Arsene Wenger Must Take Some Risks to Save Arsenal's Season

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 7, 2014

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - MARCH 10:  Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger looks on during the Arsenal training session at London Colney on March 10, 2014 in St Albans, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images

There's a brilliant line in Oliver Stone's 1999 NFL epic Any Given Sunday that could describe Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger in 2014.

Jamie Foxx, the arrogant young quarterback Willie Beamen, chides Al Pacino, who plays ageing and conservative coach Tony D'Amato: "You feel like if I play my way, I just might win."

That line is a chilling indictment of the way Wenger and his Arsenal team are stumbling through the end of this season. Wenger is playing his way, in this case trusting experienced players to salvage a campaign gone horribly wrong.

But the recent 3-0 defeat to Everton showed that approach isn't going to work. It didn't work when the team was hammered 6-0 at Chelsea, or slumped to a home draw against Swansea City.

After Arsenal were swatted aside by Everton, Wenger spoke of a lack of confidence in his team, per

I don't know. It's very difficult to identify that it's fear. I would just say that maybe our big defeats away from home have taken some of the charisma away from the team. Is that fear, is that belief, is that confidence? Maybe a bit all together.

Arsenal are playing scared, but the veteran Gunners boss is also coaching scared. The team sheet at Everton was a sad illustration of the descent into fear.

The team was overloaded with ageing pros like Tomas Rosicky, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Flamini and Santi Cazorla. It was a remarkable selection from a manager so often rightly lauded for believing in the precocious verve of youth.

Experienced players aren't repaying Wenger's trust.
Experienced players aren't repaying Wenger's trust.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

There was no Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, no Yaya Sanogo, no Gedion Zelalem, young players brimming with potential who could be mixed in to provide the spark to lift a drained-looking veteran bunch.

Many of Wenger's recent team selections reveal a manager crossing his fingers and hoping experience alone will bail his team out of trouble.

It's an understandable sentiment, considering Wenger is the one who ultimately stands or falls by Arsenal's results. All fans really do is blush and despair at the defeats and revel in the victories.

But this is Wenger's life's work, how he will ultimately be remembered. The only way to salvage any legacy is to start taking a few gambles.

That shouldn't be a stretch for a manager once defined by the risks he was willing to take.

Recently, Bleacher Report Guest Columnist Stan Collymore called on Wenger to remember the days when Arsenal combined brute force with refined technique.

While that point is valid, what Wenger really needs to remember are the days when his teams were infused with the impetuous defiance of youth.

These were the days when Wenger unleashed 18-year-old Nicolas Anelka on an unsuspecting English Premier League. The days when he threw slight, but cerebral pass-master Cesc Fabregas into perhaps the most rugged top-flight division in Europe.

Wenger was not afraid to turn to Cesc Fabregas in 2004.
Wenger was not afraid to turn to Cesc Fabregas in 2004.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Wenger's gambles with youth can still pay off. Chamberlain proved that by adding fresh impetus to Arsenal when he joined the fray for the final 25 minutes at Goodison Park.

Right now, Wenger's team needs to be shaken up. The first step has to be adding some dynamism in attack.

Trusting Sanogo ahead of the increasingly abject Olivier Giroud would be a good start. The ex-Auxerre prodigy is quicker than Giroud and can certainly match him for technical guile.

Second, Chamberlain has to be in the team somewhere. He offers that precious quality of pace that Arsenal miss the most.

Despite the number of goals they have shipped away from home in big games, Arsenal's main problem is going forward.

Yaya Sanogo should be given his chance to lead the Arsenal attack.
Yaya Sanogo should be given his chance to lead the Arsenal attack.Michael Regan/Getty Images

In the transcript of his post-Everton interview, via, Wenger explained the struggles in attack:

Because Everton defended well and because at the moment we lack a bit of confidence to be really dangerous and we lack penetration as well. You feel from outside that the penetration and incisiveness of our game is missing through the runs and through the passes. Both of them together make it difficult.

The problem, contrary to popular belief, is not one of tactics.

I'm a big fan of Everton's Roberto Martinez and have praised his daring approach many times. I certainly wouldn't shed any tears if Martinez did eventually succeed Wenger at Arsenal.

But as good as he is, Martinez, and his Liverpool counterpart, Brendan Rodgers, are doing nothing, absolutely nothing, Wenger wasn't doing 10 years ago.

The difference is both Merseyside clubs have the players in attack to execute the quick-paced, intricate passing that was once Wenger's hallmark.

But take Luis Suarez away from Liverpool, and you take away 15 points and the Anfield club's title challenge. Remove Romelu Lukaku from Everton, and there would be no race for fourth, as the brilliance of Martinez wouldn't save a team undermined by too many draws.

But both Rodgers and Martinez deserve credit for putting pace, ingenuity and enthusiasm in the forward areas of their respective teams.

Wenger is not being left behind tactically, but currently lacks the players to execute his game plan.
Wenger is not being left behind tactically, but currently lacks the players to execute his game plan.Matt Dunham

Injuries to Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Mesut Ozil have robbed Wenger of that option to a large extent, but not completely.

There is no problem playing Arteta and Flamini as a central pairing, except when the declining duo are not surrounded by pace.

There is nothing wrong with pushing full-backs forward. Martinez does it, even though it was brutally exposed in a 4-0 defeat at Anfield and during the 4-1 FA Cup quarter-final thumping by Arsenal.

But nobody should accuse the bright young Spaniard of being tactically inept.

The difference is that the Gunners don't currently have the players to play Wenger's style and consequently trouble opponents.

Arsenal's defence has its issues but were not overwhelmed in the recent draw with Manchester City, the second-highest scorers in the division.

The reason is simple. Arsenal kept City on the back foot during the second half. They took some risks.

They pressed in the opposition half and imposed their own game on City, something Wenger always calls for but is rarely getting at the moment.

He is not getting what he should from the experienced pros he is trusting.

Martinez switching Lukaku to the right and moving Steven Naismith into the middle was a creative ploy, but hardly a revolutionary one.

Frank Rijkaard and FC Barcelona did a similar thing to the Gunners in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final. The Dutch coach positioned centre-forward Samuel Eto'o wide left and moved Ronaldinho into the middle in a sort of false-nine role.

After some early struggles, Arsenal soon adapted. They didn't on Sunday, because a player like Lukas Podolski, a 28-year-old seasoned international, didn't track back to help left-back Nacho Monreal.

Podolski shouldn't have to be told to do that. He's experienced enough to quickly see what's happening on the pitch and know that covering is part of his job.

Established international aren't playing to their ability or pedigree.
Established international aren't playing to their ability or pedigree.Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

Similarly, the likes of Rosicky and Cazorla are talented and savvy enough to know that their movement must be as quick and inventive as their passing ought to be.

Playmakers as refined as those two shouldn't have to be encouraged to play between the lines instead of in front of them.

Having players who can take this initiative without dogmatic instruction is the big advantage of trusting experience over youth.

But Wenger is not getting that from a tired bunch who look like they can't wait for the season to end. Certainly, that's how Giroud appears.

So does Cazorla, whose sterling second-half showing against City was seemingly only a puncture in an otherwise dire run of recent form.

This group needs jolting out of its torpor. A few young upstarts can do just that.

Finishing fifth with a few risky selections won't be any different than finishing while fifth keeping things the same. The consequent result won't change.

Wenger has never appeared as weak as he does now. But stitching together a dreary, ageing bunch and hoping for the best won't save him or Arsenal.

Only a daring move or two can save this season.


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