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Arsene Wenger at the Root of Arsenal’s Problems

Arsene Wenger was rightfully under fire from Arsenal supporters and the press following the Gunners’ disappointing 0-0 result against Aston Villa from this past weekend.

Chants of “You don’t know what you’re doing” rained down on Arsene Wenger from his own travelling fans after the Arsenal manager brought on defensive midfielder Francis Coquelin for striker Olivier Giroud. The reaction was eerily similar to the response Wenger received last season when he withdrew Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in favor of Andrey Arshavin against Manchester United. Wenger’s decision on Saturday seemed unnecessarily defensive in a match against a Villa side wallowing in the relegation zone. Additionally, Giroud has been scoring goals—four in his last five matches.

When asked to explain the substitution, Wenger defiantly told reporters: “What is the thinking behind the substitution? I will not explain every decision I make. I have managed for 30 years at the top level and I have to convince you [journalists] I can manage the team?”

The Coquelin-for-Giroud change was not the only questionable decision made by Wenger at Villa Park. He also took out Lukas Podolski and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and threw on Gervinho and Arshavin. Gervinho was thrust into the center after Giroud’s departure, and the Ivorian failed to make an impact on the game. By the end of the match, Arsene Wenger’s eleven looked more like a disjointed, relegation-embattled side than a team with serious top four ambitions.

However, not all of the Gunners’ problems can be attributed to poorly-planned player switches. Arsenal also lack creativity and energy in the attack. Despite the presence of Spanish playmaker Santi Cazorla, Arsenal still failed to really threaten Aston Villa’s makeshift back four. Paul Lambert, who was watching from the stands due to his touchline ban, was without left-back Joe Bennett, centre-back Richard Dunne, and occasional defender Chris Herd.

Part of the reason for the Gunners’ attacking troubles again stems back to Arsene Wenger. He insists on playing Aaron Ramsey whenever possible—in the midfield and on the wing. The Welshman works hard, but he simply doesn’t have the quality necessary to be so consistently named in Arsene Wenger’s starting eleven. Ramsey cannot cross the ball well; gives the ball away too much; doesn’t score; and cannot really defend. While Ramsey is still young, he shouldn’t be such an important member of Arsenal’s squad. He should be there to provide depth, and nothing beyond that.

Of course, it is easy to poke holes in Wenger’s scheme without suggesting any possible solutions. Perhaps the solution for the current lack of creativity is introducing Francis Coquelin into the midfield three when one of the usual starters (Wilshere, Cazorla, or Arteta) is unable to play. On Saturday, Arteta was forced into a holding role (because Ramsey was deputizing for Wilshere) that doesn’t suit his strengths as an inventive distributor of the ball. Coquelin—a natural defensive midfielder—could concentrate on the defensive duties while Arteta and Cazorla could focus on providing the attacking inspiration.

Another major issue that must be addressed is the squad’s lack of depth. To this point, Arsene Wenger may appear to be a victim; though he made the problem for himself. With Theo Walcott out with a shoulder injury, Arsene Wenger had only Gervinho, who is just returning after his own injury absence, and Arshavin. Neither player uplifted the team when he arrived on the pitch; in fact, both probably had the opposite effect.

Contrast Arsenal’s thin squad to the players the managers of Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City have at their disposal when they are chasing three points. Ferguson, with a myriad of forwards already on the pitch, brought on Javier Hernandez against QPR on Saturday, and the Mexican star contributed his guaranteed goal off the bench. Chelsea always have a plethora of talent to call on when they are down. Against Real Madrid, Mancini brought on Carlos Tevez, James Milner and Javi Garcia. Arsenal’s bench doesn’t compare well to the teams they strive to compete with.

Arsene Wenger’s belief in young, inexperienced players has yielded results in Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but it also has very significant disadvantages. One of which is severe gap between the preferred starters and the reinforcements. Arsenal Chief Executive Ivan Gazidis has promised that the money from Arsenal’s new sponsorship deal with Emirates Airlines (worth £150 million in total) will be used to strengthen the squad. Furthermore, Arsenal’s revenue will be increased by the Premier League’s new television deal and a new kit-manufacturer contract (likely with Adidas).  Perhaps Wenger should considering utilizing that cash to replenish his squad starting from the bottom—replacing stagnant players such as Arshavin and Johan Djourou with quality back-ups who can pressure for places in the starting eleven.

