Couldn’t escape if I wanted to

Couldn’t escape if I wanted to

Chapman had Walsall. Mee had Swindon. Neill had Walsall. Don Howe had York City. George Graham had Wrexham. Now Arsene Wenger has Bradford City. Chapman privately confided in Tom Whittaker, Joe Shaw and Bob Wall that the Walsall cup defeat was a sign that he should rebuild his all-conquering side. His premature death meant that he never got to see that intention through himself, but probably did so vicariously through the aforementioned backroom staff that remained.

Mee used the motivation of the Swindon humiliation to forge the embers of a team spirit that would carry his side to future glory. For Howe and Neill in particular, their chastening giant slayings were the death knell for their respective reigns. Neill resigned hours after the Walsall defeat, Howe never really recovered from York and resigned a year later. Graham wasn’t unduly affected by Wrexham – the defeat to Benfica a few months earlier arguably left a much more indelible mark on his reign.

The question now is what does Bradford, Wenger’s Waterloo moment, mean for the current manager? The pressure on him will build, that’s for sure. Though it’s important to point out that a chorus of “One Arsene Wenger” did resonate in the away end at Bradford, in response to the home fans mocking cry of “You’re getting sacked in the morning.” The question as to whether or not he should go is always asked the wrong way around in my opinion.

I have no desire to impose the popular “who do you replace him with then?” doublethink on you. Afterall, very few of us would have answered “what about Grampus Eight’s manager?” to the same question when Rioch was sacked. But the debate has to be distilled a tad. Sacking him would have to presume that there is somebody that is a) better and b) available to replace him. That should always be the position regardless of how the team is performing. Change for change’s sake or sacking him simply to “punish” him won’t do anybody any favours.

Personally, I have my doubts but would be open minded to suggestions on the contrary. If this person does exist, as he might well do, I’d be very much in favour of getting him. Just as I would be in favour of replacing Jack Wilshere or Bacary Sagna or Marouane Chamakh (!) if there are better players in their positions available to us. It’s not a matter that needs to be considered as tempestuously or as demonstratively as it has been.

What is clear is that the season so far has been distinctly underwhelming, bad or indifferent performances have vastly outnumbered impressive ones. In the past I’ve alluded to the competitive landscape in defence of the sustained criticism the club has received. But at the moment, we’re not even “about where we should be.” If we’re going to point to the resources of those above us as mitigation for falling behind them, it’s only fair we point out that we dwarf the resources available to the likes of West Brom, Everton, Stoke and Swansea.

Because that’s the clique of clubs we are sharing air space with at this moment in time. I maintain what I have said since September 1st, that this squad looks so unbalanced that it’s no wonder it keeps falling over. But it’s better than the distinctly mid-table fare we have served up so far. It’s certainly good enough to beat Bradford City and to cause them more problems than we did.

Very strangely for an Arsene Wenger side, almost all of its current issues are creative and attacking ones. The defence is the one area of the team that has actually showed improvement. Even a League Two side can erect two banks of four against us and we struggle to conjure an answer. Arsenal enjoyed 71% of the possession on Tuesday evening. That means they had the ball for over 85 minutes. Yet we so seldom hurt Bradford with it.

I wrote last week that I thought a creative player was as much of a priority as a striker in January and I’m more convinced of that than ever. Cazorla is a wonderful player, but he’s not the creative catalyst some suggest. His dive against West Brom on Saturday left him with a second assist in a period of twelve matches. He has many qualities that are of great benefit to the side but he’s not really a playmaker. Jack is a wonderful dribbler and a great passer, but he’s more in the “fetch and carry” mould and not a genuine defence splitter. We don’t really have that sort of player in the squad.

The return of Rosicky has added a little more spark. He made a huge difference against Bradford. Wilshere and Cazorla instantly became more influential with the Czech buzzing around them. Neither Jack nor Santi were nearly as involved in the game before he came off the bench. Rosicky has such a simple style that acts as a sounding board, a point of reference for our ball movers. Pass ball, move arse, get in position to receive it again. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Until January at least, I would work Rosicky into this team because he makes other players play, which is an otherwise absent ingredient in our side. Whether that involves him playing in one of the wide positions, or whether Cazorla moves out wide with Rosicky in the centre I’m not entirely sure. But he plays between the lines of attack and midfield in a way that’s so valuable.

