July 22, 2017

THIERRY HENRY: Pep Guardiola is a tactical thinker, but Arsene Wenger always trusts in plan A

Thierry Henry played under both managers and reveals what makes them tick ahead of Arsenal’s visit to Manchester City

I’VE played under Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger and they have the same goals — but different ways of scoring them.

The two managers who shaped my playing career meet today in a cracking heavyweight match.

The Manchester City and Arsenal bosses are similar in many ways but there are interesting differences.

Their principles are the same. Exciting football. Entertainment. But their methods are different.


The first thing Pep made clear when he started at Barcelona was that his job was to help us get the ball to the last third. Then it’s up to us to use our magic within his framework. But we had to stick to his plan.

In his first season, in a Champions League match at Sporting Lisbon, Pep took me off at half-time. We were 2-0 up and I’d scored the first! But I had not stuck to his plan.

Pep wanted his wide attackers, me and Leo Messi, to stay wide and high up the pitch. This created space in the middle.

We played with just one holding midfielder and two No 10s in Xavi and Andres Iniesta, with Sam Eto’o up front.

If Messi and I came off our wings, Pep thought we were crowding Xavi and Iniesta.

That night in Lisbon, I’d drifted inside too much for his liking.

I don’t remember Arsene substituting anyone after 45 minutes for tactical reasons, even if things were going horribly wrong, let alone if they’d scored!

Arsene gives players more freedom to express themselves. The wingers can stay wide or tuck in early.

But Arsene is a big believer in his pre-game plan. He gave us our instructions before kick-off — “watch out for him, track his runs” — and trusted that was the answer.

He was no fan of changing tactics or formations mid-match. He was more rigid. He still always makes his subs around 70 minutes.

Pep changes tactics or formations often, sometimes in one game.
Against Real once, Pep moved Messi to a false No 9 and had me and Eto’o on the wings but asked us to run at the back four, making them drop towards their own goal.

Messi dropped to add to the numbers in midfield and we overran Real, winning 6-2.

It shows Pep likes to be flexible.

One way is no worse or better. Whatever works. Trust the boss. As a player, you do what’s been asked.


As for their personalities, they are quite different. Arsene is calm, mellow before a game and at half-time. There’s no swearing and shouting.

I can only remember a couple of times when he was upset. Usually it was if we weren’t playing with enough intensity.

Pep’s methods were more unusual. When we were struggling he was nice to us. But if we were 5-0 up he could hammer us at half-time!

Showboating made him angry. He said it showed the opposition a lack of respect. He’d say: “If we have to win 11-0, win 11-0. Be ruthless.”

He wants the perfect game. It can’t happen but it’s what he strives for.

In March, after Bayern drew 0-0 at Dortmund, he ran on to the pitch and was ranting at Josh Kimmich in front of 80,000 people. That’s his way. He had to do it there and then.

Everything we did in Barca training was high intensity. Even when we stopped for a drink, we would have to run to get it and run back.

We played 5v2 — normally a bit of fun or a warm-up. Not with Pep. He was judging players. If he wasn’t happy, he’d step in. He didn’t want players to try things for a laugh. The flow of the ball had to be right.

When the goals needed putting out for training, we did it, not the kitman. Again it was about intensity.


It will be gloves off today, but there’s mutual respect between the two.

At Barca, Pep often said how much he admired Arsenal’s style.

And when I went back to the Emirates, the boss and I talked about Barca and how good Pep was. It was curiosity built out of respect for what the other has achieved.

But they would be stubborn about sticking to their style.

Before we played the 2009 Champions League final against Manchester United, Pep said: “All I want from you today is for people to phone me after the game and say my team play beautiful football. Win or lose, don’t go away from that.”

I loved Pep’s determination to play that way. He’s had a lot of stick for City playing out from the back but I liked it when we did that.

When our defenders went wide to receive the ball from our keeper Victor Valdes, it never bothered me.

There was no criticism of mistakes. We couldn’t be scared if we had our boss on our side. The message to John Stones — even after his mistake against Leicester — will be the same.

We conceded like that too — shocking goals. But the boss said, Do it again’.

I remember watching one El Clasico when Valdes tried to play out from the back and gave the ball to Angel Di Maria.
Madrid scored but Barca won 3-1. Yes, you look stupid at times but I never felt uncomfortable about our team trying it.

Anyway, we scored more goals playing that way than we conceded.

Everyone would be raving about us if we went 36 passes then scored — so we stuck to it. We scored way more by keeping our composure.


The Everton defeat means Arsenal must bounce back. It’s about more than three points, it’s the message they send. They need to show ­consistency, like Chelsea are.

For Pep, a win would allow him to work in a more relaxed way.

It tells you everything about two unpredictable teams that it is impossible to predict who will win.

I must admit I didn’t think Pep would struggle this much here.

He needs to work it out. But his players also need to understand what he wants and have the ability to do it. It’s a long process — changing mindsets is difficult.

But one thing is for sure, the message will always be the same.

Pep’s teams are great in possession but he won’t like conceding. We didn’t ship many at Barca. He will be desperate to find the balance.