Arsenal FC: Arsene Wenger's Biggest Failure Is Rebuilding Team in His Own Image

Khalid SiddiquiCorrespondent IIApril 30, 2011

A familiar remonstrative pose for all Arsenal fans
A familiar remonstrative pose for all Arsenal fansLaurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Some might argue that he just couldn’t help it. Others may still reminisce about the glory days of the 2003-04 "Invincibles" and are ready to give him yet more chances to revive his "Wenger Project."

However, after having watched Arsenal FC create the unfortunate combination of elation followed by heartbreak year after year for the last six seasons, it is high time to analyze the main reason why Arsenal FC have been transformed from a club with a "never-say-die" attitude to a club famous for the "it’s-always-someone-else’s-fault" mentality.

First off, I would just like to point out that I am one of those die-hard Arsenal fans who has followed the club since the 1990s, and felt the weight of every missed chance and the joy of every trophy won right along with the team itself.

The thing to consider with a heavy heart, dear Gooners, is whether Arsene Wenger has rebuilt the club in the right way to compete in modern footballing times. Sure, aesthetically, this team is among the best at keeping the tradition of the "beautiful game" alive.

But as we have seen on a countless number of occasions, the prettiest girl at the prom doesn’t always get to be prom queen.

What Arsene Wenger has effectively done over the last few years is to try and emulate the Barcelona/Spain "tiki-taka" model of minimum-fuss interplay between teammates to take the ball upfield, and basically be able to pass it into the goal, as if it were just another teammate.

Do I hear dissenting voices?

Well then, how else would you explain one of the most fundamental flaws in this team? That this team has an absolute dearth of aerial passers and crossers (except probably Fabregas) would suggest that Wenger just likes to drive everywhere when flying would be the right way to go. Even the Last Airbender had to master all elements to be considered a champion, Mr. Wenger.

Having watched the third El Clasico in the Champions League semifinals first leg and also having watched Man Utd. dismantle Schalke (instead of embarrassing them, thanks to Manuel Neuer), there are a few things that stand out as qualities of championship-winning sides in football.

Firstly, Arsenal FC is filled with players who have been brainwashed into thinking that one can pass his way past a defensive wall, rather than actually running at the defender and scaring the hell out of him.

More dissenters?

Consider this: You’re the last line of defense and you could have Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas, Theo Walcott or even Andrei Arshavin running at you; or on the other hand, you could have Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Lionel Messi or even Cristiano Ronaldo running at you.

You would take the ball away from the Arsenal FC foursome nine times out of 10, while the latter foursome would leave you for dead nine times out of 10, and either find themselves one-on-one with the goalkeeper, or at least find another teammate in a scoring position.

Have you ever sat back and considered that this is one of the reasons that Jack Wilshere stands out among his teammates? He can actually run past defenders, which, Mr. Wenger, is a lot more responsible than actually passing the buck to your teammate. Of the current Arsenal lot, probably Samir Nasri and Abou Diaby are two others who could have some degree of success in this endeavor.

Prior to this generation of Gunners, Wenger had at his disposal probably one of the most-feared attackers who could embarrass defenders one by one to plot his own path to goal. Yes, you guessed right if you thought of former Arsenal, Barcelona and current New York Red Bulls striker, Thierry Henry.

Henry was one of the all-time Arsenal greats and understood the importance of running at defenders. When trying to emulate the Barca model, Arsene Wenger probably forgot that along with passers extraordinaire, Xavi and Iniesta, the team has players like Messi and Pedro who create doubts and fears in the minds of defenders by running at them

Secondly, what is with the “After you, please” behaviour when it comes to actually taking a shot on goal? If you’re a striker 12 yards away from goal, what would be your natural instinct? Play a lateral pass to one of your teammates (like Marouane Chamakh) or actually blast away a shot on goal (like Didier Drogba)?

The accusation that this team thinks too much and is way too casual in front of goal is another ailment that can’t be attributed to the likes of Chicharito Hernandez, Dimitar Berbatov or even Carlos Tevez. Probably only Samir Nasri and Robin Van Persie would be two Arsenal players who derive some sort of self respect from taking a shot on goal now and again.

Thirdly, if this team cannot cross accurately from the wings, then how could you expect its front line to be good headers of the football? Arsenal is one of those teams that could hold the record for not scoring a headed goal for a number of games.

It is no wonder that Arsenal not only has one of worst set-piece conversion records, but also one of the most unrecognized free-kick taking group of players. The team lacks a sense of purpose from set pieces, as if to say that scoring goals from such plays aren’t worth their weight in gold.

