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Questionable Tactics & Transfer Dealings – Time For Arsene Wenger To Finally Go?
I was sitting in my local pub a few weeks back, equipped with a pint of lager, a packet of Nobby’s Nuts and an unusual optimism that we might actually pull out a result against Spurs. Alas, it was a short-lived daze of contentment as the nightmarish start from Arsenal quickly brought me back to reality.
But this was nothing less than what we Arsenal fans have come to expect in recent years, what was really grinding my gears was the gent next to me who spent the entire match trying to complete a level of angry birds on his Ipad, looking up every 5 minutes, only to hurl abuse and provide his opinion in a try-hard cockney accent that Arsenal needed a new manager.
My usual reaction to this kind of behaviour would probably involve some sort of rant exclaiming that fans should have at least half a brain cell or else the cannon tattooed onto their testicles to be worthy of an opinion. On this occasion however, I came to a sad realisation that it was simply a reflection of the uninspiring state our football club had been left in after eight long trophy-less years. Even more poignant, was the realisation that this was perhaps my own turning point and to some extent I actually shared the opinion of the gent (who never did manage to dismantle the garrison of evil pigs).
With each lacklustre performance that this Arsenal team continues to demonstrate, for every bead of sweat that trickles down Wenger’s wrinkled forehead, the devout support of one more Wenger-loyalist is tested. In the last few days there has been increasing speculation over Wenger’s future at Arsenal and whilst there are many hotly debated topics amongst Arsenal fans, there are none which split opinion quite so passionately as this.
The Transfer Market
The transfer market is a good place to start in view of this debate because it is here in which Wenger displays his most prominent strengths and weaknesses.
To begin with, Wenger has failed to snap up some of the top players which at some point were rumoured to have been headed for the Emirates… Cristiano Ronaldo, Juan Mata, Gary Cahill, Eden Hazard, Petr Cech, Nuri Sahin - the list is endless depending on how willing you are to delve into the obscure world of the internet’s transfer gossip. But whilst this shortcoming has been tolerated to an extent, something that Arsenal supporters find far harder to excuse is the fact that Wenger has consistently failed to hold on to the club’s best players over the past few seasons.
When the news of Robin Van Persie’s transfer broke during the summer, it would be safe to assume that for many Wengerites this was the last straw. It should be a minimum requirement that a club concentrates all its efforts and resources into keeping its best players, and when this fails at least try to avoid selling them to your biggest rivals.
Nonetheless, a key problem with this argument is where to distribute the blame. Yes, Wenger is stubborn and his attitude has been far from cutthroat when it comes to buying and keeping the best players, but his negotiating tools have been considerably blunted by a dispassionate, money-driven board who are satisfied by keeping the accounts tidy with little regard for the fans or what happens on the pitch. So credit must also be given where it is due. With fewer funds available than the other top clubs and with a carefully scrutinised and restricted wage bill, Wenger has still discovered and nurtured some of the finest talent to grace the Premier League.
Wenger has his pros and cons when it comes to the transfer market and although a different manager could perhaps bring a new, sharper set of negotiating tools, we can’t ignore that fact that there is a bigger problem facing Arsenal FC. Change needs to occur at the very top if the club wants to start once again start challenging for silverware, whether or not it is Wenger at the helm.
If responsibility is hard to identify when it comes to the club’s failures in the transfer market, one thing we can be sure of is that Wenger has full responsibility when it comes to what happens on the pitch. It would be somewhat bold to suggest that someone who has managed a top-flight football team for over 15 years, acquired 11 trophies and guided a team through a whole season unbeaten, did so with no regard for tactics. For one thing, Wenger has a reputation for being a football uber-nerd who spends hours on end watching footage and obsessing over statistics. But that said, there is evidence to suggest that when it comes to in-game tactics, Wenger adopts more of a general philosophy rather than a strictly scientific approach which involves meticulous analysis of the opposition.Last year, in the pre-match press conference of Barcelona’s Champions League tie against Chelsea, Cesc Fabregas said,
“I’ve learnt a lot especially tactically… I know my position on the pitch much more … before at Arsenal I was free to do whatever on the pitch and tactically I was not good … here I have to work much more for the team, individually, and think about the team tactically”. (source: Daily Mail)
French journalist, Phillippe Auclair also wrote in his biography of Thierry Henry that Wenger,
‘will devote surprisingly little time to future opponents’ and that ‘a couple of days before the Champions League final Wenger casually let drop in a conversation that that he and his staff would have a good look at Barcelona’s shape on the eve of the game’ (pg 157 of Thierry Henry: Lonely at the Top).
Implying that this was a menial task which could be done at the last minute. And finally, in the pre-match press conference before the Tottenham game this year, the man himself explained that,
“We don’t plan for anybody. It is always the same – focus on our strengths and forget about your opponent … there is nobody special that you least like to face … all players have different qualities”. (source: Guardian)
During the glory days something clicked, unmatchable talent combined with Wenger’s philosophy produced a team which could strike fear in the hearts of every opponent. But as the years have worn on the seasons have been characterised by inconsistency, erratic score-lines and a distinct lack of silverware.
Wenger has also been known for his tendency to make unconventional substitutions at crucial times during matches. A few seasons ago most fans would simply operate the mantra ‘in Wenger we trust’, accepting that these seemingly odd tactics were down to genius which was beyond the comprehension of mere mortals. These days however, fans are less forgiving as it feels more and more as if Wenger is running out of ideas of how to lift the team out of this eight-year long purgatory.
It is here in which I feel a new manager, one who heavily emphasises tactical prudence, could make a meaningful difference at the club. In a League that is becoming increasingly more competitive, tactical aptitude is one of the last remaining weapons which can be used against the money monsters that have invaded from overseas.
Of course, this begs the question of whether there is a manager out there who is worthy of the position at Arsenal which itself brings forward a whole new debate. But the current situation at Arsenal is stale, even if we do manage to get a place in the top 4, it will be a bittersweet end to the season which sees the club edge closer to its longest run in history without a trophy.
Any true Arsenal fan would agree that Wenger deserves the greatest respect for all that he has done for our club. He has unarguably been one of the greatest ever managers in the Premier League, but with immense caution I feel that the time may have finally come for an emotional farewell.
What are your feelings about Arsene Wenger? Should he stay or is it time for a new manager?