Footballistically Speaking: the end of the love story

Arsene Wenger introduced to Highbury with the quote “I always say that a manager has a love story with a club and he has to behave like it will be a love story forever but not be stupid enough to believe that it will never end. It could end at any minute, but you have to behave like it will last forever.”

“I always say that a manager has a love story with a club and he has to behave like it will be a love story forever but not be stupid enough to believe that it will never end. It could end at any minute, but you have to behave like it will last forever.” – Arsene Wenger

All relationships eventually end. It’s not something we humans like to think about much but it’s an inescapable fact: we are confronted with endings at almost every turn and yet we remain surprised each time. When a lover leaves we are “shocked” and “never saw that coming.” And when a good friend passes it is always “too soon.” We wish for more time together and yet how much of our time together is spent wasting those moments?

Even our language around these endings is filled with surprise. We are “confronted” with death. That is possibly the most true statement of all time because we humans pretend that death will never come and have to have our heads lifted from our hands to look death in the face when it’s time.

And we have the seven stages of grieving which naturally starts with shock and disbelief, transitioning to anger and depression, and fading away into hope and acceptance. It takes us six stages to get to the point where we accept the inevitable. All relationships end and it takes us forever to be reminded of this fact.

Heartache is wasted on the heartbroken. They wallow in the heartache instead of seeing it as the inevitable outgrowth of love. When we open ourselves to another, we invite not only love and happiness but heartache and sadness. Unless we are the “lucky one” and we die suddenly and tragically, in which case we simply leave the heartache behind for others. It’s still there though. It’s the burden of love.

In between the falling in love and the heartache is all the good stuff. Spinning on a tire swing on a sunny day. Breaking open a loaf of hot, fresh baked bread and eating the whole thing with butter. Catching fireflies in the woods near your house. That big rattler and how your best friend ran home, got a shovel, and chopped off that snake’s head, which was the dumbest thing you probably did as a kid. Staying up until midnight, fishing until your arm got tired in the Alaskan summer. The horrible scream of that first rabbit you ever shot. Your first kiss at that party, in that dark room, with the red curtains, and “Off the wall” playing in the background. Stealing credits to play Dragon’s Lair all day. Watching a kid fall down a half-pipe on his skateboard, fall down and compound fracture his arm. Getting drunk and laughing all night long as your best friend cracks jokes. Having a fight over a game of pool. Cooking a meal together and laughing because you put too much vegetables in the borscht. Kanu jumping over Wiltord as Arsenal win the League at Old Trafford. Patrick Vieira’s run and goal to help seal the title at White Hart Lane. Your friend’s drawing of that moment hanging on your wall. Ljungberg scoring the winner as John Terry falls over. Highbury, and those well worn stairs to the tiny seats on the lower tier: the grass so green it seems like turf. Fabregas’ mullet. The day she was born, and how blue she was because her blood was full of bilirubin and you worried that she was going to die already before you ever even got a chance to know her but she didn’t die and you worried about nothing. A man punching the seat in front of him at Wembley when Martins scored the winner against Arsenal in the League Cup final. A night game in Munich so cold that the ground looked like the ice planet Hoth. Skinny dipping in an alpine lake*. Aaron Ramsey lying on the ground, his arms outstretched, hugging the infinite after scoring the winning goal in the FA Cup final. Hiking along a trail in late fall as dozens of baby toads cross your path to migrate down the mountain. Asking a woman on a date because you like her sassy attitude. Life and love is worth the heartache because of that good stuff.

“A team with good players but a manager they don’t think is good enough, goes nowhere. A great manager with no good players, goes nowhere. Success in football is always a combination of both.” – Wenger 2009

And now we come to the bad stuff. Last night was bad. Arsenal lost 5-1 to a decent enough Bayern Munich team but it wasn’t the gulf in quality between the players that was awful. I accept that there will be better teams and better players than what Arsenal can buy. What made yesterday heartbreaking was that Arsenal were disorganized, yelling at each other constantly in defense, running around (when they felt like running) for no reason, and just lumping the ball out on the rare occasion that they had the ball.

It was a very simple game plan by Bayern and their manager Carlo Ancelotti: just play possession football. They constantly drew Arsenal out of their low block by slowly playing back whenever Arsenal’s players went bombing forward on one of their individual “pressure” moves. Then Bayern calmly played the ball to Alcantara or Lewandowski. Most of the game Bayern barely broke a sweat. It looked like walking football for large portions of the game.

Arsenal didn’t press as a unit and it showed. Ozil led Arsenal in tackles, which is an incredible stat when you watched him play: he basically walked around the pitch for 80 minutes, jogged for 9, and ran for 1. They just had so much of the ball and so much of it right in Özil’s face that he had no choice but to tackle. The video I made for Alcantara’s goal shows in microcosm exactly what I mean.

