Saturday the 4th February 2017 was the day for the first time in my life, since I can remember when I woke up on the day of an Arsenal match and I had no fervour or sense of excitement for a match. Now keep in mind I’m forever the dreamer when it comes to football because that’s the idea isn’t it? For that 90 minutes, anything can happen, it’s the ultimate drama. Even when we go to the Nou Camp 3:1 down from the first leg, the child inside still believes that something magical can happen on that pitch and we can be triumphant in adversity. But on this day, it wasn’t there. I went from butterflies on Christmas morning to trepidation outside the head master’s office. I knew the story as if it had been read to me the night before. We’ve all seen this film, concede a soft goal early from a cross then concede a couple more on the counter because we’ll lose our shape chasing the game. Out of the title race in February and soon to be out of Champion’s League by March.
Now for years these stories, trials and tribulations were enough for me, given our investment and team when compared to our richer rivals. But now there’s nowhere to hide, we spent near 90m in the summer and we have quality players in every area. So, I’m sorry Arsene but it’s on you, it’s the day the music died for me. It’s just all too familiar all too often.
Accountability, the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility. Who’s being held accountable at Arsenal football club? I’m judging the club based on the last four years, since the Ozil signing because supposedly that’s the time we became serious about winning the league again. The problem with the team each season has not being able to beat our direct rivals in club stature, Chelsea, Man Utd, Man City, Spurs and Liverpool. In the league, we’ve faced them 36 times in the last three and a half seasons, we’ve won 8 drawn 15 and lost 13 scoring 47 and conceding 58 with a points return of 39 out of 108. More horrifically, away from the Emirates we’ve won twice in 20 games conceding 42 goals. Now that’s just completely unacceptable, bad teams go to these grounds and muster up better performances than us. Who’s been held to account over this dismal and pathetic record? Since David Dein’s departure from the club who has replaced him at board level to ask footballing questions? No one! So Mr Wenger certainly isn’t getting held to account for us seeing the same story getting played out every year.
The players suffer no action either, I was researching Monaco for a blog on Leonardo Jardim the other day (coming soon to Guuners Town,) and something struck me. Our team that night was Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Coquelin, Cazorla, Welbeck, Ozil, Sanchez, Giroud. All of them are still at the club and in and around the first team. Our team has not been good enough over the last two years to have so little change. The performance that night could have been enough to end Coquelin’s, Gibb’s and Mertersacker’s careers with the club. The mass shirking of responsibility and lack of consequence for the players must end and it must come from the board first.
The transfer market, why on earth can’t we sell players anymore now? How has a player of Theo Walcott’s questionable quality held this club over a barrel for 100+ thousand pound a week? Had season on season off for his whole career? Dallied over which position he’d rather play! Then had the cheek to come out and tell the world he’s decided to work hard now after ten years. What message does that send out to the rest of the squad? He should have been sold last season at the latest to put the rest of the squad on edge and for Arsene to show them he means business. Whether it’s the thought of having to supplement a portion of their wage at another club or misplaced loyalty that stops Arsene pulling the trigger on these players, it still harms the club. But it’s not just the selling that were inept at, it’s the buying too.
The circus that is every summer transfer window. Wenger screams the window should be shut before the season starts but still leaves his business to the last minute and it costs us, we’ve lost 3 of the last 4 opening day fixtures at home with a squad that was under-prepared. You can’t just throw 3 points away for the sake of a few million quid. Where’s the recruitment strategy? We’ve assembled a wonderful multi-talented squad over the last 4 years but it just doesn’t fit.
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Personally, I think Arsene is torn between is Barca light late 2000’s team and his early 2000’s electric teams. Also, why did he stop buying athletes in the middle of the park? What’s happened to Diaby, Vieira, Gilberto and Petit types. I think the Suarez non-transfer may have been what set us down this perilous path, he didn’t want a ‘10’ that summer he wanted the world class striker but went out and got the best ‘10’ in world football when he couldn’t. The problem is though he hasn’t put the adequate parts around him to maximise his ability, he needs either two ground eaters behind who make up the ground or at the least one next to a game reader. But we don’t, we’ve got odds and ends in the centre of the pitch. Asking immobile players like Xhaka, Ramsey, Coquelin to cover far too much ground is asking for trouble. We have needed a player of Abou Diaby’s stature ever since his career never started.
