Now, it is very rare for me to step in and comment as editor of this site. Very rare indeed. Why? Well, if truth be known I am not an Arsenal fan. No, sorry. I am not. I’ve grown up with Arsenal very much in my life, but a fan? No. The first live top flight match I went to see was Arsenal beating Blackburn Rovers in what must have been about 1994, Merson with the winner. The first real football book I read was Fever Pitch. Tony Adams’ autobiography is still my top footballing autobiography. But an Arsenal fan? No.
But, I am a football fan. And I do understand more about Arsenal than the vast majority of people out there just shouting “Wenger Out” because they have been brainwashed into saying it. I also probably understand more about Arsenal than all the people claiming “Wenger In” because they have been brainwashed into saying that as well. I’ve read the history, I’ve followed the club as a football fan. I think I can express this opinion truthfully.
It is time for Wenger to go, at the end of the season. Go where? That’s immaterial, but it is time for a change. Why? The game has changed and Arsene has changed, but sadly they have both changed in different directions and it is neither of their fault.
I want to highlight two key areas as to why I now firmly feel this having moved like the tide between feeling sorry for Wenger, wanting him to be shown more respect, being annoyed by his blinkers, being angry at the players and hating on the way football has become.
Exhibit A – Marcos Alonso’s goal for Chelsea where he cleaned out Hector Bellerin. Any Arsenal fan bleating “but it was a foul” should be hanging their head in shame. Especially if you are of a certain age. Anyone that is old enough to have watched Adams, Bould, Keown, Dixon, Winterburn or, god, O’Leary in their prime will surely have noticed that goal says so much about the modern Arsenal. Even the next brilliant defence Arsene built – Sol, Kolo, Lauren and Ashley Cole. Put any two of those players into that situation and do you think Alonso’s arms could have got anywhere near their head, in their own six yard box? Of course not. The opposition left back would have probably been too intimidated to even attack the ball like that. Nobody fears Arsenal anymore, and I don’t care what anyone says – Spanish left backs are not the strongest characters in the world but Alonso clearly felt he could bully Bellerin there – probably meaning Spanish right backs have slightly less character.
What is my point with this? All the moaning about it being a foul, which in my opinion it wasn’t anyway it was just awfully weak minded, feeble defending, distracted from the fact that Arsenal have a very soft centre in this generation. I am not just talking about the defence, I am talking throughout the team. Ever since Arsenal were beaten by Barcelona in the Champions League Final, Wenger has switched his focus to small, technically gifted players in the hope of replicating that style. You cannot blame him, most clubs have wanted to try it. But have any succeeded? No. But, the moment that Arsene believed that he could win the Premier League and, maybe, the Champions League with players half the size of the likes of Adams, Campbell, Viera, Petit, Edu, Gilberto Silva etc was the day that Arsenal started having to play catch up. Forget the stadium, that was a convenient excuse. The right players were still out there at the right price, it’s just that Arsene felt he could win a different way. And he was wrong.
This leads me on to Exhibit B. Yesterday. Aaron Ramsey. For me, the epitome of the modern Arsenal midfielder. Don’t get me wrong, Ramsey must have some mental strength for coming back from that sickening leg break. But what he did yesterday, twice, sums up so much again. EVERYONE knows how WBA do it. Absolutely everyone. Wenger is not that bad a manager now, and Bould that incompetent, that they will not have gone into the game knowing exactly what WBA were going to do from a set piece – especially when Ospina came on. Even if the first one did catch them by surprise, there is noway the same mistake can be made twice. I don’t care if Wenger did say, “defend it like this” and it was, theoretically, his fault for the first one. Someone in that team should be saying “f*** this, we’ll get battered doing it that way again. We defend it this way next time!” Adams would have done that, Campbell would have done that. Did anyone even talk to Ramsey after both goals were so clearly his fault? Not one word. Again, a lack of mental strength. A lack of desire, a lack of leadership. As for Ramsey? Can you imagine any of the Arsenal great midfielders making that mistake twice? Viera, Petit, Edu, Gilberto Silva letting a man run off them twice? If Pires had thought about letting Dawson run, one look from Viera would have reminded him of his job. Paul Davis, Micky Thomas, David Rocastle, christ, even David Hillier? They may not have been as technically gifted as Ramsey but they knew they would be booted out of the team instantly if they dared made that kind of error. And if George didn’t get them, Adams or Seaman would have done for sure.
Are individual errors like that Wenger’s fault? Not the errors themselves, no. But everything leading up to it is Arsene’s responsibility. The bringing in of Bould to toughen up the defensive training. The signing of mentally weak players who like to play a bit too much rather than defend a bit too much – remember, Leicester won the Premier League with two of the most average, yet traditional, centre backs in recent memory. The shift from big, strong, technically brilliant players to small, weak, technically gifted players was Arsene’s doing. Not the board’s. Not the stadium’s. And the refusal to admit that the “Barcelona lite” blue print was failing and adapt quickly? Very much Arsene’s fault.
Arsene must be remembered as a managerial great, not just for Arsenal but for football. But even the greats make mistakes, and the complete top level of great adapts quickly and reinvents – Arsene has not. His initial impact was stunning, the Invincibles were legends. But football saw what Arsenal were doing and adapted to it. Arsene has not seen what football has done and adapted to that.
It is time for a change, for both the club’s sanity and the sanity of Wenger himself. There is a sense of irony in the fact that Arsene seems to be fighting this fact more than his team is fighting for him.