Arsene Wenger has launched an attack on his youthful squad, blaming their inexperience for crucial mistakes against Chelsea at the weekend. Is he right to criticise his players or as he has assembled the squad in its entirety, must its flaws deflect onto the Arsenal manager.
It has been a terrible few weeks for Arsenal with defeats against Chelsea, Manchester United, Stoke City and a draw against Aston Villa. Many pundits believe that their league challenge is over, they are out of both domestic cups and they only have the Champions League left to compete for.
On the back of such performances Arsene Wenger was quoted in the Sun;
Our average age is 23 years and Chelsea’s is 29 – I think that it showed in the decisive moments on the pitch.
I think we were a bit naive on the first corner and then we got caught on the break.
Wenger does have a strong point to make here. Chelsea are the antithesis of his Arsenal side, with current (and ex) international captains throughout the team, league winners, and players with World Cup experience. They are a battle hardened team, and one that possesses experience in abundance throughout the squad. In contrast the Arsenal squad has some players in international squads, some uncapped players and very few with any experience of top level success. Their three most experienced players Cesc Fabregas, William Gallas and Andrey Arshavin have tasted success but they are the exception and not the norm at the Emirates. In fact in the starting line ups at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, the most successful Arsenal player (based on trophies won at the club) was Ashley Cole.
The lack of experience in the Arsenal squad is hardly a ground breaking issue. It has been apparent for several seasons, and was notable in their demise last season, despite another strong start. The frustration however for many Arsenal fans is that very little seems to be done about it. The policy towards the lack of experience has appeared to be to keep playing the young players and to allow them to gain experience in the 1st team. This works well provided that the team around them is experienced. It is very hard to blood so many young players in the one side. There needs to be an experienced core to any successful team. Even the infamous Manchester United kid’s team in 1995/6 had a core of Schmeichel, Irwin, Bruce, Pallister, Keane, McClair and Cole, which allowed the likes of Beckham and Scholes to flourish.
It is rich for Wenger to now point to the inexperience as a reason for Arsenal’s poor run. The entire squad has been assembled by the Frenchman and it is his own policy of promoting youth players that has resulted in a bottom heavy squad. There are plenty of talented youngsters in the squad, essential for the future prospects of the Gunners. The problem however is that they are not supplemented by enough experienced internationals. Arsenal seem to have money to spend in the transfer market yet Wenger prefers to act with caution. Wenger generally has a strong record in the transfer market, making large profits on the likes of Nicolas Anelka and comparative bargains for Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira. But he has missed out in recent seasons, and risks not capitalising on the potential of this squad. Cesc Fabregas is tipped to leave in the summer, in pursuit of trophies, and if this is the case then they have missed the chance to build a great team around the Spaniard.
Arsene Wenger has been a staunch defender of his own players, highlighting their potential over there youthful naivety. The fact that he has come out publicly to criticise his players is surely a calculated move to inspire his charges for the remainder of the season. Arsenal fans will no doubt however hope that there is some truth in Wenger’s frustration and that he acts on the issue this summer. If he had come to this inevitable conclusion several years ago then Arsenal would have been more competitive in recent seasons. If however this is merely a throw away comment from Wenger, hoping to temporarily appease the fans then it is in fact he who is showing naivety.
As for the player/manager debate only the players are responsible for what happens on the pitch. It was the players that did not mark properly at the corner and were caught on the counter attack. Even experienced players can make these mistakes, Chelsea themselves conceding several goals from set plays this season. The overall strategy at the club which has left the squad so bare is however Arsene Wenger’s responsibility and he must take some blame for the performances. As for talk of sacking the Frenchman, I believe that Arsenal fans would not know what they had until it was gone. The club has progressed enormously in recent years with the new stadium and its time that the players and the managers squad decisions consistently lived up to the surroundings, by winning trophies.
Follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/EwanNisbet