Hello there. Isn’t it just marvellous to be alive and supporting The Arsenal. Imagine how much duller our lives would be if we all took up sewing instead, eh? Yes, we’d all be well stocked for jumpers in good time for winter, but how would we be able to vent our frustration?
“Mike, that cross stitch is appalling. What are you playing at?”
It’s the preamble before the inevitably pointless international break I’m afraid, so when you’ve got Spielbergian storytellers like James Milner as the main news talking about winning his fiftieth cap for England, you know that content is thin on the ground. Unless you’re a cricket fan that is.
Plus, I can’t even Google things on my iPhone, on account of my current data roaming blackout. So you’ll just have to contend with whatever rubbish I can pull out of my cranium right…about…now…
Arsène Wenger. The first words popping into my head are about Le Boss and, having seen a few Whatsapp exchanges yesterday, as well as read a few blogs, the general theme I’m hearing is a questioning of whether or not he’s actually capable of winning us a league title any more. We’re now over ten years since the last league title and, having been so effective last season up until the dying months, I’m finding it harder and harder to believe that he can.
Now before your pitchforks all come out with accusatory expletives of my heresy for questioning the manager, let me say that I am immensely thankful for how he has played his part in making us one of the elite clubs in Europe. He’s won trophies, he’s operated under financial constraints, all whilst doing it with a dignity that can be commended in my opinion. Regardless of when he leaves and how he leaves, I don’t think his legacy at the club can be tarnished by modern day Arsenal and the success or not that we have.
Having said that, I want to treat my question without any prejudice one way or another, positive or negative in favour of the manager. That question – is he capable of winning us another league title – is one that warrants debate I feel.
This isn’t the time to say “who else then?” or “he’s a better manager than you could ever be” or even flippant responses like “technically yes. He has the rest of this season and two more afterwards on his contract”. Flippant remarks like that don’t really advance any sort of debate in my opinion. You could say that Newcastle United could still win the league, if they won every single one of their remaining games this season, but it’s extremely unlikely at this stage.
Treat the question in isolation. Deal with facts. That’s the mantra I’m going to try to adopt in my thinking on this subject. Is Arsène Wenger capable of winning us another league?
I’m not so sure. There has certainly been more of a visible change in Arsène’s approach to games, tinkering with player positions and trying different styles depending on the opposition. But at seven games into the season and with four draws and a defeat, it’s difficult to argue that he’s adapted to suit the scenario with a degree of success. No doubt we’ve seen improvement on this front, but I still don’t see him as being able to affect a game as much as some of his more irritating counterparts at other clubs.
His substitutions certainly leave a lot to the imagination when it comes to what his though process is. That is one of the most visible influencers on a game that a manager can have and at the weekend the surprise hooking of Cazorla left many scratching their heads. It’s become a bit of a running joke in Block 5 where I sit that the chatter turns to who he will bring on in the 75th minute, such is the predictable nature, so you can hardly say he nails his subs each time. However, one can’t overlook the number of injuries we’ve sustained in games this season and recognised that he has on occasions, had his hand forced like against the Spuds.
There’s nothing that can be done about it at this very moment in time, but the fact that Arsène is the chief protagonist in the failure to secure enough defensive cover that has left us so woefully short this season, cannot be overlooked. We seem to be perpetually one injury away from a crisis. And this is not a season alone in this issue. Last year it was the finger-crossing of keeping Giroud for that was at the forefront of our worry. This year we also have that defensive midfield enforcer/ball-winner that we are lacking in sufficient quality. We seem to go into every season a little bit short in some areas and I have lost count of the number of times that friends have said Arsenal are just “two or thee short” of a title challenge. To have that happen once is unfortunate, for that to be the case for four or five seasons is a question for the football management at the club.
The thing is, Arsène has actually built a decent squad this season. We’ve got depth the likes I don’t think we’ve ever had. Our quality from one to 11 may not be near the standard of The Invincbles, but I’ve previously looked (and blogged) about the squad for the Invincible’s and when you get beyond the first 14, the quality was nowhere near as good as it is now. We have all the attributes of a really good – almost title winning – large squad. We just don’t have the attributes of a title winning first 14.
The teams ability for key players to remain fit for long periods is a question that no Arsenal fan can get away from. It’s been said by so many that the numbers of injuries we get season-after-season cannot be put down to ‘bad luck’ when it happens with such frequency. There are plenty of theories about why it happens, with style of play one school of thought, but if that truly is the case then why haven’t we changed our philosophy? People will say you can win the league with that ‘tiki-taka’ philosophy, but I wonder which league, maybe the Spanish where contact is less prevalent?
If that is true, and that our style of play in our league means we pick up lots of injuries, then the manager must surely consider changing it if my original question (can Arsène still win us a league?) is to be answered with a resounding ‘yes’.
The other school of thought is that greater rotation of players will allow more players to be fresher and therefore less susceptible to injury. But we all know that Arsène is an advocate for continuity in his first eleven. We’ve certainly seen more rotation in the team this year, but it has been enforced to an extent so far this season, because of the volume of injuries we have.
Whatever your opinion of whether Arsène can win us a league title again or not, it’s hard not to argue that this is an area to which you can’t not lead yourself towards thinking “no he cannot” I’m afraid.
Is the competition so overly bloated with megastars as a result of the financial doping of the oil whores, that a time in which any club not spunking the GDP of a small country on player acquisition, is effectively left with an impossible task to win a league title?
Thankfully on this topic there is a chink of light. Fergie, for all of his faults (being an irksome individual his primary one), was able to carve out a championship winning side amongst the Petro-dollar period a few times. That gives us hope that the right formula can be achieved in amongst the evil that permeates through the elite of our national game. And hey, had we had a Welbeck or a fit Walcott at the end of last season, perhaps Arsène could have continued the trend?
Whatever side you fall on in relation to my original question of Wenger’s capability to win a league, even the most ardent Wenger apologist or Arsène Outist will agree that there are a number of variables that make the league the single most difficult trophy to acquire. I can see both sides, but as most football fans I come across in real life, I flit between the two depending on recent results, mood, etc. perhaps inevitably after the weekends result and subsequent dejection I find myself thinking that perhaps his time has been and gone. Perhaps the game has evolved and Arsène isn’t capable of delivering a modern day Premier League trophy? Perhaps the game is no longer about finding the best 11 and playing them for every match in the season?
I’m fickle. I’ll admit it. I’ll have changed my tune at Christmas if we’ve embarked on a 10 game unbeaten run and are a few points off top spot. But that’s a fans prerogative I guess.
See you tomorrow.