The 5-1 defeat to Bayern Munich still hurts, even though it wasn’t a surprise. Capitulations like we saw last night are pretty common with todays Arsenal – in recent seasons we’ve been totally battered at Anfield and Stamford Bridge, and who could forget the 8-1 thrashing at Old Trafford – simply no-one does collapses quite like Arsenal.
Look, I’m going to say this from the outset – I love Arsene Wenger. No-one has done as much as he has for the club I love. He has revolutionised the whole club, and you can see why the board are happy to give him a job for life. He has made Arsenal into a major player on a global scale and his attitude, approach and love for the club is second to none.
He is loved by everyone in football for what he has done, is majorly respected and ask any former player about him and they’ll praise him to the hilt. I remember when BBC did a documentary on Arsene Wenger and had Ian Wright, Martin Keown, John Hartson and Piers Morgan on the panel, discussing Arsene Wenger’s reign at Arsenal. It’s no secret that Piers Morgan wants Arsene to leave but the passion and respect from Wrighty, Keown and even John Hartson (who was only under Arsene’s tenure for a season) was clear to see. Whenever you see Lee Dixon asked about Arsene it’s always positive and complimentary – and it’s the same for every player who’s worked under him.
But in here lies the problem. Arseblog pointed out that Arsene Wenger always talks about mental strength – we have it if we win, or we don’t have it when we lose. These kind of phrases are typical Arsene Wenger spin, deflecting any of the blame or responsibility away from the players. When we play well he will publicly praise the team, but when we play awfully he will always talk about concentration and mental strength – when most top managers will generally call a spade a spade, and tell the world the team played crap. Jose Mourinho is the typical example – he’d never take responsibility for a poor performance from his team.
Because Arsene Wenger defends his players it means that in theory, the players should respect that protection and fight for him. Unfortunately, this approach hasn’t worked in a while now. He gets the respect and love from the players (which is plain to see) but he’s not getting a response. What has happened is Arsene has created a culture of over-pampered babies who don’t fight for the cause. Instead of having a team of men, we have a team of boys.
No leaders, no strong personalities and no passion. Look at Chelsea – their whole mentality is worlds apart from ours. Their team is full of aggressive, mean and determined players who would literally fight for each other. They’re a team that fight to win and even if they were losing in a football match you’d back them to come back because they have character. Arsenal on the other hand, like you saw last night, don’t respond but collapse instead.
Every football team has a defining period in their season and ours has been over the last couple of weeks. The games against Watford, Chelsea and Bayern Munich would (and have) pretty much determine how our season would pan out. Wins against Watford and Chelsea would have put us 3 points behind the runaway leaders – but instead we are 10 points behind. Against Bayern Munich, the scoreline was 1-1 going into half time and even though we were being outplayed we could have even been 2-1 up if Xhaka or Özil had taken their chances. At that point, losing 2-1 as a worst-case scenario wouldn’t have been a disaster. But we collapsed in spectacular (and typically Arsenal-like) fashion, rendering the second leg a pointless exhibition match.
But for all Arsene’s faults, he is still a top, top manager. He consistently gets Arsenal into the Top 4, and into the last 16 of the Champions League. So it’s clear he is by no means an awful manager, and if you’re honest with yourself it’s a pretty amazing achievement. And that’s what makes this a whole lot harder.
We haven’t won the league in 13 years and apart from the 2008 season never really looked like winning it since. Our season always ends around February / March time and that’s the frustration. Despite reaching a phenomenal level of consistency (something you will never see in football again) it’s reaching the next level which is the problem. A couple of seasons ago when Arsenal were winning FA Cups and bringing in players like Mesut Özil and Alexis Sanchez, I would have said Arsene could have been the man to take us back to the glory days, but today I just don’t believe any more.
There comes a time when enough is enough. I completely believe that Arsenal fans have been extremely patient. Until a couple of seasons ago, my stance was 100% behind Arsene Wenger – even when about 10 years ago a lot of fans pointed out the same points I’m making today. What I’m saying isn’t new, they’re facts which have been played out for years now. But my faith in Arsene was down to wanting to give the man who has given Arsenal so much, a chance to win things once we found our financial feet as it were.
In modern football, Arsenal’s situation is unique. No other club (apart from Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson) is so reliant on one man. Football has changed and we have Directors of Football, men appointed specifically to deal with transfers – while Arsene Wenger does the job of 10 men. We can’t just “sack” Arsene Wenger without having a contingency plan in place. The bottom line is Arsene Wenger has “delivered” in relative terms (consistent Champions League football, etc.) for the board and they’re happy to go with the status quo. And that in itself isn’t a crime and look, I’m not naïve – football is a business and Arsene Wenger in that sense is the perfect man for the job.
The frustrating thing for me is while I want Arsene Wenger to leave; I still love the man, the manager, the icon for Arsenal Football Club, and in a way, would love him to stay.
If you ask me who is to blame for the malaise then I wouldn’t be putting Arsene at the top of the list. But the problem is with the whole setup at the club and how it’s run – and in a way Arsene is the fall guy. The problem is if Arsene Wenger stays at the club then nothing will change. The players need to take responsibility for under-performing and pretty much cruising through games at vital parts of the season. The board and our owner, Silent Stan, has never even talked publicly about the club and I don’t know an Arsenal fan who actually knows what his vision for the club is? Or if he even has one? The board are stale and are happy to take no responsibility for the club at all. So Arsene leaving would mean they would have to actually do some work and have the clubs best interests at heart.
For me, if Arsene could stay forever I’d be happy. Unfortunately it’s everyone else around him that’s let him down. Arsene Wenger gets slated left, right and centre, while who criticises the players? Who criticises the board? Who criticises the owners? Yes, Arsene has his limitations but he’s not the main reason we’re limited to a Top 4 finish and last 16 of the Champions League – every man needs a support network and the big problem is he has too much responsibility and has been let down by the players and the board. Unfortunately though, when things aren’t going right then sadly, the man in the firing line is Arsene Wenger.
In a perfect world, Arsene would leave with a trophy in his hands and leave on a high but barring an FA Cup triumph; it’s not looking likely.
Reports today suggest that Arsene Wenger won’t make a decision on his future (he has a 2 year contract on the table) until the end of the season. That to me says three things. The first is that he is seriously thinking of staying on – because if he was thinking of leaving then now would be a good time to announce it because it would get all of the fans onside and he would get complete support from the Arsenal faithful right until the last game of the season, whatever happened. He deserves goodwill and he would get it. Another thing it tells me is that the board have no idea on what to do once Arsene does want to leave. With a contract offer on the table and no decision to be made until the summer, it leaves no time to find a replacement if Arsene did actually turn it down. And the third point is that Arsene Wenger might have already decided to stay on – but officially announcing that a decision won’t be made until the end of the season defuses any animosity and anger towards the boss. Imagine if Arsenal came out now and said Arsene Wenger was staying on? The majority of Arsenal fans would end up losing their shit.