When you ask Arsenal fans what has been the biggest problem this season, they will point to the horrendous injury list we’ve had this year, including the likes of Robin Van Persie, William Gallas, Cesc Fabregas and Thomas Vermaelen who have been out for a decent number of games.
But other things high up on the list, especially recently, would be the lack of fight, lack of unity and the basic desire and determination to win.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a squad player or a first team starter, you should have pride wearing the Arsenal shirt. And the fact that you’re paid handsomely is just one of the other reasons why you should never lack balls when it comes to playing for Arsenal.
Just take a look at Manchester United. They lost Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez in the summer and are effectively a one man team now, heavily relying on Wayne Rooney. But look at them, despite the weakest squad they’ve had for years, they are only a single point off the top of the Premier League.
And why is that?
Their squad might not be full of world class players but they are winners. They have the f*cking balls for a fight.
Veterans such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes have been integral players for Manchester United this season, despite being in the twilight of their careers. Despite the fact they are almost on their last legs they want to win, whatever the cost. You might take the p*ss out of players like Darren Fletcher, Michael Carrick, Nani and Gary Neville but they want to f*cking win. You see it in their performances, and you see it when they score.
The ethos at Manchester United is win at any cost. Their squad is full of winners, who are hungry, determined and have experienced winning countless times before.
And what about Arsenal?
From our entire squad, I would only consider Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Thomas Vermaelen and Sol Campbell as winners. They are hugely loved by the Arsenal fans because they want to win as much as we do. They have the balls for a fight and know what it means to win.
Unfortunately, the rest of the squad are over-paid, pampered losers who are amazingly rewarded for consistently losing.
What other “top club” in European football would repeatedly give pay rises and improved contracts for not winning?!
Who should be hungrier for success? Players like Ryan Giggs who have literally won it all, or players like Abou Diaby who have yet to win anything?
Unfortunately, this sad state of affairs has badly exposed Arsene Wenger.
Arsenal’s biggest problem ever since their last trophy in 2005 is not the quality of player brought it, or the lack of transfer funds available. It hasn’t even been the injury problems. The biggest problem is that winning mentality.
When Arsene Wenger took over the reigns in 1997, he inherited a squad full of winners.
David Seaman, Tony Adams, Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Martin Keown, Steve Bould, Paul Merson and Ian Wright had won things with Arsenal before. We even had David Platt and Dennis Bergkamp who had won things in Italy and Holland respectively.
As the season’s progressed, we had players come in and replace the old guard but they had a chance to play alongside the original winners. Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit and Marc Overmars played with the famous back five, Sol Campbell played alongside Tony Adams and Martin Keown when he arrived and later on Lauren, Ashley Cole, Gilberto, Fabregas and countless others came in a played alongside winners week in a week out.
Robert Pires, Thierry Henry, Jose Antonio Reyes and Freddie Ljungberg were all winners. Just look how they celebrated when they scored. Arrogant, determined and full of passion – scoring meant everything to them. Scoring and winning was a big f*ck you to the opposition.
Players coming in since 1997 had a chance to live, breath and work alongside born winners. It clearly rubbed off since they Arsenal won trophies for the next 8 years.
And it’s these relationships that have been integral to Arsenal’s success.
But after the 2006 Champions League Final, the last of the latest breed of “winners” was too weak. Only Gilberto, Thierry Henry, Jens Lehmann, Kolo Toure and Freddie were left from the Invincibles team of 2004, and even those players were seeing out their careers at Arsenal. Dennis Bergkamp retired, Bobby went to Villareal, Ashley Cole went to Chelsea, Sol Campbell went abroad to Portsmouth, Jose Antonio Reyes left for Madrid and Edu went to Valencia.
The whole winning mentality and “mental strength” Arsene Wenger keeps talking about pretty much disappeared in one summer.
And the sad fact is, Arsene Wenger hasn’t been able to instil this winning mentality into an Arsenal squad ever since.
And you don’t have to look further than the football pitch for the proof.
Abou Diaby strolls through games with an alarmingly lazy approach. He doesn’t just stroll around the pitch like it’s a training session but he is mentally off the pace. Poor decision making, the inability to track back or basic things like mark opposing players at set-pieces are just some of things he is guilty of.
We all remember the ridiculous headed own-goal he scored at Old Trafford at the start of the season. Would you ever see Vieira or Gilberto do something like that? Of course not, they’re focused winners who are switched on. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure they made mistakes now and then but for the life of me remember any as ridiculous as this current squad make.
Look at Manual Almunia and Lukasz Fabianski. They’re not winners, at best they are backup goalkeepers. The amount of mistakes they make is staggering. But you can’t blame them – Arsene Wenger is a manager that rewards mistakes. He is the man that is selecting these kinds of players so the blame has to laid at the managers doorstep.
What did Alex Ferguson do when Fabien Barthez made a few mistakes? He shipped him off to Marseille. Manchester United also had error prone goalkeepers Mark Bosnich and Massimo Taibi at the club but showed them the door once they showed they weren’t up to the task.
So the big question is can Arsene Wenger build a team of winners in the future?
A team of players that will fight until the end, never give up and not think performances against Wigan Athletic and Blackburn Rovers are good enough?
It’s all well and good performing when things going well but the real character of a squad is shown when you’re not playing well and need to grind out a result.
As I have mentioned before, Arsene Wenger can help himself by taking the FA and Carling Cups seriously.
To win a cup competition you need that siege mentality, and that determination to win is severely lacking in most of the players at Arsenal. You play one off 90 minute games and the focus is getting through the match with the win. What better than trying in these competitions to get the squad that mental strength? You need character to win any cup competition and you’re tested all the time – there are many highs and lows in the cups and the players could do with being put in this high-pressure environment – where all that matters is winning.
Well you don’t need me to tell you this – look who were finalists/winners for this years Carling and FA Cup. Manchester United and Chelsea.
And would Arsenal fans mind a trip to Wembley and a trophy to celebrate?
Would they hell.
But is Wenger too stubborn to change his ideals? If so, he could be in for a very uncomfortable 12 months next season because the patience of the Arsenal fans is becoming to wear a little thin.