Arsenal stuttering as Arsene Wenger's time begins to wane
On the back of yet another poor performance in the Premier League this campaign, Arsenal and their fans are beginning to question – quite pointedly – the direction and progress of their club. The defeat to Swansea in South Wales on Sunday afternoon is only the second of the season after their 2-0 loss to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea back in October. However, despite the Gunners being on the losing end of results relatively few times, the draws have been racking up and as such, points are being dropped frequently.
Having ended the club’s nine-year trophy hoodoo last May at Wembley, and having signed a new three year extension to his contract that would take the Frenchman into a third decade at the helm in North London, the Gunners’ fanbase are growing increasingly frustrated and patience is wearing thin with Arsene Wenger.
Sure, Wenger has been subject to criticism in the past, in fact in recent times it would be normal and part-and-parcel of a Premier League campaign for the former Monaco and Grampus Eight boss to be on the receiving end of negative comments. But lately these comments have increased in both voice and sheer number. So what are the issues?
Within the Arsenal fan circle reside two stables of thought; The AKBs or Arsene Knows Best brigade and the ones who feel that the greatest manager in their club’s history’s time has come to an end. In the past, the AKBs would be the vast majority, and whom would vociferously defend their long-serving manager and any thought that blame should sit at the door of their beloved manager should be dismissed. Critically, now in 2014, more and more of this train of thought are altering their views to the stance of change perhaps being a good thing, in spite of their loyalties.
Furthermore, now the excuses have no real credence. With the Gunners now flushed with cash since new lucrative sponsorship deals coming into play, not to mention most of the debt for Ashburton Grove now paid off. Before events began this term, the general consensus was that this Arsenal squad was perhaps the strongest it had been for a while. But Wenger’s managerial and efficiency skills – or lack thereof - have left Arsenal in bother.
Alas, with long term injuries to Olivier Giroud, Mathieu Debuchy and Mesut Ozil, the North Londoners have been exposed. In all departments. Despite the frank good fortune of Giroud’s injury and getting in Danny Welbeck for relative pittance, the circumstances forced Arsenal to shift their eggs from one basket to another, metaphorically speaking at least. The need for a front man outweighed the necessity for a defensive midfielder. Or did it?
For many of the Gunner’s fans not getting Cesc Fabregas back is the tip of the iceberg. The capture of Alexis Sanchez was a real coup for Wenger no doubt, and his presence nothing short of a sensation for a rusty looking side, but being surrounded by weaker players for the Arsenal boss is nothing short of a tragedy, but by no means his first.
For years now The Gunners have been crying out for a replacement for Patrick Vieira as the unfortunate tale of Abou Diaby continues with injury after injury. Despite having a comparatively solid back line last season, the proviso for the continuation of the Per Mertesacker Laurent Koscielny alliance was the inclusion of a destroyer to aid the pairing, in particular for Mertesacker to avoid the notorious away day horror shows the North Londoners had suffered the previous term. Not only has this not occurred, the defensive frailties have reared their ugly heads and to a larger extent the whole system has unravelled. Yes, of late the Arsenal boss has been forced to utilize his second choice left back at centre back, but the facts are this situation simply should not arise.
With the departures of Thomas Vermaelen to Barcelona, the Gunners have been left woefully short. With the injury to Debuchy, the role of Calum Chambers has taken on an even bigger significance than many expected and in many ways has hindered Arsenal from his designated role of centre back. Yet, if we look further to the head of the field there seems to be an embarrassment of riches to be plucked from. The Irony being that Wenger refuses to rotate the team where needed. Arsene Wenger preaches about fatigue but seems to be blinkered by the simple facts that fatigue occurs by lack of rotations. It is sheer mismanagement of a basic level.
Strong words? Quite literally it would seem not. The whole point of having a squad is that it is used appropriately. Wenger, now 65, also now seems to be leaving the tactical approach to Steve Bould his number 2, but quite simply this is insufficient in the modern Premier League age. When his charges lack direction and discipline he is not there to alter things; it is all one way traffic.
This has been especially apparent this season, as managers evolve and now tend to adapt tactics mid game, Arsene Wenger doesn’t nor feels the need to tinker when most necessary as seen versus Swansea last weekend when it was painfully evident that Chambers was being pulled apart by Jefferson Montero and things were left as they were. In the Champions League tie versus Anderlecht, Arsenal were cruising but after conceding one didn’t merely close quarters and defend. At times it’s difficult to watch. But sadly now events approaching like somewhat of a Groundhog Day.
Just this week Arsene Wenger was assured of his future at the Emirates Stadium and will not be sacked before his 3 year term expires. With a fixture against long-time rivals but also rans this season, Man United on the horizon, the Gunners faithful will be equally as concerned as their counterparts going into this weekend. In a game that has been conceivably billed as a potential ‘a basketball game’, if their shortcomings are not addressed – even if they were to score a hatful of goals - further questions will be asked of a ragged back line whose shape has resembled more of an etch-a-sketch than a defensive line.
Of course this is mere hyperbole and pragmatism once more, at least in the meantime. But there Is a particular scenario that should it present itself may leave the Arsenal hierarchy in making some tough decisions. If certain individuals should become available, for example Jurgen Klopp who in spite of his Borussia Dortmund side’s rampant form in the Champion League, still sees his charges well off the pace in the Bundesliga. It seems to be a familiar tale in North London.
Lately there have been whispers of disharmony – for the first time - at board level and whilst Wenger is not under any immediate threat from termination, the club may need to reconsider their stance if the right man comes along, or face missing out on an opportunity. If they pass such chances up the regret and real damage may be yet to come.