Sport Soccer

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Aiden O'Hara: Wenger now looks past his 'sell by' date

Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal
Arsene Wenger, Manager of Arsenal

Aiden O'Hara

If a player was entering the final few months of his contract and performing at a level that suggested his best years were behind him, Arsene Wenger would almost certainly cut him adrift regardless of how good that player had been at his peak.

Over the course of his 1,000 games, Wenger has rarely got it wrong when it came to either letting a player leave for free or maximising the full value of their transfer fee like a salesman who will give a car a full wash and valet but not tell the potential buyer that the timing belt is about to go.

Ashley Cole is the best example of a player who was both successful at a new club and who Arsenal never adequately replaced but for every Cole, there's the likes of Marc Overmars, Emmanuel Petit and Aleksandr Hleb – a trio for whom Barcelona paid over £40m as Arsenal managed to keep a straight face long enough to complete the deals.

The problem for Wenger is that he is showing the same signs in his managerial capabilities that have been the reason behind him jettisoning so many players.

At the beginning of his rivalry with Alex Ferguson, Wenger could quip about "everyone thinking they had the prettiest wife at home" when Ferguson suggested that his United team were better than Arsenal. The difference between then and now is that Wenger, and his players, could back up their manager's words. This season, before the games against Manchester City and Liverpool, Wenger praised his team's mental strength and defensive capabilities before his players made those words redundant in the space of a few minutes.

Having described the Chelsea clash as the "most important game of the season", his players capitulated, again, before the stadium clock reached 1.0, meaning in their last three league games which have kicked-off at 12.45, Arsenal have lost by a combined aggregated of 17-4. The cancellation of today's scheduled press conference and absence of players on social media suggests Wenger has become tired of talking


Jose Mourinho's classless comment that Wenger was a "specialist in failure" should have been an enormous motivation for Arsenal's players to give their manager his first victory over his nemesis – instead, their performance gave thousands of Chelsea fans the opportunity to chant it as the minutes ticked down on another embarrassment.

Even after the humiliation, Wenger - in public at least - still protected his players. When Tottenham lost to Chelsea, Tim Sherwood publicly lambasted the team for their lack of heart and suggested some would forget about it by the time they hit the motorway.

Wenger could easily have gone down the same route as Sherwood but instead took "full responsibility" and, having shielded them from some of the criticism, he now needs them to respond against Swansea tomorrow night when the Emirates will be filled with that nagging sense of crisis.

One of the strongest criticisms surrounding David Moyes is that nobody seems to know what style of play he wants to implement and so ends up trying to put his best players out on the pitch which doesn't necessarily equate to the best team.

Wenger is the opposite of Moyes because, at this stage, everybody knows exactly what style of play he wants and, against managers like Mourinho who have the nous to work him out and the players to implement that game plan, Wenger looks like a man living up to the old definition of insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

For a manager and team whose reputation is based so much on their talent in possession, it's remarkable how often they give the ball away when pressured quickly by an opponent or sloppily mis-direct a pass and leave their back four exposed against a wave of opposition players coming at them from all angles.

Against Everton in the FA Cup quarter-final, Mikel Arteta had a shot blocked on the edge of the box and, within seconds, the ball was in the Arsenal net as bodies flailed in an attempt to get back. Everton are good enough to sometimes punish such mistakes but let Arsenal off the hook when several similar chances arrived. The same mistakes against Chelsea, in the words of Mourinho, meant Arsenal were "destroyed" and "killed".

Several players have extended their contracts in recent weeks which would indicate that Wenger, too, is likely to do so but with every crushing disappointment the thought must cross Wenger's mind of what exactly it will take for him to walk away.

It's a measure of Arsenal's improvement that with Manchester City and Chelsea stronger than last term and Liverpool having the league's two top scorers that, were Arsenal to win and City lose tomorrow night, they would be, at worst, four points behind the leaders with seven games remaining. After Swansea comes a home game against City, a trip to Everton and an FA Cup semi-final against Wigan and victories in those three games would give them a genuine chance of winning the third 'Double' of Wenger's reign.

In the past such moments were a chance for Wenger to build his legend but, now, the sense is that every big occasion just chips away at his legacy. He wouldn't put up with it from a player, but, seems powerless to prevent it happening to himself as manager.

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