Wenger must take the blame for Arsenal implosion

Posted on October 4, 2011


It seems like all Arsene Wenger’s chickens have come home to roost at exactly the same time, and these sour-tasting poultry are swooping in on the under-pressure Arsenal manager in truly unstoppable numbers. There was the misguided faith placed in young players that did not reach the potential he saw in them, namely Denilson, Carlos Vela and Nicklas Bendtner. The failure to adequately replace high profile departees, such as Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure in 2009 and Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri this summer. The sub-standard signings that have characterised recent summers, best demonstrated by Laurent Koscielny and Sebastien Squillaci. And the way he let his squad fall away to the bare bones, selling squad players like Emmanuel Eboue and then complaining about lack of squad depth when injury deprives him of Thomas Vermaelen, Bacary Sagna and Jack Wilshere.

Sunday’s 2-1 defeat by arch rivals Tottenham left Arsenal in 15th place and ended what had seemed a brief resuscitation after home victories against Bolton and Olympiakos. Things have become so bad that even old stalwart Lee Dixon, normally to be relied upon to back his old boss in times of trouble, has gone on record with doubts over Arsenal’s ability to even manage a top-eight finish this term. Wenger has ruled out a title tilt this season, finally realising what most sane observers already knew as early as the very first game, yet inexplicably believes that this is due to the fact that he has no time to build a title-winning team. Arsenal fans are well within their rights to ask, after six seasons without a trophy, how much time the veteran manager thinks he is due.

I remember being in front of the television the last time Wenger and Arsenal got their hands on some silverware. That day, they were lucky to hold out for a draw before beating Manchester United on penalties to win the 2005 FA Cup. Yet in spite of the element of good luck, the Wenger of 2005 was still at the height of his powers. Patrick Vieira lifted the trophy that day, and Dennis Bergkamp, Ashley Cole and Jens Lehmann also featured in the Arsenal side. Wenger’s third, and so far final, Premier League trophy had been lifted the previous season. There was nothing to suggest that the club would have to wait long for more trophies, while Wenger was still regularly linked with famous and lucrative posts abroad, notably at Real Madrid.

No longer. The much-heralded faith-in-youth policy has been an unmitigated failure, and Wenger cannot blame problems at board level for his side’s underachievements. he has consistently been told that there was money to spend, that the cash received from the high profile departures of Thierry Henry, Adebayor, Toure and, more recently, Fabregas and Nasri was there for him to spend in making sure Arsenal were able to compete with Manchester United and Chelsea. He chose not to spend the money, instead pinning his hopes on the young players that he so admired. He went so far as to stake his whole reputation on it. Where as the great Arsenal teams of the Wenger years relied hugely on strength and experience – Seaman, Adams, Keown, Winterburn and Dixon being the standout names from the great 1997/98 side- he now chose to stake his reputation on the young players coming through the ranks. At one stage it all looked so positive. But it has all gone wrong. And Wenger’s attempts to bring in some more experience on transfer deadline day, with the acquisitions of Benayoun, Arteta et al, smacked of a desperate reversal of policy in the face of heavy criticism rather than a thought-through policy decision.

Some, such as Martin Samuel in the Daily Mail, blame the club’s selling culture in recent years for Arsenal’s lack of success. Yet it is not so much the loss of certain players that has been the problem, but the failure to replace them. Ashley Cole wanted out, Henry and Vieira were past their best, the fees received for Adebayor and Toure were astronomical. Yet Wenger allowed those stars to go unreplaced, meaning over-reliance on lesser players while money was apparently there waiting to be spent. It was not until the last day of this summer’s transfer window that the Arsenal manager admitted he might have got this wrong, when he suddenly splurged the Fabregas and Nasri cash on some more established players. Even when he has spen money in recent years, it seems to have been misspent. At the peak of his powers Wenger was known to make the odd mistake, but every wasted penny on somebody like Francis Jeffers or Juan Antonio Reyes was more than compensated for by the stellar performances of the likes of Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit, Bergkamp, Vieira or Henry. But with signings like Koscielny and Squillaci, it really seems like he has lost his touch. The fact that these signings were so few has also posed a problem. Wenger in part blamed the 8-2 humiliation by Manchester United on the fact that injuries meant he had to play a young and inexperienced side. Yet he was to blame for this, having allowed squad players such as Eboue and Bendtner to leave and thus being forced to throw the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Carl Jenkinson, no doubt great prospects for the future, in to a huge match before they were ready.

More damning was the fact that the average age of the United team that so slaughtered Arsenal that day was in fact younger than the side that Wenger put out, perhaps the final repudiation of the youth policy he was once so admired for. There may still be a way back for Arsenal this season, to a European place at least, but the ineptitude of the defeat at Old Trafford, the sheer self-destructiveness of the defeat at Blackburn and the loss of bragging rights in north London this weekend point to a manager that has lost his touch. Loyalty is a commendable thing in modern football, and so far the Arsenal board have shown it, but in the face of the trophy-bare last six seasons and the continuing evidence that Wenger has failed to build a team capable of changing that, supporters and board members must have very real doubts over how much longer Wenger’s 15-year reign with last for.

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