You could sense the frustration from Arsene Wenger earlier in the season when so much praise was directed towards Steve Bould. Arsenal had started the season in impressive fashion, at least from a defensive perspective, and yet the manager wanted to make it quite clear that it wasn’t just his new assistant that was taking the defence to positive new levels.
Wenger will always do it his way, and it won’t matter how bad the repercussions are. He’s a proud manager, but his stubbornness is well-known. He won’t look for help, quite simply because it suggests that he was wrong in the first place. He won’t accept small tips from those around him, because why should he admit to taking advice from those who aren’t as experienced in the game as he is? It’s understandable to a degree, but again, it’s incredibly frustrating.
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There was word recently of a bust-up between the manager and Bould, with the former Arsenal defender getting very little say in the running of training. And maybe we’re seeing evidence of that of the pitch. Yes, Arsenal do still have one of the best defensive records in the Premier League, but it’s the manner in which they concede that really confuses. It’s difficult to understand how a team coached by one of Arsenal’s finest can be so cavalier at the back. Yet at the same time it’s totally and predictably Arsenal.
The idea has always been that Wenger surrounds himself with yes-men, however I believe that to be incredibly disrespectful to those who do work with him. Pat Rice was and still is a football man, so is Bob Wilson and the various other coaches at the club. If any of them see inconsistencies in training or problems in the preparation, I’m confident they would speak up.
It’s one thing to say the club is full of yes-men who won’t challenge Wenger; the more realistic view is that plenty challenge the manager, it’s just that he decides to go in another direction—specifically his own.
Wenger said the rumours of a clash between himself and Bould were lies, but we’ll never know. The manager says a lot of things that are the opposite of what really goes on. But despite knowing this, many fans choose to be selective in what they believe.
It’s difficult to paint the picture of Arsenal as a club where the manager simply refuses help from his coaches; no matter how good a manager Wenger is, he can’t run the playing side of the club on his own. The problem has and always will be his lack of desire for outside help. We’ve seen it in the past with his decision not to allow former players to take up roles at the club, while Martin Keown’s brief period as a coach in 2006 should have been extended.
You’ve got to wonder how much more Wenger could have achieved had he taken on the advice of those around him. There’s no shame in looking for answers from others, while even the best managers form close bonds with their assistants and look to freshen up their coaching staff. You only need to do a quick search to discover how close Tito Vilanova and Pep Guardiola are; Alex Ferguson has had so many assistants and coaches over the years that you can be certain the setup at Manchester United never stagnates; while Frank de Boer at Ajax has surrounded himself with former players and those who understand the traditions of the club. It helps to breed success and never allows for the in-house atmosphere to become dangerously laid back.
We’ll never really know what goes on inside Arsenal and specifically with regards to the running of training. But there has been plenty of evidence in the past to suggest Wenger wants to keep it his way and with very little help from outside.