I would like to start this piece by apologising to you, my readers, for I haven’t written home for quite some time. Going over the horror show that was the United defeat sapped me of my last drops of energy and desire to write about the Gunners and the surrender to Swansea did little to rectify that. Right now not only do I not want to get involved in the minutiae of Arsenal’s day-to-day life in the form of writing previews and reviews, pouring over tactics and stuff, I can hardly read about the Gunners too. It has to be the said, though, the amount of material dedicated to them went down big time.
I would also like to address those who didn’t understand my decision not to write anything for a while. It stems not from being psychologically weak, unable to write about letdowns. In fact, I have written plenty of times after demoralising defeats. I write not only when I want to share my happiness, but also when I feel the need to let out some steam. It’s my escape valve. I haven’t written anything (and probably won’t for a while) simply because I had nothing to share with you, nothing I wanted to discuss. I felt numb with disappointment.
However there’s one thing that shook me out of my coma mere days after Arsenal lost to United: it was the newly-rekindled debate about Arsene Wenger and his future at Arsenal. Having put some distance between our league defeats I hope my viewpoint became less reactionary and radical and, therefore, more sensible.
In my review I said the following and not much has changed since then. Indeed, I’m a bit surprised I’ve been able to remain pretty rational despite being overwhelmed with emotion:
“This season we haven’t demonstrated anything to suggest we would be the worthy champions. We were good in flashes, in short spells, but we haven’t been anywhere near good enough on the whole.
It’s not a step back not to win the league but it’s a step back if you lose it to Leicester or Spurs all the while playing like a fertiliser heap. If we do indeed miss on the title to Leicester or Spurs, I’d say it’s time for Arsene to step aside and let someone else have a shot. Losing out to such teams with such a level of performances is simply not good enough. If that happens, I’d say Wenger has taken us as far as he could.”
But before I embark on elaborating this viewpoint, I’d like to lay down a few markers.
Firstly, it’s really hard to write an article which argues the case of why I think Arsene has taken us as far as he could, for several reasons:
- I have always defended the other point of view. Indeed, you’d probably be surprised to know I have never, prior to starting blogging in the summer of 2013, even contemplated changing Arsene for someone else. For me he was an integral part of the Club, something akin to part of the scenery. The thought of him not being there, on the touchline, simply never crossed my mind. I got used to Arsene managing Arsenal like I’m used to living in my flat, or drinking tea in the morning.
- I love Arsene as a man and have huge respect for him as a manager. I think you’ll agree it’s not easy to write a negative article on a person you respect, even admire. This may also help you realise the scope of the problem and why I make such an effort despite my feelings towards the man
Secondly, I’d hate being associated with the WengerOut brigade. Most of the people who I know belong to this category come across as abusive, spiteful, arrogant and even downright stupid. Illogical in their firm belief, fanatical views even, I’d say, that Wenger should go. Some of them go overboard, use methods I don’t, and will never, approve of and are notorious for their radical views and behavior. I think I don’t need to name names, you should have a pretty shrewd idea who I’m talking about here.
Lastly, for reasons listed above, I will never neither resort to, nor tolerate, abusive and/or disrespectful behavior towards the manager and you won’t score any points with me by venting your blind rage in the comment section below. Please stay within the limits of a civilised discussion. I will understand your viewpoint whatever it is if you can argue it in a respectful way. If not – be prepared I won’t reply to it.
And now, I have to say what I intended to say when I set out to write this article: why I think Arsene’s time is nearly up.
Improvement (or, rather, lack of it)
That’s my main grudge this season, though it’s not the only one.
Quite frankly, the Gunners haven’t progressed this season in terms of their performances. It’s an interesting phenomenon, actually: one can make a case we have improved against the big teams and they will be right: twice have we beaten Leicester, beaten City once, drawn twice against Spurs and won one and lost one vs United. All of this makes for 14 points from 7 games and that’s more than decent.
It would have been grand couple with an average of 2.5 points per game against everyone else (or close to it), but problem is, it’s not. Our performances and results against the lesser lights have been very underwhelming on the whole, to put it mildly. We’ve plugged one gap and uncorked another.
