Josif shares his opinions on the current situation at Arsenal, it’s a long one. Dust off your keyboard, crank Mariah Carey’s Christmas tunes, blow your nose and enjoy..then share your thoughts below!
I have to admit that I’d had my suspicions regarding our ability to mount a serious challenge for a Top 4 position, never mind the Premiership title, ever since I realized Alex Song and Verrader (Dutch equivalent of traitor eg: Van Persie) were about to be sold without world-class replacements brought in.
The whole story regarding the latter one is well-known. When I saw Wenger had signed Podolski and Giroud, two left-footed strikers, I knew Van Persie as an Arsenal player was history. I had my hopes that he would have a change of heart but after he was ommitted from the starting line-up against Koeln it seemed inevitable.
Song had an impressive 2011-12 season but I still had a feeling we needed some steel in the midfield even if he was to stay, as well as an experienced, commanding goalkeeper to produce strong competition for Sczszesny, an additional right full-back since Sagna is injury prone and I didn’t actually believe Wenger would be able to make a decent player out of Jenkinson, and someone like Cavani, Falcao or Benzema to replace Verrader in attack.
I was pessimistic after consecutive goal-less draws against Sunderland and Stoke but it turned out we had a decent start – we won the opening away match in Champions’ League while in the Premiership we won at Anfield with an impressive performance from Abou Diaby, demolished Southampton and were unlucky to get only one point at Etihad with Gervinho’s horrible miss in the last seconds of the match. Aaron Ramsey produced a fine performance on the wing which turned out to be a curse in disguise.
My hopes were high and I started to believe this could be our season. Then came that unfortunate match against Chelsea. We didn’t just lose that match because of the horrible defending by Mannone, Koscielny and Vermaelen or the poor finishing from Giroud who was still searching for his shooting boots but we also lost our influential player Diaby to injury while the result was still 0:0.
We won the next two fixtures – Olympiacos and West Ham with the latter being the last top-drawer performance from us – but then the fateful international break evaporated our form. Since then we could muster a decent streak of performances or victories. We only won three Premiership matches since then – in the first, we scored our winning goal against the worst team in the league offside but not before they had a player sent off; in the second, we destroyed the Spuds with an impressive 5:2 score-line but we needed moment of madness from Adebayor to make things easier for us; in the third, we produced a very decent performance but we needed a dive to open our opponents.
As our performances and results have deteriorated ever since that match against West Ham, the gap between the so-called AKBs and AAAs has become bigger and bigger. The League Cup defeat to Bradford, a team from the fourth-tier of English football, despite our strongest available 11 (except Arteta) on the field, only made things worse. Both sides are trying to make their case regarding Arsene Wenger and his future with Arsenal.
There are a lot of things Wenger is being blamed for (I have a lot of complaints as well) but sometimes both sides over-react in their attacking/defending Wenger due to lack a of information or willingness to accept the facts.
There are things that a lot of Arsenal fans have accused Wenger of so far. Let’s try to make a decent analysis regarding that.
1.”Julio Cesar was for free and we didn’t even try to sign him despite the fact he is an experienced goalkeeper who had important role in Inter Milan’s treble in 2010. QPR used our passive approach and signed him.”
Actually, Julio Cesar himself had said that he was contacted by Arsenal but he refused our offer due to the non-playing role he was promised from QPR after his playing career ends. So, there was a certain initiative from Arsenal regarding signing an experienced goalkeeper.
There is further proof too as Wenger actually tried to sign an experienced goalkeeper in the form of Pepe Reina. The Spanish goalkeeper wrote in his autobiography about how Arsenal had an enormous 20 million pound bid for him rejected by Liverpool and he was hurt because Liverpool had rejected that offer for non-footballing reasons.
2.”We didn’t sign any world-class defensive midfielders despite the fact we have needed one since we lost Flamini and Gilberto Silva. We had sold Alex Song and didn’t try to buy anyone to replace him. And the Spuds took Vertonghen right from under Wenger’s nose.”
