It isn’t very often that we hear Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, reflect negatively on his team’s performance or pointing out its’ or his own mistakes, but after Arsenal's title-chance ending loss to Bolton last Sunday he has taken a step back and looked for blame within himself.
Arsenal have only taken two points from the last three games and have done so in pitiful fashion, throwing away leads and schoolboy defending. The Gunners now sit nine points behind league leaders Manchester United with only four games left to play. In the past week Arsenal slipped from second to third place and show no signs that they will even be able to get back into second place.
After the loss to Bolton, Wenger said, "The players are not to blame. If somebody is to blame, it's me. I pick the team, I choose the players.”
This is very true. As the manager Wenger has got to take responsibility when his team fails to win.
This season, Arsenal have failed to win when a win seemed the only possible outcome. For example, the match at Newcastle and the ones at home to Liverpool and Spurs set new records for how a team could capitulate.
It seems this team has dropped points at very critical times during the season, when a win would’ve put them level or above Manchester United and into first place. Wenger acknowledged the missed chances but did not fault his footballing principles or style, saying, "When you don't win, you are questioned with your principles. You have to take the right distance to see what is right and wrong in what you do. I feel we try to play football the proper way, like we did today.”
You couldn’t knock the players’ efforts to win on Sunday. It wasn’t a lackluster performance or lack of effort that cost Arsenal the points in this case. They made the chances but they weren’t taken with the composure needed to put them away and seal the game.
While Wenger stands by his team’s style of play he knows that there are areas that need improving. He said, “I think if something is wrong in our team it isn’t the principles in playing our football.”
It was in defense where the Gunners were truly undone on this and many other occasions not only this season but in the past few years. Wenger could not deny the statistical evidence pointing to the well known fact that Arsenal’s defense is not a title winning defense.
“The numbers are the numbers,” he said, “we have conceded six goals this week, you cannot afford to concede six goals in three games in April if you want to win the championship. Defensively, we were too frail during the season."
All that being said, does Wenger make the necessary changes in the summer? In his post-match press conference he was asked if Arsenal do not finish first this season, "Would it be an unsatisfactory season?"
This is a question that many fans would think Wenger would respond no to. Some think that Wenger has lost his desire to win trophies and would be happy just to stay in the Champions League places. Comments he made earlier in the season have been twisted in such a way that you might expect him to answer, "No, the performance and effort has been very satisfactory."
Anyone who has seen Arsenal’s bad games this season would have witnessed Arsene Wenger’s reactions on the touch-line. Would a manager who is content with second place throw a bottle as his team conceded a two goal lead to their arch rivals, or get down on his knees as the opponent prepared to take a last minute penalty that would effectively end their title run?
The answer should be obvious.
In answer to that question he said, "Yes, very unsatisfactory. That was one of the easiest run-ins we've had for a long time but we didn't take our chances many times during the season. That's frustrating because we feel the potential is there. We live in a job where you have to take your chances and be realistic and we still lack something that is called maturity, experience, calmness in the important situations."
Arsenal have passed up what was easily their best chance at winning something this season. Their nearest rivals have not been at their best this season and had Arsenal picked up the points they should have against Newcastle, Tottenham, Sunderland, Liverpool and the list goes on, Arsenal would be league leaders.
Had Arsenal possessed what it took, be it maturity, calmness, experience or whatever, to beat Birmingham in the League Cup final at the very least they could’ve ended the dreadful drought.
Wenger’s admittance that there is a problem is a good step, but one that should’ve been taken a while ago. I don’t see him being sacked in the summer so that gives him the perfect opportunity to act on his statements and fix the things that he’s put wrong.
We’ve seen a very different Arsene Wenger this season than we’ve seen in the past. He’s no longer the calm professorial figure on the touchline. He shows his frustration and has now taken some responsibility for the team’s shortcomings. Will this new clearly frustrated Wenger do what is needed to turn this very talented but also flawed Arsenal side into a title winning side this summer?
Quotes taken from Arsene Wenger’s post-Bolton press conference.