Arsene and Arsenal’s problems… by TJ
It wasn’t unreasonable to expect a response from this Arsenal team after the late collapse against Barca. Pride and professionalism hurt, you expect this team to come out playing good football, win, and go some way towards erasing the pain of that loss.
We will never know the mental state of players or their physical condition or how they’ve been at training – so we don’t know the reasoning behind the team selection. Let’s put aside the “he should have played” or “he shouldn’t have been selected” arguments. Let’s look at the team which was selected to play and when I look at that line-up, it suggested to me there was more than enough quality to get the win.
My only concern when the line-up was announced was the lack of on-field leadership and its absence became apparent through the game.
Nacho scores early, nerves and doubt are removed and we play a hellavu lot better? – one can only speculate what kind of difference that one moment would have made.
There was no doubt we would score against this make-shift defence and we did – we scored 2 goals and really should have scored 4. Now who predicted this Man Utd side would score 3 against us? Ok I accept sometimes we get an unlucky deflected goal, that can happen to any team on any given day. The 2 other goals are down to ill-disciplined play in our defensive third and utterly shameful defending and I am looking at you Gab.
We completely dominated the game in the first 28-29 minutes but the performance was perfunctory at best. The team seemed to be merely going through the motions with a “it will come sooner or later” attitude. No ferocity, no sense of urgency, no ruthlessness, no real drive. Words like insipid, disinterested, complacent, disdain (for the opponent) come to mind.
How can a team with an excellent chance to win the EPL come into this game against an under-manned Man Utd team with that attitude? Over-confident? That we could just “rock and roll” (rock up and roll them)? It looked to me that every player was looking for that player “S. Else” – someone else – to take control, dictate the game but he didn’t show up that day but his brother “N. Won. Else” did.
The blame lies with everyone at AFC associated with getting a team ready to play. Wenger, the players, the coaching staff are all culpable for that pathetic performance.
The game and individual performances has been dissected to bits so I am not going into that in any detail, but I do want to highlight what I think was a very poignant moment in the match which may point to a deeper dressing room problem. Ozil gesticulates to Gab how he wants the ball delivered into the forward half. Gab pretty much tells him “va se foder”. Taken in isolation it may not mean much – heat of the battle stuff– but when we stitch together a series of events leading up to that I sense a deeper problem.
Go back to the Hull game..Per’s comments “It is down to us, we produced a good defensive performance but overall in the final third, that little final pass at the end, we always rushed ourselves at times to finish so we need to learn from that.”
Barca game…the defense led by Per are caught high up the pitch and we are punished with a goal on the counter-attack. Ozil throws his hands up in the air with a “how the hell did you let that happen” towards Per and the defense. Per’s after match comments were directed at the forward lines inability to score and blames the loss to their attacking shortcomings and suggested that their lack of cohesion and penetration was the cause.
Next match Per is benched. In my opinion, the dressing room harmony is fractured and was fractured prior to the Man Utd game which would explain the playing attitude. If Wenger hasn’t lost the dressing room, I suspect he is mighty close to it.
Wenger is many things, but a motivational manager he is not. I am neither an AKB nor AOB. So right off the bat, let’s acknowledge he’s been instrumental in building Arsenal into a global brand and a financially stable football powerhouse. He’s established a world class academy which will bear fruit for years to come. He has won us trophies (not as many perhaps as we would have liked). He has got the team playing attractive football (mostly). He has to a large degree introduced higher levels of professionalism through the English league and introduced (back then) new concepts like nutritionists, conditioning coaches etc.
But against that we have:
1. “Lack of Intellectual Honesty” – I define this as “seeing things/talent for what they are as opposed to what you believe them to be”. His “closeness” with some of the younger players he brings through the ranks…clouds his judgement. He believes in the potential of the player and believes he can make them realise their potential and sometimes stubbornly refuses to yield that view. He builds an emotional attachment to players at times, which clouds his judgment. I sense in his mind it’s like “i can’t sell this player because I believe he will be world-class” and “this player is still not delivering the performances I believe he can but I can’t sell him because he just might blossom next year”.
2. Unchallenged (not really a flaw of AW but of the situation). By this, I mean that no one within the AFC will challenge AW when it comes to the squad and player purchases. There is no one there who is technically qualified to question him and challenge his decisions. And of course, the Board is entirely beholden to him for delivering to them a financial miracle, so they are somewhat hamstrung. Where is the check-n-balance when it comes to the football and the players?
3. Unwavering Belief and Unadventurous/Risk Averse. He has an unwavering belief in himself, what he stands for and how the game should be played and (either as a result of this belief or perhaps coupled to it) I sense a very risk averse person or maybe to be fair, one who won’t be adventurous unless there is no other option. He is very risk averse when it comes to purchases unless he’s a very young player or a proven world-class player…anything in between and he’ll default to what he has, unless his hand is forced by way of injury.
4. Motivational Manager – he is not. His philosophy has always been about player empowerment – allowing them the freedom to come up with solutions on the pitch. He’s not been known as a motivator and there are simply occasions when a motivator is needed to lift the spirits and drive the team.
If you combined those 4 elements, you quickly get a picture which probably explains a lot about past transfer dealings and “inexplicable” losses. He isn’t prepared to be “ruthless” and “unattached” when considering external options in terms of personnel. When has he ever spent big on an emerging next “best thing”? (think Pogba type) I can’t think of one. After Ozil and Sanchez…the next biggest spend was….Calum Chambers! (and then Welbeck and then Santi in that order recently). Therein lies an indicator – he is ok with spending 40-45M on PROVEN world class talent and he accepts that he has to spend around 20M on younger, strong emerging talent..but he won’t spend the 30ishM on talent that’s in between BECAUSE! the young ones he has will get there (almost there in his mind!). Well that equates to a perpetual waiting game – because the proven world class players either move on or retire or lose their “world classness” eventually and the young ones don’t always develop the way you think they will.
In terms of the transfer spending – the emergence of Coquelin and Bellerin have probably reinforced his deeply held belief in his approach, hence we probably shouldn’t expect to see any deviation from the past 5 years in the next transfer window. I predict he will believe Welbeck, Akpom and Iwobi will become world-class and therefore we don’t need to go splurge on a striker, unless perhaps a world class striker is available and he is under 30. He will point to having Walcott and Giroud already…and quite simply…he doesn’t have the “ruthlessness” to ditch anyone of them and try someone new (emotional attachment, risk averse, lack of intellectual honesty).
So how does it change? Well, unfortunately, it will be when AW decides because he is unchallenged (No 3). We have no way of knowing how the board is thinking and if they are encouraging him to step down once this contract ends. Quite frankly, if he doesn’t deliver the EPL this season, he certainly should call time, and even if he does…he should seriously consider calling time at the end of this season.
We have no idea what the succession plan looks like – life after AW. But we should brace ourselves because it will be a rocky road ahead once AW steps down. The transition is rarely smooth.
I hope I am wrong…that I’ve read too much in the ‘tea leaves’, the dressing room is fine, players are together and they’ll go on a run now. For the sake of my beloved Gunners…I hope I am very wrong.