Ultimately, Arsene Wenger is at the heart of Arsenal’s problems. He only signs players to maintain the team’s level of performance—not to improve upon it. By only doing enough, Wenger can rely on the same, tired excuses for why his starting eleven sometimes appears to be a patchwork set of spare parts instead of a purposely-assembled team. And he is increasingly committing tactical errors and player selection mistakes.

It is not time for Wenger to be sacked; he has earned the right to not be evaluated by the club until the season is finished. But it is time to start asking questions. Judging by Wenger’s comments to reporters after the draw against Aston Villa, he’s not willing to answer any.

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  1. segy

    November 27, 2012 at 2:11 pm

    nice article but you are economical with the truth concerning chelsea’s depth.where’s the depth in the attack?do they even have depth in midfield to change things? you conveniently left out the names of “choices” in chelsea’s your homework properly.

  2. Frill Artist

    November 26, 2012 at 12:58 pm

    When was the last time Arsenal won a major trophy?

  3. Bergkamp_10

    November 26, 2012 at 11:54 am

    Hey Jack, agree with you for the most part. It’s been really painful to watch my beloved Gunner in this kind of disarray. It’s been happening for few years now. Players aren’t motivated enough and some of them just don’t have the talent to be starters at a top club like Arsenal.

    You bring up good point on Aaron Ramsey. I wrote here last year condemning Wenger for starting Ramsey. I have yet to understand the mentality behind playing Ramsey every single game. It’s just absurd. It’s like playing with 10 men. He has nothing to contribute. He kills our attack with his useless back passes. He holds the ball up for too long before making sideways zombie passes. He runs around like headless chicken all over the field and then the most mind-numbing thing that he does is his inapt flicks and dummies that comes at the most crucial time and all the momentum is lost. I just cringe with horror watching Ramsey play. This guy has brainwashed Wenger, either that or has videotaped Wenger with a stripper. Otherwise what’s the explanation. It’s better we play with 10 men because that way he won’t contribute to our downfall.

    Tired of my club being milked for cash, by Board, by Wenger and by useless players sitting around doing nothing. Even the ones that plays. I want my Arsenal back.

  4. Alex

    November 26, 2012 at 11:22 am

    The author thinks he can manage a club because he can type a few words. Thats the summary of the whole situation here.

    • Herb

      November 26, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      No, the author is simply pointing out that Wenger is a poor tactician not least of which is his late game substitutions. Wenger’s weaknesses and blind spots have been there for everyone to see.It doesn’t require club-managing skill to point that out

      • robert

        November 27, 2012 at 9:42 am

        yeah… poor tactician. he manages a sides that spends a fraction of the $ other top teams spend, and yet is continually in the champions league year after year. he must really blow.

  5. crispen

    November 26, 2012 at 10:27 am

    This is a silly article. Think of the run of games we are in now before asking about the substitutions of Giroud et al.

    • JerZGooner

      November 26, 2012 at 11:14 am

      Agreed. Some decent points but the gauntlet of upcoming fixtures are ignored as are more macro economic issues. Tough to talk about squad depth vs. the Manchester clubs and Chelsea and not mention spend comparisons. This is a decent 30,000 foot view but I think there are more moving parts.

    • Jack Tomczuk

      November 26, 2012 at 12:40 pm

      Giroud was taken out in the 86th minute. Are we really supposed to believe that an extra 7 minutes of rest will really help him for the Everton match on Wednesday?

      Of course, the bigger issue is the lack of depth. Having already used Gervinho and Arshavin (neither of whom are genuine strikers), Wenger had no striker to replace Giroud, so he threw on Coquelin.

  6. Elz

    November 26, 2012 at 10:19 am

    i have been saying this for ages! thank you for putting the idea on the web! arteta is still a play maker! rather than ramsey on the pitch, have coq hold and arteta link up with santi further up the pitch

  7. Marc L

    November 26, 2012 at 8:42 am

    Villa went after that left side like crazy after Gervinho was subbed in and probably should have got something out of it.

    I don’t know why this club should ever be subbing out Giroud at this point. That guy seems like one of the real bright spots for them this year.

  8. Efrain

    November 26, 2012 at 8:39 am

    Good article. Agreed,Ramsey should not be a starter.

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