The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Samsara

“Everyone will look at the game to rate our potential and I have no worries about that”- Arsene Wenger

“I think there is a period for any team to come out and show its strengths. For my team, this moment has come”- Arsene Wenger

“We are not any more a team that has to be considered to be young. I think we have the strengths and we can show that on Sunday that we are strong enough to compete”- Arsene Wenger

“Arsenal 0-3 Chelsea”- Scoreline

“In the first 30 minutes we had plenty of opportunities to score. We have nothing to be ashamed of”- Arsene Wenger

“He scored and the referee cancelled the goal. It was a Cheslea’{sic} player’s foot. That was a big turning point.”- Arsene Wenger

Don’t you feel as though you’ve been reading series of quotes like this forever, now? I recognize that the defense of this approach is that it’s the manager’s responsibility to keep up spirits and minimize the scale of the defeat for the sake of his players’ confidence, but when you build up one game after another as the big test for your squad only to see them collapse, and then pretend you did no such thing and the game itself was a success, it erodes confidence in the team and the manager on all sides. The problem with a game like this isn’t 3 points gone and a loss so much as it is the ever-increasing sense that the club as a whole are out of control, wedded to a failed ideal and unwilling or unable to adjust to results or reality. When games like this happened in year 1 of project youth that was one thing; when they happen in year five and result in Arsenal being 11 points adrift in the title race in November and behind Tottenham in the standings, it’s another. Arsenal have lost their last 3 home games to Chelsea; they’ve won 2 of the last 16 meetings between the clubs. That’s not refereeing, it’s quality telling over time.

I come away from a game like this wondering if there’s a breaking point. It was supposed to be when Ivan Gazidis came in, as he was going to be the contract-manager to go get Wenger top players and handle responsibilities which would unleash the manager to get the most out of his team; then it was supposed to be the end of last season, when a late collapse and several humiliating losses in a row produced real questions for the first time; now, if you take the manager at his pre-game word, it was supposed to be this game; next, it will likely be when Stan Kroenke takes over as most suspect he will eventually. But will that change things? Kroenke is not a man to begin his stewardship of a new property with a full clean-out of the old order, especially not in what is to him a foreign country where he’ll inevitably be regarded as a Hunnic interloper by half of his new customers, who he’ll be in the business of winning over for years to come. So what, if anything, is ever going to change this? I’m hard-pressed to come up with an answer. Wenger shows little inclination to change his approach, no one in the management structure of the club appears willing to force his hand, fans appear ready to complain but not to demand real change indefinitely… perhaps the only thing which can really alter things is if the few players at Arsenal who are all of world-class, young, and crucial to the team decide to force their way out to clubs which will surround them with players at their level. I’m not sure that would constitute a positive change, mind you, but it’s hard to find much to celebrate about the current wheel-of-samsara atmosphere at the club.

From this point onward the blogs and boards and pubs are going to be filled with a lot of talk about the issues at the club and the future, and I’m sure there’s some useful general points to be made about height of players, confidence, whether the team really looks better than last year, what it means to play well but still lose, etc. To my mind however that sort of discussion borders on the pointless without a recognition of the basic truth of this club right now: so long as Arsene Wenger calls the shots, the fundamental approach will not change. He may look at different players to fill certain roles, he may tinker with the formation, he may change the curtains and re-paint the walls; but the foundation will remain the same. If you believe that all that separates Arsenal from glory is tinkering and support Wenger on that basis, that to me seems arguable but reasonable. But if you believe (as I do, to be honest) that there’s cracks in the foundation too big to paper over, well…at some point you have to face the reality that Wenger will probably have to go- fired or retired- for real change to come to the club. He’s arguably the greatest manager in the club’s history and no one wants him to leave in disgrace with the job half-done; but if he’s no longer able to do the job, then each passing year only makes the inevitable separation harder.

This team needs a defensive coach in the worst way, to organize the talented defenders they have into some form of a unit that can be at least equal to the sum of its parts and not less than that. They had that in Martin Keown briefly years back; he was let go and never replaced. Now world-class defenders like Sagna, Vermaelen and Gallas look weaker and less confident the longer they remain at the club, and even though the names have changed in recent years in the defense the frailties have not- they still can’t defend a set piece, they still don’t communicate, etc. This team needs to embrace the reality that to consistently compete at the world-class level, world-class players are required. That means money must be spent. It doesn’t mean that Arsenal need to spend like Man City or abandon all pretense of developing youngsters; it does mean that it shouldn’t be impossible to ever see Arsenal signing a player like, say, David Villa to a contract. All great teams have a balance, and right now Arsenal do not. This team needs offensive differentiation; they have few players who can cross the ball and few who can score off of headers, almost none who can shoot from range. The result is that while not all teams have the athletic gifts to stifle them, for those who do the blueprint is readily available on how to go about it. The other issues exacerbate this: you cannot play like Barcelona with players who average 75% of the ability of Barcelona’s and a defense which is largely making it up as they go. You especially can’t do it when you’re carrying passengers, of which Arsenal have more than one.

If I thought Wenger was a man willing to make these changes, fill the holes and fix the flaws, there would be no better choice in the world for the job; but it’s hard to find evidence that he sees any problems at all with the current team. It’s all a conspiracy, or too soon to judge, or the fault of injuries, or witches and obeah and a wrong conjunction of the moon and Sagittarius or God knows what. If it was post-game rhetoric alone that would be one thing, but his actions in deliberation follow his exclamations in haste. So here we sit, contemplating another God-awful loss at home to Chelsea to bookend the one from last season. Wenger got the one more year he demanded to change things; the results are no different. I’m writing nothing here which I have not written before, albeit in less clear terms, and I’m writing it really only out of frustration, to be honest. Watching your team lose like this sucks; knowing that there’s no plan to change things anytime soon sucks worse.

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November 29, 2009 - Posted by | The Arsenal

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