The score is 2-1 at this point. It’s 55 minutes in to the match. This match far from over and yet watch all of the Arsenal players, listlessly “tackling” and challenging for the ball. Özil goes over and makes a tackle, but only after wandering around for a minute. Then watch Mustafi jawing at Bellerin while Alcantara walks, not runs, into his space. Watch as Mustafi realizes too late. Watch as Mustafi then inexplicably yells at someone else for his error. He got up faster to yell at someone than he did to cover Alcantara.

Everything about this match was exactly what many of us have been warning about for the last few years. Arsenal can’t pass the ball any more. Wenger had a center mid, Coquelin, who made 6/9 passes in 77 minutes and Ox didn’t fare much better with 11/18 passes in 90 minutes. Arsenal don’t press as a unit any more. I counted no less than four different players waving on their teammates to come over and help make a press: Alexis, Xhaka, Özil (which is funny), and Ox. And defensively, Arsenal are a shambles. Koscielny was certainly missed but Bayern scored their second on an aerial duel with Mustafi and their third when Mustafi was yelling at Bellerin or his teammates for something (not pressing, maybe??). Arsenal didn’t lose this match through Koscielny’s replacement, they lost this match because the £35m center back Arsenal purchased this summer is better at disco dancing than at playing defense.

But none of this is news. If you’ve been watching this season it’s clear that this team is lacking direction, organization, and heart. And you have to wonder if Wenger’s quote from 2009 about players who lack belief in the manager isn’t a little bit prescient.

I love Wenger and this heartbreak was inevitable. I’m sorry if this is something you didn’t expect but I’ve been resigned to this happening now for over two years. I’ve moved on to the final stage.

Acceptance.

Qq

*I was offered the chance to have my youth restored by a beautiful, naked, younger woman swimming in a clear, cold, mountain lake, and I refused because I hadn’t brought a towel. Always bring a towel. Or sometimes, just be wet for a little bit.

61 Comments on Footballistically Speaking: the end of the love story

  1. The first part is just wonderful, Tim.
    As for the second, nothing one could add. What I found interesting though is that, when analysing the Bayern players yesterday, it’s not like it was a team full of 100mil Pogbas and Bales.
    Sure, Lewandowski is great, but they got him on a free transfer. Vidal didn’t even cost them 30 mil.
    They got Alcantara for 21, and Douglas Costa for 25. These are players that could have easily fit Arsenal’s transfer policy.
    Add Robben who is 33, Lahm also 30 something, and Alonso who is 36, for God’s sake, and you get a team that doesn’t seem so difficult to assemble. They are world class stars in Bayern, but I wonder if they would have been the same if playing for Arsenal.

  2. It probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you that I agree with your assessment almost word for ward and the only thing I could add is that this Arsenal “performance” indicates to me that Wenger has lost the players in the only way a manager like him could.

    They all love and respect him but they clearly dont believe in whatever vision he has for them to fulfill on the pitch anymore.

    People who refuse to see the chaos or admit that it could only come from lack of proper coaching and belief in a system can point to all kind of psychological conditions of players , but whatever these conditions may or may not be, they always stem from systemic failures to execute certain directives and achieve basic football objectives like : marking, passing, pressing or any other football function Arsenal players haven’t done well consistently at any level of competition in a long time.

  3. copied from the previous thread:

    the only way that arsenal win is if they’re playing a team that’s not talented enough to compete, they’re playing a team that is not settled, or if there is a moment of controversy or brilliance. if not for those factors, arsenal struggle to win. they seldom win against decent teams and NEVER win against good teams. this reality is exacerbated by the fact that there is often no senior guy on the pitch willing and able to take charge when the team is in apparent disarray. wenger won all of his championships when he had adams or vieira on the pitch and has won nothing since.

    this is so plain to see for anyone who’s supported arsenal for any decent length of time. when vieira became captain, he talked about a shared leadership they had. this was the team creating their strategy. those players coming together at arsenal was down to arsene wenger, however, their success was down to them strategizing and executing that strategy. i don’t think it was ever arsene wenger. when arsenal sold vieira, i said that wenger had better prove that he knows what he’s doing because i couldn’t see how arsenal were going to win anything. the past twelve years have told the truth.

    i’ve been a fan of arsenal since before wenger arrived at the club and i’m saying, emphatically, that it’s time for him to go. mind you, i have never said those words before. anyone that provides clear direction, purpose, and motivation to the team will do a better job with these talented players than arsene wenger has because wenger hasn’t given them that.

  4. Stan Kroenke owns teams that are consistently mediocre to bad. Nuggets are down this year, Rams are garbage, the Rapids and Mammoth are poor.

