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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.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Monday November 17 2008
Time: 8:38PM


17/11/2008 20:46:00
My favourite Tupac song.
17/11/2008 21:00:00
You're right, something needs to change. I feel the players take a share of blame, coz they are way too complacent for my liking. Some of the stuff that we hear is arrogant, and have been built up as a result of the over confidence that Wenger has bestowed on them. Gallas said it best, that we focus too much on the beautiful football. However, I will disagree with the appointment of a CEO. Wenger will be answerable to the Board as a whole. The structure of the club will be slightly different. I do agree that it shouldnt take this long, but it does as if efforts are being hampered coz all the identified candidates seem to be rejecting Arsenal. Whats with that ?
17/11/2008 21:09:00
As for the wage bill, we do things our way and if the focus is having a smaller gap between the highest and least earners at the club, so be it. ManU have a different financial structure and ours has been a policy where we dont spend on transfers, but spend big on wages to retain their services. All these problems seem a lot larger now, than they did at the end of last season. We may be reading too much into certain aspects and creating issues out of nothing.
17/11/2008 21:12:00
Just a quick question: When you win a big trophie, won't your players ask for more money?
17/11/2008 21:22:00
I believe Wenger although hes done an absolutley astonishing job at Arsenal over the years, has now become the problem at Arsenal. His policy of no spend/trust the youth although for the most part has been excellent, has gone way too far. Your team on paper where it once read Seaman, Lauren, Campbell, Vieira, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp now reads Alumnia, Silvestre, Denilson, Bendtner, Adebayor, fine players but where are the experienced, world beaters in the core of your team? If Wenger would get his wallet out and buy 2 or 3 established players you would be unstoppable, i mean imagine david villa or xabi alonso in your side!? but Wenger wont do it and its why youve won ***** all recently.
17/11/2008 21:43:00
I think we have become too obsessed with our own image as purveyors of beautiful football, we are narcissistic. Transfer market? Midfielders that tackle? Defenders that head the ball? Pah, these are dark arts practised by savages. We are like Prospero desperately trying to educate Caliban without acknowledging his strengths. We are pretentious in our outlook. The CEO is one of the people Wenger will answer to, but how many people here get the chance to appoint one of their bosses? Maybe I should have a crack at suggesting my preferred Attorney General? Maybe the way in which we structure our wages is different, but we certainly seem to dish out payrises willy nilly. If we're paying high wages to retain players, then that is a policy that requires reviewing because it hasn't worked well for us lately.
Little Dutch
17/11/2008 21:44:00
Good article if a tad verbose
bob p
17/11/2008 21:59:00
Good piece, LD. What has struck me esp. this season is the players' attitude: their repeated complacency, arrogance and inability to respond to teams that refuse to allow them to play. They seem to have lost the ability to come up with ways to respond to such teams -- yet they demonstrated just the opposite last season. This has led me to imagine how AW handles his players -- for this squad being so young and still struggling for trophies, maybe AW has been overly coddling to their egos. His priority has always been to instill powerful belief in his players, it's one of his greatest strengths. That's why he refuses to even hint at any criticisms of them publicly. With this young, developing team he may have gone overboard with that and they believe far too much of themselves, forgetting that the real world of football involves meeting tough teams who don't just lay down and allow them to play their game. Still, as I said, last season they proved that they could handle tough, physical, defensive teams. Earlier this season they played up north against Blackburn, Bolton and managed a draw at a very tough ground in Kyiv. So what happened? I just don't understand what's going on in training. Aren't they taught how to face such defensive teams? And I'm in total agreement re Pat Rice -- I frankly don't understand what he brings except to act as Arsene's yesman. And deciding who will be your boss is highly questionable for a professional organization to indulge in. I wonder if the reason that everyone the Board has approched so far has declined is because they refuse to be Arsene's yesman. What I also find striking in Arsene's post-game interview and press conference is his body language and inability to be coherent as to the reason for the loss to Villa. It looked to me like he was a man abruptly faced with the negative consequences of decisions which he has stubbornly defended and passionately believed in.
17/11/2008 22:12:00
A very good article and some good points fairly raised, especially about not fighting enough to keep players compared to other clubs, that is very true, why don't we do more?! If "keeping this team together" was Arsene's priority as stated last season why didn't that happen? I'm afraid this is a transition season. What's most worrying is that I fully expect Man City to be putting together a real challenge in the coming seasons and I see our position as most under threat.
17/11/2008 22:35:00
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