1000 games. It’s a big number. The managers first 500 games were all about changing the world. He did that. He introduced a powerful brand of stylish football that put Arsenal on the map forever and changed perception in a quite unbelievable way. Arsene Wenger was the man who took a wire basket making company and turned it into the biggest marketing brand in the world, he was the person that made Burberry cool again… he was the guy that set the bar in North London.
The second 500 games, the success has been a different kind. He masterfully meandered the stadium move, keeping us competitive, an incredible achievement that is possibly one of his finest. However, the last 5 years have seen him fall off the elite manager train. The last 500 league games have seen him lose his touch in the transfer market, fall behind in the world of tech and consistently lose his way against top teams.
Yesterday, the starting line up was a bit of a shambles. I can’t believe that, against a team of high energy power houses, we didn’t opt for a more energetic side. No Flamini against a side like Chelsea is always a problem, yesterday, that combined with the Ox and Santi was a disaster waiting to happen. Up front, we had absolutely no pace whatsoever. Podolski, Giroud and Rosicky were not exactly a winning combo.
Without even having to think about it, that says a few things to Chelsea.
1. No pace up front means you can press higher up the pitch.
2. No real power and pace in midfield meant Chelsea could press hard in the opening 45 minutes and bully us.
… basically, Chelsea could implement the same tactics most top teams have tried to activate against us. Press our midfield hard, force a mistake at the half way line, break and you’re in on our box in 3 seconds.
So what happened? Well, in a carbon copy of Liverpool, we went down almost immediately. Our game was open and kamikaze, a ridiculous approach to take at Stamford Bridge. We did manage to carve a chance, Giroud was slipped in by Tomas Rosicky, he squeezed through 3 defenders and proceeded to duff his finish that allowed Cech to make the save (like at Liverpool, a sharper finish there maybe changes the game).
Arsenal regained possession, then lost it as Chamberlain looked to play a pass to Gibbs (who was so far up the pitch it was a joke), Eto’o was slipped in and showed Giroud how you finish by curling a superb shot inside the far post.
Oh dear. Had Arsene put a game plan in place to counter a Liverpool style disaster when we go 1 down early? Don’t be so ridiculous. We continued to play outrageous expansive football in a style more open than a under 6s 5 a-side game on a full pitch. Santi lost the ball to Matic, Chelsea broke and Schurle buried his shot in the bottom corner.
The third goal was another lost ball in midfield, a quick break, followed by a Chamberlain flying save to keep Torres out. The hilarity really set in when Andre Marriner sent off Gibbs instead. Well, you know how hard it is with these mixed race boys, right? Jokes aside. No actually, the decision was a total joke. Hazard stepped up an buried the penalty. Lukas went off on and one came Vermaelen.
Arsenal, 3 down inside 17 minutes.
Things didn’t get any better, we were an absolute shower for the rest of the half. No shape, no fight and no idea what the hell was going on. Chelsea carried on knocking on the door and managed to make it 4 before half time when they won the ball in midfield, released Torres out wide on the right, he cut the ball into the 6 yard box where Oscar was on hand to bury it… Arteta couldn’t keep up. It was painful to watch.
The second half saw the intro of Flamini and Jenkinson, which gave us a bit more stability, but didn’t stop us conceding more goals. The fifth goal game from yet more terrible midfieldery… Tomas played a pass to Arteta who couldn’t make it, Chelsea nipped in, Oscar had a dig at goal and Chesney made a total hash of the shot. Errors are creeping back into his game and that selfie is looking pretty fu*king embarrassing right now. Time to bring Fabianski back into the fold? I think so. He’s not let us down since he came back last year. He’s the right age and he’s certainly doesn’t boast the arrogance of his Polish counter part.
The final nail in the coffin came when Salah was played in with a ball over the top, he took his time and slotted home with ease.
Arsenal finished the game having conceded a whopping 6 goals with no response. An absolute joke, but jeez, this isn’t a rarity. We conceded 6 against City and 5 against Liverpool. How many top flight managers so regularly manage sides that get spanked so hard? AVB was sacked for his mauling at the hands of Liverpool. The awful thing about Chelsea yesterday was that it wasn’t a surprise. That’s the state we’re in as a club, a spanking of epic proportions isn’t unusual, a loss against a top competitor is standard.
