Arsene Wenger spoke at last week’s Arsenal AGM and mentioned that he won’t be at the club when they finish 15th in the Premier League. That is comforting to a degree, as even with the horror show the team can conjure up on the pitch, the manager will never allow the team to fall so low.
Wenger’s successes in the first half of his tenure at the club has given him an incredible amount of time with supporters. The fact that he’s keeping the team “competitive” while also ensuring the club remains in the black means the board will never advocate his removal. And neither would I. It has to be said that this isn’t a campaign for Arsene Wenger to be sacked or even forced out of the club, but rather it’s a look at the obvious shortcomings of his managerial reign, specifically sighting the need to criticise when it’s necessary.
No Arsenal fan really wanted it to come to this: Arsenal’s most successful manager turning out to be a target of much hate from certain sections. And even those who want to see the Frenchman leave the club will surely feel some degree of regret when it finally does come to pass. However, there are far too many supporters, those who think of themselves as holier than thou, who simply will not have a bad word said about the manager—and that is in part the reason for the club becoming stale.
Fans want to believe in Wenger’s approach to winning. It’s a method that sees the patient building of good football married with quality from the youth academy and the transfer market. The problem is, that word ‘patience’ has become so frustrating for a number of supporters that it’s so much easier to call for an instant change and something where success comes much more quickly.
Many of the pro-Wenger supporters—as that’s how ridiculously divided the fan base has become—have used last season’s third place finish as a device to further support Wenger’s position at the club. It was the worst team ever seen during the manager’s time and yet they still managed to finish third and quality for the Champions League. The problem is, there doesn’t seem to be any acknowledgement for how poor the league was on the whole last season. Furthermore, how badly did Arsenal perform for certain spells during the campaign? The manager brought the team back from the brink and secured Champions League football, but not many fans (and I’m talking about the pro-Wenger group) want to admit that the team were on it’s knees largely due to him.
And I’m not going to talk about the lack of ability to buy in the transfer market due to the board or even the running down of key players’ contracts. When it comes to first team responsibilities, the manager and only the manager is accountable. When Arsenal lost at Blackburn last season, there was absolutely no room to blame the board and their lack of financial backing for Wenger. The team had allowed two own goals, surrendered a lead and fallen to one of the worst teams in the league last year. It’s a continuation of the manager not learning from previous mistakes.
Under Wenger, the club has transformed from a good team in England to a good team in Europe. Regulars in the top club competition in Europe equates to something of significance, even if they haven’t won the trophy. The Invincibles were spectacular and English football as a whole should be grateful for some of the innovations and players he’s brought to this country. But that doesn’t and shouldn’t excuse some of the most embarrassing moments for the club since the move to the Emirates.
The 8-2 at Manchester United was humiliating; the manner of the Carling Cup loss to Birmingham was typically Arsenal, a loss of such ridiculous nature that only Arsenal could have been on the receiving end; surrendering a four goal lead at Newcastle summed Arsenal up perfectly; and how serious are the club taken on the continent when they lose their captains and best players with such alarming regularity?
Once again, I’m not calling for Wenger to be removed, but these are all problems, specifically on-field, that have occurred under his watch.
There’s a need to criticise in the hope that the manager will change his ways and really force the point of better results on the pitch. Despite being a great manager, specifically in his developing of players, can anyone really call Wenger a great tactician or even a good one? How many times have Arsenal looked so familiar, so poor, so predictable during matches? It often seems like the team aren’t really sent out with instructions on how to beat the opposition but rather just a pat on the back and a word telling them to express their natural ability. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. How else can we explain a group of players who are so regularly turned over by teams who are greatly inferior?
As a whole, Arsenal’s squad isn’t littered with terrible players, although some are clearly not good enough for the team. However, this is a squad filled with full internationals, Champions League-ready players and even natural leaders and captains; how can they consistently be so bad?
Wenger is notably very protective of the situation at Arsenal and is unlikely to ever publicly criticise the board members. But surely there is an argument that suggests he could do more with the resources he has, which isn’t very little either. He has goal scorers in the team, there are creative players, good defenders and an assistant who is willing to work with them: this isn’t a team ravaged of all it’s worth. Maybe there is a view that he is overachieving with a squad who haven’t seen much investment. That may be so, but how much more could this team do if they were beating Norwich, not conceding five goals to a team who are more than likely to be in the Championship again next season, and managing a greater attacking threat for every game?
Buying new defenders every summer may do something, perhaps even force the better players to take some initiative themselves and force better performances. But how much of the on-field results are likely to change unless Wenger accepts that not everything he does is golden?