Arsenal’s issues go beyond character, they lack a working system

Good morning everyone. It’s another Arsenal free Saturday as our Europa League exploits mean it’s another Sunday Premier League kick-off for us.

Normally I’d have a look at the other fixtures and see what’s going on around us, but at the moment that feels redundant. I genuinely don’t even know what position we are in the league this morning. That’s bad. I should check.

*Goes to check*

We’re 6th, with 13 points. Watford currently sit in 4th with 15 points, and while some will say it’s down to Marco Silva doing a good job, we all know it’s due to the remarkable exploits of Troy Deeney, the midlands Messi, who scored a penalty and won a header.

After the game against Red Star Belgrade, Jack Wilshere said it was evidence that the team had the kind of ‘cojones’ they’ve been accused of lacking in the last week:

I said yesterday in our press conference I don’t think anyone can question our character. We showed that tonight, you know it’s a tough place to come I don’t think they’ve lost here this season, we knew that before the game and we knew that they were going to be up for it.

Not unreasonable, and when a makeshift side with players out of position keeps going away from home and grabs a great winner, you can’t say they haven’t shown the right kind of character. In general, it’s an easy accusation to throw around because it’s one of those that strikes a chord, particularly with fans who have seen their team struggle on the road this season.

Of course it plays a part, but perhaps it would be more informative to look beyond intangibles and think about the way we play, the way we’re coached, and the way the team is managed during games. To accuse a side that has won three FA Cups in the last four seasons of lacking character doesn’t really make that much sense.

Was there not character when we denied Chelsea a double having suffered a defensive injury and suspension crisis before the game? It’s too easy now to say that they were on the beach having won the league, because it takes away from what was a superb, controlled, hard-working Arsenal performance full of spirit and desire. Is that not character?

Which isn’t to say we don’t have issues, particularly away from home. If there’s a familiarity to our failings – and we’ve seen that Watford defeat more than once, amongst others – is the root cause not more likely to come from higher up? Over the years we’ve turned over players, we’ve let them go, we’ve brought them in, and yet the song remains the same.

Does anyone really believe that bringing in some players who are more demonstrative about their desire to win will make things better? You know, like Alexis. Do people really think that the players we have don’t want to win every time they go out on the pitch? I don’t think you become a professional player and reach this level of the game with that being a fundamental part of you.

Sure, we have had players in the past who were more the chest-thumping type, but a rubbish player can shout a lot and show how much he cares, it won’t help you win that often. It really boils down to how you play, what you can do as a team, and how you can respond to setbacks – particularly in the 90 minutes.

There’s a perception that the Invincibles blew the opposition away week after week, but what made them so brilliant was the quality they had when things weren’t going right. We didn’t always play scintillating attacking football, but when those days happened we had enough to ensure that we always got something from the game. 26 wins, 12 draws. That’s a lot of draws, but those were also vital points.

This Arsenal side seems singularly unable to deal with going behind, or losing a lead. It terrifies us, the knees tremble, the heart goes week, and you end up playing like we did at Watford. It’s a far cry from the day when you felt that even if we did concede, we were more likely to score than ship another goal. Is that down to character, or an inability to impose ourselves on a game when we have the ball?

My concerns about the kind of football we play have grown over the last few seasons. Slowly the Wenger identity that has been stamped on the club since his arrival has eroded, and it has become increasingly difficult to know what kind of football we play, what we want to do, and how we want to do it.

We’ve suffered because we’ve been unable to dominate games from midfield, and despite spending lots of money and trying all manner of combinations we haven’t found a system in the most crucial area of the pitch that works properly. We can bemoan the loss of Santi Cazorla all we want, but as brilliant as he is, let’s not ignore that the manager more or less stumbled across a partnership that worked for a while when he paired him with Coquelin.

As time has gone on and novelty of having a player who had energy and liked a tackle in midfield wore off, it’s more clear that it was the Spaniard who made it function for the most part. People say we need to find a new Cazorla, which I think misses the point – not least because two-footed geniuses are rather hard to come by, because if they were ten a penny everyone would have one.

I’m not sure that the manager knows what he wants from his midfield, which is why he’s find it hard to make it work. We’ve gone from a three with Mesut Ozil at the apex, to a two with a deep-lying playmaker and a hard runner, but you can’t look at our performances and weaknesses and not ignore the fact we often end up exposed in this area of the pitch.