    He is a man who married into wealth and then had the smallest amount of cleverness to piggyback on his wife’s family’s expansion of Walmart stores through the 1980’s and 1990’s by building shopping developments where those stores were the slated to be the main anchor tenants. A sweetheart arrangement, literally. This is a man who by grace of good fortune has wafted upwards through life with barely a set back to speak of, no mountains to climb. Instead he rode the ski lift to the top and learned also along the way how to leverage other people’s money for his use like swindling LA tax payers for a new stadium.

    We bemoan the lack of leadership, but the example is set from on high. Leadership demands accountability. Wenger believes that the players being professionals should look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable. But that is only a fraction of it. He needs to hold players accountable by benching or selling them off underperformers, but he doesn’t. The board does nothing to hold Wenger to account and insist Wenger adapt to the modern game sooner rather than later. And in turn Kroenke does nothing to hold the board to account… because that’s the way he conducts ALL his businesses. If those businesses are making money (and what sports teams in today’s climate really fail to make money other than NHL franchises in the desert?) then why on earth would he rattle the cage. This isn’t a vanity project for him the way it is for Abramovitch or the Qatari sheiks. We laugh at Spurs but Levy has had the wherewithal to sack a half dozen managers in the last 10 years. The Glazers have so much debt they are desperate not to kill the golden goose for fear of losing revenue.

    We will never win with Kroenke as the owner. It doesn’t matter if we have Wenger or not.

    • This is probably my biggest fear when I look ahead into the future. That the lack of accountability will soon trickle its way down to our new manager as well. My hope is that we get a young, hungry manager whose desire to win surpasses that of the owner. Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

    • Sampaoli is a good call. One small problem: I don’t know how many of Arsenal’s grifters would survive under his “Bielsa-like” management style. He demands a LOT from his players physically. However if he can get results out of Nasri… maybe he could squeeze diamonds out of some of these Arsenal players. Another thing to consider: the Spanish league is just, vastly different than the Premier league. For speed, for number of matches, for competition, so different.

      • Sampaoli is one of the leading contenders to replace Luis Enriques at Barcelona which looks inevitable now.

        Speaking of which then… Enriques would be an upgrade on Wenger. A Guardiola contemporary with pedigree as a player and a coach.

        And Simeone reportedly started taking English lessons after he restructured his deal with Atletico last year. But I think he wants to go to Inter, not us.

        I think the club need a Director of Football who in turn would hire his choice for manager. Wenger’s role needs to split in two.

        • I agree Jack. I think hiring a director of football might help quite a bit. But if we do part ways with Wenger entirely, we should be pursuing managers like Sampaoli who are up and coming rather than fully established. It’s the way we recruit players, so why not? I also like Sampaoli’s connection with our best player.

          • I will politely disagree that I do NOT like his connection with Sanchez. I know this will be sacrilegious to say so, but I think Sanchez is part of our problem and I’ll not be too sad to see him go this summer.

            Ever wonder why our pressing seems so discombobulated? Why Sanchez seems to be a one-man press, gesturing at his teammates to push up and help? Is it possible it’s Sanchez who is trying to dictate a style that is contrary to what the manager wants? I watch him gesture at his teammates and they look at him like he’s on another planet – why? Did they miss the tactics meeting before the match and only Sanchez was there with pad and paper?

            Then off Sanchez goes, leaving huge holes behind him for the ball to be played into and for holding midfielders to dribble at the heart of our midfield because Ozil has drifted wide and Ramsey can be bypassed like a practice pylon.

            I’m OK with Sanchez going this summer. If I had to choose whether to keep Sanchez or Ozil, I keep Ozil because I think there’s more tactical flexibility with Ozil.

        • I’d just get rid of Ivan Gazidis and hire someone who knows something about football. Patrick Vieira?

          I’d also restructure the board to add a director of analytics and director of player development. Again, we should be looking at our former stars for these things Bergkamp would be an excellent director of player development.

          In addition, I’d get in some board members in charge of fan relations and outreach.

          And maybe then get a director of player recruitment.

          I’ve said it before but this (change of Wenger) needs a top down restructuring of Arsenal.

          I look at the picture of the boardroom at Arsenal and see a nice old wooden desk with an extension cord under the table and think “nice museum.”

          • Jack: I don’t see the logic of canning our best player because he’s overly enthusiastic. If anything I’d hope that Sampaoli can get the best out of him and the rest of our whippets by whipping them into the sort of cohesive pressing hive of trackerjackers that won the Copa America. Different competition, etc etc. but for me it’s Sanchez, not Ozil, who should be the cornerstone.