Actually, as allarsenal.com already wrote, Wenger did try to sign a decent defensive player for a holding midfielder role. Jan Vertonghen could have been a bargain buy with a 9 million pound price tag but he decided to join the Spuds instead. So, it’s not like we didn’t try to sign anyone for that position.
3.”We didn’t sign a decent replacement for Sagna and he had his leg broken twice in the space of six months. Wenger is wrong if he thinks Jenkinson can replace Sagna. Van der Wiel was a bargain buy but we missed out on him as well.”
We had a horrible situation with full-backs last season. Our defense had central defenders utilized out wide due to injuries suffered by Gibbs, Santos (while he was still considered as a decent player), Sagna and Jenkinson. Even Coquelin had to play as full-back.
When I saw that we didn’t sign any right full-backs, I was furious. Jenkinson’s performances from last season was usually terrible and his lack of experience and proper technique made me nervous given that Sagna was still recovering when this season had started.
However, Wenger had put us that didn’t believe in Jenkinson to shame as the youngster produced a string of very decent displays and was our most consistent performer before Sagna returned. His displays made him an English international player and, even if he isn’t a finished article yet (he still needs to improve his crossing and attacking game), he is one of the rare bright spots in our season.
4.”Wenger should be sacked because we lost to Bradford. Why does he put so much faith in Gervinho? Why did he give a chance to Chamakh?”
Let’s start with the last one. It was interesting thing to notice – during the second half probably every Gunner on the planet wanted Wenger to introduce Chamakh in our toothless attack, not just because Chamakh actually scored two goals against Reading in the previous Capital One Cup round but also because all other attacking options on the field looked like crap. Giroud was injured as well as Walcott and we needed a couple of goals from Chamakh in order to find someone as naive as we were to buy him and get him out of our budget.
Gervinho deserves a special article. I’ve never seen a player that sometimes looks like he is an excellent winger only to look like a laughing stock when he has to show his shooting abilities. Sadly, the latter is more likely to happen and despite Eden Hazard once called him “the best player he ever played with”, Arsenal can’t neither accept nor afford his level of performances. However, he did provide some decent performances last season as well as glimpses of promise this term. Given that our best players go from Arsenal every season but injuries stay with us, Wenger has had to use Gervinho, probably even more than he wanted to. He can’t be a striker just like Ramsey can’t be a winger.
The defeat at Bradford is the most shameful thing that happened this season but the decision to sack Wenger can’t be based on that defeat only.
Wenger believes in Ramsey because he fits into his most recent policy – he possesses talent, young and is British. It would be wrong to blame Ramsey for everything bad that happened to us in the last season and a half. He can’t emulate neither Cesc Fabregas (but then – who can?) nor Nasri but he can be useful a central midfielder.
So, what are Wenger’s faults?
We had just one pre-season match with our newbies in the team due to their participation in EURO 2012. It could be an explanation of our problems in the opening half an hour of matches. Lukas Podolski gave his best performances while he was still fresh and unknown to opponents and, to a lesser extent, same can be said about Cazorla.
2.Even if he couldn’t sign Cesar, he could sign an experienced goalkeeper elsewhere.
Cesar and Reina are not the only goalkeepers in the world. Samir Handanović replaced Cesar at Inter Milan goal and he was signed for 6 million euros. Thomas Soerensen is on the bench at Stoke City and it is very doubtful he would cost a lot of money given his age (35) and squad status.
3.Even if he couldn’t sign Vertonghen, he could sign a decent defensive midfielder elsewhere. Or a defensive player for that matter.
One thing that was weird to me regarding our transfer policy this summer was the fact we failed to sign any defensive-minded player. Granted, Podolski’s team-work and Giroud’s help in defending set-pieces could be considered “as new signings” as well as Diaby’s short come-back, but we needed steel in our midfield even if Song hadn’t been sold to Barcelona. If Vertonghen said “no” – who cares, we could find another one. Flamini was released from Milan at a point in time while his former team-mate Van Bommel was another cheap short-term option. Flamini was re-signed by Milan while Van Bommel returned to PSV.
