In the end, they did it. After 38 games and a...
Playing the Arsenal Blame Game
So here we are, yet another lackluster performance. It was a game of two halves to be sure one of absolute dross and a second one of wide open football and poor defending.
As you can imagine with any Arsenal performance these days the reactions were varied. They ranged from distraught, pure visceral anger, thoughtful reflection and everything in between. Of course as you can imagine the blame game has started in earnest.
It’s quite easy to get caught up in it all. You can start with the board, the manager or the players and for every aspect you law waste to you, there is an equally effective argument as to why an argument is invalidated.
However, as I look at Arsenal, I am unimpressed. It is, I am afraid, a sad thing to say. Arsenal have always been the higher standard in England. Whether it’s the business side of football or the playing side of football. Those standards no longer look a blessing however. Financially, we’ve allowed ourselves (and by ourselves I talk of the club) to be hamstrung. On the field, well on the field we’re no longer able to hang our hats on playing the most attractive and exciting football in England.
So who’s to blame for that? I am looking squarely at Arsene Wenger.
Before I go any further this will not be a rant filled anti-gallic debate. I’ve tried to take some time and really look at what’s going on. I’ve decided to look at Wenger’s performance based on solely managing the assets he has at his disposal.
There will be time at the end of the season to look at everything in totality but when assessing Wenger right now at this point in the season, you have to do it free of the transfers, free of the financial health of the club, free of the past and focus squarely on the performance of the manager in the league games, cup matches and Champion’s League ties for this season.
When you strip away all the extraneous bullshit that people throw in to evaluate Wenger and solely look at just the performance of the team this season – nothing more you have to ask yourself how is Arsene Wenger doing? Sadly, on the face of it – not very good. In fact based solely on the facts you could argue that he is or should be considered the leading candidate for the sack race.
No, I am not saying Wenger should be fired. However, I am saying that the performance of the manager in this season is appalling.
Look at the squad he has at his disposal, how many capped international players does have? How many talented players does this squad have. Plenty I assure you. And how can a team that has so many talented players completely underachieve as it has for most of this season?
This team goes from match to match with supporters not knowing which one will take the field. Will it be the one that for 90+ minutes made the league champions look like chumps. Or will it be the one that has been made to look like chumps themselves from the likes of Bradford, Swansea, and Southampton.
The poor performances by the team could be rightly placed on the shoulders of the players who are on the pitch if it were a game or two here and there. But the level of inconsistency is continuous this season and goes from match to match. And this manager seems devoid of any sense what to do about it.
His sheer stubbornness prevents him from altering his plan of play. 70+ minutes and down 1-0 to Swansea in the FA Cup and he finally brings a substitute on. And it’s not just the Swansea match. His father like approach to handling his players isn’t working in an era when the modern player lacks any kind of accountability.
Wenger was hugely successful early on because of the kind of players he had at his disposal and the ones he brought in. They were of the ilk of taking responsibility for their actions. They needed nurturing off the pitch and inspiration – like your father would give you and like Wenger gave to them.
But that has changed. With players made stars well before their earning it, they hold no sense of accountability. And as such when things go wrong they shrug their shoulders and move on. A good manager seeing this would hold them responsible and affect some sort of response. It could be benching a player who after 2-3 games of poor form is benched in place of a hungrier option.
We all know that’s not Wenger’s style. He hopes that through sheer repetitiveness the player will come around. However, as bad habits develop on the pitch, players today continue to feel they can get away with this with Wenger because he doesn’t challenge them.
When an entire team is lacking any heart or sense of urgency it is up to the Manager to do something about it. Molly-coddling players and carrying them when the need to be put in their place is only compounding the issues on the field.
We all know that tactics are not Wenger’s strong suit. He knows what he wants, a pass and move team, and that’s what he will stick to. Even in the face of evidence that suggest his current crop of players are not performing the pass and move style with any kind of success.
And when the same issues appear week after week and have not been corrected in training it either suggests that Wenger is ignorant of the issues, knows there are issues but hopes they will eventually fade away or knows their issues but lacks the managerial nous to do something about it in training.
It is disheartening to see a squad filled with talented players not perform the simple basics of football. How players cannot seem to understand even the basic principle of overlapping play on the wings, or movement off the ball week in and week out suggests that it is not being worked on.
The defensive success early on the season is in my opinion a by-product of it being focused on during the pre-season. The lapse is in my opinion a result of the manager not continuing that focus during training in the season.
Additionally, silly stupid mistakes are being made repeatedly sometimes by the same people. Again, why these people aren’t benched or the mistakes being worked on in training falls squarely on the shoulders of the manager. If they are not being worked on and worked out (evidence suggest they are not) then the manager has to bear the responsibility. And if all of them are being worked on and they are still being made then the manager bears the responsibility for not taking a pound of flesh out of a player’s backside.
In this year when the league is in my opinion piss-poor simply fixing the issues that exist in the squad through training and a strong managerial hand would likely net some success and likely put Arsenal in the hunt for the title. But since the manager seems to be unable to make the require adjustments (be they in a match or during training) then you have to really question whether the manager is able to do his job with any effectiveness.
As things have gone south for Arsenal (and they have) I’ve always argued for fully assessing Wenger at the end of the season. I haven’t changed my mind on that one bit. Wenger deserves to see out this season. At the end of the season we can look at everyting in it’s entirety from the finances, the transfers and the performance on the pitch, everything together. You hope that during the course of time, the inspirational manager Wenger is and can be will come through and inspire these players to improve and be successful.
But as match comes after match the evidence suggests that there is something really wrong. Sadly for all of us who love Arsene Wenger, the needle points squarely at him.