            Tim: I don’t know about firing Gazidis; I think he does the non-football side of things really well. But we definitely need to bring in some new blood with a similar role to what David Dein was back in the day, a guy who lives and breathes Arsenal football. Vieira has already cast his lot with Man City. It would be a big promotion for Steve Rowles (chief of scouting) but he’s the closest thing we have internally. From the ranks of ex-players, for me only Arteta have the poise to be a potential boss one day and he’s off assisting Guardiola. Bould seems like an obvious candidate but I just can’t see him stepping into the hot seat. He’s never been one for the limelight.

          • I agree about Arteta. That would be a truly bold move by Arsenal and kick off the manager merry go round nicely.*

            *This is where we are now. Success or fail, we will never have another 20 year manager.

          • In a perfect public relations move I don’t disagree; Vieira to fill the Txiki Begiristain role, Bergkamp as youth director and Henry as manager (you’d need someone with a lot of goodwill to get through the inevitable hard adjustment period) with Jens or Fredy as his bench second. All have done their badges, many did them at Arsenal, the excitement at their appointments would be incredible.

            It would one-up Sir Alex who doesn’t have any former players involved with the Man Utd set-up.

            But do they want the jobs? I don’t think so.

          • Gazidis in 2012: “In a couple of years, we will be competing at the level of Bayern Munich”. In any company, CEOs that do not deliver are shown the door.

            I have to wonder though, how much of the current situation falls on the shoulders of Gazidis? We seem to have done okay in the non football related aspects of the club’s business. I agree we need some guys in the board room that understand the game. We can bring Vieira in without getting rid of Gazidis can’t we? They obviously have very different skill sets.

          • Could not free more with needing a boardroom restructure and getting football knowledge at the table.

            Genuinely curious as to what that structure would look like and can see you have suggested some sensible roles.

            Any idea on what a good football board structure at other clubs looks like?

          • Not too many boards seem to structure their board room around functions the way I envision it. Now granted, I’m not a business guy but it seems to me that you’d want to have areas that each board member was responsible for and then the board would come together and make decisions about the future. That’s how my leadership structure works.

      • Sampaoli is a good shout, but somehow I just can’t see it happening. I suppose it’s being terribly negative (why ever would I be negative about the Arsenal right now??), but I just think whoever they hire is going to be really underwhelming. Just have no confidence that this board get the right guy. More BRodgers than Klopp, basically (though they’ll almost certainly go for a foreign coach, I would have thought).

    • Does it matter?
      Who knew of Wenger when took over at Arsenal?
      Also, doc, saying we only go out to Bayern and Barca in the knock off stages ” Monaco being the only exception”,is like saying we only lose the PL to Man U, City, and Chelsea, with Leicester being the only exception.

      If Barca, R Madrid, Bayern, PSG, and any number of other big clubs happened to collectively implode, Arsenal would find a way to crumble to Napoli, Dortmund or any other smaller European club.

      • “If Barca, R Madrid, Bayern, PSG, and any number of other big clubs happened to collectively implode, Arsenal would find a way to crumble to Napoli, Dortmund or any other smaller European club.”

        You might be right but I don’t trade in superstitions like that just because of last case bias with Leicester. It’s tempting to treat Arsenal differently due to past failures but the reality is that only informs the future to the extent that it influences the players’ performance. Yes Leicester were the Monaco of Arsenal’s title bid failures. It happens to everyone. We are not special because of our failures.

      • We need someone with more passion. Look at Klopp or Conte on the sidelines. Wenger just sits there and messes with his zipper or whatever.

  5. Tim , excellent introduction. Loved the quote. Like the 7 stages of grief there is an Urdu quote which talks about 7 stages of love, which seems apt to describe our relationship with Wenger.
    Dilkashi (Attraction) – the first double
    Uns (Attachment)- 97- 03 years
    mohabbat (Love),
    akidat (Trust/Reverence) – 03-04
    Ebadat (Worship) -the invincibles
    Junoon (Madness) – 06 champions league final – 2015
    and Maut (Death) – circa 2015

  6. It seems to me that Sanchez installed himself as the penalty taker. Is somebody loosing grip?

    Why is our pressing conducted so discordantly? Are there no clear drilled instructions on when and when not to press?

    We couldn’t get out of our half, yet the substitutions we made were to throw in more strikers less than half way through a 180 minute contest. Potluck mentality?

    There are so many questions whose answers am reluctant to attempt to figure out. But l can guess that a lot has got to be changed and quickly too. Otherwise I would say that this cycle has closed.

  7. Clearly Wenger has lost the squad, and they’ve lost confidence in him.

    Clearly we played like headless chickens, and without our collective brain or guts.

    Clearly we’re not the the 2nd Division Bundesliga team that Bayern make us look like.

    We’re increasingly less than the sum of our parts under Wenger. The play was shambolic (he was right that we mentally collapsed), and there was no leadership — from him or on the field — to put it right. We’ve now been beaten on aggregate 10 -2 by Munich at the Allianz. That is not a true reflection of the gulf between the sides, and it is not acceptable.

