Arsene should know best but is this season proving he doesn’t?

Arsene Wenger

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Is it 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.

Doesn’t work? Do something about it!

Other clubs?

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.


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7 Responses to Arsene should know best but is this season proving he doesn’t?

  1. Darren riseley March 12, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    I have supported the Arsenal all my life but after man Utd and Swansea the performances and after math left me totally numb for the first time following the club. The points you’ve made are spot on and I do think it’s almost a natural progression for wenger to stand down after this season .How can you expect a man late in his sixties to radically change the way he does thing ? Wenger has been fantastic for most of his tenure but the club need a change of direction or come next season we will be left behind.

  2. Richard March 12, 2016 at 11:15 am #

    A very good piece better than most rants and pieces on Wenger out theme. And your right to share the happiness and dissatisfaction. The Utd game is a strange one, mistakes and a huge piece of luck on the deflection for third cost us the game. We did actually play well going forward. And again two errors cost us we seemed to go into auto pilot after we got the goal something we have done many times this season. Where we grab a goal and then relax assuming game is ours and then we let teams back in or struggle for rest of match. The issue I have is that people think that we or city should be walking to title because Chelsea have had a bad season, however I disagree. Why I disagree is because I feel that demeans Leicester’s achievement in being the most consistent team they have only been beet in the league three times this season twice by us. Yes they have had nearly as many draws as wins but that’s not the point. Can Leicester and Tottenham at this point drop enough points and us gain enough to win the league and the answer to that is yes. Two poor performances and a defeat and a draw or two defeats and the questions start forming in the mind and affect the way a team plays. As for trophy drought or league drought or champions league drought I think a trophy every 2.2 seasons for a top club isn’t a bad return as you need to win the right to win trophies not be guaranteed them just because you spent more money than others this league has shown that to be true many times. Now some fans are panicking because guardiola is going to city, my half brother a manc and city fan who writes his own blog believes city are nailed on for titles galore. However, I disagree guardiola is one of the best managers around this can’t be disagreed on. But, Barcelona and Munich are in leagues that have 1 or two teams to oppose them. Here there are 5-6 teams that are capable so it will be tougher than he has had it before. Can Wenger win league and trophies for Arsenal again yes I believe he can will he need to be replaced yes that’s obvious at one point he will need to go because age and health will dictate that if he stays that long. For mean time this season at least he should keep his position, then assess if he gets the final year of his contract then so be it he has earned that right by putting this club first in difficult times and by not bemoaning his lot also he has got us facilities and a stadium that is impressive and kept us competitive. I believe Wenger has five targets set at beginning of season, one being win the league, win champions league, win FA cup win league cup and finally and probably just as important qualify for champions league the following season. Why is this so important the fact is that competition brings in more revenue than winning either of the cups. When Chelsea won it they accrued over an extra 50 mil in revenue and that season was first they had turned a profit in a long time. To us cl qualification is worth a big 25 million plus a season winning the league would be probably comparable fa cup is around two to three million and league cup about a million. So you can see why there is much import put into qualifying for Ecl over the years.

  3. Brian Morgan March 12, 2016 at 1:46 pm #

    Sorry but you are wrong if you think most of the Wenger out brigade are abusive, in fact it is usually the pro Wenger supporters who resort to insults first, they are also the ones most likely to be unable to articulate theirbreasoning behind wanting the man to stay, the most imaginative response by the majority is to say we went a season unbeaten which was 12 years ago so holds no relevance to the present or the future. From my experience, and I read a lot of comments on social media, the more intelligent responses in comments come from those who believe Wenger should go. Don’t tar us all with the same brush please and look at the situation objectively, your might even learn something.

  4. Victor Thompson March 12, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    Alex, I am sad to read this article. Sad because it is the opinion of a thoughtful man, one who has steadfastly supported Arsene and has often validated his support with reasoned argument. Sadly no amount of reasoning can mask the failings which you have set out above. You could have mentioned Arsene`s lack of tactical nous. You could have mentioned some glaringly stupid substitutions, not to mention his fixation on 70th minute substitutions.

    Like you, I have found it difficult to raise the enthusiasm to write,mainly because I have said it all before. I don`t see any indication that these issues can be solved which doesn`t involve Arsene leaving. If he stays, what is going to change? Does he go back to the drawing board and re-educate himself to adapt his philosophies to accomodate the development of the game which better managers have done? Does he open the purse strings and buy the players we patently need?

    Obviously if he were to spend some of the cash at his disposal, it would be an admission that he should have done so during the last two transfer windows. He has finally learned that there are players as good or better than those he has now. If someone so steeped in his admiration of Wenger can come to the conclusions you have reached, then I have some slight hope that he may be getting there too.

    That brings me to your comments on the nasty tactics of the “Out” brigade and I have already written my opinion on that, particularly the notorious banner. I am with you 100% in regard to that unedifying spectacle. I don`t care how strongly people think about Wenger, if they choose to wash their dirty linen in public, it demeans them, but more importantly, it demeans the club. If there is a way for Wenger to leave, let it be with dignity, THE ARSENAL WAY. Rightly or wrongly we cannot deny that his time may be up, but he spent his time here doing things properly and conducted himself as an Arsenal manager should. He deserves to leave the same way.

    • Alex March 12, 2016 at 8:14 pm #

      Thanks for the comment, Victor. I’ve been looking forward to what you have to say on the subject.

      I think the tactical nous bit is not that simple, not black-and-white. There were of course tactical miscalculations on Wenger’s part, like sometimes failing to adapt to a particular opponent or sticking to what clearly wasn’t working (like the Flamsey axis), but generally he is a lot better tactically than given credit for. Arsene was spot-on in the big games this season, for instance. More often than not it yielded satisying results, sometimes it didn’t due to sheer stipidity from players (like Coquelin getting sent off in the NLD). Like I said, it’s the lesser teams that have been our downfall.

      As for changing his ways, this was a point I originally intended to include in the article, but couldn’t fit it anywhere in the end. Arsene’s not solely to blame, so strictly speaking we should either shake up the squad or allow Arsene to leave. Unfortunately one seems to go with the other, because I don’t believe Wenger will change things around much if he stays. So it’s either a complete overhaul, or more of the same next season, with a slightly different shade maybe.

      Finally, the respect point. You are absolutely right, whatever shortcomings Arsene might have as a manager, there’s no denying he has the Club’s best interests at heart and has always done his best for the Club. He deserves nothing but respect for the way he conducted himself down the years and for his earlier achievements.


  5. DEW March 12, 2016 at 7:15 pm #

    Discussing the future of Arsene at Arsenal is really tough one for both sides. The only thing that is clear is Arsene is entitled to full respect in his career. For me leaving the job at any point is his own decision to make. He can manage Arsenal as long as he wants, if his guts are strong enough to handle his big team predictable demise right after unpredictable good run of form.

    Due to high level of competition, I also doubt that the results in PL and CL will improve in the forth coming years. Generally speaking, at the moment there are better players at some positions at Arsenal, but the play maker department is depleted since the departure of Fabrigas. For me Cazorla and Wilshere with all their strength and weakness are the only play makers. The back four players are more or less good, but the quality and efficiency of midfield players defense, and the defense to set pieces are not at the level of big teams. Finally, Arsene’s team is still not good at successive hectic matches especially at big pitches.

    He knows his team very well. It is up to him to decide if he can improves his team and achieve better. It is up to him to decide how he wants to end his legendary career.

  6. muzamil khan March 13, 2016 at 8:43 pm #

    May i suggest it’s the board rather than the manager

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