Weekly Why: Premier League, Arsenal, Arsene Wenger and the Art of Self-Sabotage

Daniel Tiluk@@danieltilukFeatured ColumnistMarch 1, 2016

Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Welcome to Bleacher Report's Weekly Why, a place where we discuss world football's biggest questions that may go neglected and/or avoided. Ranging from the jovial to the melancholic, no subject matter is deemed off-limits.


Why Aren't Premier League Clubs Taking Advantage? 

Before Anthony Martial's pre-match injury vs. FC Midtjylland, I'd never heard of Marcus Rashford. Who was this mystery teenager scoring two goals on his senior debut? Google became my best friend at that point, but I thought surely his magical UEFA Europa League outing was a one-off performance.

Three days later, Louis van Gaal handed Rashford his first Premier League start vs. Arsenal. I was thinking: "FC Midtjylland is, well, FC Midtjylland—so maybe the 18-year-old scoring a brace vs. the Danish side was a fluke; Arsenal are one of England's best clubs, and they're title contenders. The levels here are completely different."

That wasn't the case. Thirty-two minutes into the Gunners' most important EPL fixture, Rashford had again scored twice, this time against Petr Cech. If once is an accident, twice is a trend, so maybe United found something special with the young centre-forward.

In any event, the most shocking component of Arsenal's eventual 3-2 loss at Old Trafford was the manner in which they responded. I say "shocking" rather than "surprising" because we've seen this from Arsenal before. When they shouldn't lose matches in the Premier League—especially when challenging for the crown—they invariably invent ways to trip themselves.

Not many enjoyed a better week than Manchester United's Marcus Rashford did.
Not many enjoyed a better week than Manchester United's Marcus Rashford did.OLI SCARFF/Getty Images

Van Gaal's 18-man squad had 10 under-23 players. Arsene Wenger's 18-man squad had 14 players over 23. That result shouldn't have happened (whether played at Old Trafford, the Emirates Stadium or on Mars). It's an inexplicable blunder, but one we've come to expect from the north Londoners.

Eleven matches and 33 points remain for most Premier League clubs, so by no means has the title passed Arsenal. Five points behind league leaders Leicester City, twists and turns abound—but trust doesn't. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when Arsenal officially lost that trust, but it's measured in years, not months, weeks or days.

Wenger's last league triumph came with the acclaimed "Invincibles" in 2003/04. A top-four finisher in all his 19 seasons, Champions League football is a given for the Frenchman; winning England's pre-eminent domestic trophy, though, has proved too steep a climb since his unbeaten run 12 years ago.

Perhaps the largest contentious element in Arsenal's inability to take charge this year are their challengers.

Leicester have come from obscurity. Nearly relegated last season, manager Claudio Ranieri has fashioned a hard-working, tenacious side who (won't speak it aloud, but) have been title challengers since the opening weekend.

Tottenham Hotspur are probably favourites to win the league as it stands. Winning six straight matches, comprised of a fantastic blend of young/old and attacking/defensive, Mauricio Pochettino is on the doorstep of Spurs history.

Mauricio Pochettino might have England's most balanced team. A tough pill to swallow for Arsenal supporters.
Mauricio Pochettino might have England's most balanced team. A tough pill to swallow for Arsenal supporters.JUSTIN TALLIS/Getty Images

The stuff of not champions.

— gunnerblog (@gunnerblog) February 28, 2016

Arsenal's only major acquisition, Petr Cech, isn't enough to change an entire culture.
Arsenal's only major acquisition, Petr Cech, isn't enough to change an entire culture.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

To varying degrees, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and Manchester City are having some of their worst seasons (based on injury, points and/or their respective brands of football) in recent memory. All four clubs have either sacked, are going to sack or are linked with sacking their manager. If any season is the season for Arsenal to break their Premier League title drought, 2015/16 looks the year.

I wrote in August about "The Mystery of Arsene Wenger's Chequebook," and the more this season progresses, the more peculiar it becomes. Only purchasing two first-team players (Cech and Mohamed Elneny), could the north London club have created a more advantageous, competitive environment with big-money signings? It seems a possibility—and a likely oversight.

After each Rashford goal, and his assist for Ander Herrera's goal-bound strike, Arsenal players looked dejected, almost as if accepting this youthful Manchester United squad was more hungry. Danny Welbeck and Mesut Ozil goals, while fantastic for their own individual confidence levels, were afterthoughts.

I often get the feeling Wenger has so much authority, he sometimes gets in his own way. A first-year Cech cannot become your club's leader overnight. Leaders must be groomed and given the opportunity to exercise their ability on others. Managers can only do so much from the touchline; if Arsenal are struggling, Wenger cannot run onto the pitch, motivation must come from individuals already there.

Arsene Wenger's had two decades to create his team; there aren't that many excuses for not having leaders.
Arsene Wenger's had two decades to create his team; there aren't that many excuses for not having leaders.Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Many blame Arsenal's lack of leadership on a kind of Wenger naivety—suggesting the 66-year-old simply doesn't know (or can't see) the issue. I'd suggest that assumption is disrespectful to his longstanding, decorated managerial career.

How can something so obvious go unaddressed by such an experienced manager? I don't think it can. Meaning, for better or worse, things at Arsenal are exactly how Wenger wants them.

Can Arsenal's culture not support an individual who's keen on speaking his mind? Possibly more nefarious: Might Wenger reject buying a leader to maintain control of his dressing room? Whatever the answer to whatever question, not having a passionate, commanding voice from at least one player is blatant self-sabotage.

The reason Arsenal (and other would-be contenders) haven't been able to take advantage of a rather weak Premier League isn't their lack of talent, but the playing personalities required to motivate that talent.

Unfortunately for most, the transfer window has closed. No saviours are coming to rescue stumbling clubs. The steel required to win trophies—namely the Premier League—must come from within one's established collective, lest an opportune season to collect silverware fades away.


Last WeeklyEnglish Football, League Cup, FA Cup and the Consequences of Excess | Why Does England Have Two Domestic Cups?


*Stats via WhoScored.com; transfer fees via Soccerbase where not noted.