Love him or hate him, Arsene Wenger is a stubborn man. In the space of four days, Arsenal threw away a 1-0 lead against Liverpool after scoring in the 97th minute but committing a penalty in the 102nd minute, which was converted by Dirk Kuyt. Then, in the North London derby with Arsenal leading 3-1 in the first half, they allowed Tottenham Hotspur to come back to draw the match 3-3.
These two matches as well as similar games earlier in the season (such as the 4-4 draw with Newcastle and the 3-2 loss against Spurs even though the Gunners were two-nil ahead) illustrate that Arsenal need to improve. In many ways, this season, more than any other in recent memory, was Arsenal’s best bet to win the title with Manchester United not at their best, Chelsea floundering and rivals Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham unable to keep a consistent run of form.
So what is Arsene Wenger’s response to all of this? He’s sticking to his principles and believes that if his side can win the remaining five games, they can win the Premier League title.
“The team is [an average age of] 23 years old, why should we expect to have a huge turnover at the end of the season?” said Wenger, on the topic of whether he will be using the £40m transfer kitty this summer to bring in a flood of new footballers to replace some of his inexperienced playmakers. “I am convinced that if we win our five games we will win the championship. But the target is to win the next one and let’s focus, give absolutely everything to do it. We have played 16 games without losing. What I feel is most important for us is to keep the belief and to win. This championship will go to the most solid team, mentally, not necessarily to anybody else.”
In some ways, I respect Wenger for sticking to his guns. He absolutely has a devout belief in the way that he’s managing the team that will work in the long run. But despite his accomplishments in keeping Arsenal financially stable, when is enough enough? When does someone say that time has run out if no silverware has been won? Will Arsenal always be an also-ran and will Arsenal supporters be content with that?
While there are undoubtedly some very talented youngsters at Arsenal, the Gunners still need new more experienced players on this side. I respect what Wenger is doing. In the short term, he’s trying to keep his players motivated to go out there and rise to the challenge. But it just doesn’t seem to be enough. Is it that Arsenal’s players are underperforming or is that Wenger is making mistakes, or a combination of the two or none of the above?
Personally I believe that Wenger is doing the best he can with what he has. His players can do better. But a key reason why they’ve been unable to reach their peak during the past several weeks is that they’re missing a leader. Liverpool have found a way to play just as well, if not better, when Gerrard is out injured. Arsenal have yet been able to do the same when Fabregas is injured or is having a underwhelming game. Other than requiring more experienced players who can be leaders on the field for Arsenal, they also need a different dimension to their football. I don’t believe they can go out and play attacking football week-in week-out and win championships. Arsenal need a Plan B so they can play defensively when they have to. But this is where the issues arise with Wenger. The man is too stubborn to change his tactics. If only he could develop a different side to Arsenal, so they can switch to a defensive style of play when they need to hold on for a victory, Arsenal would be able to reach higher in the league and in the Champions League.
So even if Wenger does get a £40m treasure chest this summer to buy new players, I’m convinced he’ll go out and buy more young players that fit into his model. He may buy a goalkeeper to strengthen the side there, but I don’t believe he’s being honest with himself. Either that, or he doesn’t believe there are issues with his team. And if that’s true, it’s scary because almost everyone else can see the holes in this Arsenal side that need to be fixed to make them more successful.
I believe the only way to fix Arsenal and to make them into a silverware winning side is to develop an Arsenal side who can play defensively when needed. Without that, I’m convinced that Arsenal will keep on repeating the same mistakes over and over again. And the only person who change that right now is Arsene Wenger. And if he’s not willing to change it, then perhaps it’s time to consider a different manager. Imagine what Jose Mourinho would do if he was in Wenger’s shoes. Would he keep the team at a status quo, or would he purchase proven players who could fit into his system, that could play defensively-sound games when needed?