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John Giles: Wenger lacks killer instinct

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Arsenal player celebrate their victory over Manchester City

Arsenal player celebrate their victory over Manchester City

Arsenal player celebrate their victory over Manchester City

IF Arsene Wenger had the heart of a warrior, the kind of performances Arsenal put in against Manchester City and Stoke in the last ten days would be a regular occurrence. So would Premier League titles.

But Wenger is part book-keeper, part administrator and part thinker. All of these aspects of his personality get in the way when he is trying to find a winning formula for his team

Alex Ferguson never worried about money and he was definitely a warrior. Confrontation on a football field was visceral before it was intellectual. He expected his players to fight for everything in every game. No half measures. All in.

While Wenger was engaged in financial prudence and football idealism, Ferguson was demanding cash from the Glazers and ploughing on.

The absence of a fighting gene in Wenger's make-up is obvious from his attempts to buy defenders and goalkeepers over the last ten years.

When he had Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould, Nigel Winterburn and Lee Dixon, they provided him with the steel he needed, and in return, he freed them to play better than ever before.

It was a great trade-off for the players, the manager and ultimately Arsenal and the supporters but when the time came for Wenger to refresh his defensive options, I don't think he thought it was important enough.

Either that or he is a poor judge of defenders. Perhaps I should clarify that by saying that while he knows what a ball-playing defender is, he doesn't see the same worth in the personality trait which allows someone like John Terry or Nemanja Vidic to put their body on the line every time they go out on the pitch.

There is no doubt about where Wenger stands in terms of what could be described as football purity. He is more likely to complain about a physical defender's robust and often effective approach to his own players than recognise the need for someone like that in his own team.

Wenger had the coaching ability to turn Tony Adams from a no-nonsense, foot through the ball and man kind of defender, into someone confident enough to get it down and play. He has not been able to do this in reverse. Many of the defenders he has bought since Adams and Co, retired can play but I wouldn't want them in a trench beside me with bullets flying.

Of course, Wenger's reputation was built during those days when Arsenal won everything except the Champions League. For the last eight years, his policies have been wrong - plain and simple.

His salary cap made his directors happy but belonged to a different era completely. It was noble but self-defeating. All his best players moved on and the job of juggling a new stadium and a competitive squad became impossible.

Wenger's great achievement is to keep his club in the Champions League - in many ways, it has kept him in a job.

Most seasons, Arsenal are still involved at the knock-out phase and any serious opposition to Wenger rarely has enough time to gather momentum.

When you look at the last eight years, there have been numerous moments when he could have been sacked, if it was any other club but Arsenal. However, since he was doing the owners and directors' bidding, and keeping the books balanced, they were happy to leave him in place as long as the Champions League remained on the menu.

Let's be honest, it is difficult for a fan to be too upset with the manager if every spring the Champions League is still on the menu as a target. The Gunners came mighty close to winning it, remember that.

But I understand why some people now question the assessment that Wenger is a 'great' manager and I understand why the performance against Manchester City, in particular, provides such a compelling case against him.

There is a very obvious question after Arsenal gave such a physically committed performance. Why on earth haven't they being doing the same thing for the last eight years?

I can't argue with the position that responsibility for this in the end rests at Wenger's door and that he has made some very big mistakes. But I'll bet he would argue the point until he drops. Stubbornness is a characteristic all great managers possess, most of them to the point of bloody-mindedness. When you're winning, it's a virtue but when you're losing, it becomes an obstacle. Wenger believes so fully in what he has been doing that he cannot see his own weaknesses, even if the answer to his problems is now staring him in the face.

This makes me believe that Arsenal's display of do-or-die against Manchester City will not become the standard, even though it should be the default for every team.


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