Arsenal legends question character of the club's players after Chelsea loss ends title challenge
A series of Arsenal greats have questioned the personality of players that Arsene Wenger has recruited and called on the Arsenal manager to ensure he has sufficiently vocal leaders.
The meek 3-1 defeat against Chelsea has left Arsenal 12 points adrift in the Premier League title race and led many supporters to question whether Arsenal can again win the league under Wenger, whose contract expires this summer.
Emmanuel Petit reacted to the Chelsea loss by describing the squad as “nice boys” while Sol Campbell yesterday stressed how, in his main time at the club from 2001 until 2006, dressing-room standards became self-policed by the players.
Robert Pires also last week questioned whether Arsenal had sufficient “fight” and told the Telegraph that a greater English influence might be part of the answer.
“I don't know what's happening now, but when I was there we used to police it ourselves,” said Campbell. “We had the characters to. We would address it on the pitch. Patrick [Vieira] would say something, Tony [Adams], Martin Keown, David Seaman, all these guys from the front; Thierry [Henry], Dennis Bergkamp would chip in on the pitch while the game was going. That's the key, you've got to have those characters on the pitch. You don't need one, you need almost four or five saying their stuff.”
The main dressing-room leader now at Arsenal is captain Per Mertesacker but he has not played this season following knee surgery. Star players Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil are relatively quiet, as is current captain Laurent Koscielny although Petr Cech and Shkodran Mustafi are two other big personalities.
The team certainly seemed to become inhibited against Chelsea on Saturday following the first goal and the loss of Hector Bellerin.
Wenger confirmed that his 21-year-old right-back was concussed after being elbowed by Marcos Alonso shortly before Chelsea’s first but he is still expected to start on Saturday against Hull City.
Football Association concussion guidelines state that amateur players should not return to competition for 19 days following a suspected concussion.
However, that timescale is reduced to just six days in what is described as “an enhanced care setting”. Arsenal’s medical expertise would mean they fall into that category and, provided there is no adverse reaction on his staged return to training, Bellerin would still be permitted to play on Saturday.
Arsenal’s midfield crisis should also be eased following the return of Mohamed Elneny after Egypt’s run to the final if the African Cup of Nations.
Elneny must first be assessed but, with Santi Cazorla, Granit Xhaka, Aaron Ramsey and Jack Wilshere all unavailable, there will be considerable pressure for him to start. Francis Coquelin has aslo been carrying a hamstring injury but is expected to be recovered for Saturday’s game.
It will the last of the respective four-game suspensions to Xhaka and Wenger for their behaviour in the 2-1 win against Burnley. Arsenal have lost both their Premier League games since that match and, barring a dramatic upturn in the league, are left with the Champions League and FA Cup to salvage what could conceivably be the final year of Wenger’s contract.
Both Wenger and Arsenal would like to continue their partnership but believes that any new deal must be validated by the performances and results in these final months of the season.