Arsenal's goalless draw at Aston Villa wasn't because Arsene Wenger did not know what he was doing, as some fans chanted as the match wound down, nor was it necessarily because the team was fatigued as Wenger claimed afterwards. On the contrary, the draw wasn't more than the team deserved.
Wenger the Villain?
To say that the draw was because Wenger substituted Olivier Giroud, who has had a noteworthy impact on the team lately but didn't really have a good game here, is either to be grossly mistaken or to be disingenuous about the entire situation.
Giroud—who until recently has been an object of contempt for many fans—cannot suddenly be perceived to be Arsenal's messiah such that he becomes untouchable when he isn't having the desired impact in a match.
But, if indeed he has suddenly become the messiah the team has been looking for after the departure of the excellent Robin van Persie, then this ought to be seen as a testament to Wenger's keen and astute eye.
Olivier Giroud, the untouchable messiah? Photo courtesy of Getty Images.
These same fans, who now vilify Wenger, must be seen as steeping themselves deeper into contradiction because they were the same fans (I should hazard to say since they are quick to pass judgment) who dismissed Giroud in the first place and asserted that Wenger didn't know what he was doing when he bought the Montpellier poacher.
What is it then?
Are they admitting that Wenger was right after all in buying Giroud, in which case they need to admit that they were mistaken when they dismissed both men—one as not knowing what he was doing in buying a "useless" player and the other as Marouane Chamakh 2.0—or are they saying that Wenger was right at the time but is now wrong?
Whatever their answer is, they must see that they need to pipe down. If Wenger was right then, he cannot suddenly be wrong.
Here is the logic: When the fans thought him wrong, it turns out Wenger was always right, as they themselves are admitting now in their tacit claim that Giroud is now Arsenal's messiah. Therefore, if they were wrong then in their assessment, what makes them think that they aren't now?
My advice to them is that they should let the man do his job. Wenger deserves respect, and it should not only be given when the team is winning. It should be there when things aren't going exactly the way they would want them to.
Wenger the villain? Getty Images.
Lack of Depth
On the other hand, to blame the draw on fatigue, as Wenger tried to do after the match, is unacceptable. This campaign isn't suddenly manifesting. Wenger is a 16-year veteran of the Premier League. Its gruesome nature should not surprise him.
This is where planning and preparation come into the picture, the reason why a team should have real depth. The so-called depth that Arsenal possesses has always been illusory in the last six years.
When you look at the squad, you see a large one, but when you examine it closely you see players who can't really be called upon to bail the team out during the period of congested fixtures. You see that most of these players are either out of form, still developing or lack genuine quality.
It is this very reason that caused Arsenal a trophy in the 2010-11 season when, time and again, the second XI could not pull its weight either in secondary competitions or in less challenging Premier League fixtures. Time and again, Wenger was forced to call upon his primary players.
The result of this is not difficult to see: Real fatigue sets in for the primary players, and this yields resentment, as the primary players see that their counterparts are unable to contribute substantially to the team's endeavor.
For example, there is no reason why Wenger couldn’t field Marouane Chamakh, Andrey Arshavin, Francis Coquelin or Johan Djourou as part of the starting XI and expect solid results if he believed they add genuine depth to the squad.
It is the reason I believe the real talented players wake up suddenly, as it were, and say Arsenal lack ambition. I have contended that money is usually in the equation when such a situation arises, but the other factor is real disappointment in the system on the part of these players.
Many fans, including myself, have said that what Arsenal have consistently lacked in this period of trophy drought is a player or two of genuine quality. Sometimes it is a defender who could patch things up in the back; sometimes it has been a midfielder or a striker.
Wenger should face the reality that his squad is not deep enough. It is the reason he can't really rotate the team. The first XI as a unit is still disjointed after three months in the campaign. What, then, does he think will happen when he rotates the squad? Would the team suddenly be fluent?
I think not.
But, if indeed fatigue was the factor here, then still Wenger should take the blame for this, for the precise reason outlined above.
The fact that the team that won against Montpellier in mid-week was just as disjointed as the one that toiled at Villa Park should dispense with the notion that fatigue was the cause of the disjointedness here.
Besides the said lack of depth above, which the reader should take as reason number one for the current situation, I examine four more in the following:
These two players should have reinforced the Arsenal squad, not replace key players. Getty Images.
Taking the heart out of the team
It should be apparent to any observant fan that Wenger's and Arsenal's great dream and hope has been dismembered and dismantled.
