Weakened hand threatens Wenger's grip on the reins
Published 19/02/2012 | 05:00
'We all feel culpable, we're all part of it and I just wish we could have played that bit better". Kevin Doyle said this last week after the sacking of Mick McCarthy at Wolves. I wonder if any of the Arsenal players would be quite as honest if Arsene Wenger leaves the club any time soon, because it's the first time since his arrival that I can see it happening.
Criticism is to be expected from all angles, but stick from former players always bothered me the most. I could accept it from team-mates, supporters and even the media at times, but it drove me mad when former players appeared from nowhere to harp on about how great things used to be. It's not that I thought they didn't deserve their say, rather the implication the club was going backwards and that I was partly responsible. They've been out in numbers giving their view on what's going on at Arsenal. Or, more specifically, on what's going wrong.
Patrick Vieira pointed to a lack of leadership on the pitch. Dennis Bergkamp said an over-reliance on the same players and a predictable approach is costing them, along with the absence of what he called an "English mentality". After Wednesday's horror show in Milan, Emmanuel Petit said he wondered what had become of the team he knew before advising Wenger: "You have to send out a strong signal. You have to say to Arshavin, and to Rosicky: 'Gentlemen, thank you, but goodbye'. And soon."
The current squad is the weakest Wenger has ever worked with at the club, but failure to finish in fourth position this season will only mean it will be even poorer next season. Top players won't sign and the few top players they have will look to leave. It is possible Wenger will feel the same, but not inconceivable he'd be sacked. Last night's defeat changed none of that.
Wenger has always said he will honour his contract, but he would not be in this position if some of his players did the same. The team performance against AC Milan was awful, and the above quote from Doyle is applicable to them all. If Wenger doesn't follow Petit's advice, he may be on his way himself.
Kevin Doyle has described the mood at Wolves since McCarthy left but fully acknowledged the players' role in his sacking. Doyle repeated what the players at Sunderland said about him when he left there six years ago, but like then, results left the board with little option.
I was training at Sunderland when McCarthy was sacked from there in 2006. I had been through several managerial changes during my career but had never experienced anything like the impact his departure had on the whole club. After he brought the players together to wish them well as a group, many waited around to have a private word with him before he left, myself included. I don't think managers can ever have the support of an entire dressing room but McCarthy came pretty close at Sunderland.
This was all the more remarkable considering how poor results had been for so long. Despite everything that was said and written about them, that Sunderland squad stayed together as a group which is remarkable given how negative things had become. This will be one of the many challenges facing Wenger in the wake of such a disastrous week.
The loyalty shown to McCarthy by the players at Wolves and Sunderland was easy to understand. Many of the players worked with him in the Championship and he retained them when they won promotion.
Despite losing more often than winning in the Premier League, McCarthy stuck by them. He could forgive players' errors, but full commitment was essential at all times.
This is not the case at Arsenal. Players at that level believe they have options and are unlikely to think their success is reliant on Wenger. If Champions League football is unavailable next season, then it may be sought elsewhere. I'd be amazed if some of their agents aren't already devising contingency plans behind Wenger's back. It hardly needs to be said how damaging this can be to any dressing room.
It is the performances of players that get managers fired, but that's not always acknowledged within the dressing room. Doyle said what is often said in these situations but it was certainly true of their performance last weekend against West Brom. The Arsenal players were just as poor on Wednesday.
The manner of both defeats was similar, and the outcomes were the same. Both clubs were faced with an uncomfortable truth, in that neither is at the level they aspire to be, and the gap is showing no signs of narrowing. The board at Wolves felt they could be patient no more, deciding to act while in touching distance of where they would like to be. You'd wonder how long before that happens at the Emirates.
Sunday Indo Sport