    • It’s not a reflection of the gulf between the clubs in terms of financial resources, but it is a reflection in terms of the product they both put on the pitch. That’s on Wenger if you really want to blame someone but he’s just one of many factors. This isn’t the first year in Arsenal F.C.’s existence in which it has been clearly inferior to Real, Barca and Bayern. This runs deep. This was never an elite club like it’s aspiring to be now.

      • sorry, doc, but the 2001-2005 arsenal was elite. right now, arsenal are trying to get to where they were fifteen years ago. talk about hustling backwards…

    • Yeah I’d argue that the 10-2 aggregate scoreline does give an accurate picture of the gulf between the two playing squads. I mean, Bayern have won 12 of the last 18 Bundesliga titles, and have been relentless and inventive in pursuing signings. They’ve also been ruthless about discarding the ones who don’t work out.

      They won titles with guys like Dante and Mandzukic, sold them and upgraded with legends like Hummels. Lost the boy wonder Kroos and didn’t miss a beat. Went to war with Dortmund for Gotze only to cut him loose after 2 seasons. Meanwhile Walcott’s due a testimonial at Arsenal and Flamini (a player we should never ever have re-signed) was only released after that catastrophe against Barcelona.

      We’ve never prioritised Europe for sporting reasons, only financial ones. Wenger let countless January transfer windows pass while he talked up the existing squad only for us to be humiliated a few weeks later. And it’s not about spending, it’s about recruitment. PSG didn’t spend a dime in transfer fees for Rabiot and Verratti. I love and respect Wenger but it’s hard to have much sympathy for him when it comes to the Champions League.

  8. Why the heck was Ginns given the Captains armband after Koscielny was injured yesterday? He’s not even a regular starter. So much needs sorting out at this club.

  9. Got an incredible amount of abuse for merely suggesting that the players might be losing faith in the manager just a few months ago. Glad I’m not the only one that is willing to entertain the idea.

  10. Next year is not the issue. This year and the next game are the issue. Me, if I’m Wenger, I bench our most dysfunctional player. I hate to say it, but that’s Alexis. He shows up everyone and his one man press is our least effective one. And that’s saying a lot. I’d also start as many of our non-dysfunctional players as possible. Welbz, Perez, even a kid or two in the midfield.

    Ozil is an enigma. The criticisms are clear, but not supported by the numbers. Still, I don’t see him as a rotten apple, and I do see him as someone a team can be built around.

    Title winning team? Maybe not. But people, get real. We just had our asses kicked, Chelsea is in front and playing well, and there are a number of big teams with a better sense of identity than we’ve got. Let’s at least put a squad on the pitch that will play together and pull us together.

    • I can’t fathom why you’d say that about Sanchez. Remember when we beat Chelsea 3-0? Look back at how that first goal was scored. Worth reviewing early season highlights, pre-Giroud, to see the best of the Ozil-Alexis partnership.

      As much as we got our rear ends waxed, it didn’t help that midfield continues to be a revolving door. For me that’s the number one problem area that needs addressing regardless of who is manager next season. It’s nigh impossible to cultivate a coherent playing style if you don’t know what your best central midfield pairing is.

      • Yes, yes, yes, about finding the right midfield balance/partnership (and sticking with it). I know some will say it’s hopelessly attack-oriented, but of the players we have available right now, I’d quite like to see an Ox-Xhaka partnership for a run of games (assuming Arsene doesn’t decide to switch to 3 in midfield any time soon).

        • Ox/Xhaka for me too. The most dysfunctional player I think we have is Coq in midfield. Great numbers but his lack of true defensive nous has been shown up in his involvement in a lot of goals scored against us recently. His negative contribution to our possession is much clearer to see and dysfunctional is a euphemistic description. Also I think just sticking with what Wenger is comfortable coaching in a 4-2-3-1 would perhaps be wise considering that clearly the 4-4-2 midfield against Bayern had no idea how to play as Tim described above and also the attempt at a 4-3-3 against Chelsea was shambolic too. Conte showed that playing the system you know is a wise move. Might find some identity again if we go with what we know and forget all these little tweaks that have seen us all over the shop this season at least.
          And love the thought being put into planning for the future now by many. Let’s hope the club gets it right.

