Arsenal have been classed as a ‘nearly’ team for six years now, having been trophy-less for all that time. Currently five points behind league leaders Manchester United, and with a game in hand, the Gooners are on course to break their honours drought. But will this be the year that Arsenal finally break through? I don’t think so.
Since they last won the championship Wenger has adopted a different approach, opting for the beautiful passing style that has won so many admirers. On their day his team may be a joy to watch but I don’t think it’s a style of football that wins championships.
To turn the Gooners into champions Wenger must revert to the formula that won the league back in 2004 back and inject some much-needed physical and mental strength into his team so they can withstand the intimidating, bully-boy tactics of inferior sides, and allow the wonderful skills that are present throughout the side to flourish.
The talent in the current Arsenal team is exceptional by any standards – Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshire, Samir Nasri and even Andrey Arshavin, who hasn’t enjoyed the best of the seasons, are absolutely outstanding. But even players of their ability are often out-muscled and fail to get the results their skills deserve.
Arsene doesn’t help with his whining and excuses. His team are never at fault, of course. His complaints are legion: the referee, the other teams tactics – never his own players.
A classic example was Arsenal’s game at Sunderland earlier in the season. His side had dominated the whole 90 minutes, scored one lucky goal and missed a penalty to wrap up the match. With the game nearing its end, four minutes of extra time were announced, when Sunderland punted a long ball into the Arsenal box. Squillaci, Koscielny and Clichy make an absolute mess of it and Bent was there to tap it in from six yards. But, according to Arsene it was the referee’s fault for not blowing up for full-time. Nothing to do with his players’ pathetic defending. I lost a fair amount of respect for the Arsenal manager that day.
Anything that goes wrong for Arsenal, Wenger will, nine times out of ten, blame it on the ref. He protects his players with his life. They can do no wrong. Even when they make blatant mistakes, it will always come back to the man (or woman) in black. I just wish he’d sometimes come out and criticise his team and make them realise they need to work harder in training and in matches.
By shielding them from criticism in this way, I believe Wenger is encouraging a psychological ‘softness’and undermining rather than strengthening his team. What’s wrong with telling the media: “Yes, I know Koscielny made a mistake, and he needs to step up his game if wants to keep his place in the first team”.
Now I’m not singling out Koscielny but he hasn’t been the signing Arsenal needed, although he’s still young. Wenger needs to go out and uncover Nemanja Vidic the second, and Patrick Viera’s identical twin. Arsenal’s squad is too nice, they don’t offend the opposition or get in anyone’s faces. They need some bulk. None of them have any physicality.
If Wenger believes his side are good enough to win the League with the strength they have, he is kidding himself.
By James England – Derby County fan