Friday, May 1, 2009

Wenger May Need To Go

Venting my anger at the outcome of Man Utd - Arsenal on Wednesday has been somewhat delayed by festivities here in Uppsala. I'll talk about those in an upcoming Blog.

Obviously, the sensationalist title needs meriting. As a supporter, I'll admit that I am very fickle when it comes to discussing my Gunners, criticizing them when they lose, praising them when they win. But now that season has come to an end – yes, Arsenal can theoretically snag third place for a guaranteed trip to next year's group stage or win this year's Champions League still – we can begin to discuss the overarching themes of this season. Unfortunately, these themes are very similar to those in past years.

Last year could have been Wenger's vindication. He had a team that worked beautifully together. Flamini, Fabregas, and Hleb were all great friends, a fact that was reflected by excellent teamwork on the pitch. Flamini provided the bite to Fabregas and Hleb's bark and Arsenal were within a whisker of winning the league.

Now that two out of those three cogs are gone, in search of pastures anew at two Europe's biggest and most successful clubs, Arsenal are not likely to win anything soon. They were lucky to be drawn with Roma and Villareal, two beatable teams in similar positions in their respective leagues as Arsenal. Had they drawn Barça, Inter, or Bayern, they would have been ousted earlier. This team are not England-beating, let alone Europe-beating.

This comes down to Wenger. He didn't buy players Arsenal needed this past summer, replacements for Flamini and Hleb. He bought Aaron Ramsey, a 17-year old, Silvestre, an aging, injury-prone donkey, and Amaury Bischoff who had played but a handful of games due to injury problems.

He finally replaced Hleb's creativity with Arshavin in the winter, but it was too late and Arshavin is cup-tied. This season, we have seen Denílson, Diaby, and Song played at Flamini's position, only to see Song improve in any way. Song has matured really well this year, and he could be as good as Flamini next year. But if Arsenal have to keep waiting a year for new talents to emerge, they'll get lost in the pack. In this respect, the youth movement has failed.

Arsenal should have more buying power. They have a 60,000 seater stadium and are a world-renowned club. If someone starts following football in a weak footballing foreign country, they are most likely to pick a club in the most-exposed league in the world, the English Premier League. And we all know there are only four teams to choose from, and Arsenal is one. I'm glad Arsenal have managed to stay out of debt, but surely they could stretch the finances a bit more at this time to bring in some talent that would pay for itself. Such is the case of the world's most indebted, yet the world's most successful club, Man Utd.

Not only did Arséne fail to replace two players integral to his team, but he failed to get the most out of what remained. Wenger has lost some of the most unforgivable matches this year, Hull at the Emirates and Stoke at the Britannia spring immediately to mind, and failed to win the biggest matches as well. Man Utd at the Emirates earlier this year was a cracking game that Arsenal deserved to win, but they did not deserve to beat Chelsea (van Persie standing 10 yads offside) or Liverpool either time. More recently, Arsenal lost to Chelsea in the FA Cup after one of the most mystifying tactical decisions I have ever witnessed in Wenger's decision to drop Arshavin to the bench. And Arsenal were well and truly outclassed at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

With the exception of Kieran Gibbs, Manuel Almunia, and the hard-working Alex Song, Arsenal were awful and out of their element. How do you think Guus Hiddink would have started the match if he were Arsenal's manager? Do you think he would have started Diaby, who is a playmaker who is not nearly physical enough for his size, at left-center midfield, let alone kept him on the pitch the entire match? Do you think he would have started Fabregas, Arsenal's most influential player available, at a shallow striker position, essentially in no-man's-land? Do you think Adebayor would have been able to get away with his absolutely shambolic performance yesterday? Not a chance.

A truly world-class manager can get his players to overachieve. Chelsea should never have dominated to the extent that they did on Tuesday. Granted, it wasn't pretty, but neither was Arsenal's performance at Old Trafford. First and foremost, a team such as Arsenal that try to play football need a solid, hard-working, tenacious foundation. The pretty play can come later.

At what point does losing, but trying to play beautiful football become tiring? Right now. Arséne, if you can't win on Tuesday, you may have to go.

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