        • Ox/Xhaka for me too.
          The most dysfunctional player I think we have is Coq in midfield. Great numbers but his lack of true defensive nous has been shown up in his involvement in a lot of goals scored against us recently. His negative contribution to our possession is much clearer to see and dysfunctional is a euphemistic description. Also I think just sticking with what Wenger is comfortable coaching in a 4-2-3-1 would perhaps be wise considering that clearly the 4-4-2 midfield against Bayern had no idea how to play as Tim described above and also the attempt at a 4-3-3 against Chelsea was shambolic too. Conte showed that playing the system you know is a wise move. Might find some identity again if we go with what we know and forget all these little tweaks that have seen us all over the shop this season at least. Obviously a lot of work on collective defending is needed on the training pitch regardless.
          Love the thought being put into planning for the future now by many. Let’s hope the club gets it right. The change for changes sake stuff was emotionally driven reactionary madness (ironic considering the favorite aphorism often quoted).

  11. I thought it was revealing that Arsène said after the match that it was too soon to analyze what happened – he should have been doing so all through the second half, surely? Isn’t that his job?

  12. Dr Gooner, I apologise if my comments biff you and make it personal. It isn’t. And you know what, the anti Wenger sentiments can feel like a lynch mob… it would be if some of us hadn’t been making these arguments every year for 6, 7 years now. And things have stayed the same. Looked at like that, the calls for Wenger’s removal have a long case history and are perfectly justified.

    • Disagree all you want but don’t put words in my mouth. I don’t like that :-/ Other than that, no harm, no foul.

      I understand the frustrations and the feeling of inertia, of familiar failures. For me it’s a lot more complicated than just 6-7 seasons of the same thing. I get that not everybody sees it that way.

  13. @ Dr. Gunner

    1. Alexis goal against Chelsea was beautiful. But it is the exception that proves the rule. (There was another in the CL.) Pressing can must be a team pursuit from back to front. If the defensive four drop, or the midfield drops, nothing but passing channels are opened.

    2. The revolving door in midfield is a problem. Agreed With our current set up there (or lack), would prefer to rotate Alexis and Ozil than play together. There was a brief point where they loved and effectively passed to one another, and eventually over did it. Teams adjusted and our other players got tired of being treated second rate. (I think Ozil has a better track record of spraying it around.)

    3. There are options to balance the midfield that don’t involve the Giroud / Alexis up front debate. Perez and Welbz have pace, height, work rates and ego control. Play them, then balance the rest of the team. If Alexis sits or plays wide (or Ozil), so be it, but we have zero room for rotten apples, no matter how much they wear their hearts on their sleeves.

  14. Emotional and excellent post followed by some edifying and interesting commentary.

    We’ve played 4 games in the 3 weeks since we spanked Southampton and those games have been mediocre (the win over Hull) to diabolical (the 11 minute capitulation in Munich).

    Koscielny is gone, adding injury to insult (that 2nd half was an insult to football).

    In all my years of supporting this team I have gone through a few bad patches but something here feels subjectively different.

    Tim’s love affair metaphor is heartfelt and clever but what I’m feeling is a kind of sad certainty that we are getting farther away from ourselves.

    The attacking flair, the entertaining technical wizardry balanced by at least some discipline and self-awareness at the back is gone – it left us completely for the better part of February and we look so very out of sorts. Two-thirds of the season over and we have no better clue about our midfield than we did in August. How does that happen? Injuries yet again? Is that always the scapegoat?

    I love this club and I always will but I don’t like it. Not one bit.

    • I thought a lot about the midfield and it’s a complicated clusterbomb of horrible luck with injuries, Sam Allardyce, transfer market woes, squad development… pretty much nothing has gone right. First on the injury front: Jack Wilshere and Ramsey, our two most promising players who are never fit except when they play for other clubs. Jack may have been fit and would have been a valuable piece but decided his England career was most important. And, Santi Cazorla, our best central midfielder by far, whose body seems to be failing him.

      Next is Coquelin, essentially an academy product, who is useful but limited. Although he has improved substantially in possession and is able to carry the ball forward, his vision and awareness of team mates seems especially poor, and that’s not something you can really teach. Defensively, he’s quite adept with a limited assignment, such as pressurizing specific opponents or winning duels, but his ability to diagnose and deconstruct complicated buildup is poor and he is prone to lapses in concentration, such as showing Robben onto his left or going in recklessly on Kane when already on a yellow.

      Which leaves us with El-Neny and Xhaka, two very recent purchases on the market, neither of whom has been able to hold down a consistent spot. Less should be expected of the Egyptian who seems to have been bought to play more of a complementary role, though questions should be asked about to whom he was intended to be complementary. He’s built more in the Matic mould, a physical presence with a secure passing touch, but thus far hasn’t displayed any creativity to speak of, seems to be unable to dribble the ball and is has displayed alarming inertia when out of possession at times. The manager doesn’t seem to trust him to start important games.

      Xhaka, for his part, was bought as a successor to Petit/Gilberto/Arteta, a physically imposing player who doesn’t mind a tackle and who has the technique to knit passing moves together and break the defensive line with an incisive pass. A hugely needed commodity. Except, thus far, he has been more notable for his deficiencies defensively and has committed high profile errors in possession too. There is a good player in there but he wasn’t the finished product we apparently thought when we forked out top tier money for him.

