Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Welbeck's the scapegoat, Wenger's the sinner


"Even though there is time for it, the summer is already showing signs of turning into anarchy. Late deals, panic buys, injury crises, unprepared squads... this will turn into a repeat of summer 2011 under Wenger. I guarantee it. And I'll quote this on September 2nd (that is, if Wenger stays, of course)."


I wrote that on 4th May, four months from today, confident, but not exactly thrilled, that I'd be proved right. Arsene Wenger, stubbornly predictable as he is, has once again left Arsenal unprepared number-wise to compete for the league, panic purchasing Danny Welbeck when fans and the media were closing in on him.


Before I start, let me clarify that I have nothing against Welbeck. He's young, he ticks a lot of boxes and he'll score goals. As I mentioned earlier, he can be a target man and he's quick. He's like a mash-up of the good traits of Sanogo and Giroud, with scope to improve. He's obviously a short-term solution, but may also offer us something in the long-term.

My anger towards the manager is in no way connected to Welbeck. In fact, it was a bit lessened by it. However, what Wenger has done has been criminal and inescapable - in a transfer window which was supposed to help us compete - he's led the club towards a completely unnecessary risk, assembling only six defenders for four positions. To compound it, he's made a mess of the William Carvalho saga again; offering £21.3m when just a couple more would have done the trick.

Our defensive position is a joke. Sure, we have a very good first-team pairing in Debuchy-Mertesacker-Koscielny-Gibbs, but you can't say that's enough. Mertesacker and Koscielny played far too many games last season and got away with it, but it's a huge gamble to assume that they'd stay fit the second season around. Gibbs has already proven himself to be unavailable at the worst of times - witness his latest injury. Debuchy is still new to the team and while he offers a lot going forward, he deserves a bedding in time.

Who's beside them? Monreal and Chambers? Both good bench options, but not nearly enough quantity-wise for a 60 game season. What happened to the times when Wenger had 4 to 5 centre backs? How can a manager, who has 18 years of experience in the top flight, be possibly comfortable with employing only six defenders, three of whom are bordering on injuries?

And make no mistake, he is comfortable. All throughout summer the only concrete links we had to a defender was a swap deal for Smalling or Jones for Vermaelen, and that didn't materialize.

On a day when we needed at least one centre back to make do (and even in my book that wasn't enough), Wenger went to Rome to officiate a charity match. He actually dithered on deadline day. He didn't bother to look at his team and do what others had implored him to do a year ago, buy a defensive midfielder. He has knowingly, consciously, refused to strengthen where it was most ideal.

In most other areas we're well stocked, but it's so irritating that Wenger has failed number-wise that it seems the frustration has numbed into my veins. Expecting Wenger to fall two or three players short, regardless of the circumstance, has actually become part and parcel of being an Arsenal fan. We hope for better but see more of the same. We hope for ambition and we get nothing. We hope for Arsene to take us over the line, but yet again he only seems to take us to fourth.

In the end, we suffer and he doesn't. We angrily watch the team falter against big sides and Wenger watches on. He knows in the end he'll get Champions League. He knows that he'll suck the money out of every Gooner. He knows he'll be paid £8m per annum. He knows that he is accountable to no one. He knows that the board and half of the fans are scared of change. Why disturb the cycle of inaction, when he can keep his money safe and (most of) the fans happy?

Ivan Gazidis said that we could compete with Bayern Munich by 2014. Tell me right now if you think that Arsenal are capable of winning the Champions League. Even if we adopt to wing play and be lucky with injuries we'd struggle to make the semi finals. And that's not an insult to the players Arsenal have, it's a direct complaint towards the manager.

Perhaps the nature of how deadline day underwent caused some people to forget how good a squad we have. I won't lie - I still think this is the best Arsenal squad for a decade. We've got pace, power and goals scattered across our starting XI, and we have plenty of depth to call upon. Except perhaps a DM, we have quality in all positions. What we lacked was quantity in defence, which we didn't get.

However, I don't have high hopes of any competitive trophies this season. And that's sincerely no disrespect to the players - who I find a very good bunch to support - but it's completely down to the manager. Regardless of his deadline day ditherings Wenger has a very good team on his hands, but I can still bet top dollar that he will not bring out the best of them.

How could he? For one, Wenger has been one of the most amateur tacticians I have ever seen. He's been that way since I can remember, but it was only last year that deficiency was ruthlessly exposed and documented at the Etihad, Anfield, Stamford Bridge and Goodison. Wenger knows as much about footballing tactics as Harry Styles, no amount of financial resources or support from the board will change that.

He could have bought Pogba, Hummels and Thiago Silva and we'd still lose the title. Buying the top players requisite for sustaining a title challenge is all well and good, but managing them throughout the rigours of a season by playing them in their favoured positions and resting them at the right times requires just as much managerial skill. Does Wenger have it? This season so far, he's chosen to play Ozil out of position rather than choose fresh legs in Podolski or Joel Campbell!

The 4-1-4-1 has already been a failure, but Wenger won't change it back to the preferred 4-2-3-1 soon enough. He should, especially considering that our DMs are the weak links and they at least need to be supported, but he won't. For reasons known to only himself, he'd rather leave our defensively-suspect DMs isolated rather than stick to a formation that gave him relative success last season. For five out of five matches we've looked unconvincing, yet it's a nailed on certainty that he won't change a thing for a crucial Manchester City game.

What's the logic in playing Mesut Ozil out wide? What's the sense in claiming Sanchez can play centre forward all his life, and then playing him on the right? Why start Yaya Sanogo when a World Cup stalwart and a German international sit on the bench? Podolski may have his drawbacks as a centre forward, but he's still miles ahead of Sanogo.

The point of having a strong bench is so that they can be rotated to avoid fatigue. Did we do that? We played 5 games in 15 days, and didn't rotate Alexis Sanchez for Podolski, Campbell or Rosicky in all of them. Wenger would have doubtless done the same to Ramsey had he not been sent off; Ozil had he not been on international duty; or Arteta had he not been injured. What's the point of having strength in depth if Wenger isn't going to use it?

Knowing Wenger, there's a good chance the likes of Sanchez, Ramsey and Ozil are going to face injuries directly connected to fatigue. Knowing Wenger, he's not going to design specific tactics to nullify the opposition's strengths. Knowing Wenger, he's not going to buy a defender unless Calum Chambers breaks his ankle. Knowing Wenger, he's not going to push for first if his money isn't on the line.

Some ambition. Some era.

-Santi [Follow me on Twitter @ArsenalBlogz ]