From The Invincibles to The Invisibles: Why Arsene Wenger Must Go
After Arsenal blew their best chance of winning the Premier League title for over a decade, Chris Weir looks at why it’s time the Frenchman leaves the Emirates.
12 years ago this week, Thierry Henry inspired Arsenal to a 4-2 league victory over Liverpool at Highbury. It was a crucial result that energised the team after successive defeats in the FA Cup and Champions League to United and Chelsea respectively.
Henry’s second goal, a slaloming run past 3 hapless defenders before a cool slotted finish, remains one of the Premier League’s most iconic moments. It was Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ in their footballing pomp – vivid, virile, and ruthless, a muscular response to those who claimed that they didn’t have the bottle to win the big games. Post-match, Gérard Houllier likening Arsenal’s second half performance to that of a “wounded animal”.
Yesterday though, Arsenal demonstrated just how far they’ve fallen under Arsène Wenger since those halcyon Highbury days.
Andy Carroll, who has always been more akin to Eeyore than Seabiscuit, tore through the brittle Gunners defence like a wild stallion through a paddock. A late equaliser from Laurent Koscielny wasn’t enough to spur an Arsenal winner, and their best shot at a title for a decade has all but faded.
It was, arguably, the worst performance of a season that has been chock full of neurotic showings, such as the opening day defeat to the Hammers or the 4-0 gift to Southampton over Christmas. Whilst they played some effective football in the first half at Upton Park yesterday, their efforts were undermined by a criminal and chronic lack of focus and determination at the back.
For many Gooners, the worst part of Saturday’s performance was its’ sheer predictability, its utter ‘Arsenal’-ness. It illustrated weaknesses that have been obvious to even the neutrals, fans and commentators for years.
Wenger’s insistence on a cavalier attacking style is matched by a seemingly wilful abandon of tactical preparation, whilst the lack of a vocal, visible leader on the pitch continues to be brutally exposed. Unlike their ‘Invincible’ predecessors, this team still melts under pressure. When the going gets tough, Arsenal don’t get going at all.
Once again, calls for Wenger’s resignation will increase. But what has he done to address the team’s weaknesses, that seem so apparent to everyone but him?
Gabriel, after a promising start, has put in a string of spluttering displays, whilst Olivier Giroud’s meagre 12 goals will never be enough to sustain a credible title challenge without help from a world class striking partner.
A large part of the creative burden has also been placed on Héctor Bellerin’s shoulders. The Catalans’ marauding forward runs have provided rare bright spots throughout the year, but without his pace and Mesut Özil’s assists, you dread to think where Arsenal may have otherwise been in the League table this year. Alex Iwobi, who had a hand in two of the goals on Saturday, also looks a player of huge potential, but Arsenal will remain short without significant investment in defence and attack.
Wenger will not, of course, be sacked in the summer. His status amongst the board and in particular the owner Stan Kroenke is still unimpeachable. From a business point of view, Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager continues to make sense. From a sporting perspective however, things are far less rosy. His continuing presence suggests what the club’s hierarchy think is more important.
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