Yann M’Vila was another recommended cure for our Achilles heel but it seems that the French youngster is too expensive for Wenger. It could turn out M’Villa is another example of Wenger’s lost mojo regarding purchases from Le Championnat. Since 2010-11 Wenger had spent substantial amount on fees for players from the French league: 12 million euros for Giroud, 12 million euros for Gervinho, 6,5 million euros for Chu Young Park and 12,5 million euros for Koscielny but none of these players made an impact like Robert Pires or Emmanuel Petit. Wenger failed to sign Hazard and has been reluctant to sign M’Vila so far (it could be a sort of Schroedinger’s Cat-issue for Wenger).
Left full-back is another painful spot. Kieran Gibbs’ injury against West Ham turned out to be a blow as equal as Diaby’s. We had to play Santos or the out-of-form Vermaelen out wide while the Englishman was absent. Yanga-Mbiwa could fill that position but it is likely we will suffer a defeat just like we did in race for Gary Cahill.
4.Intelligence-insulting comments filled with arrogance.
“We have more problems saying no than getting a yes. You would be surprised at the people who want to join us. Why? Because we are at the top of the European game.” If that is true, why didn’t we sign top-class players as a replacement for departing ones?
“As a squad, I have more quality,” Wenger told the Daily Star Sunday. “This is the best since I have been here.” Only a couple of months later, Wenger asked fans to be more realistic. It means that a) he isn’t capable of making a correct judgment of the team’s quality despite being with those players every day or b) he thinks fans lack intelligence.
“For me, there are five ‘trophies’ – the first is to win the Premier League, the second is to win the Champions’ League, the third is to qualify for the Champions League, the fourth is to win the FA Cup and the fifth is to win the League Cup.” Granted, there is some truth in his explanation – players (like Arteta, for example) see Champions’ League as an impressive stage to perform at. However, that ‘trophy’ can’t be seen.
“What is the thinking behind the substitution? I will not explain every decision I make, you judge the game for the papers and I sit here and explain to you our game.” This is another version of last season’s “I have made 50,000 substitutions during my managerial career”-outburst after he was questioned about introducing out-of-form Arshavin for our best player on the field Oxlade-Chamberlain while the score was 1:1. He wasn’t exactly asked about every substitution during career – only about a couple unreasonable ones. Hell, after the aforementioned Arshavin-Chamberlain substitution, we could see the disapproval from Verrader as well.
The most recent statement regarding effort given by our players against Bradford deserves no comment.
It seems that selling our best player, goal-scorer and captain to our biggest rivals for 24 million pounds wasn’t a brilliant move from the financial point of view either just like buying Gervinho turns out to be a more expensive deal than it would be if we paid what Lille asked for Hazard. Every human being apart from Ivan Gazidis knows selling Verrader wasn’t a clever move from the footballing side as well but there are people who claim that Wenger made a right choice to sell the injury-prone 29-year-old for 24 million pounds. Now, there is a problem with that logic because it excludes a lot of important other numbers and facts that can’t be explained by pounds.
First of all, as I previously mentioned, when you sell a classy player to your biggest rivals, they kill two birds with one stone – they acquire a world class striker and their rivals loose one. Second of all, Verrader was a leader of the team last season – his departure left us without 37 goals in all competitions, 14 assists, leadership on the pitch and a world-class ability to score a goal against the run of play. If we miss out on Champions’ League spot, Verrader’s departure will be noticed during next year’s financial report.
The same thing could happen with Theo Walcott although he has not reached Verrader’s importance to Arsenal yet. However, if there is a player in our current line-up that is almost impossible to replace, it is Theo Walcott. All our biggest disappointments this season came in matches Walcott didn’t feature or featured only for a little bit.
Maybe if Wenger managed to spare a couple of pounds in previous seasons we could’ve prevented Gary Cahill, Juan Mata and Eden Hazard joining the Chavs, Verrader moving to FAnchester United and Gervinho coming to us.
