Arsene Wenger has come under enormous pressure in recent years, with many Arsenal fans even calling for his head due to reasons stemming from a lengthy trophy drought that stretches from 2005 to the current date, less than pleasing displays, the club’s unwillingness to invest heavily in new players and, most recently, the overpricing of match-day tickets. But you can’t blame them for their restlessness! And the finger of blame most certainly has to be pointed at the manager for this!
Believe me, if the club was winning trophies, some of the complaints that the Arsenal fans have would never have surfaced. However, for me, the manager has chosen the wrong way to achieve success by signing the wrong type of players!!!
Good managers, before they accept a new job in a new country, make a comprehensive study of the league and thereafter lay strategies of being a success there. Jose Mourinho did exactly that before he came to England to manage Chelsea and bought the right players that enabled him to achieve massive success. Michael Essien, Didier Drogba, Ricardo Carvalho were just some of them. Wenger did that also when he had just arrived in north London by signing players well suited to the Premier League. Players with power technique and pace – Patrick Vieira, Manu Petit, Nicolas Anelka, Marc Overmars etc. Those together, with the English core of Steve Bould, Tony Adams, Lee Dickson, Nigel Winterburn, David Seaman, Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Ian Wright and the Dutch Legend Dennis Bergkamp, took the Premier League by storm and brought a whirlwind of success to Highbury. Even the recruits that Wenger brought in later possessed the same character, team spirit, grit, finesse and hunger for success as the likes of Vieira, Sol Campbell, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg, Gilberto and Lauren showed, and many of them were big fellas.
All that is history now.
Since the departure of Vieira, Wenger has had a change of mind, a change of philosophy, swapping giants for midgets! From the gigantic, intimidating and terrifying figures of Campbell and Vieira, to the pint-sized figures of Cesc Fabregas, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, players easily bullied by the giants of opposing teams.
Players, despite their great talent and ability, cannot keep the opposition on their toes physically, even those with much less quality. Players easily outfought by the likes of Bradford, Norwich, Fulham. Players with frail figures!!! I remember in 2004, in a game between Arsenal and Fulham, referee Mark Halsey awarded The Cottagers a penalty after Ashley Cole was adjudged to have fouled Andy Cole in the penalty area. Immediately, the referee was besieged by man-mountains – Vieira , Campbell, Lauren etc and Halsey was forced to reverse his decision and gave a goal-kick instead!!!
Would you see that happen if the ref was invaded by Fabregas, Arteta, Rosicky and co? Not a chance!! In fact, the referee would have his say and threaten to book them if they didn’t listen, like Mike Dean did when Thomas Vermaelen complained of the persistent fouling of England prodigy, Wilshere.
Sir Alex Ferguson one time complained of how Arsenal players intimidated referees due to their size, something Arsenal greatly lack in their current set up.
The lack of size has also had a telling effect on Wenger’s team selection and formation.
First, since 2006, Wenger has reverted to a 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1/4-3-3/4-5-1. This is because he realised he no longer had ‘specialist midfielders’ like a Vieira/Gilberto type of player as he prefers to call them. Apart from reaching the Champions League final, we have had nothing to show to justify the change of the team shape. In fact such systems that only allow us to use one striker have greatly affected our goal-for columns.
This season, Aaron Ramsey has been preferred to the likes of Theo Walcott on the right to compensate for the lightweight midfield that is clearly short of physicality. This has taken the sting out of Arsenal’s attacks that have been known for being fluid and pacey under Wenger. Despite the availability of sizeable players on the market, Wenger has opted for smaller technical players that have left The Gunners physically susceptible. Why Wenger has chosen to buy that way, only he knows.
Believe me, if he does not get back to his former self in terms of buying players like he used to years ago then Arsenal’s thirst for trophies will most certainly continue!
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