The most common reasons people who back the ‘WengerOut’ campaign are based on the Gunners not having won a trophy in the last eight years which can be broken down into specific reasons such as: a) the Frenchman doesn’t spend the club’s available resources in the transfer market and has a history of selling the club’s best players b) he won’t tie down senior key players to expensive long-term contracts and c) Arsenal don’t know how to defend and d) Wenger can be tactically naïve.
Arsenal are now in a financially very healthy position and thus can spend £42.5 million on a record signing like Mesut Ozil whose arrival shut a lot of disgruntled fans up earlier on this season.
But when the boss didn’t replicate that in January, the moaning and groaning started up again and many point to the lack of activity in January as a reason the Gunners have slipped down to fourth in the table.
Those who claim he doesn’t want to spend that money are incorrect; he does, it’s just he won’t ordinarily pay over the market value unless it’s a player of world-class quality like the German. If he had have brought in Julian Draxler, for example, in January the feeling towards him now may be difference whether or not Arsenal were still challenging for the title or not.
With that in mind, I wonder whether the ‘WengerOut’ brigade would change their minds if he was prepared to spent that amount in every transfer window to improve the squad, presumably that would also reinforce the squad to a level genuinely capable of competing with the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea and even Bayern Munich, especially if they weren’t selling their best players.
Meanwhile, if keeping key senior players around is another factor, what if Wenger offered Bacary Sagna, for example, a three-year deal worth £90,000 a week to stay and he signed it and every time the same situation presented itself, that was the precedent and policy set? That would surely see the top players remain at the club and, Bob’s your Uncle, two of the biggest complaints would be gone.
Its fair to say in the last eight years Arsenal have sold off some special players and missed signing some special players too but if you narrow the timeline down to the last 12 months, Arsenal have brought in a world-class player for big money and only sold off very average or underperforming players, as well as tying half a dozen key players to long-term contracts for years to come.
Those who assert that Wenger won’t change, can’t change or doesn’t know what needs to happen to compete in the modern era have apparently been asleep in the last year – its clear Wenger has changed his transfer policy dramatically, endeavoured to tie up his best players quickly and with ample time and, in the case of Theo Walcott, for example, been willing to go that extra mile when it comes to wage demands. The sign of his ability and willingness to do all of these things is staring everyone right in the face.
Now, when it comes to the assertions from people like Stuart Robson, for example, and the Match of the Day pundits, Arsenal can’t defend. This is simply not true. Arsenal have one of the best defensive records in the Premier League and in the Champions League in the last year and a bit have kept clean sheets against Bayern Munich at the Allianz Arena and Borussia Dortmund at the Westfalonstadion.
Arsenal have kept clean sheets this season against Fenerbahce and Tottenham both home and away, Napoli at home, Liverpool at home, Marseille at home, Crystal Palace home and away, Southampton at home, Cardiff home and away, Hull away, Chelsea at home, Newcastle away, Fulham at home, Coventry at home, and Manchester United at home. That’s 19 clean sheets in all competitions. They’ve conceded 1.2 per game in the Premier League, which is the exact same figure as leaders Liverpool.
Failing that, how would those pundits and critics of the coach feel if Arsenal were a team that won games 1-0 every week as they used to under George Graham? Those same people should look at Arsenal’s results in their last 10 games of last season and then decide whether Arsenal can defend – 2-0 at Swansea, 4-1 over Reading, 2-1 at West Brom, 3-1 over Norwich, 0-0 with Everton, 1-0 at Fulham, 1-1 with Manchester United, 1-0 at QPR, 4-1 over Wigan and 1-0 at Newcastle. They conceded 0.5 goals per game in that ten-game unbeaten run.
Probably the only reason I personally agree with when it comes to why Arsenal fans are disillusioned with Wenger is that he has a tendency to be tactically naïve. When Arsenal were getting thumped 8-2 at Old Trafford, any other manager would have parked the bus or at least attempted some damage limitation work probably somewhere around the 3-1 at half time mark. When Arsenal lost 5-1 at Anfield where they found themselves 3-0 down at half-time, most coaches would have attempted at least to shut up shop at the back.
You could say the same for the display at Stamford Bridge, the Etihad and Goodison Park on Sunday. These games are no doubt what lazy analysts base their opinion on when they say Arsenal can’t defend. The way Wenger approaches a trip to the Etihad needs to be different from the way he approaches Coventry at home in the FA Cup. I think that’s clear to everyone but the boss by now.
When Wenger first arrived at Highbury in 1996, the fitness levels of the players in the Premier League were shocking and thus when his players started eating what he told them to and conditioning their bodies in the optimum way for performance, they found they could overpower teams in the second half – the opposition simply didn’t have the legs to stop them.
That is not true anymore and so the style and approach of ‘we’ll score more than you’ or we’ll pass you off the pitch simply doesn’t work anymore because one ball over the top or one counter-attack or one set piece can cost the Gunners points and those lost points add up over a season.
If, for example, Wenger maintained his free-flowing expansive possession-based philosophy of football but added a genuine defensive midfielder to the team and better strength in depth to his defensive department, trained heavily on set-piece defending and team defensive tactics to play all the time with that 1-0 mind-set they would effectively be playing the Wenger way when they had the ball and the Jose Mourinho way without it.
They could do what the Special One complains about but still does himself – play defensively against the top teams and hope to nick a goal on the counter whilst wiping the floor with the bottom and mid-table teams for the most part of the season.
There are some legitimate reasons that some Arsenal fans want a change of manager at the club but I believe Arsene Wenger has indeed shown clear willingness to adapt his policy and even his philosophy in the last 12 months. So, the question, if he spent £40 million every window, continued to keep the club’s best players tied down, persisted with the defensive approach the Gunners have shown they are capable of employing when necessary, and perhaps went into the big games with a bit more caution would the ‘Wenger Out’ dissenters rather he stayed?