This season I’ve been highly critical of Arsene Wenger. In fact, it would be fair to say that producing one article per week that ranges from scrutinising to insulting the Arsenal boss could be considered as picking on him. I would say that it’s due to the fact that I’m a man who doesn’t put up with mediocrity, but seeing as I’m a Charlton Athletic fan that simply isn’t true.
I just find it difficult to understand that a manager who hasn’t won a trophy in eight years, despite having the resources and players available to do so, has stayed in the job whereas other Premier League head coaches have been rudely and abruptly tossed to the wayside for less underachievement in a smaller amount of time. In my view, Wenger has kept his job mainly out of a fear for change, as well as the age-old illogical logic of “he got us into this mess; he can get us out of it”.
But I’m willing to admit it can’t all be the manager’s fault. In the Emirates hierarchy, he lacks a higher power, or even an equivalent, that can challenge his views, his strategy or methodology, which now appears to have worked its way into every aspect of how the club is run. Wenger has tied himself to the club’s successes on an off the pitch, which has now created a power vacuum within the Gunners’ management structure.
But go down in the hierarchy and after passing through the yes-men coaches, you eventually work your way to the players. And through this whole escapade, in which the British media has hounded and ridiculed Arsene Wenger’s failings, making him the central figure in Arsenal’s continual decline, the role of the players has been largely ignored.
Thomas Vermaelen is the club’s captain but has certainly not been leading by example this season. He was showed up rather bluntly by the Sky Sports punditry team after the North London Derby, whom attributed both of Tottenham’s goals to the Belgium international showing a distinct lack of awareness to what was going on behind him; a cardinal sin for a Premier League centre-back.
Furthermore, Vermaelen has spent the majority of the season out of form, and even missed a spot kick during the now infamous Capital One Cup defeat to Bradford City. Once hailed as a “goal-scoring” centre-back, the Arsenal skipper hasn’t found the net once this season, and down his own end has been uninspiring to say the least.
Similarly, Bacary Sagna’s return from injury has been marred with particularly woeful performances – I can still vividly remember his torrid afternoon against Liverpool – and the French defender will probably be departing in the summer due to his drop in form over the past few seasons. I would also advise a similar argument for Wojciech Szczesny, who’s kept just six clean sheets in 19 appearances, with four of them coming against relegation candidates, and many of his attempted saves have verged on match-fixing levels of atrocious at times this season.
In fact, the only players who have performed on a consistent basis for the Gunners this year are Theo Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere, who have at times carried the rest of the team, and take up the majority of responsibility in the big matches. The rest have ranged from below-par to above average, without ever reaching a steady bout of form from game to game.
So I guess it’s the age old discussion of who is to blame; the manager or the players; the chicken or the egg. The Secret Footballer made an interesting point in his book that when you hear Mark Lawrenson say “he’s got them organised, he’s got them motivated”, the truth is the manager has simply got them wanting to win again. As Andre Villas-Boas found out last season whilst in charge of Chelsea, there is little you can do if the players quite simply don’t like you, and Rudi Gutendorf recently revealed in an interview that some of his former players at Hamburger SV essentially got him the sack through some dismal performances because they didn’t like having new signing Kevin Keegan at the club back in the late 1970s.
I’m not suggesting that the Arsenal players don’t like Arsene Wenger, or don’t want to play for him, but I believe our perspective of how much influence a manger has on his team has been morphed slightly by the English knack of sacking head coaches simply after a poor run of form, and perhaps the responsibility of the players is often forgotten.
However, some blame must be attributed to the Arsenal boss; he is after all, responsible for every single transfer the club has made since the 1997. Furthermore, Wenger’s reluctance to spend big on a marquee singing has held back the club, and every player brought in by the Frenchman has been expected to step up their game upon moving to the Emirates.
For example, Mikel Arteta as always been a good player, and has progressed his game since his days at Everton, but has the Spaniard ever been capable of playing in a team supposedly challenging for the Premier League title? The same can be said for the likes of Per Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny, Olivier Giroud, Gervinho, Marouane Chamakh and Andre Santos. Although some, like Arteta, have improved as footballers, it is still asking a lot of any of them to become Premier League champions.
It is difficult to determine just how good a footballer is in the modern game. Although our opinions are often formed around Fifa ratings and stats on Football Manager, the ability of one player in comparison to another is almost impossible to quantifiably value. Of course, in determining where the blame lies for Arsenal’s failings, it will most likely fall into the overlapping circle that encompasses both player and coach.
But if you are looking for a definitive answer, it depends on how you view the Arsenal roster. Whereas the likes of Thomas Vermaelen and Bacary Sagna are clearly underachieving, or at least not playing at the level that they have in the past, Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Olivier Giroud have contributed, yet it is still not enough.
Essentially it comes down to one question: Do you believe the Arsenal players are good enough to be challenging for the title? If they are, it is surely their fault as much as Wenger’s for the Gunners’ poor season. If you believe they are not, in comparison to the players available and depth at Manchester City, Manchester United, Tottenham and Chelsea, then the only person to point the finger at is Wenger himself.
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