Arsène Wenger, after the defeat at Bolton explaining the reason for his team’s collapse since defeat in the Carling Cup Final, said, “We still lack maturity, experience and calm in important situations.” Earlier, on exiting the Champions League, he made a point of stating that the average age of his side was 23, in contrast to Barcelona’s 27. The question that comes to mind is why, five years after leaving Highbury, the average age of the side is still so low, when the manager is surely not naïve enough to believe that such inexperience can serve the club well come, as Alex Ferguson once christened it, squeaky bum time, when the honours are decided. Our most recent poll on our onlinegooner website asked if Arsène Wenger is still the best man to manage Arsenal. And the majority of voters have expressed the view that he is not. This season has seen a sea change of opinion amongst Gooners about Le Boss. And the reasons are simple: the problems that we have seen every season since 2007-08 have not been addressed. The phrase Groundhog Day has been used innumerable times in recent weeks by many Arsenal fans, journalists and pundits. And it certainly feels as though, with the team dropping points like hot bricks, we have all been here before. Wenger, also after the defeat at the Reebok: “The players have been outstanding all season. If there is somebody to blame, it is me.” Certainly, on occasion, the players have indeed been very good. There have been performances of the quality to win the title even in a normal season, as opposed to this one where a relatively low points total will win it. However, to say the players have been outstanding on a consistent basis has me questioning the manager’s sanity. At times, one wonders if senile dementia is setting in. Comments that suggest his squad will not require a great deal of strengthening in the summer do make you wonder. Arsenal had an exceptionally good chance to win the title, and could have actually afforded some of their aberrations if they had simply been able to win three of the home matches that ultimately proved to be costly draws, games where, with plenty at stake, the team appeared lacklustre. The real worry now is that, having failed to correct obvious mistakes in the past – such as lack of enough experience in the side, poor defensive organisation, the lack of attacking players in the box when the ball comes into the area from wide – there is no indication that Wenger is finally going to address these key weaknesses now. So Arsenal fans are in limbo until the man finally decides to call it a day, or the Board have the gumption to make that decision for him.
Chances are he will produce teams good enough to continually qualify for the Champions League, because they can string enough results together when the pressure is off. However, what does the Champions League actually give us? Apart from keeping the books healthy and earning money that the manager won’t spend buying the required type of player? Six group games which, for the most part, lack much drama, as the balance of the groups usually guarantees qualification. And a big twolegged tie in the spring where the Gunners will be exposed as too young to match Europe’s best. Frankly, I can live without it. The Europa League would at least give the team a chance of meeting teams they can beat over two legs. I quite enjoyed the run to the UEFA Cup Final back in 1999-2000. Anyhow, as the Gunners will continually qualify for Europe’s elite competition, it’s a moot point. What can be discussed is the fact that, equally habitually, the manager will put together a team capable of getting the club within sight of a trophy, only to inevitably fail to deliver, due to lack of character when the ultimate questions are asked. Arsène Wenger’s plan was to develop a young group of players who would grow together and become a dominant force in English and European football. The only problem is that some of the better players get frustrated at the lack of quality in the squad, and realise their careers are being wasted in North London. So it’s farewell to Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri this summer, although as Gael Clichy will join them through the out door because he is running down his contract, it’s not all bad news. The manager has this strange idea that players will remain loyal to him because of their supposed love for the culture of the club. He’s living in cloud cuckoo land. If a player is going to up sticks and force a move after three years of a four year contract, why not buy a 26 year old who will depart when he’s 29 instead of a 22 year old who will move on when the peak years of his football career lie ahead? For me, not only could a different manager get more out of this group of players, he would be better to take the club forward in the future because he would buy established quality. I’m not asking for Arsenal to follow the Chelsea and Manchester City model, just to spend the money they have in a different way (and spend all they have, as millions sitting in the bank do no-one any good except shareholders obsessed by the value of their investment). I could even live with a little speculation to accumulate. In 2003, Arsenal could have signed Cristiano Ronaldo with such a philosophy, but the purse strings were kept tight. Instead, Manchester United got the player, with a different approach to the transfer market. He may have only stuck around for six seasons, but they did well from the player both in terms of trophies won and ultimately his transfer fee. There are young players who are worth investing in, but you put them into a team surrounded by enough experience to ensure you get the most from their potential. Project Wenger has been too focused on youth. It hasn’t worked if one considers trophies the measure of success. Time for a change, either in the manager’s policy or the manager himself. .
- Kevin Whitcher
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The Gooner podcast! Our podcasts both old and new are available from both i-Tunes and www.onlinegooner.com where you can hear them online or download to your computer for transfer to your mp3 player. Our trio of April podcasts featured respected guest panellists Amy Lawrence & Philippe Auclair giving their insight on Arsenal in 2011