Given the players we have at our disposal, I’d like to see us return to a back four, and play the extra man in the centre of midfield to see if it might allow us to assert some control over that area of the pitch. Our emergency implementation of the back three provided an improvement in results but not defensive solidity, and now it feels more like a crutch than the way forward.

Going back to Watford, when they equalised we lacked something, no question. The players retreated and invited pressure, but much of that was down to the changes Wenger made. Giroud for Lacazette before the goal was not helpful, nor was his decision to leave Wilshere on the bench until the 85th minute.

We could have shown character from the bench, made a substitution which could have changed the dynamic of the game, yet we allowed Watford to build the kind of momentum which reached its inevitable conclusion with the injury time goal. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s too easy to point at this player or that player and say they lack mettle or desire, when the issues run far, far deeper than that.

And until such time as we have clarity about how we want to play football, I think we’ll continue to see games like the one at Watford interspersed with periodic good form which is what makes the games like Watford so frustrating.

Anyway, I’ll leave you this morning with this week’s Arsecast, looking back at the Europa League win, Wilshere’s push for greater involvement, Ozil’s future and an Everton preview as well. Back tomorrow for that trip to Goodison Park, until then have a good Saturday.



  1. Isn’t part of the problem that we haven’t bought enough central midfielders over the last few years, irrespective of how much they cost? Only Elneny and Xhaka brought in for a fee since Arteta? That for me was the most frustrating part of the 2015 summer of inactivity.

    • Xhaka is off form and maybe needs a rest but is one of Aw’s best signings and is as creative as any midfielder in the Premiership and Mustafi is a fine defender. You don’t become a regular in the German team by being bad. We have problems but those 2 are not to blame

  2. just going over and over old ground blogs, as long as wengers in charge nothing is going to change, so we might aswell get used to it, nothing we say or do will change anything.

    • The Wenger era will come to a end soon. For all his recent faults… The man has delivered real success during his early days.

      The Kroenke fed melancholy is never ending. A parasite. The previous custodians of this club tend to be overlooked for their part in bringing in this leech. Dein, Fiszman, Nina…. Shame!

      • I agree. We need a concerted effort to get him out of the club. Songs and protests inside the ground against Kroenke at every game. His son will witness it and relay to the silent one. TV will record it and future investors in his empire will hesitate. AFC cannot be allowed to become equity for his expansion plans. It’s down to the fans now…no one else will do it!

  3. We need to change the manager and coaching staff. Everyone knows that now. We’ve had the same story every season for years now. Sadly it’s becoming a little boring, and more than a little frustrating

  4. Wenger is done. He’s finish. He probably don’t even care any more. His team selection is weird and his ability to switch between systems is weak. 343 is not always the answer and he doesn’t wanna let go of it. Other managers play different formations according to their opponents meanwhile Wenger stick to the same formation for the entire season. He’s done he must give up. The team has less central defenders but still playing 343. Currently I feel switching back to 4231 will work but stubborn Wenger will never consider it… I’m done with Arsenal. Come January we will see our best players leave and they will probably not be replaced

    • If you’re done with Arsenal…
      I would guess you’re probably younger than 35…
      I would guess you came to the club in the last decade or, at best, 15 years. Drank in Wenger’s successes and loved every minute, as any good fan should.
      But a good fan should also be a good supporter – and the term ‘supporter’ means exactly that: no team needs your support when they’re smashing in goals every week and sitting 10 points clear at the top!
      They need it when the press and everyone else is questioning everything about them – most especially their commitment.
      They need it when a half-arsed (sic!) ref gives a shite penalty to steal their hard-won lead.
      They need it when questions are swirling around certain ‘star’ players’ futures and commitment.
      They need it when their manager seems to temporarily have lost his mojo, making irrational and perhaps, ill-informed tactical decisions.
      That is what ‘support’ – and being a ‘supporter’ truly means.

      Because, my fair-weather friend, this club is neither about any particular player(s), or a particular manager, or even a board or chairman. Nor is it about any particular ‘supporter’, such as yourself…
      It’s a crazy, wonderful, frustrating but ultimately sometimes joyous amalgamation of all those things, strewn across countless decades… decades during which OUR club is STILL:
      the only club never relegated (either from the old 1st or the Prem)…
      the only club ever to go a full season unbeaten…
      the only club to string 17 consecutive years in the ECL

      We may not have done the treble – but numerous clubs have done that… what we have done, NO OTHER CLUB has ever done.