Why hasn’t he addressed the tactical issues that have plagued us for what feels like an eternity? Arsenal are still so lacklustre when it comes to defending as a team, as if it’s some sort of dark art that we just can’t do for any sustained period. I call Arsenal defending in recent years ‘skid mark inducing’, it’s as if every time were waiting until the last possible moment to prevent a goal. We’ve killed many a centre back’s career because of this. Our midfield has no plan on defending higher up thus leaving us exposed. Per and Kos have made more recovery tackles, 11 each, over the last 5 seasons than any other defender, the next one is Jose Fonte on 8.
We allow more shots at are goal than any of our rivals averaging 10.5 per game, the closest to us is Manchester United with 9.3. For how long now have we been caught with both full backs far too high up the pitch? How hard can it be to train a full back to look across the line before he goes. Its cost us on far too many occasions and hasn’t been addressed. And again, if the players aren’t getting the message they should be sold. 3:3 Anderlecht, 3:1 Monaco, Southampton 4:0 off the top of my head were games lost because of ill-discipline from full backs. It’s the reason for our apologetic return in big games. You can’t beat the best in the division paying gung-ho. I love Wenger ball as much as the next man but when you play a big side you must think result. How many times has Arsene gone on about the importance of the first goal in these games then conceded it because the team has too much impetus on getting it. With a top six now rather than a 3 or 4 and possibly a top 7 given Moshiri’s millions and Koeman at Everton we literally have no chance of winning the title under Wenger. That would be 12 big games a season and with our record we would have no chance.
What offended Arsene so much about that 2:1 away at City that we haven’t seen it again? It was the perfect way to approach a big away game and we got the result. Did he feel the praise that followed was an insult to him and his philosophy because I can’t think of any other reason? People say teams reflect their manager and Wenger’s self-assurance has come out in all his sides. The Invincibles had a swagger we all enjoyed then it turned petulance in project youth and this latest group show a misplaced comfort. This season Watford, Preston, Bournemouth, from seasons before Zargreb, Sheffield Wednesday, West Ham. It’s as if this team thinks they’ve won before crossing the white line and if you don’t respect the game you’re going to come unstuck and we do every season.
We see so little change because there is so little change. I respect believing in your methods as a coach but if you can’t fix your teams problems bring someone in who will. He seems open minded and willing to listen. He even talks about our inadequacies but never does anything to rectify them. The coaching staff hasn’t changed at all. How many times have former goalkeepers moaned about Gerry Peyton? Look at how Ferguson kept changing his staff and kept winning and look how Mourinho’s now not refreshed his backroom over the past 12 years and is now starting to plateau. Football evolves constantly it turns with the earth and to keep on top you must keep moving and unfortunately were not moving enough anymore.
I have no doubt in Arsene love for the club and the fact he’s done a marvellous job but sometimes when you love something you must let it go for it to grow like a child. This clubs been his life’s work and the abuse he suffers is totally unacceptable. Unfortunately, he can’t feed the monster he’s created and it’s time for him to step down. I don’t want to say all this but it can’t stay buried anymore. I can’t drum up optimism in the pre-season if he’s still manager. No one wants to see him destroy himself Brian Clough style, I want to see him leave on his own accord to the rapturous applause he deserves with a stand named after him on a sunny day this may. I’d love for it to be with a premier league trophy or champions league in hand but it’s not going to be, but he can surely rest assured he’s already put the foundations in place for the next man and will never be forgotten.
Red member and 26-year-old engineer from Dorset. My life’s biggest regret is never going to Highbury. I try to attend as many games as possible. I’ve always had a love of Arsenal left wings, starting with Overmars, through Pires and Nasri, right up to Alexis. I don’t have an agenda: I just write about the game and club I love as I see it.