Broken Record: I’ve been saying the same things all season, so this feels like it’s going to be a bit flat, so bear with me.
Kieran Gibbs: What the hell is he playing at? He basically set up as a left winger from the off. We’re playing Chelsea, one of the best teams in the world, and he’s parked in their 18 yard box? What is he thinking? The first goal was a warning sign (he was no where for it), so how the hell is he that far out of position for the second? If he was where he was supposed to be, it would have been a simple 5 yard pass for Chamberlain. I really do wonder about this guy. Also, having Lukas on the left didn’t help… two players who’d rather not track back is an exciting proposition for a manager who studies opposition.
Tactics: I know people are insistent we’re this super fancy club when it comes to tactics, but I can assure you we’re really not. The reason we lose so regularly to the best teams in the world is because we’re so predictable. There’s no surprise when you play Arsenal. If you know what you’re going to get every time, it’s easy to plan against. There are at least 8 teams in the league who can give us a run for our money if they have a fit squad. It’s so easy.
Arsenal have no pace and power, so you simply press high up the pitch, pressure the midfield, they lose it and you’re in. Almost every goal yesterday came from that. It’s simple homework for someone like Jose. Teams like Southampton (who were unlucky against us), Spurs (who should have beaten us last week), Liverpool, City and even United do well because they know what they’re going to get.
Arsenal should have set up to play with solidity to start with. Flamini should have started with Arteta. We should have played Chamberlain outwide. We should have tried to get through the first half and then gone for them in the second. To just turn up and play with such outrageous disregard for the opposition reeked of amateur old school football.
Lessons Learned: Taking an absolute spanking at Liverpool should have at the very least, given the club something to work on when playing away from home. When we went one down, where was survival mode? We should have set out two banks of four and weathered the storm until half time. Not Arsenal, there was no response. Just more of the same. It’s shambolic management.
The Manager: He’s quite simply not good enough anymore. He was a visionary for 10 years, he’s not now. He hasn’t adapted his ideology and we’re not competitive as a result. At the highest level, he’s consistently found out because there are younger, sharper, more prep minded managers who can get the better of him. The malaise he’s dripped over the club can be seen all over the pitch. Wenger, sadly, has become a dinosaur of a manager.
Roberto Martinez will watch a loss up to ten times to assess where his club went wrong, how many times do you think Arsene watched the Liverpool game back? I mean, even if he watched it 20 times, where were the learnings? It was a carbon copy of Liverpool. An expensive manager who doesn’t learn from him mistakes. Not good.
Some people call me controversial and unreasoned when it comes to Arsene, but I can’t see it. I’m just calling the obvious things here. So please do disagree if you can find a hole in the below.
Tactics: He has no interest in the opposition. He’s on record as saying so and you can see it in our approach, which bar the odd personnel change, is always the same. There is never a surprise when Arsenal play.
Players: We’ve had one striker for two years. One very average striker. Olivier Giroud is the worst first team striker in the top ten. It’s an absolute joke he’s our only option. I mean, he’s not even a well looked after average striker, we knacker him out so he’s even more inept.
Depth: Look, we have 4 players out and we’re down to bare bones. That’s not right. Not with £140m sitting in the bank. It’s totally unacceptable planning and it’s so predictable. In the whole world, this January, all we could manage was Kim Kallstrom with a broken back. And look, 2 of our first team injuries in Aaron and Theo we knew about by January 5th. The lack of a striker has been an issue since last summer. It’s terrible, terrible management.
Power: For a manager who has a 1000 Premier League games under his belt, it’s a pretty stark weakness that he seems not to understand that to win the league you need power and pace. This squad lacks it big time. Liverpool (6 goals yesterday) are power and pace and it’s incredible to watch. Chelsea (6 goals) today, power and pace. Manchester City (5 goals), power and pace. Why are we not recruiting players that can bring that to our set up? Where is our lightening striker? Where is our powerhouse midfield? Why do we only have one pace setter in the side? Why has Wenger forgotten the type of players that made his name?