But they have to understand that it’s certainly worth its weight in points and victories.

A simple example of combining set-piece conversion with open-play scoring is the FIFA World Cup 2010 semifinal between Spain and Germany. Spain actually ended up scoring a header from a corner after having been frustrated in its efforts to score the beautiful goal that Wenger’s ideals probably demand.

Fourthly, this is a team of whiners and cry babies. The superiority complex that has enveloped the minds of the players and manager due to their self-righteous, pretty football, opinion of themselves is a surefire recipe for failure. Basically, the team feels that it cannot lose a game without there being some intervention or interference from outside forces (referees, UEFA, etc.).

Sure, it’s okay to believe in your team and attempt to keep their confidence high, but when push comes to shove, being honest about your team’s own shortcomings is the only thing that can lead to self-improvement. Since Arsene Wenger was given a free ride till the end of his contract period—with the Emirates Stadium expense as a frontline excuse—we have seen this thought process engulf the players as well.

Fifthly, Arsene Wenger himself used to be a defender in his playing days. And as his biography will attest, he wasn’t really a great one at that. But even then, giving the professor the benefit of the doubt as to his tactical nous and eye for talent, it is a wonder why Arsenal FC have not had a solid back line since the days of the Invincibles.

Lightweight, short-heighted and absolutely average while defending the aerial ball, this team has been let down more so by the decision-making and average skill of its defense more than anything. Defenders like Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Carles Puyol, Ricardo Carvalho and Dani Alves are not only solid at the back, but also provide their respective teams with an attacking threat from set pieces.

How many times has Arsene Wenger spurned the chance to sign the likes of Per Mertesacker, Gary Cahill, Brad Hangelande or even the impressive Giorgio Chiellini?

The goalkeeping position is an integral one and often the difference between success and failure when it comes to trophies. Over the last seven years, Arsenal’s major competition has had goalkeepers with last names that read like a who’s who of the future honour roll of the goalkeeping hall of fame: Van Der Sar, Cech and Reina, to name a few.

On the other hand, Arsene Wenger has continued to persist with Manuel Almunia as his No. 1 goalkeeper. If the plan really was to wait for Sczezny to mature into the team’s No. 1, then he could have opted for an experienced goalkeeper to cover the last six years. During those six seasons, the Arsenal fans have seen goalkeeping error after goalkeeping error resulting in the trophy cabinet at the Emirates Stadium remaining un-utilized.

The keyword that Arsene Wenger himself advocates—but seems to have forgotten when it comes to practical application—is "consistency." One-off heroics and a few mesmerizing performances come to naught if they are offset by wasted chances up front and at the back in equal measure. The club that Arsene Wenger now commands has seen its rivals remain persistently consistent, which the pundits translate into a "winning mentality" even against the odds.

Even before the shattering loss to Bolton on April 24, Arsene Wenger was content to ramble on about the team’s marvelous 15-game unbeaten run in the League, even when it was evident that there were far too many draws in that run.

Arsenal’s path has now reached the kind of crossroads that can make or break a club’s next few years. A number of stars (Fabregas, Nasri, Arshavin and Clichy) are getting edgy and look ready to leave the club. If someone like Samir Nasri was to leave the club for the "greener pastures" of Manchester United, it would be a massive indictment against Arsene Wenger’s ability to lead this team to further glory with his current eccentric methods.

An infusion of new talent at key positions is the need of the hour; otherwise, at the end of another trophy-less season in 2011-12, the people who matter (fans and owner) will most likely send Arsene Wenger on his way.

That would be a very sad end to the tenure of the manager who made Arsenal into a footballing force that was once ready to conquer the world. As an Arsenal follower, I wish for Arsene to finally see the error of his ways.

Just saying that it is his fault but then doing nothing about it is something the fans might not tolerate next season. As it is, Arsenal are in very real danger of crumbling and landing into a dogfight for fourth spot with Tottenham as the season winds down.

While Manchester United and Chelsea have transformed into great season-closing teams, Arsenal have become famous for the March madness that has become so familiar as the season starts to wind down.

Sitting here, dreading the worst as Manchester United visit Arsenal on May 1, I wonder if Arsene Wenger’s biggest failure has been to mould this team in his own whining, excuse-laden, "second-place-is-not-a-disaster" image.

Perhaps Sir Alex Ferguson couldn’t have put it more plainly when he dismissed Arsenal as a potential threat in favour of Chelsea—even as Arsene Wenger was extolling the virtues of his team’s latest unbeaten run.


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