Considering Arsenal have been eliminated from three cup competitions over the last few weeks, there has been a magnifying glass held over the Emirates to find the ‘how, what and why’ this season could be the club’s 6th year without a trophy. Although manager, Arsene Wenger has urged fans to keep the faith in the team for a successful season with the Premier League title still to fight for, the defeats at the Nou Camp and at Old Trafford have certainly harmed confidence.
Whilst the popular focus tends to be on the squad’s ‘maturity’ in big games, there has been less attention on the coaching staff at the North London club. Arsenal fans have nothing but praise for assistant manager Pat Rice who’s been Wenger’s right hand man since he joined in 1996 having previously been the Youth Coach for 12 years.
Rice, also a former skipper of the Gunners side that won the double in the early seventies, is the one barking orders from the dugout and keeping up team morale whilst Wenger works on his analysis of the game. And although they have achieved success in the past, is the time coming that the duo has become too comfortable at the club?
It’s not just Pat Rice who’s been with Wenger since the start. First-team coach, Boro Primorac joined in 1997 and still fulfils the same role and Reserve team coach, Neil Banfield has been in his current role since 2004 having previously been the Youth team manager. The only addition of late has seen former defender, Steve Bould take charge of the youth sides, but should there be more of a shake-up?
In comparison to Arsene’s main rival in his 15 years in the Premier League, Sir Alex Ferguson has had various changes to his backroom staff and I believe it’s played a huge part in their consistency. Since Wenger and Rice began in ‘96, Fergie is now on his 6th assistant manager (Brian Kidd, Steve McClaren, Jimmy Ryan, Walter Smith, Carlos Queiroz and currently Mike Phelan).
Whilst it’s important for a club to keep familiarity with coaches in order to build solid foundations and create a strong identity, there is a danger of complacency. I believe Fergie’s changes of assistant manager have been very important to his success and things may have been different had he kept the same man for 15 years.
Steve McClaren was praised by players for his coaching ability, whilst Carlos Queiroz provided Ferguson with a more up-to-date view on European football and most noticeably there were changes in Manchester United’s formation and tactics.
So, would Arsene Wenger benefit from a few changes? There could be a danger of his current staff being ‘yes men’ to Wenger’s decisions and actions while someone new could challenge Wenger and give him a different insight.
One criticism I heard of Wenger since the two recent defeats has been that Arsene chooses his team’s tactics at the start of the season, whilst everyone else chooses them every game. It may be harsh as Arsenal have been one of the best teams to watch over the last decade and a half but this third generation squad seem to lack the ability to win ugly.
Arsenal still have a chance of winning the Premier League title but he faces a tough task in getting his squad in the right mind set for the remaining games if they are to go on a winning streak. A positive from the United defeat, was the side were still creating chances, there wasn’t a lack of effort and if the team keeps persistence there could be a silver lining.