brought the best out in the players he was surrounded by, especially Freddie Ljungberg with whom he seemingly had a telepathic connection with. People often remember his link up play with Thierry Henry but if you watch any game back that both Bergkamp and Ljungberg played, then you’d know what I was talking about. He always knew were Ljungberg would be before it happened.

I remember reading this question from an interview with him for FourFourTwo quite some time ago and it’s something that has always stuck with me;

You were a bit of an assist machine at Arsenal: are there any that stick out? How about that pass to Freddie Ljungberg against Juventus at Highbury, when you beat two players and dinked it over the top?   

That was my favourite, though it was not like me to have the ball at my feet all that time. I was waiting for Freddie to make his run. At that time he was always coming from somewhere and I could find him. I remember a lot of assists with Ashley Cole as well. I'd see him out of the corner of my eye. He'd begin to move. If he stops, it's a silly pass, but he'd keep running, because he knew what I was going to do and I'd put it just outside the far post, inside the box, and he would just come across, with pace. You can't defend that. There hasn't been a right-winger born who'll track back that far! You can compare it to a quarterback: you want to see and play the perfect pass. The pleasure of scoring goals is known, but for me the pleasure of the assist came close. It's like solving a puzzle. I always had a picture in my head of how things would look two or three seconds later. I could calculate it. There's a tremendous pleasure in doing something that someone else couldn't see.

Before we jump into the analysis though we need to look at Bergkamp in numbers. The info is taken from;

As you can see he scored a lot of goals. I’d not class him as prolific but his scoring ratio in the early years of his Arsenal career was solid. On average Bergkamp played 38.5 games a season for Arsenal (never fewer than 30) and scored 10.9 goals. He started 345 of his 423 games, and appeared in six different competitions. Bergkamp scored 69 (58 per cent) of his 120 goals at home, 50 away and one on neutral ground - but his actual strike rates for home and away games were very similar, claiming one in every 3.46 games on the road, and one every 3.39 at home.

The vast majority (73) of Bergkamp's 87 Premier League goals came via his right boot (84 per cent) and he scored three headers. He netted 15 times from outside the area in the league (17 per cent of the total). Bergkamp scored 13 braces and one unforgettable hat-trick - away to Leicester City in 1997/98.

Bergkamp averaged an assist once every 3.35 games, and his most prolific season in terms of assists was 1998/99 (13).


Although it took him eight games to find the net for Arsenal, Bergkamp gave his first assist in just his second game - a 2-0 win over Everton at Goodison Park on August 23, 1995. He played a superb through-ball for Ian Wright to run onto and score late in the match.

Overall Bergkamp scored or assisted once every 122 minutes during his Premier League career on average.

I think this quote from Louis John McCaffrey sums Bergkamp up;

Dennis Bergkamp was a key figure in the evolution of both Arsenal and the English Premier League. His technical ability and style of play made him one of the most enjoyable players to watch during the 90’s and 00’s. The contribution of Bergkamp seems to have been underestimated, his overall standing in World football undervalued, yet this was a player who his fellow professionals recognised as a true genius of the game and certainly one of the greatest ever Number 10’s.

Maximiliano Romero

Romero has been at the club for two seasons now and has done great. Before we look at what he offers and to see if he is fulfilling the Bergkamp role as I hope, let’s look at his seasons so far in numbers;

28 goals in 36 appearances is an excellent goal return.

Season Two

Both seasons are actually quite similar, especially when you factor in season two included more games due to the Champion’s League. The defensive contribution improved in the second year.

Like anything to do with stats, in isolation they can be misleading and don’t really tell us anything. However based on the two seasons Maximiliano Romero has had with the club so far and them being very similar, then we know his contribution to the team seems to be roughly the same for them both. In terms of a numbers comparison based on goals then he and Bergkamp are quite similar at the same age.

The development of Romero has been interesting and he’s showing just how good he can be based on his attribute development. However I’ve had some setbacks with his player preferred moves and he has failed to learn three of the four I tried to teach him. The only one he has picked up so far is the ‘plays short simple passes’ PPM.

