There is no debate. Arsenal have been going through their worst period in the Premier League since 1995. We have been going from one defeat to another, from one disappointment to another, breaking one negative record after another, apart from those rare moments we play against non-league opposition.
When there are bad times, the first question always is: who is to blame? Is it the manager or the players?
This same question is on the table at every club in the world during any negative streak. Here we delve into Arsenal’s issues:
What is Arsene Wenger’s fault?
1. Arsenal do not equip themselves efficiently enough in the transfer windows
For some reason, Arsenal haven’t been able to have a decent start to a season for years. The last time we had a top start was in 2009-10 when we won 6:1 at Goodison Park. Since that victory, we have struggled to produce a decent performance in an opening match of the season. In fact, we have won just one out of the last seven opening league matches (W1 D3 L3) and it took Aaron Ramsey’s injury-time winner to complete a come-back against a manager-less Crystal Palace side. We usually venture off on a commercial summer tour and either forget about filling the gaps in our squad until the last days of the transfer window or completely ignore them until it’s too late.
To a certain extent, the same thing happens before our February/March meltdown when we go out in the Champions League and lose ground in the Premier League title challenge. We don’t fill the gaps in January because Arsene Wenger wants to abolish the January transfer window. Essentially, our hands are tied by ourselves before the exhausting boxing match and then we ask ourselves why we always end up on the floor.
It happened in 2013-14, it happened in 2015-16 and, if we go back to 2007-08 we can find Arsene Wenger’s statement that, if he was given £100million to spend, he would give them straight back. Kim Källström’s loan was one of the most insulting pieces of business performed by Arsenal as we went through a serious meltdown from top spot to fifth place in a month-and-a-half. It was forgotten because Everton went through a bad patch themselves and we won the FA Cup after nine barren years.
Arsenal had three senior central defenders out before our opening league match against Liverpool this season and Shkodran Mustafi was still a Valencia player and our negotiators were fighting over every coin regardless of the cost in points. As a result, we conceded four goals in fifteen minutes.
2. Arsenal look like they are not properly prepared for big games
Arsenal played Liverpool only five days after Leicester had ripped Liverpool’s defence apart using a deep backline and Jamie Vardy’s counter-attacks. Bear in mind that we had twelve days to prepare for the game. Our tactics for the game? Put Olivier Giroud upfront and keep Alexis Sánchez on the bench. Oh, and what about Sadio Mane who destroyed Nacho Monreal on the opening day of the season? Yep, that’s right, let’s play Monreal against Mane again, all by himself because it’s not like playing Alexis on the left wing had done any good for Nacho last season, right? Oh…
On Saturday, we played West Bromwich Albion, well-known for their height and dangerous set-pieces. Our tactics for the game? Leave Olivier Giroud, the guy who scored our winner in the reverse fixture, on the bench and put Danny Welbeck in attack. The fact we conceded two goals after corners from the same player is further proof we don’t prepare appropriately for our opponents.
3.Arsenal suffer from poor in-game management
We were playing Watford and the result was 2:1 to the visitors. We were knocking on their door looking for another goal and possibly a complete come-back with Alex Iwobi getting on the score-sheet while destroying the opponents right full-back. Then Wenger made the strange decision to move Iwobi into the middle of the park and introduce Lucas Perez for Francis Coquelin. We lost Coquelin’s ball-winning ability and Iwobi’s creativity from the wing so Watford had a rather comfortable half an hour, apart from Lucas rattling the crossbar in the final minutes of the match.
Against Liverpool, we were making some progress in the second half after Welbeck’s goal but instead of making the most from Bellerin and Walcott’s pace and crossing down Liverpool’s weaker, left side of the defence, Wenger removed both Welbeck and Giroud to introduce Walcott and Lucas, players that should have started the game, not get introduced when the opponents are defending their lead.
Our defeat against Bayern, the worst home defeat in the club’s history, could have been prettier if Wenger made a logical choice and introduced a central defender once Laurent Koscielny was (wrongly) sent off. Instead of that, Wenger moved Granit Xhaka to central defence and we conceded one goal after another until another record was broken.
Oh, and here is a question for you: do you recall Arsenal intelligently targeting a player on a yellow card during the game?
4. There is no plan for big games without Santi Cazorla
Arsenal have been going through an awful patch in big games. Arsenal have won just ONE game out of EIGHTEEN against Barcelona, PSG, Bayern, Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool and Tottenham since the beginning of 2016. In the same period Hull City have won two against the big English clubs.
The only logical explanation is that Santi Cazorla’s absence is something we can’t cope with. Since January 2016, Cazorla started in our 1:1 draw in Paris and 3:0 victory over Chelsea and was introduced against Liverpool at 1:4 (the game ended 3:4). In 2015, Arsenal played fifteen big matches against Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Bayern – our record was W8 D4 L3 with Cazorla running the show in most of these matches.
5. Arsene Wenger spent over £100 million last summer and Arsenal have never looked worse in the last 20 years
Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi might turn out to be the nails in Arsene Wenger’s coffin. Given their price and reputation, they should have made our defence stronger and passing more fluid. Instead of that, Arsenal have conceded eight goals more than we had conceded at this stage last season and a number of defensive actions has dropped significantly (over three interceptions, a block and a clearance per game).