I’ve spoken in recent weeks about the poisonous cloud of atmosphere that has permeated away matches. At Aston Villa and Everton the environment became frenzied and noxious. I was bracing myself for much of the same as another insipid performance (and result) unfolded in front of us at Bradford. It didn’t seem to materialise. The acid rain clouds didn’t really form as I had expected. The air was much more one of resignation.

In many ways, that’s more worrying for Arsenal. I’m not sure if the manner of the defeat – a penalty shootout loss – contributed to a less volatile reaction. The disappointment doesn’t store and build in quite the same way as it is when the final whistle sounds on a one or two nil defeat. I suppose it takes time to process the hurt before it’s detonated and you angrily try to eject it from the system. But even during the game I didn’t quite sense the same anger that I have heard prior.

Supporter apathy is usually the final straw in terms of relations between a manager and the fans. Because it ultimately means a complete loss of faith and soon enough, translates into bums not filling seats. I hope I’m reading too much into too little and that we’re not quite there yet. The club is in dire need of a spark on and off the pitch. A run of wins and a couple of essential new purchases are the only way that will be achieved. Let’s hope we’re not disappointed. Till next week. LD.

Follow me on Twitter @LittleDutchVA

If I may be so Bould …

If I may be so Bould …

Morning all,

with our next game not until Reading away on Monday, the next few days, and the weekend, are going to drag a bit, I reckon. As you would expect the fall out from Tuesday night’s defeat continues, doubts over the manager are aired more publicly, and the mixed messages from above carry on as before.

This morning sees a raft of stories talking of a falling out between Arsene Wenger and Steve Bould. Once more, it is former Arsenal player (medals: 0) and former Arsenal TV pundit Stewart Robson banging the drum, which makes me highly suspicious of the veracity of his claims. Robson, a man well known in the press room for his intense and abiding love of Stewart Robson, has been highly critical of Arsene Wenger over the years and look, that’s fine. There is an absolute need for critical voices in the media, but how that criticism is delivered is hugely important. If you’re fair and reasonable it resonates far more than if it sounds like an audition tape for a presenter’s gig on TalkSport.

Anyone who has endured him as a co-commentator or a pundit will know just how bitter he sounds.  It always sounds hugely personal when he discusses Wenger, which weakens valid points he makes about the manager’s failings. His dismissal of Wenger as some sort of charlatan who has never achieved a thing in the game of football is just stupid. I think we all have our issues with the manager but to suggest he knows nothing about the game of football or developing players is nonsense. Two doubles, some FA Cups, an unbeaten season, some of the best players we have ever seen and a period in which Arsenal fans have enjoyed a consistency we’ve never had before isn’t down to chance.

Yesterday, I watched him interviewed on Sky Sports, standing outside the ground, and in amongst the salient points he made – and let’s remember he was making them in an interview with that transfer loving gimp of a presenter and as such there was always going to be a measure of hyperbole – one of his criticisms was over how Arsene Wenger reacted to Eduardo having his leg snapped in two by Martin Taylor. Really? Yes, Arsenal fell away that season from a good position, but it wasn’t down to how the manager dealt with a disgusting tackle by not that kind of player.

No doubt that game had an impact, it shell-shocked the squad to an extent, but lost in the madness is the fact we also lost Sagna and Flamini to injury shortly afterwards, two players who had been instrumental in the team’s good form and solidity. And look, if I’m a manager and I see a great player lying stricken on the floor with his leg hanging in pieces I think I might have some choice words to say too. Eduardo’s Arsenal career never recovered, Robson using that years later to stick the knife in is a cheap shot indeed.

