Saturday night’s 2-0 FA Cup Quarter-Final defeat to Manchester United saw Arsenal go from being in the running for 4 competitions to 1 in the space of just 2 weeks. With no trophies since the fortuitous 2005 FA Cup victory, the usual questions over Wenger and his football philosophy are being raised.
- Does his team have the drive and mental toughness required to win?
- Are Arsenal physically strong enough?
- Why do they insist on frustrating by trying to “walk the ball into the back of the net”?
Each of these has questions has justification. The team has lacked real on the field leadership since Vieira left for Juventus. His midfield replacements have shown the ability to play but not inspire, especially when the tide goes against them.
Wenger has complained on numerous occasions about other teams’ intent to bully his more technically focused players off the park – this is equivalent to the rest of the Premiership protesting when Walcott outpaces their defence. And maybe Wenger would do well to remember the glory days of Henry and Bergkamp, 2 legendary strikers that were happy to shoot from outside the 6-yard box.
Still, is the criticism of Arsenal’s performance justified? How are they really doing?
Arsenal are 2nd in the Premiership, 3 points behind Manchester United… with a game in hand. I imagine there are 18 other Premiership teams that would swap places with them.
They have just exited the Champions League, losing by a 1 goal margin over 2 legs to a team that many, including such luminaries as Marco Van Basten, are hailing as the greatest club side of all time.
They got to the Carling Cup Final, more than can be said for Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Man City, Spurs or nearly all the other entrants to the competition for that matter. They lost a game they were expected to win; it was a bad result for sure , but this is football – is any team guaranteed a victory?
Now they have been defeated by a Manchester United team that started with 7 defenders. Arsenal showed good possession, but lacked a cutting edge – the times they did get through United’s defence, they were unable to find a way past a soon-to-retire Edwin van der Sar who again demonstrated why he is currently rated the best performing goalkeeper in Europe.
They were expected to show more and there are certainly areas for improvement. For all their slick passing, Arsenal would benefit from a striker in the Javier Hernandez ‘score first, think later’ mould. They need more bite in midfield, although Jack Wilshere again showed enough promise to keep Arsenal and England fans hopeful of a real talent for the future. Fabregas, the catalyst Arsenal have relied upon so much in recent years, seems to have split his focus between his current employers and a possible summer move to the club he loves.
The fact is, no club can win competitions all the time. Wenger has been 6 years without a trophy. In the years 1996-2004, Arsene and Arsenal won 3 Premier League titles and 4 FA Cups. Since then, we’ve had the Abramovich Chelsea era and the increased competition that brought, plus the emergence of greater foreign financial interest in other clubs. It’s become tougher to win the top trophies but Arsenal are still competing.
Should a straight line be drawn between the lack of trophies and the need for drastic change? Or does the ability to adapt to a changing industry, renew and rebuild teams and continue to challenge faith in the manager’s ability? Arsene Wenger remains Arsenal FC’s greatest asset – his team aren’t perfect, I’m sure he wishes they were. However, there is plenty of mileage left in the French managerial maestro yet and he still has 10 Premier League games left this season to leave some critics feeling they may have spoken too soon.
By Stephen – Manchester United fan – www.footballalchemy.co.uk