On Saturday, around lunchtime, I found myself doing something I haven’t done since the Premier League era began – I was rooting for Chelsea over Arsenal. I have always been a defender of Arsenal and in particular their manager Arsene Wenger. At the weekend, it became evident that Wenger is the reason why Arsenal have been stuck in a rut for the last 5 years or so.
He became obsessed with winning the league with perfect football, and at times, I can admit that they have been great to watch, but nice football is no substitute for successful football. We are in the three points business, plain and simple. So often when it comes to games against the best teams in the league, and in Europe, Arsenal come up short. It’s happening for so long now that it can’t be a coincidence. The referee can’t be to blame when their record is that bad, so what is the problem?
Arsene Wenger is a stubborn man. So often over the last few seasons he has failed to acknowledge what’s been lacking in his team. From a world class centre back, to a midfield enforcer, to a twenty-five goal a season striker, these are players who have been absent from Wenger’s team for a number of years, yet the Arsenal manager refuses to address it. When he signed Petr Cech, it seemed like he was getting out of his old habits, but alas, it hasn’t been the case.
All title winning teams have a leader; it might not necessarily be a Roy Keane type of player, motivating through shouting – it could be a Cesc Fabregas type, or Xavi, or Scholes. They’re all players (apart from maybe Roy Keane), who demand the ball in times of extreme pressure. Scholes wasn’t a shouter but he would never shy away from receiving the ball in tight games. If you need an example of this leadership, try and get hold of the Champions League semi final of 1999.
Man United are 2 goals down after 20 minutes in Turin against a terrific Juventus side. Keane and Scholes lead their team to the final with a 3-2 win, after both get booked in the game, making sure they miss out on the final too, let’s not forget. Every player in that United team had leadership qualities, though, in truth. Arsenal have no one; you get the feeling with certain Gunners that they are quite happy to go through the motions – if they win, great, if they don’t, then that’s ok, too.
I mentioned Cesc Fabregas because Wenger had first option to buy him back when his time at Barcelona was up. Wenger didn’t want him and he ended up at Chelsea – Wenger thought it would hinder the development of Aaron Ramsey. Now this may seem a little far fetched for some people, but to me, I would go one further and say it’s the biggest load of rubbish I’ve ever heard.
Aaron Ramsey is a decent player so I’m not going to criticise him and it’s not his fault that Wenger has high hopes for him. A world class midfielder is available and Arsenal have first option; he wants to join the club, but you say no because a young player who has had one good season is going to be affected – Wenger’s thought process is mind boggling. I’m sure Ramsey would’ve been delighted by Wenger’s faith in him, but it’s all too safe; Ramsey knows he’ll start when fit, so what’s his motivation to improve? What madness it is to suggest that an Arsenal player would have to fight for his place in the team? Having Fabregas in the squad would surely improve Ramsey.
Fabregas’ little cameo on Saturday kind of sums up where the two clubs sit, currently. He is not in the starting eleven for Chelsea, but his influence off the bench is superb. He immediately knows his role in the team; he works hard, and he has wonderful ability on the ball; as well as being a player who instantly links up with good players. Arsenal’s midfield was a shambles on Saturday, and they were outfought in every situation. Francis Coquelin and Oxlade- Chamberlain had a torrid time trying to deal with Matic, Kante and Hazard, who would sometimes drift into the middle.
Mezut Ozil receives a lot of criticism for his lack of effort, and there is no doubt that if he was in Conte’s eleven he would have to shape up. When your team is being beaten quite convincingly, Ozil is not the guy you look to. He doesn’t inspire much, but then that could be said about a lot of Arsenal’s starting eleven. Walcott shirks his duties so often that you’d be forgiven for thinking you were watching a teenage Theo. He should be an experienced player now but he still does things on the pitch that you’d expect from an 18 year old: not tracking his man, not competing for headers, and in fact in some cases, pulling out of headers and tackles – this is unforgivable. It wouldn’t be acceptable on a Sunday morning in your local park, so why should it be acceptable at the home of your supposed Premier League rival.
I had a little sympathy for Hector Bellerin, who had little to no protection against Hazard and Alonso. He is one guy you could point to who has a bit of heart, but too often he was left exposed by team mates not doing their job. How many times did Chelsea players chase down lost causes on Saturday? This is what it takes to win titles, not just lovely possession football. You have to do the hard graft which is something these Arsenal boys don’t do.
Alexis Sanchez looked a lonely figure up front. He won’t be at Arsenal much longer if Wenger stays. Sanchez is a World class player, but he must be getting sick and tired of the attitude that surrounds the club. Arsenal are happy finishing in the top four every season and looking like challengers, but realistically, they are a long way away from being title winners. There is no longer a winning mentality at the club, and that comes from the top down. If a player isn’t good enough, he needs to be moved on. If the manager can get a player that’s better than what he has, then he needs to act – big decisions need to be made at big clubs.
Look at Conte this season with John Terry. I’m sure Terry will have a nice send off at the end of the season, but Conte won’t be concerned. Terry has been a good servant but he’s not in his best eleven – plain and simple. How many Arsenal players have stayed at the club for a long time without doing anything? Players like Diaby, Rosicky, Mertesacker, and Fabianski, to name a few. It’s like Wenger stuck with them in hope rather than expectation. You need to be ruthless as a manager. What would this Arsenal team be like under Diego Simeone? They would have a backbone, at the very least.
Wenger’s time is up. I think if the club has any ambition to compete, they should look elsewhere for a man to lead this team. Move Wenger upstairs and announce it before the season ends so you can give him the send off that he deserves, and get cracking on having a serious title challenge, next season. Maybe then I’ll reignite my love affair with Arsenal.