Last night’s surrender at The Emirates was a gift to the anti-Arsene Wenger lobby. Not only did Arsenal display a staggering amount of tactical naivety in failing to protect what should have been an unassailable three-goal lead, but the game also further emphasised the personnel deficiencies which exist within this squad.
For as long as anybody can remember, Wenger has been urged to sign a team-strengthening, ball-winning, opposition-reducing defensive-midfielder and, last night - yet again - the shortage of such a player was glaringly pertinent.
Wenger also ignored similar concerns during the Summer about his side’s lack of defensive depth and, inevitably, that has become relevant, too, as early in the season as November.
Wenger is not a ‘specialist in failure’ and neither does he deserve any of the other derisory terms that are periodically applied to him, but his stubborness has become almost a parody of itself and we are beyond the point now where he can reasonably be absolved of blame for what Arsenal have become.
That’s a topic for somebody else. The internet is not short of Arsenal fans willing and able to take their own manager to task, but it’s worth remembering that the players are not innocent bystanders in this situation. Naive tactical decisions, a refusal to adapt to a changing game and a failure to equip a team properly are all contributing factors to situations like last night, but they are not the sole cause.
Anderlecht are a young, developing side and, in a few years, a couple of the players they fielded last night are likely to be stars of the game, but in the present day the Belgian side belong in a different weight-category to Arsenal. Losing that kind of lead to Chelsea, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich would have been very disappointing, but shipping three goals to Anderlecht in half-an-hour was an abomination.
These players are soft. They have so little mental resilience that the mildest adversity can seemingly prompt a complete meltdown. Momentum is a very powerful intangible force, and Anderlecht had a lot of it in that final thirty minutes, but that in itself is not an excuse for what happened.
Maybe the will to win just isn’t strong enough at The Emirates? A lot of these players seem very content simply to wear the Arsenal shirt, but less concerned about winning in it. Their contracts are all very generous, the lifestyle must be great, and the profile afforded through playing for such an illustrious club is very generous indeed; truthfully, how many of these players actually deserve to occupy the stage that they’re on? Financial imbalance makes it very hard for Arsenal to compete with Chelsea, Manchester City or Manchester United, but the impression from the outside is that everybody within this club is too accepting of that also-ran status that they’ve fallen into. They seem worryingly content with simply finishing fourth and beating Tottenham; there’s never a struggle for anything better.
It’s not right to say that Arsenal are failing because they’re not achieving more than that, but it is fair to question why they don’t seem to aspire to more than that.
They’re not supposed to beat Chelsea. They’re not supposed to challenge Manchester City for the title. Sure, but that isn’t an excuse to be as submissive as Arsenal have been time-and-again.
The manager constructed this side and Arsene Wenger has an unusual amount of influence over this football club, so of course he’s ultimately responsible, but there’s a danger that the relentless critique of Wenger is preventing questions from being posed to some of these individual players.
Last night - and the season-on-season problems associated with Arsenal - are symptoms of collective rather than simply managerial failure.
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