Does anyone at Arsenal have Wenger’s ear?

Peter Hill-Wood? Pat Rice? Anyone? Arsene Wenger needs an intervention. No one is hurting more than he as Arsenal blunder their way through like a drunk trying to aim for a urinal. His glorious experiment is in danger of being consigned to the dustbin of history because he refuses to see the obvious. Some might countenance “to repeat the same things over and over again and expect a different result” as a principled stance. But to the less charitable it is a symptom of insanity.
There it was – yet another series of ghastly mistakes gifting West Brom both goals. A complete lack of defensive cover allowed Steven Reid to score the first goal. The Baggies added another in a moment eerily reminiscent of the Birmingham mix up, this time Manuel Almunia and Sebastian Squillaci proved to be Hogan’s heroes. It does not matter any more which combination provides the gaffe. This Arsenal squad is not going to win a title. Any title.
Yet here was Wenger after the West Brom match on cue delighting in the mental toughness shown by the Gunners. Which of course puts 10 man Man Utd snatching a last gasp goal against Bolton in a totally different category of toughness altogether. Or luck.
There is no louder voice than Wenger’s railing against out of control financial doping. He’s the architect behind Arsenal’s impressive financial stability and unmatched stewardship. And for that he should be commended. A thousand times. Any criticism of him should be prefaced with that hosanna. But there is a huge difference between being a market corrective and one who nickels and dimes his way through. In Wenger’s case the lines have blurred.
It was painfully obvious that Arsenal needed a top quality goalkeeper before the season began. They are in short supply and hence expensive. But there were some potential candidates.
Shay Given and Maarten Stekelenberg could have been wooed with the right amount. Given in particular was cooling his heels at City itching to get to first team action. Not an easy task but Arsenal had to show serious intent which would have given the goalkeeper the green signal to force his employer’s hand. Using a stock analogy – an investment grade goalkeeper like Given or Stekelenberg with their relative youth would have yielded top dividend like Man Utd’s Van der Sar or Chelsea’s Petr Cech. Those clubs are who they are because their custodians make their defenses stellar. Their cost has been repaid many times over. But the moment went by as Wenger chose to be pusillanimous.
Wenger did make a late charge trying for middle tier Mark Schwarzer, desperate to come to a big club. The Fulham goalie in the light of today’s horror show would have been perfectly capable of organizing the defense so not to expose Aaron Ramsey. Not top drawer but an experienced veteran with leadership skills. In hindsight his price tag at £4M now seems to be a good bargain. But Wenger chose parsimony. That moment too went by.
Seven months later, Wenger has turned to 41 year old Jens Lehman. The former Arsenal goalkeeper last played a competitive game a year ago. It does not get more surreal than this.
He’s to be Almunia’s back up who was Fabianski’s back up who himself was Almunia’s back up before he got downgraded. Fabianski got hurt but instead of Sczesny becoming Almunia’s back up, it was he who became Sczesny’s back up. With Sczesny hurt, Vito Mannone should have become Almunia’s back up. But Mannone was hurt too and Almunia had no back up. But four years before, Almunia was Lehman’s back up before he was downgraded and he then became Almunia’s back up which left them both frazzled. Now they get to reprise that dance again which means that the present crisis has its origins in 2007-08. Yet Wenger chose to do nothing about it.
But all of this does not matter because in this merry go round he comes free. Like his old friend Sol Campbell, another Wenger piecemeal move to bolster Arsenal’s crisis on defense. Which again dogs them this year.
Thomas Vermaelen is undoubtedly a quality centre back but his career has been chequered with injuries. This was no secret in Ajax where he had only one injury free season out of five. It would have been naive not to expect him to re-injure himself again in the most physical league in the world. But Wenger chose to go for the cut price Sebastian Squillaci as back up and picked an inexperienced Laurent Koscielny as Vermaelen’s partner.
Six months later Vermaelen’s injury saga continues without a seeming end. In the meanwhile Koscielny and Squillaci combined to form a disastrous partnership. Arsenal enjoyed a brief reprieve when Djourou came back and paired Koscielny. With the Swiss sidelined, Arsenal’s brittle hopes for the remainder now lie on two French get out of jail free cards to the rest of the clubs.
Wenger was debating whether to get a centre back in the winter transfer with Vermaelen’s prolonged recovery a factor. By that time, Djourou partnering admirably with Koscielny stilled Wenger’s straying hand to his account book. With the encouraging news that Vermaelen might be back in a few weeks the transfer period closed without a single player bought. In Arsenal’s present squad we have Tomas Rosicky and Robin Van Persie’s mythic round the corner recoveries which should have warned Wenger. But maybe he was too busy celebrating his penny pinching to notice.
It is shocking how much Wenger has transformed in the last seven years to nickel and dime the core competencies of defense. Having a solid and competent defense while giving nothing away in attacking quality seem to register two mutually exclusive qualities in his mind. And yet it was a solid and competent defense that gave us the Invincibles. He has also been remiss in not seeking players with obvious leadership qualities. Tony Adams where are you?
Last year’s AGM ended in an acrimonious exchange between supporters and Wenger, maintaining a prickly defense of his methods. Nothing so far suggests that this year’s meeting is going to be any less so. Man Utd seems to have steered themselves out of a losing funk in the nick of time but meanwhile we’re spurning every opportunity to come closer. Mourinho used to crow “zero tituli” to mock his Serie rivals. That’s where we’re heading once again.