      So out of 6 options, we have three technically excellent creative players who are never fit (two of whom have questionable discipline without the ball), one journeyman strong armed tackler with serious limitations with and without the ball, one journeyman ball recycler also with serious limitations in both phases, and Xhaka who at the moment is a grab bag of brilliance and headslapping errors.

      I should also add Oxlade Chamberlain, who at the moment is probably the best option we’ve got at CM. Against Hull, he was good for two tackles, one chance created and 5 successful dribbles. Without Wilshere and Cazorla he’s the only CM we have who can carry the ball from deep areas, and does so with aplomb. He did it against Chelsea, too: four tackles, 4 successful dribbles, two chances created and four clearances. Right now he’s the only good thing this midfield has going and he needs a partner who can complement him. It’s probably got to be Xhaka, with an eye on the future, and because their traits seem to balance out well enough.

      • I appreciate your points, but I think I disagree in a few spots.

        1. Is Ramsey really a “technically excellent creative player”? I once saw him this way too, but increasingly I’m not so sure. The majority of the fan base now seems to agree that there’s something deeply wrong with Ramsey (at least in an Arsenal shirt), but is really divided as to what the problem is.

        One side seems to think his work with the ball (technical excellence, creativity, etc) is basically fine, and the biggest problem is “discipline without the ball,” i.e. tracking back, positional intelligence, etc. Since it’s obvious he’s not technically lacking in the defensive basics (we’ve all seen him put in great tackles), the problems here are more about attitude and mentality than about skills. The other side, like me, think that while he should definitely work harder/smarter without the ball, the bigger problems come when he has the ball: decision making, certainly, but also glaring and consistent sloppiness in receiving and passing it (of which the second goal against Watford is only the latest example). This group of fans can be divided further into those who just simplistically think Ramsey’s crap and always has been (one glorious half season was a fluke, basically), versus those who think he really DOES have all the technical ability to be a top class attacking or two-way midfielder, but just needs to properly apply himself, concentrate on the simple things, not put too much pressure on his shoulders, etc.

        Until recently I was definitely a member of this last group, but now I think my position is something more nuanced. At the risk of making this whole discussion way more theoretical than anyone else cares to make it, here goes…

        What goes into making a player technically excellent and skillful? We tend to distinguish between whether a player’s problems are “in the feet” (physiologically a lack of talent and/or developed skills) versus whether they’re “simply in the head” (bad attitude, mentality, lack of intelligence), but the truth in football is probably often somewhere in between, and Ramsey is a great example of this.

        Put it this way: the reason I can’t run the 100m like Usain Bolt or do crazy flips like Simone Biles is almost entirely down to physiological limitations in my body, and of course there are also those limitations holding me back from being a professional footballer: I’m too slow, weak, etc (though in football more than other sports, some of those physical features are less essential, e.g. size and brute physical strength, as Santi Cazorla demonstrates). But given that I’m relatively athletic, in very good physical shape, in my thirties, and have honed my basic footballing skills since I was a child to get them to a decent level, my feet themselves are probably not what’s holding me back. Probably my biggest problem is one of coordination: I just can’t get my limbs to move in the right way, or to do so quickly enough, for me to pull off the skills that professionals can (I’m obviously simplifying here–if you think there’s way more holding me back from being a professional, then consider instead what’s holding back the average midfielder in the English Championship from being a Champions’ League calibre midfielder) . And coordination–performing a complex and difficult physical skill reliably and repeatedly to a very high degree of precision–is as much about our brains, and the connections between our brain and the rest of our bodies, as it is about those bodies. A helpful analogy is to playing the guitar or piano: of course the expert musician will need to have been born with long, flexible fingers, say, and years of practice will have made his hand muscles especially strong; but a lot of his ability will come from his brain being good at telling his fingers what to do (consciously or unconsciously) and this will be down to a combination of innate talent, lots of practice, and other psychological factors, e.g. professional seriousness, concentration, and calmness under pressure.