6.He is stubborn when it comes to tactics.
Wenger didn’t give up on the 4-3-3 (4-1-2-2-1) formation even when Cesc Fabregas, the player the formation was based around, left. He didn’t give up on that formation even when he replaced Verrader with Giroud who is a totally different type of striker. The incredible come-back against Reading in the Capital One Cup came after a change of tactical approach which saw two central forwards – Giroud and Chamakh – being helped from the wingers Walcott and Arshavin.
We already have three players demanding to play in the center of attack – Walcott, Giroud and Podolski. Granted, Giroud didn’t make any requests but it is because Wenger has always played him as center-forward. Walcott and Podolski are unhappy with wing-positions and it seems that their demands have some grounds. Perhaps a switch to 4-4-2 with a 4-2-2-2 transformation would be much better than our current formation though it leaves some questions (e.g. would central midfield with Arteta and Wilshere be able carry a burden in that formation, would Cazorla and his partner on the other wing be able to help the midfielders, would Mertesacker’s lack of pace be a problem…).
7.It seems he is too good a person to be a manager of a top team.
Wenger seems to be too protective when it comes to our players. It is a part of his image of a true gentleman, something that makes him more likeable than any other manager in England. However, sometimes he needs to take a different approach. If a captain of FAnchester United would do to Ferguson what Verrader did to Wenger in the aforementioned match against United after Chamberlain was substituted, he would probably get a boot in his head while still making “no, no”-comments regarding the manager’s decision.
A lack of discipline can be seen on the field. I can’t remember if I had ever seen a team where players have ran into each other like ours have this season which can also be part of the problem I mentioned under number 1. Taking of set-pieces – there have been consinstency only when it comes to penalties – Arteta takes it though he had to argue with Giroud for the last one against West Brom. Free-kicks are sometimes taken by Walcott, Wilshere, Arteta, Cazorla, Podolski… Granted, that might be a sign of versatility as well in order to avoid predictable play but so far it doesn’t seem to be efficient.
8.Putting too much faith in injury-prone or/and money-grabbing players as well as in players with low footballing intelligence.
Wenger had put a lot of faith in Verrader which, to a certain extent, paid off in the last 18 months of the Dutchman’s career at Arsenal. Rosicky and Wilshere were out for the opening three or four months of the seasons. Diaby got injured about three months ago. Arteta had a history of injuries for both Everton and Arsenal. Vermaelen missed 43 matches in the Premiership in the last two seasons due to injuries while Sagna broke his leg twice in 2011-12. Something is wrong with our medical service, trainings or medical exams of players who sign for Arsenal.
Examples of Nasri, Clichy, Adebayor and Verrader again are a bit different. They left Arsenal because of better financial offers from the Manchester clubs but it seems all those players were given too much credit from Wenger in their hard times with the club. It says something about Wenger’s poor judgment of characters which damaged our club severely. Bendtner’s statements weren’t helpful either.
Players he picked in recent years suffer from poor footballing intelligence as well. We conceded a lot of own goals (Koscielny) or goals that were results of individual errors while our attacking line is far from the intelligence shown by Pires, Henry or Bergkamp. The last time I was impressed with an intelligent move from our player was Ramsey’s move against Southampton before we scored our fifth goal.
There is also the strange way some of our players are looking at themselves. Bendtner’s line about him being the world’s best striker would be funny if he wasn’t an Arsenal player while Gervinho’s stated desire to emulate Robert Pires brings tears to Gunners’ eyes. And I’m not talking about tears of joy.
9.We became a feeder club.
No need for further analysis on this one.
It is highly unlikely that Wenger is going to end our trophy-drought this season or that any of the aforementioned flaws will be fixed in the foreseeable future. So, we will have to wait and see whether he is going to splash some cash in January or the average Gunner will be recognized by a substantial amount of grey hair before their 30th birthday due to mistakes on the pitch.