Such is the dissatisfaction with this current season many fans are looking ahead to the summer already. Last night a flurry of Twitter based rumour involving Karim Benzema had people more excited than when we beat Barcelona.
Personally, I have no idea if we’re interested in Benzema but with two games still left to play this season it’s too early to start driving yourselves mad over possible arrivals and departures. Like it or not we still have two games left to play and should Man City win tonight against Sp*rs they’d only be two points behind us. That means that we have to win our final home game of the season to ensure automatic qualification for the Champions League. So, there’s still a little bit of work left to do.
Bacary Sagna is nothing less than brutally honest about what happened at Stoke, saying:
We are too nice. We have to fight a bit more. We didn’t give enough. We didn’t play as we can and that is what happens when you don’t give the maximum – you get beaten everywhere.
Any arguments? No, not here, but this Arsenal team are masters of words when actions are required. Rewind to November 2008, Arsenal have just been beaten 2-1 by Stoke. Gael Clichy:
We have the quality to do it but it’s just a fact of being focused and working as a team because in football when you play a collective game everyone has to turn up, everyone has to defend, to attack and to run for each other. I think now it is time to realise that we have got the quality but we need to work harder because football is not only about playing nice football and goals.
Familiar, no? Well, hang on. A week or so later Arsenal beat Manchester United 2-1 with both goals from Samir Nasri. Reaction, hurrah. Stood up and were counted. Bravo! The following week we got beaten 2-0 at home by Villa. Clichy again:
It was a great performance against Manchester United and if we do that every week we’ll be fine. But we did the opposite and we cannot work like this …
That’s from 2008 and both Sagna and Clichy are bemoaning lack of focus and effort in games which don’t have top billing. It’s remarkable that those quotes, from so long ago, could be applicable to the team today. Why is this still an issue? What is wrong with the players, or the management, that this problem has been allowed to go on for so long? There are two solutions as I see it.
The first is that you ship out the players who, despite being told that every game requires the same focus and effort as the big ones, cannot produce that level against so-called lesser opposition. Or secondly, you bring in somebody who refuses to mollycoddle the players and make excuses for them. The second option probably includes a little bit of the first too, any new manager will get rid of what he considers dead wood and will bring in players he feels he can trust and add to the team.
And this is where we come back to the comfort zone thing I’ve spoken about before. I do not accept for one second that this issue has not been raised by the manager. I refuse to believe that in the last few seasons these players haven’t had it drummed into them, time and time again, that they need to work as hard against Stoke and West Brom as they do against United and Chelsea. In fact, we know from what they say post-game that they’ve been told this. Still, the problem persists. Why?
Are they made accountable enough? Is there enough anger? Do they fear the manager enough or is it a case that many of them know that Wenger has made them part of his project, uses their relative youth to excuse them, and will give them more leeway than he should, desperate for a return on his investment in them? Has his desire to see them make it, after his education and tutelage, clouded his judgement? In one way I understand it. You take a young player, work with him in his formative years, and the last thing you want is for him to go and peak somewhere else, but you cannot continuously indulge sub-par performances and attitudes.
We’ve spoken often about competition for places being crucial in football, but what happens at most clubs is that serial under-performers not only find themselves out of the team, they find themselves transfered elsewhere. Wenger’s idea of developing a young team that grows up together means that threat has rarely been present. It has allowed this culture of complacency to develop and take root. It’s endemic and it’s reflected in results.
And complacency is all it can be. If current first team members are talking in 2008 about issues that still exist now, and have contributed to a further season in which we really should have won something, then what else can it be? There’s no real desire to put it right. Either that or we lack the ability to put it right and I don’t know which is more worrying. Either way, players need to know that lack of effort, lack of focus, willingly not doing what they’re being told, will have consequences.
And not just the sit on the bench until the inevitable injury list means you can stroll back into the team kind. No. The ‘Thanks for everything, here’s a cheese sandwich, goodbye’ kind. And maybe that ruthlessness might have an impact on the rest. A plaintive phone call from a recently departed teammate about how life outside the palatial splendor of Arsenal might make some of them realise just how good they’ve got it here.
“There was nobody to butter to my toast, *weeps*”
“My God. I’m going to put in the effort against the likes of Stoke now!”
All jokes aside however, something’s got to give. I don’t see a change of manager as realistic this summer so changes in personnel are all we’ve got. That means players and staff but maybe the most important change could be that of Arsene’s attitude towards the players. He must feel, regardless of what he says in public, that they’ve let him down. How can he listen to what Sagna says about not putting in the maximum effort and not feel that way?
The question is: can he change his ways? Can he do what’s necessary to make the squad stronger and better? It doesn’t just involve buying new players, it doesn’t just involve getting a new number 2 and perhaps a defensive coach, a big part of it must involve ridding the club of the culture which has taken hold over the last few years. Ultimately it’s his fault as he’s indulged it. Maybe it’s completely naive to expect him to change so much but it’s necessary.
That old saying about ‘give him an inch and he’ll take a mile’ rings true about some of these players. Arsene needs to take that back and put some of them in their place.
That place, however, is no longer Arsenal Football Club.