ARSENAL CIRCULAR 136
GRAHAM PERRY 1 MARCH 2016
The knives are out – not just for Wenger but also for me. Wenger’s critics – haters is a more appropriate word for some – are in full flow and those of us who have been prepared to put their heads above the parapet and support Wenger are now the focus for attack – not to say abuse and humiliation. Some people – long term anti-Wengerites – are having a field day. Gloating in abundance many – but not all – take delight in the latest setback. They want Arsene out come hell or high water and they express themselves in vulgar and abusive terms. I will have something to say about that later in this Circular. But there are also honest and well intentioned critics who are understandably frustrated at what could turn out to be another setback in the League. I have no problem with this large but less vociferous group
For the present the focus is on the team and the lack of success and there is no question we are in trouble. This was to be our season. We had the squad. We had the funds to improve the squad. We were settled and experienced and talented. Yes, we had injuries but we came through that. We approached the New Year being most pundits favourite to win the Title. Liverpool and Man U had dropped out of contention and we were in a group of four, Leicester, THFC, City and ourselves. Redknapp talked us up and so did Souness. We looked strong and with a bundle of players returning from injury we were justifiably up there. We knew it would be competitive and none of us took anything for granted but the phrase “It is ours to lose” was on our lips.
But things faltered. Every time we had a chance to go top we stumbled. No matter, we would come again but again we faltered and instead of striding out ahead it is Leicester and THFC who are winning and leading the pack. We have stuttered, the goals have dried up, the momentum has been lost and the initiative has gone. Now, as Cech says, we have to win the next two matches – we have to beat Swansea and we have to beat THFC. A tough assignment.
The focus is on the team and the manager. Have we choked? Have players come back too soon from injuries or are they individually and collectively incapable of facing the ultimate challenge – the burden of expectation. This issue is not about fight. We are competitive. We make tackles. We hassle and hustle and chase. The commitment is not the issue. We want it. Two questions therefore arise – are we good enough? – do we have bottle?
Has Sanchez been “found out” by opposition coaches who watch the videos of past Arsenal matches. He likes to go right when he has the ball – is he being shepherded left? Ozil sees passes quicker than anyone else but does our close passing game make openings more difficult to create. Theo is off the boil, the Ox too. When we have chances and need composure we snatch. When the Ox was one on one with the Barcelona keeper how could he expect to score by hitting the ball straight and low – didn’t it cry out for a chip?
I always say that the more I watch the less I know. I am a supporter not a coach so I hesitate to weigh in with detailed tactical comment. Others on social media, without coaching badges, are not so modest. But there again football is a game of opinion.
Let me finish with two comments – first the damage done to the quality of our exchanges by the freedom of social media. Too much abuse, Too much vulgarity. Too much carefree insult and cursing. By all means let’s disagree but we should not heap harm upon injury upon smear upon slander. We cheapen ourselves if we cannot handle the differences with more restraint.
There are still 33 points at stake. The omens are not good but the fat lady still has a distance to travel before she leaves the stage. We do need to bounce back against Swansea and then go to WHL and cause an upset. They are in the in form team. Pottechini has done a great job but football is football. Never has a season thrown up more ups and downs. We are coming to squeaky bum time. Who would have thought back in 1989 that we would lose to Derby and draw with Wimbledon and then win at Anfield. Now is not the time to write the definitive judgment. We still have a way to go.
And now to Wenger. What is the judgment? Has he fulfilled all the negatives predicted by his critics? Or will he be able to spring a surprise? We have to wait and see. I say again. I like the man. I do not think, as Piers Morgan has stated in a tweet, that he is a “con-man”. I wish Arsene was a little more gracious to opponents and not such a bad loser but I have to face up to the fact this was his title to win. This was to be his valedictory season. Cech was the final piece of the jigsaw. He had the money. He knew he could buy. He made a call and stuck with what he has and if it falls short he will need to explain. The burden will be on him. He knows that. There is no hiding place. I hope he succeeds but I am prepared if he fails. We will need to make changes.
Final point – and I chance my inexperience here – but we do need an Adams don’t we?. A leader on the pitch who has charisma and status and decision making capacity. Someone who in the crucial moment of decision can rally the dressing room and the squad. A team needs to have character but it also has to have personality and personalities. Bertie and George knew that.