Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Monday November 17 2008
There is a great deal of ruminating and conjecture about Arsenal's bafflingly inconsistent form on the pitch, the defensive midfield position has been pored over for weeks, yet Denilson is playing really well. The issue of a monster of a centre back is also a recurring theme, but one thing you have to say is that since Silvestre has come into the sidehave only conceded one headed goal, a vast improvement. There is worth in exploring both issues, but I think the truth is more of a collective ill. I think it is not only the balance of the side that is lacking in nascency, but there is a vainglorious culture amongst the players.
A look at our wage bill shows that we pay equitable wages to Manchester United. That astounds me frankly when you compare the achivements of the players in our respective squads. United's is a squad packed with players who have won every medal worth coveting. In Arsenal's squad, only Toure has massively achieved with the club, the only other two players with respectable honour rolls are Silvestre and Gallas, who earned their stripes with our rivals! I'm beginning to wonder if Arsenal has become toomuch of a soft touch, our players are rewarded for boilerplate achievements. This has occasionally manifested itself into arrogance on the pitch, most notably and unacceptably of all in the final minutes of the match against Tottenham. Bacary Sagna and Emmanuel Adebayor were immediately given payrises on the back of a solitary excellent season in which they did not land a trophy. While I can see the sense in tying players down, neither player was near the end of their contract. Some of the words the players utter to the press make me embarrassed, Theo Walcott telling everyone Europe will be afraid of us after defending like a pub team against Fenerbahce, van Persie's constant wittering about what a great team we are.
Firstly, I think we have a situation where players are not being greatly challenged for their places, hence the persistent mistakes. But I wonder if this reflects a problem at large at Arsenal at the moment. Despite my frequent reverie, I am not privvy to anything that goes on on the training ground or in the boardroom, so I can only offer speculation and conjecture. But I get the distinct impression Arsenal Football Club is operating very much in the comfort zone right now. The players are not challenged for their places, those that agitate for a move are instantly granted their wish. Whereas Hleb was shipped out on the first plane to Catalunya, Ronaldo, Barry and Lampard were all fought for and all are representing excellent value for their clubs this season. Again, one can only speculate, but what exactly is Pat Rice's role? Is he just a 'yes' man who puts out cones? A notable feature of Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford has been the constant freshening of the backroom staff. Kidd, McLaren, Smith and Quieroz were all respected football men who we are told chipped in with tactical ideas and provided something of a yin to Ferguson's chilling yang. Does Pat Rice do this? Perhaps there was a time when he did effectively, but after 12 years in the position, it is very easy for things to stagnate. One could argue that Ferguson's constant rotation of his right hand men is out of necessity as his assistants have been lured into the hotseats of other clubs. But therein lies a revealing morsel of food for thought, I can only ever remember Rice being approached for the Northern Ireland job around six years ago. Has anyone ever heard an Arsenal player wax lyrical over the role of Rice?
I wonder if Martin Keown's increased prominence in Arsenal's media, as well as the fact that he turned down the assistant's role at Portsmouth is significant? He was reportedly pictured next to the first team players at the Wigan match. Keown was apparently an ubiquitous figure around the club around the time Arsenal became the meanest defence in the Champions League. Maybe Keown is the man to challenge Wenger? As a player he was a dominant personality and showed an acute understanding of the game. (After the 2002-03 season, Keown told Wenger he had to play Toure ahead of him in defence. Altruistic and astute). He is also an erudite and articulate communicator who would have the respect of the younger players. But who's to say he would make a good coach? I don't know, but I think something needs freshening up. Ferguson appears to have showed that the position of assistant is an ephemeral one and perhaps it is time for soembody more splenetic and opinionated. The image of Rice as a sinecure is one that looms large. I get the impression Rice would have great compunction about suggesting a tactical change to Wenger, or challenging him to drop an underperforming player. I have often suggested that Gallas is not a bad captain, but he is something of a monolith in terms of leadership all over the pitch. I wonder if this is the case on the training ground? A number two should be able to undercut the weaknesses of the main man and enjoy a symbiotic relationship. I have to wonder what Rice and Primorac's input is in an average week.
This sense of entropy appears to be omnipresent throughout the club. Arsene Wenger has certainly earned a decent amount of goodwill and freedom with the job he has done. But one cannot help but wonder whether he feels enough pressure in his job to deliver. Wenger confirmed that he will be involved in the appointment of the new CEO. (An appointment that has taken ten months and counting, hardly the work of a pro active, modern organisation). Effectively Wenger will be responsible for choosing his own boss. That is not a healthy situation at all. Of course steps should be taken to ensure that the manager can work harmoniously with the incoming CEO, assuming the board pull their finger out and appoint one, but for Wenger to have a hand in selecting a man he should be accountable to bears uncomfortable resemblance with the way a dictator manipulates a system to ween himself into power. I get the impression the club are happy with a fourth place finish every season and continue to rely on the groundswell of opinion against Usmanov and justify gargantuan pricing policies by lubriciously selling the concept of our 'sexy football.'
The manager has earned our trust and I would trust him implictly to turn us around. Of course there was a time when finishing fourth and qualifying for Europe's premier competition year on year was considered a pipe dream. However, Wenger has spoken of elevating us yet another echelon in his impressive reign and he is certainly capable. But there are mistakes being made in the team and in the club that are being identified, but no measures are being taken to fix them. I think a few egos need to be bruised, a few arses kicked. The players need to wake up to themselves and the manager needs to shake off his obstinance and address some big problems in January. Most of all, I think Arsenal are in danger of stagnating and rewarding mediocrity to a level unbecoming of a club that inisists it has intentions of equalling and overhauling some of the giants of Europe. Some soul searching definitely needs to be done. Like I say, I can only speculate, but I think some arse kicking needs to be done too. Arsene has always had a deft knack of recognising when a player has lost his hunger, perhaps its time to exercise that ruthlessness back through the mirror.LD.
Date:Monday November 17 2008
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