The past decade has seen a very repetitive cycle with regards to the Arsenal manager, Arsène Wenger. The Arsenal supporters at The Emirates Stadium are desperate to see the squad’s boss spend some decent money and produce a formidable Arsenal team similar to the famous ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/2004. That team managed to endure 38 Premier League games and overcame a vast range of challenges to finish the season undefeated. Yet, that team was not used as the Arsenal model of the future; Wenger wanted to get away from the pace and power of that brilliant team and build a new Arsenal that would focus on smaller, more technical players. However, these players have lacked the steel, leadership and desire that made Wenger’s teams prior to 2005 so successful.
The usual scenario for Arsenal fans sees an early sense of optimism that their team will win the title. Yet, January, February and March are often nightmare months for Arsenal fans, seeing their team crumble when it really matters. Therefore, April and May are the months that allow Wenger’s pride and reputation to be restored with either an FA Cup run or winning English football’s newest trophy, fourth place in the Premier League. Winning football’s oldest domestic cup competition is something to be proud of; however, Arsenal fans crave more – a return to the summit of English football is what they really want. Can Arsène Wenger deliver that?
The Frustration of the Transfer Window
Football fans possess great knowledge about what their team should do to improve; fans often know the specific positions that need strengthening when the transfer window comes around. It seems that Arsenal supporters have been singing from the same hymn sheet for years with regards to new signings. The need for more steel down the spine of the team has been a necessity in the minds of both fans and pundits.
Arsenal always look very good at home, and everyone expects them to beat the weaker teams of the division at The Emirates. However, one of the most significant factors pertaining to why Arsenal haven’t won the league title since 2004 is that they lack resilience away from home. Players in the past such as Sol Campbell, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry had the ability to be resilient and grind out results away from home. That ability appears to be lacking in the current Arsenal team; the supporters know this better than anyone. So, what has been done by their manager to make Arsenal more resilient? Have leaders and winners been signed by Wenger? The answer is a very frustrating: no.
A variety of players have been signed by Wenger, but it seems he refuses to do something unless it was his idea. Laurent Koscielny is a brilliant modern day centre-half, yet if Arsenal are to win the league, his partner has to be better than Per Mertesacker. Wenger has showed great stubbornness in not signing a world class central defender, although he did spend £16 million on Gabriel Paulista, only for the Brazilian to be in the football wilderness while he learns English; a rather expensive English class. Arsenal need a leader, an organiser; someone who fits the Tony Adams mould at the heart of the defence. The signing of Paulista sparked more frustration for Gunners fans.
Questions arise of Wenger’s activity during the transfer market, yet again. The willingness to spend £16 million on the Brazilian, to leave him out while he learns English, is a huge risk. If Wenger was willing to sign a foreign player, then why not go shopping for the very best? Mats Hummels, Jerome Boateng and Raphaël Varane could have been tempted to a move to England if Wenger had been willing to get the chequebook out. However, the stubbornness continues as more than a centre-back is required for Arsenal to push for the league title.
The spine of the team is essential to winning the Premier League. Wenger has finally signed a world class goal keeper in Petr Cech, who will make Arsenal stronger and that bit better than last year. On the other hand, it must be frustrating for the fans who feel this was needed when Jens Lehmann left the club. Additionally, supporters have been craving someone to fulfil the great hole left by Vieira’s exit in 2005. A robust, strong and athletic central midfielder that provides great help covering the back four has been since required. Yet, it wasn’t Wenger’s idea; so, over the years, a cluster of small technical players have been signed to make sure Arsenal can comfortably beat the likes of West Brom at home.
The naïveté of Arsène Wenger to think that playing Santi Cazorla, Mikel Arteta and Mesut Özil in the inner midfield away at places like Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool is astonishing. Arsenal urgently need more muscle away from home to stop them being bullied; therefore, they will ultimately be in a better position to challenge for the title. For instance, a player like Steven N’Zonzi, formerly of Stoke City, who has signed for Sevilla for £7 million would have been perfect for Arsenal. N’Zonzi is a very physical holding midfielder who can also display great technical qualities that would fit perfectly with Arsenal’s style of play. An opportunity has, thus, been missed given the price tag. Wenger needs to remove his stubborn transfer attitude and listen to the fans to sign a watertight centre-back and a holding midfielder, before the window closes.
Tactically: Wenger Must Avoid Naïveté
Arsène Wenger as a manager in his first half of his tenure at Arsenal was undoubtedly one of the tactical masters of European football; the man was a serial winner in England in the late 90s early 2000s. However, since 2004, Wenger has not been the same genius and has failed to evolve as a tactician.
The importance of tactics was ever present with José Mourinho last season, as he led Chelsea to the title – although he is branded as boring and negative by most. Yet, despite this, his rather large trophy cabinet does not read ‘Won in a boring fashion’. Therefore, Wenger must learn from Mourinho both domestically and in the Champions League. Against the top teams in Europe and England, you cannot afford to flood bodies forward because, more often than not, you are vulnerable to being stung on the counter attack – as Arsenal have been in the past. Wenger must not be naïve, he has to realise that against the big teams, Arsenal need to be more controlled and organised. The free flowing football is brilliant to watch, but winners have that ability to adapt and be more defensive. Wenger must instil this into his Arsenal team to seriously challenge at the summit of domestic and European football.
A Huge Year For Wenger
As the transfer window nears a close, Arsenal fans will be very nervous; can they trust their manager to sign the right players? This footballing giant must challenge for league and European titles, and, given the fact that winners like Jürgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti, are out of work. The pressure on Wenger is, therefore, huge this year. Wenger has to make sure he breaks the cycle of the last decade by signing the right players, and must not be afraid to be more defensive against the top teams. If he fails, he will be tarnished as ‘the stubborn one’ and the Arsenal supporters will have to look elsewhere for a manager to take them back to the glory years of 2004.