The idea was that Wenger would build a team of young players who would train together in the Arsenal way, much like the current core of the Barcelona team, including Lionel Messi, was groomed and minted in the Barcelona way.
The core of the team had Cesc Fabregas as the fulcrum; Samir Nasri in the playermaker role, drifting in from wide positions from the left or right; Robin van Persie as a playmaking striker; and Alex Song, Theo Walcott and Andrey Arshavin. In addition, it had new players like Jack Wilshere coming into the fold.
The claim of lack of ambition from players who opted to leave though hugely colored by money had some ring of truth to it. During the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons, this team was showing huge promise, even posing serious challenge for trophies, but what it always lacked was genuine leadership.
This always failed the team in tight situations, a major factor in why this team often threw away matches in winning positions. The team lacked strong personalities such as Patrick Vieira and Thierry Henry, senior players who could shout at lapsing players when the situation required it.
This fact was the reason many called for the signing of Christopher Samba. Fans could see that he provided real leadership for the mediocre Blackburn Rovers team. Such a personality could have made a difference. Such a person could have yielded a trophy or two to Arsenal, but, alas, neither Wenger nor the Arsenal management saw the need for such a personality.
I am not claiming that if this had happened those who wanted to leave wouldn't have done so. I am saying that I believe that such strong leadership would have made real difference at Arsenal. This is a team that created tons of chances and scored tons of goals but tended to fall apart at the slightest of challenges from the opposition.
To cut a long story short, though, Arsenal are still reeling from the loss of Fabregas and Nasri. These two guys were the creative midfield base of the team.
Last season, Arsenal suffered from the loss of Jack Wilshere to injury, a player who had formed a good partnership with Alex Song at the base of Arsenal's midfield.
Mikel Arteta quickly mitigated the effect of Jack Wilshere's absence and formed a formidable partnership with Alex Song.
In this context, disrupting the team further by the unnecessary sale of Alex Song was truly baffling to me. I do not buy the reasoning behind it. What I see is a team suffering from this miscalculation.
In short, Wenger has now lost the entire core of his team in two seasons: Fabregas, Nasri, Clichy, Song, Van Persie, Walcott (who hasn't really been part of this season and is on his way out) and Arshavin (who was a huge part of Arsenal but has now faded away).
On top of this, Arsenal continue to suffer one of the biggest setbacks with injury in the Premier League.
The heart of the team was already out last season, but then Robin van Persie and Alex Song stepped into higher gears. If the loss of Van Persie was inevitable, was Song's equally so?
What I see is the tearing apart of a team even in areas where it could be helped; nor is this going to stop. Walcott seems firmly on the way out.
In the light of this, the word "consolidation," which I have used several times over the past few months isn’t happening at Arsenal. It is no wonder, then, that instead of the team building on its achievements from past seasons, it keeps going down, and why not?
You can’t keep losing the core of your team and hope to win trophies. The fact that Wenger achieves what he does in this situation is some sort of miracle I’d say, the reason why fans should get off his back.
Wenger has lost the core of his team in just over a season. Getty Images.
The Theo Walcott factor
By "Theo Walcott factor" I mean failing to reinforce what you have and being constrained to build anew. It is why I haven't gotten over the loss of Song. I would have, had we signed a replacement for him.
To say that if Walcott goes, then someone else, say Serge Gnabry, could come in is exactly what I'm saying: It isn't consolidation; it isn't adding depth; it is tearing down and building anew, and the person who comes in today is the person who goes out tomorrow.
To say that Song was sold to allow Diaby to come through isn’t adding depth to the team; it is setting up the situation that Wenger has lamented about as fatiguing to team.
With Song, Diaby and Wilshere, you have three quality midfielders that you could rotate and depend upon. The fact that two of these players are coming back from injury is a strong argument for the retention of the other.
But while there seems to be plenty of wisdom at Arsenal, common sense seems to have taken flight therefrom, and much is the pity.
Why invest your philosophy and manner of playing in a player, such as Walcott and Song, only to throw him away with the feeblest of resistance?
If you invest six years in bringing up a player, you can't just throw up your hands at the first sign of indiscipline from the player (if indeed this was why Song was let go).
If you you've invested six or seven years in a player you can't let him go over a minor margin of contractual dispute. You'd do everything in your power to preserve your investment.
If Barcelona lost Xavi, Iniesta and Messi in a season, the result wouldn't be unlike what is happening at Arsenal at the moment.
If you really believe in your investment you'd do everything in your power to keep it. Getty Images.
I shall examine the remaining two reasons for Arsenal’s current problem in Part 2 of this article. Your comments will be appreciated.