Arsenal players increasingly baffled by Arsene Wenger's bizarre decisions
Arsenal players and staff are becoming increasingly mystified by the decision-making of manager Arsene Wenger as they now face a fight to make sure the club's season does not fall apart.
Rather than rip into his squad because of the draw with Crystal Palace that ended any faint Premier League title dreams and left Arsenal battling to remain in the top four, Wenger gave the players who had failed to secure three points yesterday off.
The decision was met with surprise and bewilderment, as Arsenal face a must-win game against West Bromwich Albion at the Emirates on Thursday.
Arsenal players had already been given Friday off before the Palace game, having been allowed to take the previous Sunday and Monday off in the immediate aftermath of the 3-3 draw against West Ham United in which they threw away a two-goal lead.
With games coming thick and fast, Wenger has been carefully managing the schedule of his players in an attempt to avoid more injury problems. But the Frenchman has given his players four of the past nine days off, as Arsenal's season threatens to implode, leaving little time to work on problems.
Arsenal have conceded the most goals of the sides in the top four and also scored the least.
Wenger's training schedule is not the only thing that has raised questions within Arsenal, as his team selections and substitutions have also left players and staff members scratching their heads. David Ospina was preferred to fit-again Petr Cech as goalkeeper for the draw at West Ham, but, having praised Ospina, Wenger brought back Cech for the visit of Palace.
Cech was blamed in some quarters for Yannick Bolasie's equaliser, but the former Chelsea man insisted he could not keep the forward's shot out and would not have been helped by Gabriel Paulista turning his back on it.
Gabriel had been criticised for turning his back on Andy Carroll's acrobatic effort that deflected into the net off him a week earlier against West Ham, but Wenger decided to stick with the Brazilian over Per Mertesacker.
Wenger's substitutions over the past two games have also been a source of internal debate. With his team trailing 3-2 in the must-win game against West Ham, the manager's first change was to send on midfielder Aaron Ramsey.
Against Palace, Wenger introduced Ramsey, Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott but left Joel Campbell, who has made a positive impact on a number of occasions this season, on the bench.
Arsenal started 2016 top of the table, but have won only two of their past seven Premier League games and are now 13 points behind leaders Leicester City. They will now spend their final five games attempting to cling to a top-four place after falling behind third-placed Manchester City on goal difference and seeing fifth-placed Manchester United move to four points behind them. Arsenal will almost certainly finish behind Tottenham Hotspur for the first time under Wenger.
The club are expected to keep faith with the Frenchman for the final year of his contract, but failure to qualify for the Champions League would put huge pressure on him.
Following last month's defeat by Swansea City, Cech, Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky called a heated players' inquest, which did not involve Wenger, in an attempt to save their season. And Mertesacker has now called on his team-mates to put their bodies on the line. "It's about discipline," said Mertesacker. "We lacked a bit of that desperation, even when we were 2-0 up at West Ham, to defend and get everyone behind the ball."