Back to the drawing board
The dust has barely settled. From the braggadocio of the “quadruple” barely two months ago to surveying the detritus of this season. Arsene Wenger has the look of a man utterly bewildered by these developments. He set sail for the New World but all he found was his way back to Dover.
All is not lost however. There are a few things Wenger can consider to successfully negotiate this stalemate and start off next season with a fresh new perspective.
Conflicting expectations: Every season we’re promised an Egyptian style revolution but end up with the Libyan version. One step forward, two steps to the side. Winning three matches in a row is not a sign of impending glory or a glimpse of Shangri La. Having Abou Diaby play one match well is not just cause to declare him the next Patrick Vieira. Or Theo Walcott to Robert Pires. Or anyone to anyone. When everything goes south do not change expectations to “if it means second for the next twenty years, I’ll be happy”. The result is mixed messages and a squad that has less incentive to work harder. Hold off on all proclamations.
Lets get real about talent: Arsenal ad nauseum is touted as the most talented team in the Premiership. And yes, there are moments when we see it in the flowing, intuitive style that is its trademark. But this is to gloss over a squad that is all over the map. There is a large subset that seems to lack the core competencies. Where do Bendtner, Diaby, Denilson, Eboue, Clichy, and Squillaci fit in? This comes to the fore every time the going gets tough. The reality Arsenal is carried on its back at most by five players. Enormous pressure on a core group that can ill afford an off day. Wenger needs to realize this in double quick time.
Tactical decisions: RVP’s an excellent second striker. However he’s less effective when stuck up front being neither fast nor particularly good in the air. That he’s managed to score so many goals is testimony to his creativity, desire, and to the number of chances per goal. To be fair Marouane Chamakh was supposed to be that man before he put his id to pasture. Wenger can maximize RVP’s talent by acquiring a proper front man or helping find Chamakh’s inner Ayn Rand. Bendtner is not a straight swap for Arshavin, Nasri should be played more central, and Walcott is not a winger. To wait till the 70th minute to make substitutions with the game on the line does not make a lot of sense either.
Set pieces are heaven and hell: Nothing kills a match or gets it going as much as a set piece. Arsenal have destroyed themselves at both ends. Conceding far too many while scoring too few. The bottom line is a dreadful predictability where sides who can’t match the ground game use the air for targeted assassinations. Invariably the defense loses composure and concedes a goal. The opposing defense then packs the middle as Arsenal in knee jerk fashion try and scythe through it as free kicks, corners, and crosses increasingly become ineffectual. Those who suggest Wenger neglects this aspect may have a point. Put Plan B on the table.
Gaming the referees: Part of Wenger’s persona is of a reactive whinger. He’s become a cottage industry on You Tube with his arm flapping, bottle throwing, muttering gesticulations. Sir Alex is seen as a winner because he takes a pro-active stance towards referees praising Howard Webb or bludgeoning Martin Atkinson before the game. He’s taken his lumps being fined or suspended for his offenses while establishing the trope of a side using every bit of leverage to affect each and every aspect of the game. It has paid dividends on the pitch. Wenger needs to regain his psy ops chops.
Implicit in these five new rules is the assumption that Wenger will continue as Arsenal’s manager. He is still the best bet there is but he needs to acknowledge that results are best obtained match to match. The side never regained its psyche after the Carling Cup loss. It would be the proper place to confront those demons head on. Baby steps for a club known more for its fleet of foot.