It’s Now or Never for Arsenal and Arsène Wenger
Writer Chris Weir looks at how it’s now or never for Arsene Wenger as Arsenal prepare to take on Tottenham in one of the biggest NLD’s in recent memory.
Arsenal’s 2-1 defeat to Swansea was their third in a row. The atmosphere at the Emirates on Wednesday was febrile to say the least, as Arsène Wenger’s men surrendered their latest chance to hound the Foxes at the top of the table.
It’s a familiar story for Arsenal fans, who are so used to seeing their team crumble when the going gets tough. Wenger admitted he was “worried” about his players form after the Swansea game, whilst Alexis Sanchez conceded the team lacked a certain “hunger” and “self-belief”.
Mental strength has been something of a mantra at London Colney in recent years, despite the fact that Wengers’ side continue to show little sign of it. In a recent interview with BBC Radio 5, Stoke midfielder Charlie Adam remembered Arsenal as one of the most “quiet” sides he’s played against, a team devoid of leaders who can drag a side over the line by sheer force of will alone. Most Gunners fans will also remember Patrice Evra’s famous taunt that playing against Arsenal was like “men against children”, with the North Londoners continually bested by their rivals.
Arsenal have always let the Premier League’s Big Boys steal their lunch money, a trend that has continued this season even against the worst Manchester United and Chelsea teams in recent years. The problem is obviously one of mentality.
In the fantastic ITV program Best of Enemies, Patrick Vieira was asked what Arsène Wengers’ greatest strengths and weaknesses were. The Frenchmans’ answer was the same on both counts.
Wenger is an educator of footballers, who can tailor and sculpt a world class player from the most basic raw materials. He is also, however, too reliant on men and a tactical system that continue to let him down.
Theo Walcott has always been a player of peaks and troughs, but his performances this season have been closer to the bottom of Mariana Trench than the top of the league.
Olivier Giroud is crying out for support from an exhausted Alexis Sanchez, but even the little Chilean is putting in busier performances than the languid Mesut Özil, whose rich vein of form has dried up at the worst possible time.
Wenger himself seems incapable of motivating his squad to the task at hand. One wonders whether his jittery demeanour on important matchdays transmits to the players, who so often fail to deliver when placed under the spotlight.
And yet, the match against Spurs is still Arsenal’s biggest in recent years. Win it and they are firmly back in the race. Lose it, and they will have squandered their most obvious chance to win the title in years.
This is a team that does have experience of winning at the Lane, albeit not against a Tottenham side with the verve and swagger currently seen under Pochettino. Wednesday’s defeat to West Ham was only their fourth League loss of the season.
Next year, with Guardiola and possibly Mourinho back in the mix for the Premier League, Arsenal could be forced toward their more traditional pursuit of a ‘4th place trophy’. A bad result today will have Gunners fans wondering where they go from here, and whether they will be going anywhere at all under the existing regime.
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