      I fear that your shortsighted view might perhaps not stretch to a wider, broader vision of just what Arsenal is… but give it go mate.

      Or, if you’d rather not, then just go.

      • Maybe that is all true but at the heart of it you’re a consumer announcing your undying loyalty to a brand. You may not want to think that but all insiders in football think. Obviously Kroenke thinks that, moved his brand across America for a bigger market share. Liverpool owners had on their website “transforming fans into customers” (they removed it but google articles about it). Also it’s not ‘our’ club unfortunately, it’s Stan Kroenke’s club.

        • Phew – you miss my point entirely my friend!
          It is most certainly not Kroenke’s ‘brand’, he simply owns some shares in a legal entity, as set down on paper.
          But if you believe that is all that Arsenal is, you’re tragically narrow in your outlook. Arsenal has become a brand, I agree – but that is only part of what is is – it has always been so much more. And still is.
          Let me put it this way:
          what do suppose would happen if Stan decided to ‘close’ Arsenal? Do you believe it would ever actually transpire? Hardly! …the torch would pass – and hopefully to a more worthy bearer.
          All that remains to us, is to stay true to our club – not a ‘brand’ as you so narrowly term it. Arsenal IS a brand – but only in the commercial sense… that speaks nothing of the grandfathers who’ve ushered awestruck grandsons onto the Highbury, and now Emirates, terraces, of the many millions of pints sunken (and spilled), of the arguments won and lost, of trains taken (and missed), dodgy hotels booked in any number of European cities…
          Certainly, our CLUB is shinier and slicker than if has been in the past. It has a scale and physical grandeur that carries a whole other set of pressures and expectations… but when that final whistle blows, it is still a simple spectrum of more than a century of joy, pain, hope, frustration, laughter and tears that makes up Arsenal.
          And that, my friend, will stand far beyond the day when Mr Kroenke’s lucre-encrusted bones have turned to dust.
          In what form, I cannot say… But we have seen better – and far worse – than Uncle Stan.
          And we’re still here.

          • It is a brand, whether the “just a brand ” is appropriate is a question of perspective.
            It’s like Triggers everlasting broom – look it up if you don’t understand. Clearly the broom isn’t the same one.

            We sign up to these allegiances because we need to be part of something but the reality is that over time it’s only the brand that remains:the players change, the kit, the managers and even the owners change and also the ground. So what’s the ONLY common denominator? The brand.

            Which also makes us consumers.

  5. Do we not need about £2/300 million + worth of investment over the next year to be where we want to be regardless of how much Wenger is or isnt doing what we think he should be?
    The fees payed for Ozil/Mustafi,Xhaka and Sanchez look very small the way the market has gone

    • No point spending that amount of money with the current manager and coaching staff. We are so slow in our approach play and play more across the park than forward. The coaching needs to be changed so we can change the style of play. Bring in Benitez and give him the money to buy players. We are too easy to play against, teams just get everyone behind the ball and sit back and watch us passing from side to side.

  6. I genuinely fear every game we play away from home as more often than not if we concede the first goal then it’s curtains for our chances.

  7. Couldn’t agree more with this, and it is too simple to chalk it up to some lack of character. Over the past three years, we’ve had periods of dominant, unified football, in which everyone seems to know exactly what to do and it works brilliantly; we’ve had periods uneven, disjointed football, where we haven’t been good enough but still find the points; and we’ve had utterly shameful periods in which it is clear that either the coaching staff have not given the players any design to the game and others when it is clear that the players, on that day, are not good enough to execute the plan — or both. Everyone is at fault, but the mainstay complaint has to rest with Wenger. The move to the back three last year worked psychologically, and credit for that, but it’s not the system to bring out the best in these players (who all have attack in their dna), and I think it, instead, sends the team on the pitch afraid to concede a goal (we’ve got our resources invested in defence, so if they score, we’re screwed, we’re terrible …). Wenger has to go back to his core beliefs and his favourite formation, and get the players working that system to its potential (the Leicester-winning season we were actually quite good, but our finishing was shockingly bad and we dropped way too many points on the doorstep). The midfield is football – have to win it there to control the game, and we’re not as bad there as people think, we just haven’t focused our football there in a while. Xhaka, Ramsey, Wilshere (great to have that name back in the mix), Ozil, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi — a good mix of everything in that, and enough there for a manager to balance his side’s play. Sadly, and this lurks in the background of the article above, I think, it will probably take a few more catastrophic losses before we see any change on the pitch.

