Before Liverpool fans throw their arms up into the air and sigh at what they perceive will be another bitch-fest against Rafa the Gaffa and his teams indifferent start to this season, I’d like to say right now that this little article isn’t about him. Certainly, there are times this season when Benitez has got it shockingly wrong, but for once let’s look elsewhere and question other managers. Rafa’s probably a bit fed up of it now anyway and that beard is starting to show the odd grey hair.
No, the Premier Manager who I think has probably got it badly wrong this season is…(drum roll) a certain Monsieur Arsene Wenger.
Cue irate Arsenal fans slamming anyone for holding an opinion anything less than Arsene being the second coming, or at least a lesser form of messiah.
My point with Wenger is not his ability to build a beautiful footballing team or his achievements. Since he took over from Arsenal, the transformation of the club from the dour 1-0 experts under George Graham, into a team that only Barcelona could claim to match in terms of playing attractive, open attacking football in the true spirit of the game has been stunning. Wenger’s Arsenal teams are a joy to watch at times. All his players look comfortable on the ball, the movement off the ball is stunning and they have enough players with the vision, imagination and flair to unlock any defence. They have been simply staggering at times this season, none moreso than their opening day mauling of Everton.
However since then, frailties have been displayed and it is here where Wenger has got it badly wrong. His first mistake was not so much selling Kolo Toure and Emmanuele Adebayor to Manchester City, but not adequately replacing them. Thomas Vermaelen looks a solid defender, but he and Gallas are both relatively small in size and neither of the usual full backs are tall enough to deal with balls into the box on a regular basis. Adebayor’s loss has also proved costly, especially now with Bendtner and Van Persie out injured.
Is it fair to put Arsenal’s woes squarely on the defence? I’m not so sure. Firstly I don’t think any of their keepers inspires great confidence in the players in front of them. Secondly Arsene Wenger does not have a Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Patrick Vieira type figure in the team who can do the “dirty” work of getting stuck in, winning a ball and marshalling those around him into an organised defensive force. It is here that Arsenal are lacking, not ability. They need a leader defensively as they have had in the past when they have been successful. For all his wonderful ability, Fabregas isn’t that leader, neither is Song (even though he is markedly improved this season), nor Denilson, Diaby, Nasri or any other talented midfielders he has at his disposal.
It sounds paradoxical, but if Wenger wants to improve this Arsenal team still further, and take them onto the levels now being shown by Chelsea, then he needs to think dirty. He needs a player to protect his defence and add power, strength and a touch of fear because that is Arsenal’s biggest problem, opponents respect their ability, but they do not fear them because they know they have a soft centre.
So Arsene, you’ve got it wrong. As much as you play the beautiful game, you can only do that in addition to having the power, strength and physical aspect that perhaps you do not admire so much. That balance is the key to a great side and that is why, at the moment, Arsenal are still just short of that.
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