It’s also much easier to believe stories like this when things aren’t going well. Arsene Wenger was at a funeral the day before the Swansea game, it seems his fitness coaches took the session. Maybe it was a fitness based session? I don’t know the ins and outs of it, but perhaps there’s more to it than we realise. People suggest there’s a lack of communication between Wenger and Bould on the bench, it’s hard to know as TV cameras aren’t trained on them for the duration of the game.

The thing that strikes me as well is that Steve Bould appears to be quite passive; different from the animated, jack in the box, passionate Pat Rice. Even when he was in charge during the the European games he seemed content to observe the game from his seat and didn’t spend a lot of time in the technical area. Perhaps this is an issue too, that if there’s a problem, and I stress the if, it’s not just coming from one side. What would be interesting is if some of the media who are happy to run this story on the hearsay of Stewart Robson will ask Wenger directly about it when they meet him for the pre-Reading press conference. We shall see and I won’t hold my breath.

Meanwhile, Ivan Gazidis told some fans last night:

I think I am frankly tired of getting up here and delivering the same message. Tuesday night was not good enough and it made us all upset and angry. I would like to apologise to all of you, especially the fans who travelled up there.

That is something we will work hard to put right. We all work here and are desperate to deliver the success and trophies we all want.

Since when has Ivan been delivering that same message, beyond the one which suggests that 2014 and FFP will be the panacea to all our ills? That’s the very first time I’ve heard anyone at the club speak in negative terms about what’s happening on the pitch. Of course there was a measure of playing to the room about what he said, under the circumstances that’s understandable, but apologies at this point are meaningless and mealy-mouthed.

I don’t doubt that everyone at the club works hard, especially Arsene Wenger who, regardless of if you think he should stay or go, will be hurting about our current form. I suspect he’s also a worried man because he’s been in the game long enough to know that this kind of inconsistency, the inability to produce from one game to the next, is symptomatic of a deeper malaise than just  a basic loss of form. But once again the board bang the drum about how money is not withheld from the manager, how he decides how it’s spent etc. And that’s fine, that’s really how any manager should operate, but maybe the board need to insist that it is spent.

It was interesting to note Arse2Mouse touch on the issue of our scouting network in his post yesterday, and with the inevitable stories appearing about how Arsene has eleventy-billion pounds to work with in January, this is probably something we ought to be focusing on a bit more. It’s fair to say that many of our recent signings haven’t worked out. There are successes like Koscielny, while buying established, professional talent like Arteta and Cazorla is something most managers can do, but we’ve had too many who have failed.

Worryingly, Arsene’s eye for a bargain, or a player who comes to the club on the cheap and improves immeasurably, seems gone. Chamakh, for example, is a miserable flop, despite his purple patch at the start of his Arsenal career. It seems that is as much down to his character as his footballing ability, but nevertheless it’s true. The signing of Park will always, always baffle me. Never good enough, a waste of everyone’s time and money. Our chief transfer negotiator spent the best part of 10 days trying to sign a kid from Costa Rica, getting the run-around from amateurs and semi-professional football people, and all for a player who still hasn’t kicked a ball for us.

Gervinho must have been watched countless times. Did nobody notice that he has a fatal flaw in his game, his shocking technique when it comes to the most basic of footballing skills – kicking the ball? It’s like a cricket team signing someone who can only bowl underarm. Wenger’s knowledge of the French league and the hidden gems is gone. That advantage has disappeared, and it’s not as if the talent hasn’t been there. Newcastle have plundered Ligue 1 to much greater effect. We have scouts in Germany telling us players aren’t good enough for the Premier League only for them to rock up elsewhere and set the place alight with wonder goals.

It’s goes to what I spoke about yesterday, about how it goes beyond just the manager and his day to day work. We’re reliant on the same scouts who brought us the flops to save our January bacon. There’s an issue there which perhaps we can solve by having more money at our disposal. Not having to try and find budget priced gems could make life easier. We may still have to fashion some diamonds in the rough but that’s a whole lot better than the cubic zirconias we’ve had to work with in recent times.

Still, January is a few weeks away yet, and there’s a lot of football to be played before then. The reality is anything could happen on the pitch, and probably will. We just have to hope it’s mostly positive.

Till tomorrow.