Fans are increasingly divided with every article that pops up on their news feed. No matter what it is, the opinions are divided, and not in a ‘healthy competition’ way, nor a relatively light-hearted ‘I hope I’m proved wrong’ way either.
The major issue: WengerIN and WengerOUT; a direct result festered from fan frustration. A string of poor form, the increasingly familiar collapse in the final third of the season, combined with inconclusive contract negotiations, Gooners are seeing red.
We want someone to blame. If we can blame someone, or something, we can fix it and all our problems are solved. So who is truly to blame?
All the articles that have flooded the internet are generally hugely divided: blame the players for under-performing, or Wenger’s tactics, style and decisions. There’s also a few that try to summarise both sides of the story to outline the main issues, and let you be the judge.
However, I feel a little perspective is missing from these articles, and it is definitely needed.
Players to blame
You have to admit, those that think the players are to blame: for underperforming, for having tantrums, and for uploading social media motivation posts only to follow up with an aforementioned sub-performance – these fan’s viewpoints definitely have substance. In the past, Gooners have had a relatively tolerant view based on ‘style’ in which Arsenal play, which can be truly beautiful. If we play well, and get beat due to luck or missing a couple of opportunities, it is a lot easier to swallow than what we are enduring right now. So yes, the players have a large part to play in this never-ending blame game.
Wenger to blame
At the end of the day, the buck stops with Wenger. From acquiring world-class players, to the Invincibles season, to the faith he puts in our youth, to the distinct, beautiful way the game is played by our beloved Arsenal – there is no denying his positive presence. Fans have been angered to learn of his transfer history, missing out on marquee signings like Xabi Alonso and Luis Suarez by a matter of a couple of million. You can’t blame him for not signing Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and Ronaldo and Lionel Messi as teenagers – what about the thousands of ‘wonderkids’ that are signed to teams never to be heard of again – it is simply extremely hard to tell how far a player will develop his game.
What he is definitely accountable for though, is bringing in players we need, tactics we play, and the substitutions he makes. All of which, there is ample evidence it is failing. I don’t need to remind you about the Arsenal’s transfers, so I won’t. What we do need to understand, is the constant counter-intuitive tactics that have been employed.
What no one seems to be talking about
Now, we need to consider two sides of this, but let’s talk about what is staring us in the face first.
The big games: Victories are very few and far between, and we traditionally lose these “6-pointers” as our title charges are dismantled. Occasionally, the tactics are spot on, everyone does a job, and we get a result. A 2-0 win against Manchester City was a highlight as we needed to be very defensive, absorb pressure, and play on the counter. It’s always good to get a result, but if we want to contend for titles, and Champions League trophies, we need to take our renowned possession into these big games. We can dominate possession against many teams, and then completely lose it against the top teams.
But too often, we concede ‘classic’ goals. 1v1’s with Diego Costa, who crawls all over our Centre Back to take the ball on his chest and slot it in the net; Allowing Philippe Coutinho to turn, and run, cut on to his right foot, and curl it in the far post; Romelu Lukaku running an entire half with the ball to side-foot it in the bottom corner. How do these teams pump goals passed us for fun, while struggle with a stoppage-time winner against Burnley? Tactics. You’ll always need a bit of luck, and a bit of quality, but you need 11 players doing a job in unison. One lapse in concentration against a quality team, you can expect to concede.
The teams we should beat: I am absolutely sick to death of conceding goals from set-pieces where the opposition have a free header. Basic match ups, and an aggression to get there first. We know these teams look to condense space, get 10 men behind the ball, absorb pressure, play on the counter, and play for set-pieces. Yet we still get our pants pulled down and are caught out.
The refusal to bring a substitution on before 60 minutes. This is ridiculous. An extra 15-25 minutes can be vital for a result to be swayed. Too many times, we have seen an average performance in the first half. Get in that dressing room, look him in the face and tell him, “If you don’t do this, you’re off.” At 50-55 mins, make the first substitution. Nobody is above a poor performance every now and then, but why should Arsenal as a team accept it. How many times have we seen long balls lofted up to Sanchez at CF? Or a winger/wing-back crossing a ball to the far post, while runners are staggered at the near, spot and edge? This stupidity doesn’t happen once, but time and time again. We deserve better. And when a much needed substitution is introduced, it doesn’t make any sense! We rarely exploit a weakness via a substitution. Wenger replaces tired legs with similar players. When was the last time we deliberately targeted players on a yellow card, or created opportunities where the opposition must foul?
Does it all fall on Wenger?
No. It can’t.
Do you honestly believe Wenger rallies the troops to say “Let’s leave their best aerial threat open on set pieces” and “let’s pass the ball side to side and if nothing comes of it, just give it to Oli or Alexis and they will just shoot from anywhere” or “I’m happy for you to not track their midfield runners coming through – Kosc and Shkodran will handle them as they come through.”
You might tell me, it’s up to Wenger to figure it out, and do whatever it takes to get his players to get this done – but it’s not that easy.
The simple truth
We cannot know what happens behind closed doors, so we cannot know where the blame lies. When things are not going to plan, everybody has their own opinion why, and this decision is generally made in the heat of the moment. To picture it clearly, think of your own personal club football experiences – if you keep passing in to the feet of your centre forward, and he turns every single time and loses the ball, what do you do? You stop giving him the ball. You play around him.
But how do you fix it? I hear you ask:
An experienced central midfielder who can dictate the play. There is not one Arsenal player that you can put your hand on your heart and say is consistent this season. It’s perfectly normal for the creative players to drift in and out of form: Oli, Alexis, Ozil, Ox, Walcott etc – and that’s okay. If you have a rock, a pillar, these creative form dips will be staggered, and they won’t all be flat at the same time.
We desperately need a world class ball-winner. N’Golo Kante is a classic example. He just wins the ball, and gives it simple. If gets in behind, he draws defenders, and then gives it simple. Chelsea also have players that can slot in and take over. Matic, Fabregas, Luiz. Win the ball, move the ball, simple. Teams can’t play through them, so are forced to either 1) long-ball switch, leaving the attacker isolated, and most likely 1v1 with the fullback, and a Central Defender to cover – good teams are comfortable for those odds; or 2) hold the ball up/recycle possession backwards and sideways, giving the defence time to organise, condense space and pressure the ball. All of the best teams play this way, and it’s important to be difficult to play through, and have the confidence to be 1v1 with the winger/full back combination.
Are Arsenal confident with Bellerin v Hazard? Sane v Monreal? Be aware of the long ball, and react quickly, get the winger to be facing away from goal, and the defence condenses.
The blame is quite obviously a mix of both. There are so many positives from Arsene’s tenure, but so many short-comings as well. The players’ contract sagas indicate there are disagreements in some capacity within the club, and with so much behind-the-scenes tension, it is clear something has got to give. Whether it is the manager, the marquee players, the transfer budget, the Board – there will be change.
It is time for Wenger to go. The constant mismatch of tactics has caused some irreparable damage. A fresh influence is needed, and a new vision. It is not good having the fans so upset and divided – it puts added stress on all involved.
However, I think he will stay on at least one more year. He will spend. If the quality of the signings he makes are suitable, Sanchez and Ozil will stay, but that’s a discussion for another day.