And it’s not so much the results that drive me mad, but the performances. On too many days the players looked listless and disinterested. There were a number of occasions where we were robbed by referees, but there were other where we were not and just played like a big turd. West Ham, Norwich, Southampton, United and Swansea spring to mind, and that’s just off the top of my head and in league only.
There were also a number of games where we looked pretty disjointed despite scraping out wins or draws acceptable under the circumstances, most of them coming after Coquelin and Cazorla went down injured. That inability to perform, whether on mental or tactical side is on Wenger. Not solely on him of course, he doesn’t kick the ball about, neither can he make the players want it more if they don’t, but partially definitely.
On the mental aspect he can, I guess, try becoming less lenient with the players to shake them out of their sense of indifference. I’m not inside this situation, I don’t know what can work, but I think Wenger may be too soft with them for their (and the team’s) own good. He can try the stick instead of the carrot and see whether it works.
On the tactical side the picture is less muddy. To me it looked like Wenger tried to shoehorn the players into a system which didn’t get the best neither out of them, nor out of the team after Santi’s and Coq’s injury forced him to reshuffle the pack. Flamini and Ramsey clearly didn’t work in the long-term, so it would have made sense to maybe introduce Elneny earlier, or try Chambers alongside Ramsey. Bottom line is this: Wenger should have acted in the summer transfer window if he suspected an injury to Cazorla may have such a profound effect. Wilshere was already injured, his experiment with Ramsey and Coquelin didn’t yield satisfying results vs West Ham, so why not buy another player? I’m not saying a high-profile one, someone along the lines of Elneny, someone who would be able to adequately fill in should the need arise. Yet he didn’t.
I realise you can’t account for everything, plan for every contingency. However it’s undeniable he put faith in the existing players and system, it didn’t pay off and thus he should shoulder some of the blame. He knows this squad, its problems and weak links better than anyone, which is exactly what makes him responsible for the performances and the results and the underlying reasons for them.
One can say: but look at what happens all around Arsenal. That’s a mad season, an aberration, surely Arsenal’s blip can be forgiven in the context?
No, it cannot, not for me at least. I don’t much care about other clubs and why they fail, that’s entirely their problems which they can solve however they please and about which I can’t be arsed in the slightest.
I only worry about how Arsenal fares. We had, before the season, all the ingredients in place for a successful title charge. We had a settled squad, an experienced manager and the benefit of a proper pre-season, uninterrupted by international tournaments.
And we have not delivered, on the whole. From where we are now it’ll take a miracle for this season to be called an improvement on last. Winning the cup can’t be considered as such, it’s something we did twice in the last two seasons. If Wenger had openly declared that the only way to make a successful title charge was to jack in the cup, I wouldn’t have uttered a word had we gone out in the 1st round if that indeed had been linked with good results in the league.
Winning the league would surely be an improvement, but we’ll most likely have to win at least 8 of the remaining 9 games for it to happen. Do you see it? I don’t, but I’ll be happy to eat my words and reconsider my position if we do win it.
Lastly, the Champions League, For us to talk about an improvement there we’ll have to get into the last 8 for starters. Can we do it? We certainly can, though that’s probably even more unlikely than winning the league.
I can of course understand going out to Barcelona, I can’t demand we beat them, but even that aside I’m not sure we improved on last year. It took us a stupendous effort to get out of the group with Zagreb and Olympiacos in it, much more than it should have been. I’m sure you don’t need me to remind you about how horrible the defeats to these two were.
The last word
The results haven’t improved, the performances haven’t improved. We’ve been told, almost three years ago, that we are close to the Promised Land, that finally, after we’ve paid off the stadium we’ll be better equipped to challenge.
Leicester’s meteoric rise this season sows the seed of doubt about this whole “financial restraint” thing, but I’ll let it slide, willing to write it off on a crazy season, one which we are unlikely to see next year. However the point remains that today we are no closer to winning the league than we were three years ago. We are no closer to winning the Champions League either, indeed we haven’t even made it to the last 8 in five years.
Winning the FA Cup twice is great, I’m happy we did it, I was jumping up and down the house like mad when we ended that trophy drought, but, if that’s all Wenger can do with no financial restraints and huge TV money on offer, then maybe the time has come for someone else to give it a try.
And saying this makes me infinitely sad.