We’ve been very hot and cold for years, but then it’s seemingly intensified over the past couple of seasons. Think of both last season and this current campaign. There has been a mix of good and bad, in an oddly irregular pattern:
16/17 Good: Chelsea (H); Stoke (A); Everton (H); Chelsea (N) – Cup Final; City (N) – Semi-final; Soton (A) – League and FA Cup
16/17 Bad: Palace(A); WBA (A); Spurs (A); Liverpool (A); Chelsea (A); City (A); Everton (A)
This season has been no different.
For every Spurs at home, there has been a Bournemouth away. And for every Liverpool away, there has been a Chelsea at home in both League and Cup, where we played well in each game. Our last result, at the time of writing, was the away win at AC Milan. And was a stark contrast to the Man City, Brighton, and Ostersunds (H) matches.
So what gives? Why do we hold such wild swings of good and bad play?
Yes, I’ll blame him, but not in the way one thinks.
Sorry, Mr. Wenger. I must cite your influence here. But this isn’t to scathe you, but to cite why there are points in which we don’t do as well as we could.
Societal changes/footballers’ attitudes
This may sound pretty deep, and even academic, but it’s not honest view as to why we are inconsistent. And societal shifts are not Wenger’s fault, granted….
In Adams’s day, or Campbell, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires, or even O’Leary/Sansom’s times, there was a different footballing and societal culture. Football was seen as the working man’s game, and still is perceived as such by many, despite those from higher income brackets being avid football fans. However, footballers were expected to not only possess skill, but a tough mentality. This “old school” attitude was not just at Arsenal but in most top clubs of the day. It’s said that Souness at Liverpool desperately wanted to end the fast-food culture at Liverpool, and was met with the response “Why get rid of fish and chips? We won trophies eating fish and chips.” Whilst professional athletes would not be permitted such foods today, it was representative of the mentality evident then.
As for today, it’s not true to say that tough mentalities are not as prevalent. But then players are coached to receive more direction from managers and are not encouraged to be forthright as their forebears. The rough and ready nature of the past few decades has been muted somewhat.
So with players in the late 2010s, as opposed to the late 1990s, it’s not possible to allow them to do their own thing and attain great success as Wenger did in that period. New methods are needed.
It is alleged that some players broke down in a recent team meeting, and demanded they required more help. This is representative of this shift, as we attained success in the early Wenger years via driven, motivated, and more self-geared players.
More top quality managers
In the late 1990s/early 2000s, possibly in part due to Wenger’s successes, there were more foreign managers in England. Wenger was the first to attain sustained wins. However, Houllier, Ranieri, and even quite comically Christian Gross at our good friends next to Edmonton, all arrived. However, Wenger had a head-start and clearly held a strong technical edge.
This changed when Mourinho joined Chelsea, and Benitez at Liverpool. And later in that decade, there were far more top quality foreign managers, until now all of the current top six hold managers who are known for innovative methods in some form.
So the picture and landscape have changed, that’s all. And Wenger, seemingly, cannot cut it in today’s environment.
Plusses and Minuses
Wenger’s management style is very laissez-faire. He gives players the tools to succeed but believes that bar fitness and dietary planning, that they should be intelligent enough to figure out any tactical shifts.
This worked, and how, in the “winning years”. But the plus of having hardened or more self-motivated players is the minus of today. The fault in a laissez-faire management style relies on having players of the necessary mindset.
Vieira, a legend of Arsenal naturally, said lately that the difference between Mourinho and Wenger is that Wenger is far more hands-off. Mourinho, in contrast, is the opposite. He demands close instruction and control to ensure his plans are met. Mourinho is more representative of the current model than Wenger, and it shows (at least in terms of the respective league positions between United and Arsenal).
Wenger’s methods cannot hack it in the current era, sadly.
This doesn’t mean we have to condemn the man, nor hound him out. He has contributed a lot to us and made us the global club that others aspire to be (Spurs)
But then times always change and progress, and he cannot be the same manager now as he was back then, considering the different environment today.
The emergence of City and Chelsea has changed the picture, but the overall pattern is far deeper than this. Wenger should be revered by us, in my view, but then it’s clear that we need change.