        Now back to Ramsey. I think his sloppiness in possession is a failure of technical skills. Does this mean he’s simply not talented enough? Or that, even if he is, a lack of practice means the skills just aren’t in him at all? If what I’ve just said is basically on the right track, then the truth is a bit more complicated than that. I think Ramsey has the talent and he developed that talent over many years starting as a kid to a point where he has the basic skills in his feet, and to some degree in his brain, to be a great player. But for at least several years now (maybe his entire professional career) his lack of focus on the basics has meant he’s developed bad technical habits which simply can’t be broken overnight. So, yes, the skills are “in there” somewhere. Yes, it’s “merely psychological”, in the end. But psychology is complex, and there’s a big gray area between a case where you just need to consciously decide to do something, on the one hand, and a case where your unconscious mental habits are so stuck in their ways that it’s literally impossible for you to alter them, on the other.
        Basically what I’m trying to say is that Ramsey is like a talented guitarist who for years has only focused on playing flashy, “difficult” guitar solos, to the point where if tasked to just play rhythm guitar in a band that demands a great deal of technical precision, he would be utterly incapable of doing so. Sure, the guitarist could probably retrain his bad habits if given enough time–probably years–to do so. But professional footballers don’t have that kind of time. Arguably a “rhythm guitarist” like Elneny, who may not be able to hit left-footed volleys into the top corner from 35 yards out like Rambo, is nevertheless more technically excellent at this point. Which brings me to…

      • 2. Your description of Elneny. You say he’s built in the Matic role, but Matic is a big, imposing unit. Elneny isn’t the smallest, and I think he has the frame such that if Shad Forsythe gets him in the gym and they put some meat on his bones, he could be physically strong enough to mix it up in the Premier League. But right now, I see his biggest weakness as this flimsiness. He’s got a great engine to the point where he can always be around the play, but he never seems to be willing or able to put in a crunching tackle. This is a skill he just may have never learned, of course, but I’m hoping that bulking up, confidence from some more game time (something he sorely needs!), and practicing his defensive skills in training, will see him vastly improve this side of his game.

        I can’t agree with you that he has no creativity and can’t dribble the ball. His passing is definitely conservative first, too much so at times, but I think we’ve seen in glimpses what he can do when he opens his passing range up (I remember a few really impressive examples this past fall), but he simply hasn’t been given a long enough run of games to grow in confidence and show us what he can really do. I don’t expect him to become a world beater, but I think we haven’t seen him enough to have seen his true potential. As for dribbling, that’s clearly not his forte (it’s not for most center mids), but on occasion I have seen him dribble the ball forward quite well.

        I think one of his distinctive strengths, and one that’s underrated in football in general, is playing lots of VERY quick one and two touch pass-and-move combinations to break through a defensive line. He’s shown this quality on numerous occasions, and it’s what could separate him from just being what a lot of fans think he is: the dreaded midfielder who (cliche alert!) “only passes sideways and backwards!”. I don’t think Elneny has the passing range of Xhaka, or the dribbling ability of Cazorla, but his quick combination play could almost be as useful. The problem is it requires playing him with teammates who can be on the same wavelength and play this way: Cazorla, Xhaka, Iwobi, Ozil, no problem; Coquelin, Ramsey, not so much. Unfortunately, Wenger’s played him quite a bit so far with Coquelin, and this lack of ability of the two to combine on the ball is more of a reason that they don’t work as a partnership, I think, than the oft-repeated claim that they’re just too defensive together.

        Anyway, the point is, I think he could have a lot to offer us, but he needs to toughen up and sort out his defensive game.

  15. Mortimer, I’d say not just the 2nd half but the whole 90 minutes was an insult to football. Unbelievably by half time the scores were even. But Wenger’s tactics now seems to be based on hopefulness. A realist would have decided to close shop for the 2nd half knowing that even a 2-1 loss would have been lucky. Make no mistake about our tactics of the day, we never packed the bus. We were simply pinned back

    When a bus is packed, the emphasis is not to break the lines. But our players had absolutely no regard for that rule by jumping out of their lines (they were hardly lines anyway) to go and press the best passing team in Europe. BM simply moved into the spaces abandoned to punish us. A PTB team does not concede 4 goals in 45 minutes with their goalkeeper being the MOTM.

    BM have scored 43 goals in 20 Bundesliga matches averaging 2.15 goals per game. Every team plays them using the most pragmatic tactics to stop them from scoring particularly at the Allianz Arena.

    Football is an art that has been stiffened in the rigors of science. There is no place for ‘ hopefulness’ for the handlers of teams. It’s ‘hopefulness’, that has kept Walcott all these years in the club, that gets Giroud in as a 70 minute substitute even though we’ve been unable to get the ball upfield, that must make Ozil play even when his form Is poor.

    Has the time come for some hard decisions? It’s beginning to look very much so.

  16. I never thought that I’d say this, but I am also at the acceptance stage of the pre-Wenger breakup. I’ve been living in denial for many years too. It’s been real, Arsene…but it’s time to pass the torch 🙁

  17. Henry, reading your simple lines got tears swelling up in my eyes. It’s the fact of death, the fact that everything however wonderful must come to an end that I mourn. His name is already hewn in rock.

  18. Well, Wenger today said he will decide on his future in March or April (or rather, confirmed that he had said that), but that he will definitely be managing next season, even if it’s not at Arsenal.

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