These are his attributes currently in the game and his current training schedule and individual focus.

That’s his current coach report. His competitiveness that is mentioned in the cons list isn’t a bad trait though and is something I believe Bergkamp also had. While Bergkamp was a technically gifted player he could also be very dirty at times and didn’t follow the rules as much as people would have you believe. Sometimes this part of his game was glossed over because people only remember the sublime stuff.

Let’s take a look at what he offers us during a game.

These stats are taken from a 3-0 home win against Norwich. In this particular game, he was passed the ball 57 times during the game. The above is a screenshot of those passes received and show the areas he was attracting the ball in. They’re in deep positions and the more advanced ones are the types of areas you’d be expecting. Initially this looks really promising and shows the players are looking to use him as some kind of passing target to aim for.

This is just one example of him dropping off the front to help be a deep passing option. He then receives the ball from Che Adams who is playing the Ljungberg role.

Once he drops off the front and receives the ball he then becomes the focal point of the entire side. Everything that happens next is down to him, it’s like he is the heartbeat of the side. There are always lots of options for the pass should he choose to pass the ball. Or he can drive forward with the ball if he thinks this is the correct option at the time.

The other passes received are all showing a similar story too.

His passes completed can be seen above and show they’re more central focused and have various different passing lengths. During the invincibles era he was more central and his passing reflected this. There was also a slight bias towards the right for Ljungberg. One thing I am concerned about though is his low pass completion rate. In this game he has had 52 passes and only completed 34 of them. That’s quite a low rate and something that definitely needs to be worked on and improved.

Romero had 5 key passes in this game.

This is one of the key passes he does. He gets the ball deep again and begins to drive forward. Then his strike partner begins to make the run and Romero knows this before it happens and plays the ball into path he knows the player will run into. When this happens he is through on goal and totally unmarked.

Another example and this one is very Arsenal like. He just slots the ball between the centre back and the fullback and Adams playing the Ljungberg role is straight through on goal. Sadly he misses the chance but Romero showed great vision and control to slot the ball into this kind of area.

If you go to around 37 seconds of that video, does it look similar?!

The player seems to be fulfilling the passing option role well and is attracting the ball. From a passing standpoint though, his distribution does need some work. His passing isn’t dreadful and is above 75% but I think this coming season I need to work on this more and try and pinpoint what actions we can take to get it higher.

In this particular game he had 4 shots and scored two goals with all 4 shots being on target. Now Romero has been quite the talisman for my Sheffield United side so far, but he doesn’t shoot as often as you’d imagine.  He tends to have around 4-6 shots per game on average. In that regard he is quite clinical with his goal return ratio. Much better than Bergkamp but like mentioned at the very start, I could just be overthinking things and there is no reason to try and cut down on the goals scored if he is doing the things I’d expect, which he seems to be. I know this is only one game that we are looking at here and in isolation any kind of comparison or using it to form an opinion about something can be misleading. But looking at other games, it’s the same kind of things I’m seeing and the player stats are also backing this up.

So is Romero being Bergkamp? In some ways he is yes but I feel there is still a lot more work to go. I can’t change that much just yet though as it could be a player issue and the players around him aren't quite up to Romero’s standard just yet. Hopefully that will change now because any transfers into the club now have to be an improvement and be the type of player we need. I now have a settled squad and a squad that is capable of playing at a high level. The final pieces are now bringing the correct players into the club and being able to keep hold of them.

5 thoughts on “Arsenal Invincibles – Part Four”

  1. Hi Cleon
    When you do you think that the new stuff on the Invincibles will be posted? Loved the old stuff and interested to see the changes you mentioned due to new roles

  2. Hi Cleon
    How’s this save going for you? Did you change the striker roles as you progressed the save like you thought you might? Have you achieved the squad you wanted & the style you set out to achieve?

  3. In terms of defensive stability yet with a pleasing to watch attacking style that produces goals, this has been a great tactic. The 2 strikers and MR score for fun, following slick moves from back to front. Great tactic to adapt & try.
    Thanks Cleon!

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