Top 4 fails: We consistently come up short against the big teams. We have a manager who sits on £7.5m a year and he has NEVER beaten Jose. That’s not bad luck, that’s because he’s no where near the manager Jose is. It pains me to say that, but it’s the truth. He is consistently outsmarted by the better manager.
Funds: We have £140m available to spend on players, yet we have a squad that is desperately under resourced. There is no glory in a cash surplus that has no purpose. Your job, as a manager, is to ensure the best possible squad lines up every season. We have ONE striker. We’ve been through two transfer windows and that wasn’t addressed. It’s negligence in the extreme. As someone said yesterday, misusing funds at least demonstrates that you’ve tried. To have obvious squad deficiencies and fail to address them… well, it’s quite unbelievable.
Arsene Wenger has previously hidden behind having no cash. At times, justified, but generally, over the last 5 years, he hasn’t used what’s available to him to recruit properly. Forget sport science, forget rotating your squad, forget tactics… at the core of it, you can’t do anything without great players. If he can’t find players, that’s a massive failure in his backroom set up. If he’s simply not buying them, which appears to be the case, it shows you how out of touch he is with the modern game. It’s about doing it his way, regardless of the predictable outcome.
Contract: Do I think he should sign this contract? Absolutely not. I don’t want to watch another three years of the same… because let’s face it, he’s at pensionable age now, he’s not going to change his approach to management. He’s not suddenly going to accept that he has to take advice of experts who are better positioned and more specialised than him. He’s not going to reengineer the club to have a more modern feel to it’s infrastructure. He’s not capable of change now. He’s done as a top flight manager.
Do I have a list of names I’d suggest to come in? Yeah, I have names I think could do a great job. Is there any point in me saying them here? No, because there’s always a million reasons why people wouldn’t take them on. People forget that Arsene wasn’t brought on based on success or global reputation, he was brought on board because he had an exciting vision. Wenger came in, stopped players drinking 10 pints the Friday before a game, he brought in a better fitness regime, bumped up pay and he had the main prize winning attribute… he was the only manager in the Premier League who knew the untapped French market.
His hand has been revealed now. He doesn’t have the edge. He doesn’t have the desire to find it.
There are other managers who do have a vision. That could kick us on. That could do wonders with a proper budget. Brendan Rodgers is a fantastic example of getting it right, I said last summer he’d get it right at some point and it looks like he might challenge for the league this year. Pep Guardiola proved himself internally at Barca and they took a punt on him, look at the results. Jurgen Klopp is another example, he didn’t have an incredible career at Mainz and ended it when he failed to achieve promotion for the second time. He was then approached by Dortmund to takeover after they finished 13th. He had a vision, he had charisma and he was a guy you could believe in.
‘But who would replace him?’ is weak deflection of the facts. Arsenal are stagnating. Our manager isn’t improving. We’re no where near competing for top honours because he doesn’t understand how to be an elite manager anymore. If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling behind. How many more chances do you give a manager who isn’t doing the elite manager basics right?
It would be sad to see him go, but jeez, give me a new project with a manager who wants to stay true to the Arsene inspired philosophy any day of the week. If we get that appointment right, we could be doing incredible things straight away. David Moyes and the United experiment doesn’t showcase the ‘careful what you wish for’ argument, it showcases what appointing a distinctly average manager can do.
Look at all the examples of getting it right… can Ivan do that? Well, I have no reason to believe he can’t. He’ll have plenty of access to opinion that can help steer his decision. He just needs to make the decision the same way you would a business one, just like Southampton did. Explore the market, don’t be swayed by glitzy reps and be a king maker. We don’t need a big name, we need a big idea with a great philosophy. Arsenal need to get the club back and they need to match their off pitch success with on pitch success.
Yesterday was disappointing, but sadly not unexpected. We just need to make the top 4 this year… then deal with the problems in the close season.
More on what we need to do to kill this season off tomorrow…