Friday 5 August 2011
The problem with Arsène Wenger
When Arsène Wenger decided to ply his trade in England, there were only two clubs he could consider joining - Arsènal or Queens Park Wengers. Fortunately, for Gooners, he chose Arsenal and there is no question that he destroyed the “boring, boring Arsenal” tag by introducing free-flowing football of the highest quality. He also ended a 5 year trophy drought for the club.
He was praised from all quarters for buying relatively obscure players that nobody else had heard of, at knock-down prices, and turning them into superstars. Under his guidance, Arsenal won three Premiership titles (including two Doubles) in considerable style.
But since moving to the Emirates Stadium, the trophies have dried up again and the quality of football rarely matches the dizzy heights seen a decade ago (yes, it really is that long). The reason is three-fold:
First, other clubs have spent hundreds of millions of Pounds buying experienced players at the top of their game. There is no question that spending £50 million + on one player is obscene, but that is the reality of the business. And it is a business: there is surely nobody alive who thinks football is still a sport? The Arsenal Board can talk about their self sustaining business model until the cows come home, but if you don’t have players who are as good as, or better than, the players in your opponents’ team, then you are going to win diddly squat.
Second, Wenger refuses to take off his rose tinted glasses. Nobody expects a manager to slate his own players in public, but even in private Wenger refuses to concede that not all of his purchases have been up to the mark. Senderos and Bendtner, to name but two, were kept in the first team for far too long to the detriment of the whole squad and the frustration of supporters.
Third, the players have an attitude problem which the manager has failed to control. Arsenal lose far too many games to the so called smaller sides. Wenger has a reputation for being a bad sport and this filters through to the players. He once famously remarked: “Show me a good loser and I will show you a loser”, but that misses the point. If you lose a game because of poor decisions by officials, then you have a right to moan. But if you lose because the other side played better than you, then you should have the good grace to admit it. The players assume that they have a divine right to win just by turning up on the pitch, and are consequently unable to cope when their opponents raise their game.
It is all very well Wenger talking about the supposed great team spirit, but the reality is that in each of the last few seasons, the players have regularly suffered an embarrassing collapse in form. When Wenger declared in the New Year that Arsenal were on course to win the quadruple, you knew that another trophy-less season beckoned. To throw away a four-nil lead away to Newcastle was unforgivable. Wenger is seemingly unable to motivate his players to recover their self confidence after a bad run. He is also quick to blame injuries for poor results. Other teams have injuries too - but top teams have a strength in depth to cope with such eventualities.
Nothing can take away the fact that Arsène Wenger is the best manager that Arsenal have ever had. But he is surviving in his job purely on the strength of his past performance. A few months ago, someone posted a message on the BBC website saying that Arsenal did not need to change their manager - they just needed their manager to change. But all the evidence suggests that Wenger is incapable of change. As in seasons past, supporters were promised a summer of high transfer activity but, as usual, it has not materialised. Instead Wenger has adopted a high risk policy of trying to hold on to players who have no desire to play for the team anymore. Compare this to Kenny Dalglish’s astute summer purchases which will give Liverpool a really good chance of a top four finish - most likely at Arsenal’s expense.
Unless, and until, Wenger accepts that a title winning team needs an experienced backbone, Arsenal will continue their dry spell. If he really cannot understand this simple concept, then it is time for him to go. The days of winning with kids are long since past.