You still reeling? Or are you a stage ahead of me in our title challenge and are now in the ‘acceptance’ phase that probably, in reality, the title was never on.
Damn Leicester, eh? Damn them not because they lost to United yesterday, but because they sewed a seed of hope in pretty much every team – certainly in the top half – that dared us to believe that if the conditions were right, it momentum and a run of games could be made, any team can fire themselves to the title.
What they had last year though, was a series of conditions that it feels to me like this Arsenal team cannot have. Certainly under Arsène.
Firstly, there’s the fixture list. Leicester dumped themselves out of everything early on, which allowed for a focused attack on the league which worked in their favour. It meant bodies could be recharged and minds would not be wearied by the playing of 60 odd games by the end of the season. By virtue of the fact of the Champions League, as well as the depth of our squad in comparison to Leicester’s, teams at the top rarely get dumped out of every competition because usually their rotated players are Good enough to see them through at least a few rounds of competition. When Leicester rotated last season in the cups they were promptly dismissed.
Secondly, there’s that old adage of playing to a system that works, which is something you can’t exactly give thumbs up to with regards to this Arsenal team. The team just looks like it doesn’t have any direction at times. It dowas ant really seem to have an identity. Arsène has assembled – in my opinion – a vast array of talented players, but unlike the Leicester ‘Sun of its parts’, Arsenal seem to be the antethesis of that this season. The result is games like Saturday, in which we look rudderless and when the chips are down, completely out of ideas. Which brings me to the third reason…
‘Mental strength’. That old chestnut. Leicester had a resilience about them that meant they could keep plugging away last season. Chelski are doing that this season. I didn’t think they were miles better than us, they just knew who they were and what they had to do and got on with it. This Arsenal team doesn’t really have the feel of a team pulling in one direction. It looks exactly what it is: a collective of very talented footballers who have technical ability, but no structure.
That has to come from the manager. He has to be the one that builds the identity of the team. I’ve heard the stories about how Arsène pretty much let the Invincibles self-manage at times. They were a collective of players who were intelligent enough when something went wrong and could recalibrate without the manager needing to tinker. Arsène gave them his trust to work it out themselves and they did. Having been through the Groundhog Day that we’ve had for at least the last four years, one can only conclude that modern day Arsenal players simply aren’t capable of that. They need to be guided in a system that they understand and trust. That’s just not Arsène Wenger and so the option is clear: change the whole team for a selective of players who can operate under their own volition, or change the manager. Given that you’d also need to get all of those players to play together for a while, it’s probably a lot quicker fix (and cheaper) than changing the one man who runs the show, who can’t get the best out of the players at the moment.
These are just three things I can think of that show me that we were operating under a false hope from the beginning of the season. I suspect deep down in my subconscious I have always known these to be true, but as a football fan when you start the season you have hope. That most blindest of things: faith. But as usual by January/February it’s washed away and all you’re left feeling is what we all feel now – that we were stupid to have such belief in the team.
And isn’t that just a crying shame. I remember being 20 years old. We’d just won the 2002 double and I remember thinking “I hope Arsène Wenger stays at Arsenal for another 20 years. Perhaps that was naive because I was under the assumption that the footballing landscape wouldn’t change. I thought a man who could build teams like 1998, 2002 and then 2004, could have a legacy like Ferguson. But football inevitably evolves and now I find myself remember those specific words I told myself and making a weary, ironic, smile. We’re being told ‘be careful what you wish for’ at the moment, when people start to suggest that change of manager might be a good idea. But I wished for something 20 years ago and got exactly what I wanted. That’s a manager who has stayed in a job a little bit too long.
I remember being told by some Newcastle fans about how Sir Bobby Robson stayed at the club a little bit too long. I couldn’t believe they’d say that about somebody who they idolised. Even at the time – which was a couple of seasons after he had gone as manager – I couldn’t believe they’d want an idol out because it wasn’t right for the club for him to stay. They said it was with a heavy heart but it was the right thing to do for the club.
That’s how I feel about Arsène. I respect the man so much for what he has done, but he needs to step away for the benefit of the club, so we can all move in to the post Arsène era.
Football has changed. Sadly, Arsène has not.
Catch you all tomorrow.