The Lucas Perez story is more complicated as he seems to be injured, disappointed and unsettled at Arsenal all at the same time. He has used his minutes pretty well but it looks like Wenger doesn’t know what to do with him.
6. The tactical change with Mesut Özil playing closer to goal was only of a short-term benefit
Arsenal have been struggling to create chances this season and it has a lot to do with Mesut Özil’s performances. The German has been playing closer to goal but his statistics don’t justify that decision. He has failed to record either an assist or a goal for a long time.
7. Arsene Wenger doesn’t make his job easier with some of his calls and statements
While most of Arsenal fans are devastated with the recent string of results, I was extremely shocked with Wenger’s statement on Alexis’ ankle:
“His ankle is in an absolutely terrible state. He should not have played in the second half but he insisted that he wanted to come out.”
I’m sorry…WHAT?! WHO THE HELL IS THE MANAGER: WENGER OR ALEXIS? WHO MAKES THE CALL ABOUT SUBSTITUTIONS: WENGER OR ALEXIS?
Alexis is a player. He is our best player, there is no doubt about it, but he is a player. His job is to follow the orders of the manager and the last time I checked, Arsene Wenger was still in charge at Arsenal.
Speaking of players…
What is the players fault?
1. They don’t look like they are willing to improve
Most of our players look satisfied with their current level of quality. Yes, yes, they’ve been talking about unacceptable performances but when you think about it…
Granit Xhaka has been sent off twice but still claims he doesn’t want to change his style of playing. Arsenal have played seven games without him because of his way of tackling.
Aaron Ramsey has been worse than he was in 2012 but doesn’t seem to be changing anything about his game.
Hector Bellerin relies solely on his astonishing pace whether it’s his attacking or defending. He has become a liability in defence and his poor crossing has been spoiling our attacking game. He should wait at least 15 years before he becomes a Bacary Sagna from the last year of his Arsenal career.
Francis Coquelin has forgotten what made him an indispensable member of our first team and wants to be the new Alex Song instead.
Theo Walcott has scored quite a few goals this season but he still goes missing when the chips are down.
Olivier Giroud has been going through his usual barren spell that always happen around this time of the year.
2.They believe they are better than they actually are
For some reason our players think they are better than they actually are. It can be a positive thing but if it’s mixed with complacency, they get sucked into a hole of poor results and performances. If losing to Watford – at home, while they had been going through an awful patch of their own – wasn’t a wake-up call, I don’t know what would make our players finally realize they are not amalgams of Messi, Ronaldo and Suarez who can just show up on the pitch and win the game against weaker opponents.
3.They have to avoid social networks until the end of the season
How many times have we read a pre-game message from our players on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram about being 100% focused on the game or prepared for it only to deliver a heartless, gutless and spineless performance? Mesut Özil and Hector Bellerin have become extremely annoying with these kind of messages. I don’t want sweet talk, I want to see you play like top players do and justify your status as a top class footballer.
4.They should apologize on the pitch
For weeks we have been bombed with apologies from our players. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, someone who has actually improved his overall game this season, has been the latest player to make a public apology after our pathetic performance at Hawthorns.
Guys, stop with that. Seriously. Apologize to the fans by outperforming our next opponents Manchester City on 2nd April and actually beating them. That would serve as a proper apology.
5.They don’t have the mental strength to pick themselves up when the chips are down
The players have to pick themselves up during the game. They can’t wait for Wenger to draw them the escape route, instead they should put their heads together to find their way out of the trouble. I bet Wenger doesn’t say to Xhaka: “Hey, Granit, I know what you should do: keep the ball as casual as you can in a dangerous position so if you lose it they can walk it into the back of the net!” Wenger also doesn’t recommend both Mustafi and Koscielny to get drawn by the opponents one-twos so that our goalkeeper has to face a penalty or to concede an easy goal.
6.Our players on loan don’t hold the keys to our salvation
Some Arsenal fans are convinced our best goalkeeper is on loan at Roma and the natural replacement for Santi Cazorla is at Bournemouth. Well, think again. Wojciech Szczesny has been relegated to the bench by Luciano Spalletti for the most important games of the season in favour of Alisson Becker, the Brazilian international goalkeeper, and Jack Wilshere has found himself on the bench once Eddie Howe became afraid Bournemouth would go down. Think about it – two clubs of lesser stature than Arsenal have decided to bench our players on loan in order to save their season. David Ospina and Petr Čech might look out of depth for the Premier League at times this season but they can sleep calmly if Szczesny is the only threat for their position. Same goes for Ramsey and our other central midfielders.
Conclusion: When picking between the manager and the players, most clubs in the world would go down the easiest route and replace the manager. We have seen it with Chelsea, Leicester City and many, many, many others. It’s easier to replace one man than to replace 20 players with new faces. However, Arsenal do things differently, for better and worse. Right now, neither our manager nor the players are doing things right.
At the end of the day, the manager has a bigger responsibility because, in military terms, he has both individual and a command responsibility for the wrongdoings of his subordinates.
The problem is, we don’t have another manager and we can’t exactly replace the current squad with another one – not before summer that is. Both the manager and the players need undivided support until May while they bear in mind they are overdue quite a few decent performances on the pitch. The season can still be saved in the last 12 or 13 matches but time is running out.