Just a little over a month ago, Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville labelled Arsene Wenger as “naïve” and “arrogant”.
At the time I felt this to be a little harsh. I don’t anymore.
The past fortnight has been filled with embarrassment for Arsenal in Europe. Defeats to Dinamo Zagreb and Olympiakos have highlighted the fact that Arsenal are not a top European club. And are, in fact a long way off being one.
The possibility of England losing a spot in the Champions League to Italy seems more likely each week, and if they do, Arsenal will be dumped into the Europa League. That’ll be a new low for the North London club. A club which is filled with history and triumph, and should be doing well in all formats.
Wenger has made two catastrophic mistakes in the past month.
Firstly, he was the only manager not to sign an outfield player in Europe’s top five leagues during the summer transfer window. This baffled me. Wenger had a transfer kitty of around £200m to spend on improving his side. Petr Cech was a great piece of business, but if Arsenal are to compete seriously for the Premier League and Champions League, more is needed.
The abysmal recruitment efforts over the summer were evident in Tuesday night’s defeat. With Olivier Giroud suspended, and Danny Welbeck injured, Wenger only had Joel Campbell to bring off the bench to play in an attacking position. Campbell is yet to make any impact at the club.
Imagine what was going through Wenger’s mind on transfer deadline day.
I can’t even begin to fathom what he was thinking.
He knew Welbeck would be injured for months, and that Giroud and Theo Walcott were his only striking options. That is both naïve and arrogant.
First of all, neither of those two would be classed as world class strikers, or even great ones. So why does he believe he can win anything with them? When Arsenal last won the Premier League, Wenger had Henry, Bergkamp, Kanu, and Wiltord at his disposal. The change in class in just over eleven years is quite unbelievable.
Secondly, his arrogance and naivety was evident in his team selection, and tactics, versus Olympiakos. Arsenal have been drawn against the Greek side four times in the last seven Champions League campaigns. As a result, Wenger knows their style. Their players. Their threats.
So why does he rotate his side slightly in a must win game?
Petr Cech wasn’t signed to play on the bench in Arsenal’s big games. David Ospina was undoubtedly at fault for the second goal. A comical error from an experienced goalkeeper. I can guarantee Cech wouldn’t have made that error. And then for Wenger to tell us that Cech is injured tops it off. The goalkeeper declared himself fit, and last time I checked you don’t select an injured player on your bench in the first place.
Nacho Monreal has come on leaps and bounds in the past twelve months. He is without a doubt our best left-back. Kieran Gibbs had a poor game in Zagreb – I think I’m paying him a compliment by only describing his performance as ‘poor’. So why hasn’t Wenger started Monreal? Once again, he’s fit, he’s on the bench, but he chooses Gibbs instead.
The final player to ‘rest’ was Aaron Ramsey. Admittedly he hasn’t been at his best this season, but he’s a definite starter. I’m a big fan of the Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but he’s the sort of player who’s going to make an impact when coming off the bench and stretching tired legs.
When Arsenal pulled level for the second time against Olympiakos, some nerves were relaxed. There was still 25 minutes left in the match, the Gunners were massively on top.
Consolidate. Continue playing sensible football. But we all knew that was never going to happen.
And 59 seconds after Sanchez headed in, Olympiakos regained the lead. This time from both Wenger, and the players. It seems it’s starting to rub off on the squad. The same was evident in the appalling 3-1 home defeat versus Monaco earlier in the year.
Two defeats from the first two group games. I’d be very surprised if Arsenal qualify and make it into the knockout stages.
As a fan of football, you’re supposed to love the Champions League. Big matches. Big atmospheres. Europe’s elite. I don’t enjoy watching Arsenal play in Europe anymore. It’s constantly filled with pain and embarrassment. An Arsenal fan pays more for tickets than anyone else. They deserve good performances and entertainment, and should leave the stadium with joy in their eyes, not tears.
So, come on Arsene. You owe it to every stakeholder at Arsenal. Pick your best side in the big matches, and splash some cash. Lose your arrogance and naivety.