Published in Arsenal Mania.
At the start of this season, the majority lauded what we perceived to be the finished article. Finally, after what had seemed an age, our squad had the necessary tools to compete with the very best in our league.
Year after year of putting up with strict budgets and excuses from the Board and Arsene Wenger had begun to take its toll on our patience. Promises made and subsequently broken regarding our competitiveness only served to push our tolerance levels to their highest.
It was time, and like a Hollywood script, we finally rode into the screen in the nick of time with the winning formula.
Granit Xhaka had performed admirably for Switzerland in Euro2016, and his displays in the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach had the experts purring about his talent. Our midfield had been crying out for a potent mixture of pugilist and transitional master, and Xhaka from deep had shown he was adept at both.
We had all been painfully aware of our defensive shortcomings, with Mertesacker getting no younger and Gabriel yet to prove his worth. When we finally met the asking price Valencia were asking for German international Shkodran Mustafi, it appeared excellent business.
Mustafi was in La Liga’s team of the year in his time with Valencia. He was a regular in Joachim Low’s Germany squad. In his first months as a Gunner, he did not taste defeat.
It appeared as though we had finally found the secret recipe. Our patience had been rewarded.
The cherry on the cake was Lucas Perez.
The striker from Deportivo La Corun had an impressive goal return, and his clever touches in and around the box looked like we had the perfect attacker to complement our style of play.
Fast forward to the present day, and a large percentage of our fans think our players are suddenly not good enough.
What has changed, aside from results?
Results are the currency on which football lives on. When we are not achieving results, then everything is open for discussion.
Our level of talent in the squad has not changed, so why do a large percentage of our fans now think we need a clearout?
It is down to mentality.
When the chips are down, it is the competitiveness, the desire for victory that picks up players from their haunches and ensures they carry on. Well, an unacceptable run of results from January through April cost us dearly and have left this season as the worst under Wenger, but nearly every player has at times appeared to be downtrodden and lacking the spirit to fight their way out of this problem.
And it is exactly this that we need. That Arsene Wenger needs in order for our team to start crawling back up the league. As the players seem unable to reverse the fortunes on the pitch and sometimes don’t appear as if they want to – does the blame for this fall at the manager’s or the players feet?
Both. The players we have at our disposal are far better than results suggest, and it is quite obvious the current regimen does not fit well for our players. They have seemed ill at ease. Our players don’t look like they want to put in the effort.
Whether that is because they are assured of their place and have lost their edge, or it is down to tactics is unanswerable. The only people who know the root cause of our apparent demise are the ones who are in our dressing room every week.
A clearout of our players may be a bit hasty though. Early in the season, they were good enough in all of our eyes, as results were of a sufficient standard to see us near where we perceive them to be. Now the results have dried up, but these are the same players as before.
A different manager may just be the exact ingredient needed to summon the best from the players who are not doing the business for us right now. It may need someone in the squad to finally step up and give them the tongue-lashing they sorely need.
It may require this group to wake up and realise they are doing our club and our badge a great disservice, and they MUST do better.
Either way, we have seen they are capable of doing better than they are right now. Have we all become unable to discern what is simply bad form and what is a lack of skill?
Some players have worn out their ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card, and some deserve the benefit of the doubt. A lot will happen in the summer and pre-season, and it will tell us if these men have the fire in their bellies that we need, or if the fire has been put out.
The scene you set re the start of the current season, with anticipation running high as a result of the acquisitions added to the existing pool of talent captures the very essence of my expectations – this was to be the commencement of another magical period!
Then the second phase -‘So what has changed?’
I believe, as I’ve mentioned in previous comments to some of previous your articles, that the tide of our opening successes started to ebb the moment that Santi Carzola was injured.
The flow from back to front became knocking the ball from side to side, the ‘star’ attackers became frustrated followed by a seeming loss of heart. Rumours abounded about the loyalty and attitude of several players in the media. The manager questioned their mindset (a real boost to anyone’s self esteem) without genuinely accepting any responsibility.
The new recruits have shown some of their skills and ability, but only in brief flashes and rarely within the confines of the same game.
Until the final stages of the campaign we experienced the entrenched reluctance to change the way the team are set up, plus a distinct lack of defensive tactics. This, I believe, fuelled the supporters derision and I include myself in that group.
We constantly witnessed the stubborn ‘banging of the head on a brick wall’ philosophy up to the point when, on the brink of the 11th hour, a change in the defensive arrangement up alleviated the ‘head banging’ and some relief has occurred.
Whilst I welcome the positive outcome of the recent transformation, I don’t subscribe to the idea that all is well again and that we are on the road to success, although no doubt it will give some succour to the “in Arsene we believe” squad, all of whom seem to have doctorates in straw grabbing.
So now its all down to the final day of the Premiership season with our destiny in the hands of others if we are to qualify for the Champions League.
The critical point of your article is the issue of who will want to stay and whom we should release or put up for sale.
To move that process forward we must first establish who to keep and are they willing to stay then who do we wish to add to our line up and sign them, before the ‘clear out’ can be contemplated. It all sounds simple when you say or write it quickly whereas to successfully complete the exercise will take a great deal of skill and ability.
This in turn raises the matter of who will make the afore mentioned decisions, not the incumbent I would hope. To leave that issue unresolved will create a greater problem than we already have. To remain with the status quo will only lead to another season of status quo.
This now focuses the whole dilemma at the boardroom table and raises the question – “Have the Board got the mettle to take the necessary steps?”
Instead of listening to the nonsensical mumblings of their manager, i.e. “All the seats are paid for, we have a full stadium”, when obviously there were swathes of unoccupied places, the Board should acknowledge that the long suffering support are serious about the future of the club.
It doesn’t take a financial genius to work out that success on the field equates to a healthy bank balance, then everyone will be happy and not just one person who is stuck with an ideology that worked a long time ago.
I sincerely hope this whole thing is satisfactorily concluded before I travel cross country to Sydney in July.
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