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2 comments on “Does anyone at Arsenal have Wenger’s ear?
  1. How times have changed.
    After a 40 minute wait last week, I finally got through the online queuing system and got ready to purchase a couple of Arsenal vs. Liverpool tickets.
    For the first time ever, after a few minutes of contemplation, I closed the window and thought ‘fuck it’. Two tickets would have cost me £120 (face value) and then when you add food and travel you’re looking at £150 for 90 minutes of football. Poor football.
    I don’t mind the fact that Arsenal lose, in all the years I’ve been supporting them, there have been plenty of disappointments along the way: it’s part of football and something every fan should accept. The thing I do mind however, is paying £150 to watch a bunch of disorganised, lazy and accident prone amateurs.
    I don’t consider myself to be a biased supporter. I’ll hold my hands up when we are beaten by the better team (Barcelona x2 years) and I can accept that every team has the odd blip on the radar. Win or lose, all I ask of my team is commitment and effort. And not the fake type that Arsene keeps rattling on about in his post-fight press conferences. REAL commitment… like the old days.
    But this current team are becoming a joke.
    No doubt, Arsene is a great business man and has spotted some incredible talent over the years, but in recent times it seems that he has become a stubborn old fool. For the fourth successive season he has stuck with players that are simply not good enough: players that have had a chance to prove themselves time and time again but have fallen flat…
    Denilson. His recent performances have been pitiful. Next time we play watch his lack of effort and commitment. Doesn’t press, doesn’t have any urgency. He’ll take the wages with no trouble though.
    Walcott. I feel sorry for Theo because in my opinion he isn’t a winger. Theo has incredible pace but the truth is, his footballing brain and ball control aren’t up-to-scratch. Most of the problems stem from position: because he plays so wide, he has to always cut inside to get a shot away or work a through-ball: not his greatest talent. I say just put him up front and have his pace scare other teams into submission. Running in a straight line and at goal he’s frightening, and he’s not a bad finisher.
    Eboue. Why is he still on the books?
    Rosicky. Not a bad player and a likeable guy, but just not good enough. His goal tally for an attacking midfielder isn’t going to win championships. Simple.
    Goalkeeper. I believe this is pure stubbornness on Arsene’s part. He knows there is a problems there: the fans know there’s a problem there. The truth is, sometimes you have to pay over-the-odds for a player – that’s the cold, hard fact of this league. I think he’s cutting off his nose to spite his face and the team (and fans) are suffering as a result.
    Bendtner. If the Arsenal team won trophies based on arrogance and chit-chat alone, no doubt, Nicklas Bendtner would have won the league by himself. Awful, nervous first touch and always bizarrely out of position. How many times do you see him run into the box as a cross is about to be delivered? And I’m sick of his hot-potato, quick tap-back to the halfway line when he recieves the ball in a threatening area. His instinct for goal is appalling. In my opinion, he had a golden chance to silence his critics in the dying minutes of the Barcelona game. Ultimately, we were proved right.
    Diaby. The new Patrick Viera? I don’t think so. Ironically, they are both playing in the same league at the moment and I know who I’d rather have in a red shirt. Once again, no passion and no awareness.
    One final point. The thing I find the biggest mystery of all is the players who are criticised and side-lined in place of these misfits. Vela (better than Bendtner and hardly given a chance), Ramsey (loaned to Cardiff… why?), and why is Arshavin always singled out? Out of all the Arsenal players, he’s the one who genuinely seems to care. He loses the ball; he tracks back. He gets a chance; he shoots. The truth is, he’s always been inconsistent and erratic. He was having a nightmare against Liverpool and then popped up with 4 goals: same can be said of the Barcelona game. He might not be the perfect article but you know what you’re going to get from him and he’s never been any different.
    I don’t see anything for Man U to be scared of this season. The title is there’s, no worries.

  2. Anon, your point about certain players going for the ride is well taken – Denilson, Eboue, Rosicky, Diaby. They just don’t have the passion or the commitment. That is because Wenger mollycoddles them – he blames it on the refereeing, the pitch, the lack of height. Everything but them. And Walcott is wasted as a winger – he should be developed as a striker. We would not need Bendtner then. Arshavin seems to be improving in demeanour- he is more assertive after the Barca goal. Which bodes well because he’s such a talent.
    Here I want to point out a conundrum.
    Wenger has instilled a sense of discipline in his players off the pitch. He’s had zero tolerance for the Jermain Pennants and David Bentleys. But this sense seems to vanish once on the pitch – Arsenal’s self inflicted wounds are too numerous. Unlike Rooney, Andy Caroll, or John Terry who seem to want to shag every other man’s WAG, crash their cars, or end up urinating on someone’s porch/ porsche. But come match time these players are the embodiment of commitment. Rooney is a perfect example – he’s tabloid sleaze, but on the field, he’s motoring around finding ways to contribute even when he’s not scoring goals. On the other hand, the Arsenal players can be brought to mum, are just slackers barring a few on match day.
    Can’t quite explain it except between SAF and Wenger, there seems to be a difference when it comes to where a zero tolerance policy should be applied.

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