  8. Every arsecast you talk about reverting to a back four, almost like we’ve never tried it before… It would make no difference.

    The problem IS motivation and application. When you see a team win the cup beating better teams or going into tough games organized and and grind out results. When you see the players with real quality producing one week but then they go away from home and play shit, lacking energy and ideas all of a sudden. It’s not the formation, or that they’ve forgotten how to play football, it’s that they’ve decided today isn’t as important so they’ll coast through it hoping it’s enough.

    They’ll lose a game, try hard in the next half dozen then take their foot off again… We annually turn up with 10 games to go when we need results to achieve minimum expectation. It’s easier to get up for half a dozen cup games than 38 in the PL. How don’t you see that Blogs?

  9. Mourinho teams have always had and will always have the problem of being too rigid in their organisation. They only know how to react. Score a goal against them and it’s game over. Very rarely do they ever overturn a goal deficit

  10. Plenty of over reaction.

    I mean the angst is certainly justified and the lack of belief in the manager too.

    But remember sometimes it takes only minor tweaks to transform a poor tem (Chelsea two seasons ago) into a title winning one.

    Midfield has been a major problem for 4 seasons on now without Santi.

    Wenger’s problem is he entrust too much in internal development or players returning for him from injury. The risk do not outweigh the merits.

    Regardless of 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-3, we will never be able to find a sustained balance without the correct mix of personnel.

    There’s a very good team in the current Arsenal Wenger has formulated. BUT we are not getting the best out of it with the midfield at present.

    This isn’t to say Granit is a poor player either. he is an extremely critical player for us whose long passing range allows us to transition quicker into an attack.

    BUT his faults have not been balanced out with the right partnership at present and certainly we do ourselves no favours not ensuring back up to his current abilities should he also get a knock.

    I think Jack can be a critical player for us with his better maturity now. He has the ability to drive through the middle but also he can pass a ball from deep. Our issue with him will of course be upon his availability.

    Ramsey IMO can work next to Granit but eventually, his instincts are to attack and eventually, he may lose discipline and foray forward. We’ve seen it with both Flamini and Coquelin before. The Welshman would hold well with both players for some stretch and then lose concentration and expose them because he wants to push forward. IMO Ramsey should really be played in Ozil’s position as his altrenate.

    Coquelin can eventually learn to complement Granit but neither player is in the attacking sense a player who forays forward effectively.

    Elneny as I have mentioned many times is a decent player but mediocre in ability, one we signed to be content coming off the bench but is that good enough in our context? No.

    I think one player we have yet to try in a slightly deeper role is Iwobi. The lad has power and quick feet to hold next to Granit but also an eye for a sharp pass from deep. Somehow, Wenger prefers to risk him higher up.

    Then there’s Santi.

    So the search continues to find midfield balance. If internal development is not the solution we have to cull from market.

    • Santori – did you watch the Watford game?? Iwobi was dire! He scarcely put in ONE tackle the entire game. To moot him as a ‘solid’ mid is mindbendingly misplaced! He has talent, certainly, but is only interested in driving forward and getting the glory – possibly down to his youth, but it is a disturbingly selfish quality and most definitely not what you want in a reliable midfielder!
      At present, he is lazy, self-interested and lacks any commitment to putting in the hard yards. God help us if he has to underpin our midfield spine!

    • Agree about everything except iwobi. We’ll be getting the same from him as Ramsey. He’s just not CM enough to play beside Granit.

      Wilshere is the one to replace Ramsey in the middle of the park to partner Granit. Then Ozil can do his thing.

  11. WE “lack a working system” ???

    Blogs and you other newbys pay attention pls…
    We’re all in this together!

  12. I think one of our major problems is playing players out of position. I realise sometimes there’s no choice due to injury etc, however that is a squad depth problem (having no proper replacement wing backs for example). Also, Wenger has previously stated that he wants players that can play in any position but, in doing this, is he sacrificing the development of some of them into the world class talent they were touted to be when they joined the club/moved up to the first team?

  13. I’d say it’s a roll of the dice each game : lack of character & resilience, poor choice of team, poor tactics/system, bad luck/referee, etc… You just don’t know what’s going to happen.

    Stronger leadership on the field would undoubtedly help to fight against the sort of weakness we saw against Watford last week. There’s no clear headed warrior telling the team to push back out in a group and relieve the pressure. Whatever system is in place cowards always panic and end up with their backs to the wall (I include England in that too).


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