Last week, Aaron Ramsey came out to media and said the following about Arsene Wenger:
“He’s been a great servant to Arsenal. He’s been a great manger to me personally and for the players. We have let him down at times. I think it’s unfair, some of the things that have been said. People are entitled to their opinion, but he’s been great for me personally.”
Now, I don’t want to psychoanalyze this piece. Yes, Ramsey said this away from many of the glaring eyes in the media. Yes, Ramsey has essentially known Wenger since he was an impressionable teen and Wenger has demonstrated incredible patience with the midfielder. This simply might be Ramsey protecting an individual who not only has protected him, but might be a fatherly figure (it is not beyond the realm of possibility in sports).
I tried to examine these comments as objectively as possible – and Ramsey is correct. For himself, Wenger played a valuable role in his career – to date. He plucked him out of Cardiff, was there during the injury and really leveraged his skill in the midfield, when many (including myself) were ready to pass him along the pipeline and usher in the next big midfielder (at that type a rising hype in Jack Wilshire). Loyalty is true in sports, but if the team have let the Manager down, then that is a reflection of the Manager.
Let me lay this down – I am a fan of Arsene Wenger. I am one of the few, in a shrinking pool, who advocate for him to stay. I agree with his analytics approach to the game. I enjoy his ability to create a dynamic in the field that I liken to watching a world-class orchestra play Beethoven. When all of the pieces are playing correctly, Arsene can have this team playing beautiful music – and trust me, even my wife, who is not much of a football fan (save for the major events and Champions League) attests to the beauty that is Arsenal football. And let’s be honest, many of us under the age of 35 fell in love with that brand.
Here’s the catch.
If the players have let down the Manager, then that is on the Manager and not on the players. It sounds counter-intuitive but it is not. The Manager selects the players. The Manager dictates the formation, the strategy and most importantly the culture. The Manager is there during practice. The Manager intrinsically – in a way the players are unaware of, and more importantly the fan base is unaware of.
And for Ramsey to say that the players have let down the Manager is to admit that the players, while trying to do their best, have simply not done their best and that is a reflection of the character of the players. That is a reflection of the Manager and the players that the Manager feels gives him the best chance to win.
I specifically point to the two matches against Chelsea and Bayern Munich.
In the 3 -1 loss to Chelsea, these were the stats I paid attention to:
41% represents the amount of aerial duels we won. 33 represents the amount of crosses and 7 is the amount of chances we created. What this is indicative to me is that at no point did we demonstrate the fight needed to win against Chelsea. A cross is an overrated aspect of the game and holds little value, and Wenger as a student of analytics knows this – but these are the players Wenger chose. This, for several seasons, is the way the seasons have broken down.
Look at our previous loss to Bayern –
- 33 clearances
- 4 chances created
- And Arsenal only had more possession in one five-minute interval – near half time!
In 20 years as a fan, I have never witnessed a team so dismantled, so utterly loss as the loss to Bayern. The stats show a team that was not ready to compete. It shows a team that capitulated – willingly to its opponent. It was not a bad loss, but a loss that demonstrated what Arsenal truly are – a respectable team, but a team that cannot ever be considered elite.
You see, Ramsey, yes, the players have let Wenger down, but Wenger has let Arsenal down by choosing the players – and unfortunately that is quickly becoming his legacy.