The conundrum facing Arsene Wenger

Arsenal manager Arsene WengerFrom the highs of Barcelona, to the lows of Brisbane Road. It’s been a strange week for Arsenal. One the one hand, they proved they could beat the best at their own game using skill, technique and finesse. But on the other, they underlined a problem we have become all too familiar with when questioning why the Gunners can’t seem to end their six-year trophy drought. Once again, Arsene Wenger’s men failed to see out a game which required some grit and what many would call ‘ugly football’. So is this the real problem? Do Arsenal need to learn to win ugly in order to win trophies?

It’s an age-old argument, I know. But if there was one of the ‘top four’ capable of not seeing through the game against Leyton Orient, speaking on past experience, it was Arsenal. They’ve certainly become tougher than they used to be. Players like Jack Wilshere have added a little bite more bite to their game which has been missing since the good old days of Patrick Vieira.

But I’m not just talking about someone who’s not scared of putting their foot in. Against the O’s, Arsenal needed someone to score the ugly goal. Put the game beyond the home side – be it through the world’s best team goal, or in off Bendtner’s backside – they all count.

Before the Barcelona game, Wilshere himself said that Arsenal needed to be harder, more aggressive and close their opponents down quicker to get the ball back. I’d argue that if they added that to their game on a regular basis, the Premier League trophy would have been at the Emirates long before now.

It seems to be a recurring problem with Wenger’s style. He gets his team playing some unbelievable football and any real fan can appreciate just how good they can be at times. But there is another side to the game; the side where you go away to a small ground, with intimidating fans and a surface designed to upset the usual rhythmic passing of an established quality side. This is the side of the game where you need your players to stand up and be counted. Stick it out, defend together and take your chances, however few and far between they come.

It’s a frustrating flaw which many have identified over the years. Every season Arsenal go without a trophy, Wenger declares them ‘better off and more experienced’ the next time round. But there always seems to be this result just around the corner. It may seem an over-reaction. After all, it was just a draw against a team who were buzzing for the occasion of an FA Cup tie against one of the best in the world. But the result is symbolic of the lack of trophies at the North London club over the past few years. It seems ridiculous to suggest it, but if Arsenal could be just a littler uglier, would it solve an ongoing problem at the Emirates club? Food for thought, Mr Wenger.

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